There are five weeks to go in the Frontier League’s regular season, and if you’re feeling comfortable about the Beach Bums two-game lead over Southern Illinois in the East Division, you have a tad more faith than I do.
Not that I don’t believe the Beach Bums can hang on and maintain the top spot in the division. The bottom line is there are just too many games left on the schedule, the lead they have is only one cold streak away from vanishing completely and I’m pretty sure Southern Illinois — or for that matter Florence and Lake Erie — aren’t going anywhere in the next month. Only three-and-a-half games separate first from fourth place.
Traverse City does have plenty going for it in the stretch run of the season, first and foremost being the best starting pitcher in the Frontier League in Scott Dunn, who may be the league’s MVP when all is said and done. Dunn is a nice luxury for Beach Bums manager Gregg Langbehn to have trot out to the mound every fifth game. Out of his 14 starts this season, three times he’s halted three-game losing streaks and two more times he’s snapped a three-game skid.
Out of the bullpen Nick Capito has been as good as any closer in the league. The lefty has 10 saves, but just as importantly, has only allowed three runs in 44.2 innings this season and has almost three times as many strikeouts as walks.
The Beach Bums have been able to rely on first baseman Chase Burch to produce runs at a nice clip, DH Zach Kometani appears to have broken out of his slump and is right there with Burch among the league leaders in RBIs. Carlo Testa has been a productive hitter since he joined the team early in the season and Jose Vargas — while not having a year similar to his 2012 MVP numbers — remains tied for the team lead in homers (10) and is third in RBIs (39).
But there remain concerns in the lineup. Taylor Wrenn getting snatched up by the Texas Rangers is a nice boost of PR for the Beach Bums, showing the organization can bring in and develop talent, but it leaves a gaping hole in the Beach Bums infield, forcing Scott Woodward and Sean Gusrang to make midseason moves from the outfield, and also in the heart of the team’s lineup. Wrenn was hitting close to .290 when he left and was among the league’s leaders in RBIs, runs and hits. He still has the league’s highest hitting streak for this year, a 21-gamer that stretched from May 25 to June 19. He was the perfect person to stick ahead of the always-dangerous triumvirate of Vargas, Burch and Testa in the lineup. Now, somebody has to pick up the slack. It could be Matt Howard, but he hasn’t had much of a chance to fully prove he can do that.
Let’s not forget Gusrang and second baseman Ryan Still, who have struggled to recapture the brilliant seasons they had in 2012. Heading into Sunday’s action, Gusrang’s .224 average was more than 30 points below his average of last year and his five homers are 10 below the amount he had a year ago when he was among the best in the Frontier League. Still’s .173 average is a long way from the .301 clip he batted during an all-star 2012 campaign. He still draws a ton of walks — a team-high 65 — but last year he set a league record with 110 bases on balls and was the league leader in runs scored.
If Traverse City is going to hang on in the East, it’s imperative it irons out those deficiencies. If it does, it should make things a little less tense in the coming weeks.