Fireworks can now be set off for more reasons than just to celebrate our nations independence. The Long Island Ducks have won their fifth first-half Championship in the teams 16 year history with their victory over the Sugar Land Skeeters on Saturday night.
“It’s great that we won the first half, there’s no question about that” stated Ducks manager Kevin Baez. “It’s what you strive to do, and we did it. As we move into the second half, we’re going to keep trying to play our best ball.”
The first-half of the season was cluttered with transactions and injuries yet the Ducks managed to keep it all together and come out on top. The battle began with the stellar play by the Somerset Patriots as they started off the season with 13 consecutive wins. Although it was early in the season, no one, other than the Ducks players, imagined the Ducks winning the first half after starting 1-6 and seeing the success of the Patriots. As the season moved on, the Patriots began to slip and the Ducks capitalized when the opportunity presented itself.
With injuries to Cody Puckett, Dan Lyons, Lew Ford, Tyler Colvin, and Sean Burroughs, Delta Cleary Jr, the team picked each other up and battled through it all. Adversity was starring at them and they did what was needed to be done, win. The injuries caused major lineup changes which drastically effected the Lentini-Lyons one-two punch at the top of the batting order. With Anthony Vega leading off in recent games and Lentini batting second, we saw Lyons in the middle of the order.
“We lost Ford and I was looking to put speed and pressure up front” explained Baez. “We were trying to get something else going with Puckett batting before Lyons and hope Lyons could drive in the runs. For a time there, we were losing close games and as a manager it’s something that you try to work out and the speed up front seems to work best for us”.
For the majority of the first half, Fehlandt Lentini and Dan Lyons were the best one-two combo in the league to lead off an inning. Lentini has incredible speed and with that, Lyons gets to see better pitches to hit as no pitcher wants to mess around with a potential stolen base. Should we really agree with Baez’s decision to change the lineup now with most everyone healthy again? It may not be the right thing to do as the Ducks did end up winning the first half. Don’t forget, Somerset played a big role in the Ducks success as the Patriots could not string together many victories down the stretch. Baez did happen to return the line up to its original form for the final game of the first-half, but we’ll see how long that lasts.
“It takes a lot of pressure off of me with Lentini leading off” said Lyons. “I know I’m going to see much better pitches and it’s nice to know the guy in front of me (Lentini) is one of the fastest guys in the league.”
“We have a pretty good idea of what the other person is going to do” explained Lentini. “We feed off of each other well enough to the point that we don’t need to exchange signs with one another on steals or hit and runs, we just know what each other will do.”
The Ducks pitching has been their major key to success, most notably their bullpen. Reliever Eury De La Rosa has drawn the attention of many major league scouts from all over throughout the first-half. It seems he strikes out the side in nearly every performance. The relievers have been the backbone of the team as De La Rosa sets up for Amalio Diaz. Following Diaz is typically their heavy hard throwing closer, Todd Coffey. On an off night for Diaz, Crider would step up to the mound and get the job done as well. The last thing opposing teams want to do is enter the sixth inning trailing the Ducks. Seeing the Ducks six, seven, eight pitchers is the same as being the team to face Mariano Rivera. If the Yankees were winning in the ninth, you knew the game was over and Rivera would seal the deal, no questions asked. And that’s how the Atlantic League teams feel, should they enter the sixth with the Ducks leading.
“Our starters were great” stated Baez. “Our pitching is what’s going to take us to the Championship and we need them to keep doing what they’ve been doing. They’ve gotten us to this point so far and we can only expect the same moving forward”.
Winning the first-half championship means the Ducks have clinched a spot in the 2016 Atlantic League Playoffs. There are many things to look forward to in the second half, especially with the tight race between them and the Patriots. With the way the two clubs have played through the first-half, you could assume they’ll meet once again in the playoffs. Let’s not forget, there is some unfinished business here. The Ducks lost in five games to the Patriots in last years playoffs and they’ll have none of that this year!
“I can’t predict what we’re going to do but we will continue to try to get better and better as we move forward” said Baez.
Closing out the weekend was the July 4th celebration game. As the Ducks resembled a team of Uncle Sam’s, Bethpage Ballpark packed in a record breaking crowd of 7,602. The record surpasses the previous record of 7,582 which was set on July 4th, 2009. The Ducks closed out the weekend and first half with a win over the Skeeters by the score of 5-2 to bring the Ducks record to 40 wins and 30 losses.