Manager Larry Parrish and the Mud Hens enter the All-Star break with a 47-51 mark. THE BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH
The one fact Mud Hens fans can agree on is that the team entered the All-Star break with a 47-51 record that placed them fourth in the International League’s West Division.
Answers to any other questions about this team depend of whether you view the glass as half-full or half-empty.
Those watching with rose-colored glasses can claim the Hens are in a pennant race, since they stand just 5½ games behind West Division co-leaders Columbus and Indianapolis.
A pessimist would point to Toledo’s losing record in two of the first three months of the season, and their position at the bottom of the standings for all but seven days since the middle of May.
There’s no arguing the Mud Hens started 2014 slowly. Toledo has not had a .500 record this season after losing their first two games and four of their first six on the way to a 10-16 April mark.
The problems that month were obvious: The Hens pitching staff had a team ERA of 4.47, the second-highest mark in the 14-team league, while the offense also struggled.
While the team scored 124 runs in 26 games, it was a misleading mark.
The Hens scored 20 runs in one contest, meaning the Hens averaged just 4.2 runs per game in the 25 others they played.
Much of the team’s offensive struggles were pinned to veteran hitters such as Jordan Lennerton (.150 batting average in April), Ben Guez (.185 in April), and Trevor Crowe (injured early and hit just .178 through May).
“[On offense] we have a lot of guys in their first year at this level, and we needed the veteran guys to carry the offense,” Toledo manager Larry Parrish said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t get that. It made some of the first-year guys have to step up right away.”
On the mound, three of the Hens five starters have a ERA below 4.00 for the season (and a fourth, Duane Below, is close at 4.10). But the bullpen struggled at the start, resulting in four blown saves and a losing record for April.
It did not help that the bullpen woes in Detroit resulted in 10 Toledo bullpen transactions in April alone.
“We didn’t have any stability there, and there were a lot of struggles,” Parrish said of his early season bullpen.
“We didn’t have guys throwing strikes and pitching consistently.
“I think we’ve improved on that as the season has gone, but early in the year we had trouble with the bullpen.”
For those who blame the sub-.500 record on the loss of players such as J.D. Martinez, who hit 10 home runs in just 17 games for the Hens before earning a promotion to the Tigers, Parrish is quick to point out that such moves are typical for Triple-A.
“If you have a guy going good, the idea is for him to go up and help Detroit,” Parrish said. “But that wasn’t our problem early in the year.
“We had guys who had been in big-league camp who should have been able to hold their own, and they just didn’t do that.”
For Hens fans hoping the team can make a late-season push for a playoff bid, Parrish said the key will be to put together a sustained run of solid play from the offense, pitching, and defense.
“We seem to play a few games in a row where we look like we could be a pretty good club,” he said. “Then we have games where we don’t pitch well, or we leave a bunch of runners in scoring position, and we look like a sub-.500 team.
“If we could get consistent at playing well, we could get back into the battle.”
HESSMAN HURT: Mud Hens third baseman Mike Hessman did not compete in Monday’s Triple-A Home Run Derby and will not play in Wednesday’s Triple-A All-Star Game because of an injury.
Hessman suffered an infection on his left knee that kept him out of the lineup for Toledo’s loss to Pawtucket Sunday.
At this point there is no word on whether Hesssman will be available when the Mud Hens return to action Thursday at home against Louisville for a four-game series.