The last 12 months bode pretty well for the Houston Astros. The rest of the California League? Not so much.
The Lancaster JetHawks added the Cal League South Division second-half title to their first-half crown on Sunday, getting two hits and two RBIs from Delino DeShields in a 7-1 victory over visiting Rancho Cucamonga.
The Astros' Class A Advanced affiliate continued a roll that started last September when the JetHawks captured the first Cal League championship in their 17-year history.
"As an organization, we've taken some strides," Lancaster manager Rodney Linares said. "We're getting quality players in and they've responded well to our teaching. The guys are out there to have fun, they've created a culture of winning.
"That's pretty special. You don't see it, especially after all the years we've struggled in the Minor Leagues. This is my 15th year, and it's pretty special."
The first-half race went down to the wire, but Sunday's win gave the JetHawks a nine-game lead over second-place Inland Empire with eight to play.
"The last thing we want to do is be complacent," Linares said. "We want to go into the playoffs playing well, like we did last year. No one thought we'd win last year, but we got hot at the right time. This is what we're trying to do this year."
Few California Leaguers are hotter than DeShields, who singled in the go-ahead run in the second inning on Sunday, then capped a four-run third with an RBI double. The Astros' No. 8 prospect is 18-for-42 during a 10-game hitting streak and is batting .370 (67-for-181) since the end of June.
On Saturday night, the JetHawks beat the Quakes, 10-2, scoring in double figures for the 39th time this season. They lead the league in average (.292), runs (940), hits (1,329) and walks (629) while striking out the fewest times (897).
"Our offense has been dominant and we're not doing it by hitting home runs," Linares said, crediting hitting coach Darryl Robinson. "Guys walk a lot. We take advantage of mistakes. You make a mistake, an error or a walk, and before you look, we put up four or five runs."
Linares' team will have a first-round bye in the Cal League playoffs before facing the winner of the South Division mini-series.
"We're trying to set it up so our main guys keep playing," he said. "We've been battling some injuries, right now we're a little short on the bench. But we've got a special group of kids and they want to win as bad as anybody. We've got something special here."