FORT WAYNE – On May 25, the TinCaps were three games over .500 and 3 1/2 games out of the second-place spot in the Midwest League Eastern Division.
They were owners of a five-game losing streak.
And Fort Wayne looked second class compared with league-leading South Bend and the No. 2 team, Bowling Green.
But 16 games later, the TinCaps are the hottest team in the Midwest League Eastern Division and owners of a playoff spot at the end of the season.
Fort Wayne (40-23) beat Lake County 7-4 on Tuesday in front of 3,981 fans at Parkview Field to clinch the divisional wild card and earn a first-half bid to the Midwest League playoffs.
They put everything together, said manager Jose Valentin, whose team reached the postseason for the fifth consecutive season. The hard work those guys put in day-in, day-out is paying off.
The TinCaps don’t sport the best record in their league – that honor goes to South Bend (43-21) – but Fort Wayne is 15-1 since its five-game losing streak.
A Silver Hawks team that was once 10 games ahead of the rest of the Midwest League Eastern Division is looking over its shoulder at the surging TinCaps, who are 2 1/2 games back.
The current nine-game winning streak is Fort Wayne’s longest since 2009, when they won the Midwest League championship.
And that stretch of baseball has vaulted the TinCaps from a middling team to one of the top-five records in minor-league baseball.
Fort Wayne boasted the fifth-best winning percentage across all 120 minor-league baseball teams entering Tuesday’s game.
The Captains (20-41) were just the latest victim.
We’ve been awesome, Valentin said. We’ve been playing great baseball. It’s like everything just comes together.
Fort Wayne starter Zach Eflin gave up three runs in the first three innings but settled in during his next three.
He gave up seven hits, an earned run and struck out five.
Meanwhile, the TinCaps lit up Lake County’s pitching. Captains starter Ryan Merritt went five innings, giving up 11 hits and four earned runs.
Shortstop Maxx Tissenbaum went 4 for 5 to lead the 16-hit TinCaps attack.
It just builds on itself, said Tissenbaum, who Valentin said has been Fort Wayne’s most valuable player in the first half. You have a hell of a lot more fun coming into the clubhouse every night with a win than you do with a loss.
With six games left in the first half, the TinCaps have another goal: supplant South Bend as the league leader.
After all, Fort Wayne beat tougher odds just 18 days ago – with its fifth straight loss behind it and the club at a crossroads.
Bad times are going to come, good times are going to come, Valentin said. Now, we just have to be consistent and see how good we can be in the end.