MIDLAND, Mich. - The good news for the Great Lakes Loons is that they're firmly entrenched in a six-team playoff race that could go down to the wire.
The bad news is that their offense needs a kick-start - and fast.
The Loons enter tonight's (7:05 p.m.) game against Fort Wayne at Dow Diamond just 1 ½ games behind Lake County and one game behind Dayton and Lansing in the battle for two available playoff berths in the Midwest League's Eastern Division.
It's a race that might best resemble a demolition derby, what with all six teams sporting under-.500 records in the second half (the Loons are 17-21). But two teams will end up in the postseason, which isn't necessarily a beauty contest.
"Once you're in the playoffs, anything can happen," Loons reliever Jacob Rhame said earlier in the week. "It's not always the best team that wins. You can get hot and win a series."
But it's become apparent that the Loons need to first heat up an offense that has gone into a deep freeze since a three-game sweep of Western Division power Kane County two weeks ago. They've gone 2-6 since then and scored just 16 runs.
The Loons were shut out by Fort Wayne on Wednesday night - the second time they've been held scoreless in four games.
"We need to start hitting. That's what it comes down to," said Loons manager Bill Haselman after Wednesday's loss. "We're not getting runners on base consistently enough to start something."
And when the Loons do get baserunners, they've struggled to bring them home. They've batting just .197 (14 of 71) with runners in scoring position since completing the sweep of Kane County.
The Loons had few opportunities last night against Fort Wayne starter Kyle Lloyd, who pitched six scoreless innings while allowing only two hits. They didn't have much success against relievers Jorge Guzman and Ryan Butler, either, as Jacob Scavuzzo's two-out triple in the eighth inning represented the only time they advanced a runner past first base.
Still, they have a good opportunity to reach the postseason with 32 games left in the regular season, all of which are against Eastern Division teams. Even Fort Wayne, which was on life support during a franchise-record 13-game losing streak earlier this month, has entered the fray. The TinCaps have won 12 of their last 17 games, including the first two games of the three-game series that concludes tonight at Dow Diamond.
The Loons hope right-handed starter Scott Barlow (4-5, 4.74 ERA) can give them quality innings tonight, what with pitching staff still a bit weary from Tuesday's 12-inning game with the TinCaps. Barlow struggled in his last two starts, but pitched five scoreless innings against Fort Wayne in a win on July 9.
Fort Wayne will counter with left-hander Jeffery Enloe, who has pitched for three teams this season but is 3-3 with a 2.05 ERA with the TinCaps.
Tonight is $1 Family Feast Night at the ballpark, presented by Chemical Bank. Fans can enjoy $1 hot dogs, 16 oz. Pepsi products, ice cream sandwiches and Better Made Chips all night long.
The Great Lakes Loons are an eighth-year Single-A partner of the Los Angeles Dodgers. For tickets and more information visit loons.com or call 989-837-BALL.