Freedom outfielder Michael Campbell (profiled here) hit the first pitch of the 9th inning into the Freedom bullpen, giving his team a hard fought 6-5 win and a series victory over Traverse City on Sunday night.
|West Division||W||L||PCT||GB||STREAK||LAST 10|
|Southern Illinois Miners||18||4||0.818||-||6W||9-1|
|River City Rascals||13||10||0.565||5.5||2W||7-3|
But hope is not lost Freedom fans. The top two teams in each division make the playoffs, and the battle for second place is heating up. Only 4.5 games separate second place Gateway and the last place Freedom. There will be ample opportunities to make up that deficit as the Freedom have 42 games left against Gateway, River City, Evansville, and Normal beginning tonight as the Freedom head to Normal, Illinois to face off with the CornBelters.
Is there really reason for optimism? The numbers say yes.
Over the last 6 games, the Freedom bullpen has posted an ERA of 3.19. But if you remove Ben Shivers' 0.0 inning, 2 BB, 2 ER performance from the end of Friday's 7-1 blowout loss against Traverse City, you get an ERA of 1.91. The bullpen has quietly been very effective all year when protecting leads late in the game. The Freedom are 6-0 when tied or leading after 7 innings and 7-0 when tied or leading after 8 innings.
Another reason for the Freedom's early struggles was falling behind early in games. So far this year they have been outscored 22-11 in the first, and it was 22-8 before Tim Grogan's 3-run home run in the bottom of the first Sunday. It can wear on a team when they have to constantly battle back from deficits right off the bat. They are 5-3 when scoring first and 3-10 when opponents score first on the year. Getting out to an early lead has been very important to say the least.
And surprise surprise, scoring a lot of runs is too. When the Freedom score 5+ runs, they are 8-1. When scoring 4 runs or less, 0-12.
So what does this all mean? Are we seeing an upward trend with this team or has this past week been an aberration?
Only time will tell.
But something that paid huge dividends this week was the addition of outfielder Michael Campbell, first baseman A.C. Grable, and infielder Steven Shults. Campbell has solidified the leadoff spot in the batting order, providing speed and a knack for getting on base with some impressive pop (see the aforementioned walk-off home run). Shults has played impressively at shortstop and has 3 home runs and 7 RBI in his first 6 games. Grable has also solidified the defense at first base, where he has impressed teammates with some impressive out saving plays.
These players have improved the overall team defense, brought strong, veteran leadership, and given the lineup a balance it was lacking before.
This, combined with the improvements from the pitching staff should allow the Freedom to make a nice run in the next couple weeks.
And it couldn't come at a better time as the next 15 games will be played against teams looking down on Freedom in the standings. By July 1st we should have a solid idea of where this team is headed. But we're certainly in a much better position then we were a week ago.