Kaiser: Hens looking to surge in second halfWritten by Guest Author | | GuestAuthor@toledofreepress.com
Before the Minor League All-Star break, the Toledo Mud Hens were four games under .500, and looking like they were on their way to missing the playoffs for the seventh straight season. A season that at the beginning had so much promise — with the return of manager Larry Parrish and a roster that boasted some well-known names — was slipping away.
The offseason brought hope to the Mud Hens. Returning to Toledo were players such as Ben Guez, Hernan Perez, Jordan Lennerton and Duane Below, all of whom have had success with the Hens in the past. However, the biggest offseason move was to bring back Mike “King” Hessman. The minor league slugger had not played with Toledo since 2009, but was the Mud Hens’ all time home run leader (140 HRs thru 2009).
Other names that headlined the roster were former Cleveland Indian Ezequiel Carrera, the highly touted pitching prospect Robbie Ray, and the Tigers’ top catching prospect James McCann. Despite the solid Triple-A roster, the Hens got off to a sluggish start, going a mere 10-16 in April. The offense struggled to score right out of the gate, while the pitching wasn’t preventing runs.
However, since a putrid first month of the season, the Mud Hens have posted a record of 42-35, and have jumped right back into the International League West division
race. After starting slowly, Guez, Lennerton and Brandon Douglas have picked it up as of late. Perez, Carrera and McCann have been as good as advertised all season. Despite a few rocky starts from each, Ray, Drew VerHagen and Kyle Lobstein are finding consistency in the rotation.
The Mud Hens have had to deal with some of their key players getting called up to the Detroit Tigers. Toledo has lost the power hitting J.D. Martinez to the Tigers for what seems like the rest of the season, as he is tearing it up with the big club. Eugenio Suarez only played in 12 games with the Hens before earning his call-up. Ray, VerHagen and a few bullpen arms have all contributed in Detroit this season, yet the Mud Hens just continue to compete and climb back into the playoff race.
The Hens are riding a five-game win streak since the start of the second half, and sit only 4.0 games back of the division lead and 3.0 back of the second wild card spot. They’re record has rocketed to 52-51, which marks the first time all season they’ve been above .500.
In a season that has seen Hessman crowned “King of Home Runs” in the International League as well as among active Minor League Baseball players, the Toledo Mud Hens are looking to accomplish more goals as a team. If they can continue to play winning baseball down the stretch, they will be the first Mud Hens team since 2007 to make it to the International League playoffs. Parrish has been there before, and I’m sure he’s itching to get back there. The last two times Parrish managed the Mud Hens in the playoffs, they took home the Governers’ Cup (2005, 2006). Their chances weren’t looking good at the beginning of the season, but the Toledo Mud Hens are now right in the thick of the hunt for the playoffs. If they can get back to the promised land of the playoffs, who knows what can happen? This is baseball, the sport where anything and everything happens. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll find the baseball gods smiling down at us while cheering “Holy Toledo!”
Cameron J. Kaiser is a 2014 graduate of St. Francis de Sales High School heading to Florida Gulf Coast University this fall. He blogs about the Detroit Tigers on his website ttowntiger.com.
Tags: Ben Guez, Brandon Douglas, Cameron J. Kaiser, Detroit Tigers, Drew VerHagen, Duane Below, Eugenio Suarez, Ezequiel Carrera, Hernan Perez, International League, J.D. Martinez, James McCann, Jordan Lennerton, Kyle Lobstein, Mike Hessman, Mud Hens, Robbie Ray, Toledo Mud Hens, TTown Tiger