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Mud Hens post another losing season in 2017

09/05/2017, 5:12pm EDT

Some positives to be found in rubble of 8th straight losing year

Toledo Mud Hens LF Jim Adduci, left, slaps five to CF Tyler Collins after scoring against Indianapolis during the third inning of a baseball game Monday, September 4. BLADE PHOTO

At first glance, it seems easy to characterize the Toledo Mud Hens’ season as a failure.

Toledo finished with a sub-.500 record for the eighth year in a row, and it extended its string of consecutive seasons without a Governors’ Cup playoff appearance to 10, the second-longest streak in the International League.

But manager Mike Rojas would disagree. What’s more, his example of the “success” of this year’s team is an obscure one.

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“On Friday and Saturday, we had optional hitting,” Rojas said Sunday before the final two games of the season. “And every single one of our hitters showed up.

“You don’t see that in August and September — particularly for a team that’s out of the race. My hat’s off to each and every one of our guys for putting in that effort.”

Here are a few more ways the Mud Hens’ 2017 season can be viewed as a “success.”

The obvious one is the team’s final record, which just missed the break-even mark at 70-71. That also was the most wins for Toledo since the 2010 team also reached 70.

While the team finished third in the four-team IL West Division, it trailed second-place Columbus by just a half game.

Toledo used a record-setting August performance to almost reach the .500 mark. The Hens were 22-10, the most wins in a month for Toledo since at least 1993. It also was tied the third-highest total for an International League team since 2005.

The problem was that record-setting August was rendered meaningless by a 10-19 May and a 10-17 July.

The reasons for the Hens’ struggles in those two months — and really the rest of the season — was an inconsistent offense. Toledo needed a hot finish to avoid the worst batting average in the 14-team league, and no team scored fewer than the Hens’ 541 runs.

Omar Infante used a strong finish to rank eighth in the IL with a .282 batting average. Bryan Holaday led the Hens with 12 home runs, and Efren Navarro’s 61 RBIs were tops on the team.

To put those last two totals in perspective, Holaday’s home run total was the fewest for a Toledo team leader since Torey Lovullo had 10 in 1989, and Navarro’s RBI mark was the fewest for a team leader since Lovullo, now the Diamondbacks’ manager, led the way with 58 RBIs in 1990.

Toledo hit just 93 home runs to rank 12th, and the team’s .316 on-base percentage was only one point better than last-place Syracuse.

“We had guys who didn’t get rolling for most of the season,” Rojas said. “We struggled with our on-base percentage, and we struggled when we hit with runners in scoring position.”

That was too much pressure to put on a pitching staff that posted a 3.89 ERA. That’s a good number, but it ranked only eighth-best in the pitching-rich IL.

The Mud Hens benefited from a strong bullpen all season long. Toledo relievers combined for a 3.26 ERA and had 27 wins as well as 42 saves.

Edward Mujica finished second in the IL with 21 saves, and Arcenio Leon finished sixth with 10 despite not pitching after the All-Star break.

Toledo dominated the competition when it came to collecting holds, which are given when a reliever enters a game in a save situation and leaves before the game’s final out with the save intact.

Logan Kensing finished second in the IL with 11, while Daniel Stumpf was fourth with 10 despite not pitching for the Hens after June 1. Of the five pitchers who were next with nine, two were Hens (Bruce Rondon and Kyle Ryan).

“There were a lot of times we used our bullpen for all nine innings in a game, and they almost always did a tremendous job,” Rojas said. “We kept the bullpen busy, and at times it was an adventure, but they pulled us through that.

“I think there was much more success than failure from our bullpen. They were the backbone of our team.”

Rojas said the biggest success this season was that a number of players did well when promoted to Detroit. Among the successes were catcher John Hicks, who is batting .302 with the Tigers, and outfielder Alex Presley, who carried a .313 mark into Tuesday’s action.

On the pitching side, Toledo’s opening day starter, Warwick Saupold, is 3-1 with a 3.81 ERA in 36 relief appearances with Detroit, while Stumpf has a 2.76 ERA since his promotion.

But Rojas said his best memory of the just-ended season will be the way his team never quit.

“We wanted to finish at .500 or better, and these guys never packed it in,” he said. “They came to work every day, and that showed all the way to the last game of the season.”

The year that was

A look at the best and worst of the Mud Hens’ 2017 season:

■ Season highlight: How could it be anything but the Mud Hens’ August renaissance? Toledo had an impressive 22-10 record, with those wins tying for the fourth-highest total by an International League team since 2005. Perhaps more impressive was the Hens had a 13-5 road record for the month.

■ Season lowlight: The Mud Hens came out of the All-Star break with a four-game home series against Columbus, which was in second place in the IL West by 4½ games. If Toledo would have strung together some victories, a winning season and playoff chase might have been possible. Instead, the Hens lost all four by a 25-11 margin, including a 14-8 defeat and back-to-back 3-0 setbacks, and Toledo went 5-13 the rest of the month.

■ Most valuable player (Rojas): The Toledo manager selected first baseman Efren Navarro, who batted .276 with 10 homers and led the team with 61 RBIs and 61 runs scored. He also finished third in the IL with 71 walks on the way to a .370 on-base percentage. “Navarro was more valuable to our offense than just his numbers,” said Rojas, who noted Navarro was voted the best defensive first baseman in the IL in a Baseball America poll of league managers.

■ Most valuable player (Blade): Catcher Bryan Holaday joined the team just before the season started as a back-up to John Hicks, but by season’s end he had become more. Holaday batted .269, and led the Hens with 12 home runs while adding 50 RBIs. Further, he helped the Toledo pitching staff develop while throwing out a league-best 35 would-be basestealers.

■ Most valuable pitcher (Rojas): The Mud Hens manager selected right-hander Logan Kensing, who made 66 appearances — 10 more than any other IL pitcher — and finished with a 3-3 record and 2.54 ERA. “He was the heartbeat of our bullpen. Whenever we called on him, he answered,” Rojas said.

■ Most valuable pitcher (Blade): When Toledo needed Edward Mujica to be a set-up man, he posted seven holds. When closer Arcenio Leon was injured, Mujica took over as the closer and finished second in the IL with 21 saves — and did not blow a save in the final three months of the season. He had a 1-1 record with a 2.57 ERA for the year.

■ By the numbers: The Mud Hens attendance totals continue to slump as the team drew just 533,014 fans this season. That is only about 1,000 more fans than last season, and less than 2,000 fans than two years ago — and that makes it the fourth-lowest season attendance since Fifth Third Field opened in 2002.

Contact John Wagner at jwagner@theblade.com419-724-6481, or on Twitter @jwagnerblade.

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