CEDAR RAPIDS – Smack the ball around the park for 15 runs and 19 hits one night. Allow a three-run, inside-the-park home run the next.
And you wonder why the Cedar Rapids Kernels can’t get any momentum going in the standings?
These guys just refuse to break out of their pattern of mediocrity, proof continuing Wednesday night with a 5-2 loss to Wisconsin at Veterans Memorial Stadium. Follow up a win with a loss or two, a good game with a bad one or two.
Those who have watched this team play can’t figure it out. They’re better than their record.
Though you are what your record says you are, and, in this case, that’s 37-51 overall and 6-12 in the second half, not close to sniffing a Midwest League playoff spot.
Don’t write them off, yet, but they’re not exactly giving you a reason to get excited, either.
“We’re always in it. It’s just something doesn’t break out way,” said Manager Jake Mauer. “We can’t get the big hit, we don’t get the big out, we don’t make the big play when it needs to be made. That’s kind of how it’s been … When we hit, we don’t pitch. When we pitch, we don’t hit. When we do both, we do it just enough to be close.”
Now about that game-breaking inside-the-parker from Wisconsin’s Austin Ortega. The Kernels were playing the right-handed No. 9 hitter the other way, with center fielder Jason Kanzler in right-center field.
Naturally he lined a two-out pitch from Kernels starting and losing pitcher Ryan Eades into left-center. Kanzler went for the big play, giving a full-out dive for the shot but coming up well short of catching it, the ball rolling all the way to the fence.
By the time left fielder J.D. Williams finally gathered it and threw it back in, Ortega was touching them all. He easily beat shortstop Ryan Walker’s relay throw to the plate.
“I don’t know how much of a chance he had to catch it,” Mauer said. “If you let that ball fall and try and cut it off … He was trying to make an aggressive play, so you’ve got to give him the benefit of the doubt. If he does catch it, they don’t score any.”
It was another kick in the chops for Eades (5-9), who has endured a few of them this season. The 2013 second-round pick from LSU gave up all five Timber Rattlers’ runs in five-plus innings, seeing his earned run average climb to 6.54.
He did strike out nine.
“He threw the ball better tonight than his line was,” Mauer said. “Early (in the season), it was command. His fastball command. Not being able to execute pitches. Walks have killed him. Really, he has had a hard time with damage control. He hasn’t been able to wiggle out (of jams).”
Cedar Rapids had a plethora of offensive opportunities but were limited to Chad Christensen’s run-scoring single in the seventh and an RBI from Alex Swim, when he reached on an infield error in sixth. Christensen went 3-for-5, striking out as the tying run in the bottom of the ninth.
The Kernels left 10 on base.
“Tonight, if someone hits one in the gap, it’s 5-5,” Mauer said. “We didn’t get an extra-base hit all night.”
The teams conclude their three-game series Thursday night at 6:35. Taiwanese newcomer Chih-Wei Hu makes his first pitching start for the Kernels since joining the club from Rookie-level Elizabethton earlier this week.
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