For the first time since 2012, the Ducks will not have to sweat out the second half of the season. They wrapped up the Liberty Division first-half championship last Saturday night with a 6-1 victory over Sugar Land.
To the winner go the spoils and those spoils include a few months of breathing room. Even if something goes wrong in the next two months — a long losing streak, a rash of injuries or a roster pillage by other professional leagues — the Ducks’ spot in the playoffs is secure. They could go 0-65 and still make the playoffs.
Which raises the question: What do you do when there’s nothing to chase and a full summer of baseball to play? For Atlantic League players, the answer is simple.
“The stats still count on the back of the baseball cards,” Ducks manager Kevin Baez said. “They’re trying to get to the big leagues and into organizations, and Mexico, Japan, or wherever they want to play, and they need to put up numbers. I think that’s what is going to push them to do well, pride.”
Besides the desire not to go into an embarrassing tailspin, the Ducks might have a more strategic reason to play well in the second half — keeping Somerset out of the playoffs.
Liberty Division rival Somerset, which knocked the Ducks out of the playoffs last year and took seven of their 10 first-half matchups this year, would need a second-half division championship or a wild-card berth to make the playoffs.
With both divisions in the mix for the wild card, it appears likely that Somerset would have to fight off at least two teams to make the playoffs. Entering play Thursday, Somerset led Sugar Land and New Britain by four games and Lancaster by five in the wild-card chase.
“That definitely motivates us,” Yaphank native and newly minted Atlantic League All-Star pitcher Bruce Kern said. “None of us here are big fans of Somerset. It’s just a rivalry that we have. They’re always a good team. Whenever you get an opportunity to keep a team like that out of the playoffs, we’re definitely going to try for it.”
Seven Ducks selected to play in All-Star Game
In addition to Kern, outfielders Fehlandt Lentini and Anthony Vega, shortstop Dan Lyons, catcher Mike Dowd and pitcher Patrick Crider will represent the Ducks at the Atlantic League All-Star Game in Lancaster on Wednesday.
Lentini will be making his first All-Star Game appearance since 2012, when he was voted the game’s MVP while playing with Lancaster. This year, Lentini is in the mix for Atlantic League Player of the Year. He had a stellar first half, leading the Atlantic League in hits (95), runs (51), total bases (133), stolen base percentage (.957) and at-bats (297).
Lyons, who missed 14 games with a hamstring injury, will be making his third All-Star Game appearance. His .319 first-half average ranked him third in the league.
Vega, Dowd, Crider and Kern are first-time All-Stars.
Pitcher Jack Snodgrass also was selected, but his contract was purchased by the Texas Rangers on Friday. Snodgrass is the fifth Duck to have his contract purchased by a major- league organization this season. Mark Blackmar, another key piece in the Ducks’ rotation, had his contact purchased by the Washington Nationals last Sunday.
Baez wins 400th
Baez collected his 400th win as Ducks manager Friday night in a 6-2 victory over Southern Maryland . . . After Sunday’s series finale, the Ducks are off for the four-day All-Star break. They will resume play Friday night at home against Somerset.