See, June is playoff time in the minor leagues, because from AA on down the first half winner earns a playoff spot. We were thrilled when Fort Wayne, our Midwest League affiliate, clinched the first half title back on Sunday, but we're greedy.
Two weeks ago San Antonio was five games behind Midland with 14 games to play in the first half. Pulling a Rockies, the Missions went on a tear, including taking three of four from Midland over the weekend to take a one game lead for the first half title. One series remained in Corpus Christi.
After three innings in Corpus the Missions trailed 5-1, while Midland was up 4-0 in their game in Frisco after four. It was looking like we might be tied at the end of the night, but then the Missions closed the gap to 5-3 with two in the fourth before taking the lead 7-5 in the 5th on Lance Zawadzki's grand slam. The excitement was short-lived, however, as Corpus scored four of their own in the bottom of the 5th to regain the lead 9-7. With Midland in control of Frisco, San Antonio had to handle matters themselves. The Missions chipped away at Corpus with one in the 7th and one in the 8th to send the game into extras where they scored three in the top of the 10th to pull out an unlikely victory. Still up by one game.
Into the 7th inning stretch Midland was tied with Frisco 1-1 and San Antonio trailed Corpus 2-1. High drama. Then, in a span of about 10 minutes Midland gave up two in the bottom of the 7th to go down 3-1, and San Antonio scored one in the top of the 8th to tie it up at two. In both the 8th and the 9th Midland got runners on base, while Mitch Canham led off the San Antonio 9th with a double. Thank goodness for gameday mini.
In the end, Midland couldn't push any runs across, so Frisco held on to the 3-1 lead: San Antonio wins the first half. For good measure, though, about 30 minutes later Mitch Canham led off the 11th with a solo homer and the bullpen finished off their 5.1 hitless innings to "earn" the win and the title. All it took was 12 wins in 15 games.
The end result is that two of our three full-season affiliates who play with this format, San Antonio and Fort Wayne, won their respective first half titles. Meanwhile, the third team, Lake Elsinore, had four pitchers in the All-Star Game last night (Luebke, McBryde, Pelzer, and Oland) combine for five innings, three hits, one run and six strikeouts. Though they didn't win the first half, they do currently hold a seven game lead in the Wild Card.
All of this attention begs the question: is winning really the goal of player development? After all, the primary objective of any minor league system is to develop quality Major League players, and you don't get any points for minor league victories. However, as Vince Lombardi said:
Winning is not a sometime thing, it's an all time thing. You don't win once in a while, you don't do things right once in a while, you do them right all the time. Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.That does not mean that we have our A-ball managers matching up left-on-left in the 6th inning or that we manipulate rosters to get wins. Skill development comes first. It does mean, however, that we want to win. We want our young players to learn how to win, and we want them to expect to win. In our minds, that is part of their development.
Congrats to both Fort Wayne and San Antonio as well as our entire player development staff.