(Memorial Stadium - Boise, ID) - It's just over 100 degrees fahrenheit at 2:00pm in Boise, and steps away from the Vancouver Canadians dugout, the reading on the thermometer actually indicates 106. Players arriving to the ballpark are immediately in search of either the clubhouse that has a decent air conditioner if you stand right under it or some form of shade that can be found in the tunnels beneath Memorial Stadium. Simply put, you cannot avoid the heat that pierces through the Treasure Valley.
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As players take batting practice, you can see them step out of the batter's box and remove their helmet to wipe away several beads of sweat so that those droplets don't get into their eyes and burn. It's hot and the Canadians are grinding into the final days of a seven-game road trip.
Yet as the Canadians sweat it out, they remain atop the Northwest League's North Division with a record of 16-8, three games clear of a team that they won't even face in the first half of the season, the Tri-City Dust Devils.
Ask any Canadians player to a man, and they will say that they have little idea of what the standings are or who they are ahead or behind of. That's the standard answer in Minor League Baseball that shows you these players are somewhat polished in the world of media. Heck, the great fictional character Crash Davis might even tip his cap to them saying 'that's how you do it'. One game at a time, total team effort, etc, etc, etc.
But for those of us who DO look at the standings and games remaining, a few things jump out at you.
- How do the Canadians NOT play a North Division opponent in the first half of the season?! A weird scheduling anomaly? Likely, but to imagine the Canadians and Tri-City coming down the stretch in a dead heat and not getting the chance to play each other is simply too bad. It also means in a tie-break scenario that it wouldn't be head-to-head meetings that decide the division, but record against the rest of the North.
Vancouver and Tri-City each have three games remaining against the North as the Canadians welcome Spokane (July 12-14) and Tri-City host Everett. The C's are 5-0 against Spokane this summer while Everett and the Dust Devils have split their six-games. Vancouver is 8-3 (.727) while the Dust Devils are 8-4 (.667). Translation? Vancouver simply has to match what Tri-City does over those three games and they will own the tie-breaker.
This means, that Vancouver who has 14 games remaining simply have to play .500 baseball (7-7) and if they mirror Tri-City over that July 12-14 series, the Dust Devils would have to win four more games than Vancouver to take the North. Vancouver at 7-7 means Tri-City has to then go 11-3 with games against Everett, at Boise and Eugene remaining.
- How are the Canadians doing it? Vancouver does not have a hitter in the top 10 in average or runs and yet together have the best record in the NWL. Pitching? Bullpen? The devil can usually be found in the details - which in this instance is in the defense and ability to bounce back.
The Canadians defense has been outstanding - and don't look at errors and fielding percentages. Look at Vancouver's ability to leave opposing runner's on-base. The Canadians actually lead that category in the NWL having stranded 112 runners in scoring position over 24 games (4.7per game). That's a lot of opposing teams thinking they are going to get something out of an inning and coming away empty handed. There is something to be said for situational hitting, but also something to be said for situational pitching and defense and the Canadians get A's in most of these categories thus far.
- Consistency - The Canadians are 5-2 in games coming off of a loss. This means that they can bounce back with the best of them and as of this article, have only lost back-to-back games twice in the first 24 games of the season. There is no doubt that a losing streak will rear it's ugly head at some point, but so far, the Canadians have been unbelieveably responsive with their backs up against the wall. This can be attributed to both the players and the coaching staff for having the boys ready to go each night.
The Canadians have never won a first-half pennant and have at least put themselves in the conversation as we enter the final stretch. A lot can happen in even 48 hours, but the numbers say that Vancouver at least controls their own destiny which despite the heat is a pretty cool way to look at the next couple of weeks with an eight-game homestand on the horizon.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.