COLUMBUS, OH - With only a quarter of the season left, the Columbus Flatlanders are looking to make a run at the post season, but to ensure a place in the playoffs, Columbus is going to have to make up some ground on the Portland Rain. That seems to be an annual theme for the Columbus franchise. "Looking up in the standings at Portland is getting old", says owner/general manager/field manager, Bob Catgrad. “While I respect the job that Portland does year in and year out, I’m getting sick of being behind them all of the time.”
Portland has suffered some severe injuries to members of its pitching staff this year, so if there has ever been a time for Columbus to make a move, it is now. Portland has lost both their number two and three men in the rotation: Vasco Picasso and Jose Piedra. Luckily for the Rain, an injury to their ace, Bip Bartee, turned out to not be as serious as first feared. But Columbus isn’t waiting for Portland to lose. “We’re going to go after it, regardless of any one else’s situation. We need to focus on playing good ball right now,” says Catgrad. With the remainder of the Flatlander’s schedule against opponents with a combined .469 winning percentage, hopefully they can translate that approach into enough wins to catch Portland. To do that, they will need some key team members to keep up their pace and others to step it up some.
Chris Tobin has had the rookie season that most players dream about. With a batting average over .300, OBP over .400, 38 HR, and 115 RBI with 40 games to play, Tobin is carrying the offense on his young shoulders and pushing to be the NL Rookie of the Year. “He’s a natural. Plain and simple,” say Catgrad. Tobin attributes his success to a great set of players around him, and Harry Moya in particular. “Moya’s been great. He’s shown me the right way to approach being a professional," he said.
While Harry Moya may be a great influence on Tobin, it hasn’t been until recently that his on-the field productio has matched the Flatlanders' expectations. As recently as 20 games ago, he was hitting in the .250s and trade rumors were swirling. Those rumors must have lit a fire under Moya, who has driven his average up to .278. The new keystone combination for the Flatlanders this year, 2B Tony Lunar and ss Eddie Ingram, has also been crucial to their success. With a combined average over .300, 47 doubles, 46 SB, and 147 runs scored – not to mention solid defense – it seems the Flatlander ownership made the right move in trading for the two veterans. Switch-hitting leftfielder Denny Lo has been consistent at the plate while providing balance to a primarily right handed lineup. If Columbus is going to make it to the postseason, though, they will need more consistency from their pitching staff.
Outside of southpaw Jackie Little, who is 15-6 and having a stellar year after signing a 4 year/$39 million contract, the starting rotation has had its ups and downs. The Flatlanders may have expected too much out of youngsters Carlos Rosado and Harry Harding. Recently, Donaldo Perez was demoted to the bullpen, and Carlos Diaz replaced him in the rotation. Catgrad hopes this will help both players. “Diaz has pitched well for us down the stretch in the past, and Perez can be a good contributor is certain situations.” The Flatlanders stood pat at the trading deadline, so any additional help would have to come from within their farm system or through a late season waiver wire addition.
The pitching staff shouldn’t expect any help from the minors, but the offense could benefit if the Flatlander organization decides to call up slugger Randy Early. Early is murdering AAA pitching, posting a .320 average with 43 HR, 123 RBI, and an OPS of 1.055. The only reason he hasn’t been called up to the majors is there’s no place to put him. “He can play both corner outfield spots and first base, but with Tobin, Moya, and Lo in those spots, he’d end up sitting on the bench,” says Catgrad. "That will not help anybody."
The general consensus in the organization is the future looks very bright. But “wait ‘til next year” is not what the current team wants to hear, especially veteran Harry Moya. “This is a good team. A really good team. And we’re going to do everything we can to bring a pennant to Columbus."