In 2018, the TinCaps began the season with six consecutive losses before they finally won. It was a hole they spent the entire first half of the season trying to dig their way out of. In 2019, through the same six games, Fort Wayne is 4-2.
The last two wins have come thanks to late rallies, with the TinCaps piling up 10 runs in the eighth and ninth innings of the first two games this week against Dayton. They scored four in the eighth and one more in the ninth to win 5-4 tonight, with the game-winning run scampering across thanks to a double off the bat of Dwanya Williams-Sutton. Manager Anthony Contreras wishes his team would get the bats going a little earlier in the game, but he will take the wins however the come.
"That's always fun to be a part of," Contreras said of the game-winning rally. "But just the way we approached this game, I didn't think we were prepared the way we were the last couple of days. I thought we were a little flat, the energy was really low to start. ... As a team we could feel that, it was very quiet in the dugout.
"They have to do a better job of staying motivated and finding ways to keep themselves going, because you're always going to have an opportunity like that at the end of the game. For some reason it always seems like TinCaps baseball turns on in like the eighth, ninth inning."
It was Luis Almanzar who broke the TinCaps out of their offensive doldrums tonight. Almanzar clubbed a massive two-out grand slam over the left-field fence to turn a 2-0 deficit into a 4-2 lead in the eighth inning, setting off a frenzy in the Fort Wayne dugout. Almanzar hit just .176 last season after joining the TinCaps as a top-30 prospect early in the year. Almanzar, 19, has returned this season with more confidence and has already hit two home runs, tying his total from last season. He has a hit in all four games in which he's played this season. The TinCaps infield was supposed to be Edwards-Marcano-Lopez, but Almanzar will play himself into the lineup on a regular basis if he keeps taking swings like he did tonight. The grand slam traveled 368 feet and left his bat at 97 mph.
"He put on some extra weight, got a little stronger this offseason and it started to carry over into his hitting," Contreras said of Almanzar. "He's a lot more aggressive at the plate. He's always been a good hitter. When (the Padres) signed him, that was his premium tool, his hit-ability. Just being able to tap into it, being given a second chance at this level, I think he's starting to reap the benefits of the offseason."
The TinCaps are reaping the benefits of Almanzar's new approach, as he's already driven in seven runs. Meanwhile, the Fort Wayne pitching staff has also been excelling. Right-hander Angel Acevedo provided another solid start, going five innings and giving up two runs on three hits without a walk, running the TinCaps' starters K/BB ratio to a magnificent 37/5. Fort Wayne's starters are making teams beat them, rather than giving out free passes, and the approach has been effective.
"If they're going to do damage, let them do it via hit rather than a walk," Contreras said of his pitchers' mindset. "It's nice to be able to see this young group like that be able to attack the strike zone, put balls in play and have some success while they do it."
There are areas for Fort Wayne to improve – the bullpen and early offense come to mind – but for a team this young to get off to such a hot start is a great sign. The TinCaps are having a blast right now and it's been exciting to watch. It's a lot better than 0-6.