The difficult finish to their first half season left the Pensacola Blue Wahoos ready to embrace the all star break.
In a game Sunday which characterized a rough, past couple weeks, the Blue Wahoos were unable to generate offense in the early innings, then couldn't produce a bigger rally at the end, resulting in a 3-2 loss against the Tennessee Smokies at Blue Wahoos Stadium.
It left the Blue Wahoos (38-32), who had started the year with a franchise-best eight consecutive series wins, having dropped eight of their last 10 games and five of their last six series matchups. They finished three games behind first place Biloxi (41-29) in the Southern League South Division.
"The roster we have, the players are doing their best, but baseball can just happen like that," said Blue Wahoos manager Ramon Borrego.
After 70 games, mixed with just four days off, the Southern League season takes a three-day pause for all teams before the second half starts on Thursday with reset records back to start point and a new playoff chase.
"Everybody is waiting for this," said Borrego, as his players quickly dressed to exit for various destinations. "It's three days break.. Our bullpen will be fresh now. We will have five starters (pitching rotation). For the coaches, too, it will be good to refresh, regroup."
The Southern League All-Star game is Tuesday night (6:35 p.m.) at MGM Park in Biloxi, Miss, hosted by the Shuckers, whose turn to host the game happened to fall this season.
Three Blue Wahoos players, leading hitter Travis Blankenhorn, right fielder Jaylin Davis and versatile infielder-catcher Caleb Hamilton will be playing in the game.
Borrego said Blankenhorn and Davis will also participate in Monday's Home Run Derby at MGM Park.
"I'm so excited for them. They earned that," Borrego said.
Three other Blue Wahoos players, pitchers Griffin Jax, who worked into the fourth inning as Sunday's starter, along with injured pitchers Brusdar Graterol and Ryan Mason, were named to the South All-Stars, but won't play due to their health status.
The all-star break is affording Borrego a chance to return to his home in Fort Myers where his wife and children reside. It will be an extended break for Borrego and Justin Willard, one of the team's two pitching coaches, both of whom are utilizing the Minnesota Twins minor-league staff option to take five additional days off as vacation.
Hitting coach Steve Singleton will manage the team when the second half begins Thursday with a five-game series on the road against the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp. Cibney Bello, the Blue Wahoos, other pitching coach, will be helping as the assistant manager in that series.
Borrego and Willard will resume their roles when the Blue Wahoos return to Pensacola on June 25 to begin a nine-day, two-opponent homestand that ends July 3.
"You get the five days (vacation) and the organization said you can take it any time," Borrego said. "My plan was to make to the playoffs, go on vacation and have a good time.
"We had chances (to win first half), but we still have the chance now with second half. We will try to get the second half, get in the playoffs and go try to win the (Southern League) championship."
Borrego said the roster will be bolstered by the return of Alex Kirilloff, the Twins' No. 2 overall prospect, who joined the team May 2, then went back on the injured list June 3.
"He'll be ready for that first game (Thursday) back," Borrego said. "He had live BP (batting practice) yesterday and he looked good, so he will be ready."
In addition, Borrego expects the return of third baseman Brian Schales, who played only 18 games at the beginning of the season, batting .241, but with 13 RBI and three homers. The Blue Wahoos also figure to have a set pitching rotation, following Griffin Jax' solid outing Sunday and the boost provided by Brian Sammons and Charlie Barnes, elevated in late May from the Fort Myers Miracle.
And there may be a couple other players added from Fort Myers, the Twins' High-A affiliate, who led that team to the first half Florida State League division crown.
"We'll be a different team," Borrego said. "We'll be able to build with different players."
The Blue Wahoos were hoping to finish with a series win Sunday, amid a sun-splashed crowd of 4,348 which pushed the team's first half attendance past 148,000 - third best in the Southern League behind much larger Jacksonville and Birmingham.
The game was scoreless until Tennessee (33-36) pushed across a run in the fourth inning off Jax, the Air Force Academy graduate, who had his longest outing since May 16. With two runners on, none out, Jax got the next two batters out, then Andro Cutura, a spot starter, followed by ending the inning on a strikeout.
"I am so happy for him. I like what I saw," said Borrego on Jax' outing. "We missed this guy in the first half with a couple outings, because of injury. But I think he's back, so I was glad to see him pitching really well and we will be fine with him for the second half."
The Smokes scored two runs in the seventh inning off Cutura on Roberto Cara's two-run single.
But in the bottom of the seventh, the Blue Wahoos loaded the bases with one out. Jordan Gore drove in a run on a sacrifice fly. Tanner English hit an RBI single. But the inning ended when Blankenhorn struck out.
The Blue Wahoos had two runners on in the eight with one out, but Smokies reliever Tommy Nance ended the inning by getting Jimmy Kerrigan and Michael Davis to fly out.
In the ninth, the Blue Wahoos went down in order against Nance.
"We're trying to put the offenses together in these last couple games, but it didn't happen," said Borrego, whose team lost 2-1 Saturday night. All five games in the series were decided by one run and the first three games went into extra-innings.
English and Randy Cesar both had two hits apiece for the Blue Wahoos, who had only six in the game.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.