The Clinton Lumber Kings put the cherry on the top of what has been a remarkable in-season turnaround last night when they clinched the Midwest League Western Division title for the 2nd half with a 13-inning 6-5 win over Quad Cities. The victory was only Clinton's 65th on the season, tied for the 10th most wins on the year in the 16-team league. But an amazing 42 of those wins have come in the 2nd half for the LumberKings.
Their 42-22 record is in stark contrast to their 23-45 1st half record, and a lot of the players on the team are experiencing a 2nd half renaissance of their own. First baseman/designated hitter Ji-Man Choi got a late start to the season as he was working on injury recovery in extended Spring Training in Arizona for much of the first half, but since the All-Star break the 21-year-old left-handed hitter leads the Midwest League in OPS (1.004), has 15 extra base hits and 28 walks (to only 24 strikeouts) in the 40 games he has played. Dan Paolini -- who has played both first base and second base this season – started off his second pro season by hitting .260/.343/.365 in the first half but since the break he has been on a tear, hitting .312/.386/.569 with a league-high 13 home runs, with nine of those coming in August. On top of leading the league in homers, Paolini ranks 1st in the league in 2nd half SLG (.569), 3rd in OPS (.955) and his 43 RBI are the seventh best total since June 22nd. Outfielder Jabari Blash's .855 2nd half OPS is good for 10th in the league, and good for a .111 increase from his first half showing.
On the mound the LumberKings are being led by right-hander Bobby Shore, who's 1.87 ERA in the 2nd half -- including a 1.40 mark in nine starts -- is good for third best in the league since the break. Fellow right-handed starters Mayckol Guaipe (5-0, 3.15 ERA in 10 starts) and Jordan Pries (4-0, 3.86 ERA, 1.19 WHIP in 6 starts) have solidified a rotation that was hit hard by injuries in the first half and haven't lost a game between them. Right-handed relievers Stephen Shackleford and Matt Brazis have combined to put up a 1.64 ERA and 12 saves, with Brazis striking out 31 of the 68 batters he has faced in Low-A while posting a 0.76 WHIP, and lefty Kyle Hunter has continued to be steady out of the pen, too, with a 3.06 ERA, 41 strikeouts and only six walks in 47 second half innings.
Clinton Director of Broadcasting and Media Relations Chad Seely has seen every pitch of the club's transformation first hand, and when contacted by SeattleClubhouse he had this to say:
"The difference in the two halves has been something else to watch develop. The guys are playing together and playing the game the right way in all three phases. The hitting has been tremendous and guys are coming up with clutch hits, the pitching has been steady all season and even more so in the second half and they're catching the baseball right now. It has been very fun to watch, it's a team with a ton of confidence right now."
With their second half explosion, Clinton now finds their overall season stats in the middle of the pack in hitting, pitching and defense on the year, but the LumberKings in their current configuration figure to be a formidable opponent when the Midwest League playoffs get underway on ***.
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