Memphis, TN- Tim Richardson pumped his fist high in the air even before the soft fly landed in the shortstop's glove to record the final out and 39th save of the year for the 25 yr old rookie closer. In many ways, Richardson stands for everything that the Blues Boys have endured through this season. The young pitcher and former first round pick by Seattle trails only teammate Pasqual Martin for AL rookie of the year consideration, and the two rookies are living proof of the succesful changing of the guard in Memphis: an age renewal while competing, learning and growing as a team, in the AL's most competitive division... and yet, the Blues Boys are still a dark horse candidate to clinch an AL wild card playoff berth.
It won't be easy, considering that, as of Sunday's play, the Blues Boys are one of four teams battling it out for the two AL wild card spots, but to do so, they must jump ahead of division rival San Antonio, whom they trail by 3 games. The team is hard-pressed to keep a 10-year playoff streak intact with just 13 games remaining, including series against Trenton and Charlotte.
The Blues Boys carry many positives on which they will rely down the stretch. The team has done much better at home (45-26) than on the road (38-40), and a 10 game stretch at home should play in their favor before wrapping up the season with a 3 game series in Charlotte. Leading ROY candidate CF All-Star Pasqual Martin (31 HR, 67 RBI, 29SB) leads the offense along with Albert Vazquez (34 HR, 96 RBI), but six other players have 20-30 HRs. The team is 4th in the AL in OPS and 3rd in SLG. Starting pitchers Dorian Kinkade and Dustan Stoops are a combined 25-6. Closer Richardson has nailed down 39 saves in 44 opportunities and has been unhittable, holding opponents to a .208 AVG. The bullpen combo of setup men Reggie Powell, Adam Locke and newcomer (and former closer) Mike Peterson have been a great complement to Richardson.
But, there are a few negatives that the team will have to face down the stretch. Starting pitching is thin after the Kinkade/Stoops punch, although Tony Mercado has pitched much better than his 5-8, 4.33 ERA would suggest. No everyday position player is hitting for a higher average than part time 1B Britt George's .293. An early season stretch of 3-18 under a new coaching staff may be too much to overcome in the second half of the season in baseball's strongest division, but the Blues Boys will keep on playing to their own rhythm.
(Thanks to sac_lambs for contributing to this team analysis)