A week ago, Southern Illinois Miners manager Mike Pinto felt his club was close to turning the corner.
The Miners weren’t making up much ground in the Frontier League standings, but Pinto said the team was playing better baseball. A lot of things changed in the past week.
That improved play translated to a 10-game winning streak. It took Schaumburg 11 innings Sunday to bring the winning streak to a halt.
Amazingly, the 10-game streak didn’t appreciably alter the Miners place in the West Division standings. When the Miners embarked on the streak they were two games out of the league’s second wild card spot. Somehow, they are still a game out of the playoffs at this juncture.
On the other hand, 12 of their final 18 games are at home, including nine against Florence and Evansville, two of the teams currently holding playoff berths. Obviously, the Miners control their own destiny.
“That’s kind of how we felt, and we’re playing these games at home,” Pinto said. “We get to be at home and it’s kind of in our hands.”
Two reasons for the Miners’ winning streak are Omar Obregon and Yeltsin Gudino, both acquired in trades during the past couple weeks. They have not only solidified the Miners defense up the middle, but have mitigated the loss of Bryant Flete, who was signed by Cincinnati July 4. Flete was hitting leadoff and batting .360 when signed.
“Gudino has great bat control,” Pinto said. “He doesn’t get too big. Every time you put the ball in play you have a chance. It’s hard to replace .360, but the way those two guys have played in the middle … It gives us two guys at the top of the order we have a chance with.”
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Then, there is Kyle Davis.
Davis has been bashing the ball out of every ballpark the Miners have visited. Although he was mired at about .230 a month ago the Miners’ left fielder has his average up to .281. He has a team-high 13 home runs and 40 RBI.
Joe Duncan, the Miners’ centerfielder, has also been more productive during the winning streak, pushing his average into the .240 range.
“I think guys go through streaks,” Pinto said. “Kyle Davis has been smoking hot the last 10 days. Guys go through waves. I hope to get them on higher waves the last 18 days.”
The one down side for the Miners, Stephen Ridings, who was projected to be the team’s No. 1 starter has been sidelined for the rest of the year.
“We have really taken internally the approach of next man up,” Pinto said. “Guys have gotten picked up, we’ve had guys get hurt for the season, guys retire. It has to be the next man up philosophy.”
Beginning Tuesday, the Miners have a three-game set with Florence. The Freedom are in first place in the West Division, three games ahead of the Miners. Southern Illinois picked up three games on Florence in the past 10 days.
Evansville is one game ahead of the Miners and the Otters will be in town next week.