As the first half of the season came to a close for the Hagerstown Suns, many questions were left to be asked and answered.
It was an iffy situation. Many of the questions started with “What if?” and “I wonder if?” after the Suns were officially eliminated from the South Atlantic League’s Northern Division first-half race on June 18.
Suns manager Brian Daubach was disappointed, but realistic about the outcome. Nowadays, there can’t be many questions if you want to win a title. He was more than ready for the next question.
“Well, are you looking forward to the second half?”
Daubach broke into a smile.
“Yes,” he said.
“Like I told the club, I still think they are still the best team in the league even though the record doesn’t say so. We had some bad bounces and some weird things happen that didn’t help.”
In other words, it was just baseball. The Suns were hot for the first two months and an ill-timed slump and a losing battle with weather were intangibles that knocked the Suns out of the running.
The Suns were victims of circumstances. They were 25-12 and had the Northern Division well in hand when two critical home series with Kannapolis and Asheville in an 11-day span turned into a string of rainouts and suspended games.
That translated into extra work for the bullpen — which was forced to come out more often and in irregular timing to finish off games. Until that point, the bullpen was one of the main strengths of the Suns, but the extra work took its toll.
“It’s just the way things worked out,” Daubach said. “Those are the things you can’t control. We had that doubleheader (on May 28 at home against Asheville) and then had that early Sunday game (in Kannapolis). That took our legs away for a couple of weeks. The bullpen has been our strength with the exception of a couple of hiccups.
“Some of the guys got tired, but that’s what it’s all about. All you can do is what you need to do to pick it up.”
Other bad breaks included Randolph Oduber’s leg injury and inevitable dropoffs for the Suns’ top hitters, Bryce Harper and Blake Kelso. The Suns were 5-8 without Oduber, as the stability he gave in he middle of Hagerstown’s lineup was sorely missed.
Kelso’s average slid 24 points in the final 15 games of the first half, while Harper dropped 20 points in the same period. Neither drop sounds drastic, but when one is the team’s catalyst and the other is the main RBI producer, when they fall off together, it’s not a good sign. Both were struggling with jammed thumbs from handling constant diets of inside pitches near the end of the half, only adding to the scenario. It helped lead to a six-game losing streak in the last 10 games of the half to seal the Suns’ fate
Oduber reinjured his hamstring and could be out for a long period of the second half. Kelso and Harper, a pair of all-stars, needed some rest to heal their annoying injuries. The all-star break came at an opportune time.
“(Harper’s) injury is one of those that won’t get better without rest,” Daubach said. “The worst part comes from the constant pounding of batting practice. We’ll give him a few days off from that to give him time. Kelso got a little of that, too, the other day.”
Daubach said the remedy is an easy one — time off.
The bullpen got some needed rest, the injuries got time to heal and the Suns got time to work the lineup to prepare for the future without Oduber. Wade Miller and Kevin Keyes will play larger roles.
“It is good to go into the break 40-30. You can’t complain about that,” Daubach said. “We have a good team. Now it’s time to come out to finish off the second half a little better than we did in the first half.”