SPRINGFIELD – In many ways, Sunday’s 2-1 loss to the Yakima Valley Pippins in the season finale was a microcosm of the Springfield Drifters’ season.
Great pitching. Good defense. A lack of power and timely hitting. And another one-run loss.
There was no score through eight innings, then the Pippins broke through with two runs in the top of the ninth. The Drifters scratched across one run in the bottom of the ninth, but their season ended in familiar fashion – with two runners on, and the team again coming up short when it needed a game-tying hit.
“We’ve lost a lot of one-run games,” head coach Tommy Richards said. “We won five more games than we did last year, and that’s cool, but if you want to be a good team you have to win those one-run games. You have to be comfortable in tight games.”
The Drifters ended their second season in sixth place in the West Coast League’s South Division with a 22-32 record, falling six wins shy of qualifying for a playoff spot.
To take that step up in the standings next season, the Drifters will need heavier lumber in the lineup.
“We definitely weren’t a power team – we were last in the league in homers by a considerable margin,” Richards said. Infielders Charlie Updegrave and Jaden Sheppard each homered twice to lead the team.
“I would rather be a team that plays the on-base game and moves guys over and executes because you can be consistent that way. They say speed doesn’t slump. The slug game can come and go.
“As far as batting average goes, we were 12th or 13th at the halfway mark and we finished with the eighth-best average so we definitely climbed a little bit. We were eighth or ninth in runs per game.”
Defensively, the Drifters struggled early on, but things got better. Much better.
“We started playing a more consistent lineup, guys knew where they were playing, and we played better as the summer went on,” Richards said. “The numbers got better, our fielding percentage got better, and our numbers got better defensively, but the numbers don’t tell you everything. They don’t take into account range, plays that should be made or not letting runners get to second base, things like that.”
While the defense took a while to jell, the pitching staff was in prime form from the get-go.
“They battled, especially that first half,” Richards said. “We were one of the best pitching staffs in the league, and it was a good brand too, not many strikeouts but not many walks either, we were pitching to contact. I think it faltered some later in the summer, mainly because we were a little thinner. They did a great job, but it’s hard to keep up that pace for a full season.
“Our bullpen was a strength. I always felt like our bullpen was better than anybody else’s bullpen.
“In the evolution of baseball, especially in the big leagues, if you don’t have a good bullpen, you’re not going to be good.”
The pitching staff, which had a team ERA that was in the top five in the WCL for most of the first half, will be the aces in the hole for next year’s team.
“Our pitching was crushing it in the first half of the season,” Richards said. “We tell the players, it’s process over the outcome – we should do the things that make our club better and have your focus on the process and be detached from what the results are.”
While finishing outside of the postseason chase wan’t the plan, Richards said he saw silver linings to the season.
“I’m proud of them. The guys who started the summer and saw it through all the way to the end, I really appreciate them,” Richards said. “There’s a lot of guys who care and do things the right way and care about their teammates and doing the right thing; we had a lot of those guys. Specifically, the guys who didn’t leave. Because a lot of guys left. The harder thing is to honor your word and stay the whole summer.
“We have to grow as an organization and I have to grow as a coach. You can’t settle for not making the playoffs. When you end the season and you’re not in the playoffs, it’s not a success.”