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The Journal Gazette

  • After celebrating Monday, TinCaps players must turn their attention to a title showdown with Quad Cities, which leads the 16-team Midwest League in runs scored. (Nick Falzerano | For The Journal Gazette)

  • Outfielder Nate Easley says the TinCaps started winning after talking to each other more and becoming more unified. (Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette)

Wednesday, September 13, 2017 1:00 am

Midwest League Championship

TinCaps out to ride talent, unity to top

After poor first half, team looking to continue championship march

CHRIS GOFF | The Journal Gazette

TinCaps vs. Quad Cities

What: Midwest League Championship Series

Series: Best of 5

Game 1: 7:05 p.m. today at Parkview Field

Game 2: 7:05 p.m. Thursday at Parkview Field

Game 3: TBA Saturday in Davenport, Iowa

Game 4 (if necessary): TBA Sunday in Davenport, Iowa

Game 5 (if necessary): TBA Monday in Davenport, Iowa

Three months ago, the TinCaps didn't look like a championship team or even a playoff club. They knew it.

Amid all the losing, the TinCaps had no shortage of informal therapy sessions, players huddling behind clubhouse doors. Their quest: spark a dedication to winning, to those all-American values of putting the team first.

Concerned about signs of a divided clubhouse, several players addressed the team and said something had to change.

“There were a lot of cliques, as you would say,” outfielder Nate Easley said. “We weren't a whole team, and the second half we had some more meetings with players on players and decided we needed to become more of a team, more unity.”

Parkview Field's home clubhouse took on a new vibe. With the speakers turned up, music was pumping, and there was a different energy in the room. There was a more relaxed atmosphere.

“We started messing around, cracking a lot more jokes,” Easley said. “We started playing more music. Everybody was talking to everybody, and the chemistry started to click, and the wins started to come.”

It would be easy to draw a straight line between the TinCaps' cohesiveness and their presence in the Midwest League Championship Series, which begins tonight at Parkview Field, but that wouldn't be true. There's never been any shortage of talent in their clubhouse.

Just ask Bowling Green, whom Fort Wayne swept last week in a best-of-three first-round series. Just ask Dayton, held to two runs as the TinCaps won the Eastern Division Championship Series two games to one.

“They have good players,” Dayton manager Luis Bolivar said. “They have guys with a lot of talent.”

Now comes the TinCaps' final moment of truth, a best-of-five series against Quad Cities for the right to hang a red and blue banner that reads, “Midwest League Champions 2017.”

Quad Cities is shooting for its seventh league championship, and the River Bandits' offense is mighty dangerous. They led the entire 16-team league in runs scored this season.

“They can swing it,” Fort Wayne manager Anthony Contreras said. “Those guys can barrel up some baseballs. They have weapons.”

In this postseason, Quad Cities has hit four home runs and averaged 5.0 runs per game. Fort Wayne has hit six homers and averaged 3.6 runs per game.

The keys to the Rivers Bandits' lineup have been Josh Rojas, who has driven in seven runs in the six playoff games, and leadoff man Chas McCormick, who is hitting .348 this postseason with a .448 on-base percentage.

Fort Wayne has to get third baseman Hudson Potts going offensively. He believes he is ready to break loose.

He went 2 for 4 with a solo homer in Monday's Game 3 at Dayton, but he is 3 for 18 in these playoffs.

On the other hand, it might not matter the way the TinCaps are pitching. Their starters have been spectacular this postseason: 27 1/3 innings, 25 hits, four earned runs (1.32 ERA) and 32 strikeouts.

“Pitchers doing great is great momentum,” outfielder Jack Suwinski said. “We're just doing our jobs, one at a time.”

cgoff@jg.net