OGDEN — It happened again Wednesday. It’s commonplace for minor league baseball, but knowing that doesn’t help the Ogden Raptors win ballgames.
League All-Star and staff ace Jose Chacin was called up from Ogden to Single-A Great Lakes (Michigan) on a day he was scheduled to start, the latest transaction in a string that has been pulling away lynchpins to the Raptors’ first-half title in which they ransacked the league with a 26-12 record.
“It’s always going to be hard to replace a Jose Chacin ... being one of our guys we feel most confident when he’s on the mound,” Raptors manager Jeremy Rodriguez said. “But I think, as a staff, we feel comfortable with our rotation. We just need guys to step up and keep doing what we’ve been doing.”
Before Chacin, it was fellow starter Joel Inoa on Aug. 9. Inoa and Chacin combined to start 22 games for Ogden with a combined 10-4 record. Chacin’s ERA was 2.85 while Inoa, at 5.05, had come on strong in his last handful of starts to emerge as a potent counterpunch to Chacin’s dominance.
Before that, it was hot-hitting position players.
All-Star Jacob Amaya displayed prototypical leadoff skills, hitting .346 and carrying a .465 on-base percentage before his call-up Aug. 1. Amaya was pegged as a clubhouse leader in the first half.
Outfielder Drew Avans had a 16-game stint in Ogden and hit .350 with 20 RBIs before a July 25 call-up. And 18-year-old infielder Miguel Vargas caught fire, hitting .394 with a .447 on-base percentage and 22 RBIs in 22 games before an Aug. 1 call-up.
Some of the lineup’s electricity was grounded and Ogden is out to a 13-12 record in the second half.
With the postseason looming, how does a team regroup for the homestretch and hit its stride for the playoffs?
“With us, it’s the tempo. High-energy baserunning, aggressive hitting and aggressive pitching,” Rodriguez said. “When we give up free bases, that’s when we let the game get out of hand. If we can take care of the baseball, I think we’ll be fine.”
It’s not as if the cabinets are completely bare. All-Star Daniel Robinson is still plugging along from multiple spots in the lineup, hitting .333 and anchoring the defensive effort in the outfield. Matt Cogen leads the team with 58 hits and has consistently produced.
All-Star infielder Ronny Brito has 10 homers and 47 RBIs in 43 games and is battling for the league’s home-run lead.
There’s also Jefrey Souffront, who hit a modest .286 through June but has consistently improved, now hitting .333. And James Outman, who reached more than 20 at-bats before logging the first hit of his pro career, has climbed to .259 and was last week’s league player of the week.
“With (Outman) having the success right now, it’s been really impressive to see his attitude stay the same. He’s never too high, never too low,” Rodriguez said. “That’s something a lot of people respect about him, so they’re always excited when he gets knocks or steals a couple bags because they know what he’s been through. He definitely deserves the success he’s having now.”
Ogden finishes its current homestand Thursday. It completes its regular-season home schedule with four games Aug. 29 to Sept. 1.
As it stands, Grand Junction has the upper hand on Idaho Falls to claim the South’s second playoff spot. Either Idaho Falls or Grand Junction will host Game 1 of the South Division Series on Sept. 7 before Ogden hosts Game 2 (and Game 3, if necessary) on Sept. 8-9.
VOYAGERS QUICKLY DISPATCH RAPTORS
Ogden’s only real big opportunity came in the second inning Wednesday in a game that featured several outfield assists and many rallies staved off by Raptors pitchers.
Despite a valiant mound effort, Ogden fell 3-1 to Great Falls in a quick 2 hour, 17 minute affair.
The Voyagers scored in the first inning with three consecutive two-out hits, the last of which was a double from Amado Nunez that missed clearing the left-center wall by 6 inches. It scored Bryce Bush but a relay from Outman to Jeremy Arocho to Ramon Rodriguez got Logan Sowers at the plate.
Similarly in the second, Outman ripped a triple to the right-field corner, scoring Niko Hulsizer and tying the game 1-1, but Outman was later thrown out at the plate trying to tag on a Jon Littell fly out.
In the fifth, three two-out hits led to another Great Falls run for the final 3-1 tally, the run scoring just before an outfield assist got a runner at third to end the inning.
Great Falls outhit Ogden 13-4. With Chacin gone, the Raptors deployed Wes Helsabeck (two innings), Evy Ruibal (two innings), Justin Lewis (three innings) and Hunter Speer (two innings) on the mound. The four continuously pitched out of jams to keep the game close and did not issue any walks.
But Ogden again left opportunities on the bases. Arocho was left stranded on third base in the third inning and double plays erased leadoff baserunners in the sixth and seventh innings.
The seven-game homestand comes to an end at 6:30 p.m. Thursday with the same two teams finishing their four-game series.