The Lynchburg Hillcats were the dominant team in the High-A Carolina League. They won both halves of the Northern Division and finished the season with an 87-52 record. The next closest team was the Buies Creek Astros at 74-65, who failed to qualify for the playoffs in either half of the Southern Division.
One significant contributor to the Hillcats success was the stability of their roster. Of the 12 position players on the Opening Day roster, only one was not with the team when the season ended on September 9 (infielder Yonathan Mendoza, who received a promotion to AA Akron on July 6). Seven of the original 13 pitchers also lasted the full season on Lynchburg’s roster. For a minor league team whose primary goal is player development, that level of stability is unusual.
The Lynchburg Hillcats put up four runs in the third and three more in the sixth to coast to a 7-1 victory to take the rubber match of the Carolina League’s Northern Division Championship Series from the Frederick Keys on Saturday night.
The victory gave the Hillcats a share of the Carolina League championship, an honor that they will share with the Down East Wood Ducks, who won their series on Friday to claim the Southern Division Championship Series.
The Carolina League plays a split season schedule, with the winner of each half gaining entry into the postseason festivities. The Lynchburg club earned a spot by winning the first half in the Northern Division. Finishing out the season strong by sweeping its final three home games against the Potomac Nationals, and then traveling to Wilmington, Lynchburg completed a four-game sweep against the Blue Rocks to conclude the season and win the second half Northern Division crown. Overall, the team finished its season with a league best 87-52 record, posting the best winning percentage for a Lynchburg team since they were a Mets farm club in 1985.
Looking at the roster for that Mets club, the most recognized name is shortstop Kevin Elster. He would go on to play for the Mets’ 1986 World Series Championship before establishing himself as their everyday shortstop in 1988. This year’s edition of the Lynchburg team is similar in that few players are top draft picks or rising stars. Instead, the Hillcats play as a team in the truest sense of that word.
“That’s kind of how we are built,” said manager Tony Mansolino. “At the beginning of the year, coming here, we thought we’d have pretty good pitching. That’s held true. The rest of it we weren’t so sure, no big strengths team wise.”
At 6’1”, 175 lb., Martin Cervenka is a right-handed hitter who looks like he belongs on a ball field.
Born in Prague, Czechoslovakia, he was the first Czech player to sign with the Indians organization. He has been playing baseball as a professional since he was 16. Now 24 years old, this is his first year at the High-A level.
“It was exciting for me,” he said about signing. “Ever since I was young I wanted to play pro baseball. Luckily I got the opportunity with Cleveland. It was just cool to have the experience.”
It has been a good week for the Lynchburg Hillcats as they carried a five-game winning streak through much of the week before losing game one of their series with the Potomac Nationals on Thursday.
Last Friday, Lynchburg dropped a 4-0 decision to the Myrtle Beach Pelicans in the series opener before winning three straight to start off their seven-game road trip. After being shut out, they put up five runs over each of the next three games of the series before moving on to Carolina to take on the Mudcats from Zebulon. Mother Nature interfered with the festivities on Monday, but Tuesday’s doubleheader went on as planned. The ‘Cats swept that double dip, winning by 1-0 and 7-1 finals before an off day on Wednesday. The pitching staff allowed eight runs on Thursday in an 8-2 defeat in the opener from Lynchburg with the P’Nats before a 4-2 win on Friday night.
Despite winning the first three games of their four-game set with the Lansing Lugnuts, any dreams of a division crown fizzled out for the Lake County Captains this week after getting stomped in five straight games in a four-day span by Bowling Green to start an eight-game homestand at Classic Park in Eastlake.
The season is winding down in the Midwest League, as the Captains (29-34 in the second half) have seven games left on their regular season schedule while clinging to a slight chance of a postseason trip. They trail the Great Lakes Loons by three and a half games for the final Eastern Division second half qualifying spot. Lake County has a game against Lansing on Monday night before heading to Dayton for a three-game series to wrap up the road schedule from Wednesday to Friday. They will then return home to host the final three games of their season as they face the Lugnuts again on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
In other scribblings in the Captains’ log:
The Lake County Captains chased perfection on Monday, and while the club came up short in their pursuit of history, they did come away with a 2-1 win over West Michigan in the series opener from Classic Park. Over the previous seven days, the results had been mixed for the Indians’ Class-A affiliate, who took three of four at home against Dayton before hitting the road to face Great Lakes, where they promptly dropped three of four.
At 21-28 in the second half of the Midwest League season, the Captains are on the verge of elimination, trailing the South Bend Cubs by 11.5 games from the sixth spot in the Eastern Division. A combination of Cubs’ wins and Captains’ losses equaling eleven games will spell elimination for the young Indians farm club. While they have played well in front of the home crowd in the second half, posting a 12-9 record, they have been lost and have lost on the road a lot, earning a 9-19 record away from Eastlake.
In other news and notes from the Captains’ log:
After ending July on a four-game losing streak, things have gotten a little bit better for the Lake County Captains over the course of the first week of the final full month of the Class-A regular season.
They wrapped up their series with West Michigan to start the month of August, splitting a pair after dropping the first two games of the four-game set. On the second leg of their road trip, they won the opener against Great Lakes, 8-2, but fell 12-3 and 5-2 in the final two games on Thursday and Friday. They came home to Eastlake on Saturday to start a four-game series with Dayton, losing the opener 7-2 before returning the favor by the same score on Sunday night. They clinched at least a series split with a 5-1 win on Monday.
The Captains (18-25), in seventh place in the eight-team Midwest League Eastern Division, will finish their series with Dayton on Tuesday night before returning to Great Lakes for four more beginning Thursday night. They will come back to Classic Park on Monday to host West Michigan before returning to the road once again.
In other notes from the Captains log:
The Lake County Captains had a short week since the last Captains’ log as the club went out on the road for a three-game series in Beloit before a three-gamer at Wisconsin.
Coming in with two days of rest after off days on Monday and Tuesday, Brock Hartson led the club to a 4-2 win on Wednesday. Thursday’s game was rained out, leading to a doubleheader split on Friday, with the Captains winning the first game 9-1 before dropping the nightcap, 7-0. In Appleton, a four-run ninth gave the Captains an 8-7 lead, but a two-run home run by Isan Diaz sent Wisconsin to a walk-off win. Lake County recovered from the defeat with wins on Sunday and Monday by 6-2 finals.
After Monday’s game, the Captains remain in the middle of the Midwest League’s Eastern Division with a 13-17 record, a half dozen games behind the front running South Bend Cubs while sitting in fifth place. Following an off day on Tuesday, the club returns home briefly for a three-game set against the Cubs before hitting the road for a seven-game trip with stops at West Michigan and Great Lakes.
In other news from the Captains’ log:
As William Shakespeare almost once said, “It was the winter of our discontent in Eastlake, Ohio, now made glorious by the chill of April.”
Such is the call as another season of Lake County Captains baseball begins on the east side of Cleveland as a new host of young minor league ball players take the stage for, often, their maiden voyage into professional baseball, their hopes set on Progressive Field a mere 20 minutes down Route 2. Their journey will take them many more miles before culminating at the big league stage, for those who make it that far. Some may have their journeys stopped sooner, some may find themselves separated from the Indians in a few seasons. But now, at Classic Park, they are all young, all hopeful, and all ready to work as hard as possible to leave their marks on the Indians system.