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Sports

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Playoffs
TinCaps vs. Bowling Green
First round, best of three
Today: at Bowling Green, 8:05 p.m.
Thursday: at Fort Wayne, 7:05 p.m.
Friday: at Fort Wayne, 7:05 p.m. *
* – if necessary
Photos by Chad Ryan | The Journal Gazette
TinCaps outfielder Luis Domoromo takes batting practice during a workout Tuesday at Parkview Field.
Midwest League playoffs

No room for TinCap errors

“Playoff time is about winning,” TinCaps manager Jose Valentin said. “How? Just execute.”

– He doesn’t see what Joe Fan sees. Let’s begin there.

Let’s begin with TinCaps manager Jose Valentin, one recent evening, sitting in his spartan office, checking his phone. On the desk in front of him, his laptop stands open. The TV, tuned to major-league baseball, is dialed down to a low mutter.

“We can’t afford to play that kind of baseball (against) Bowling Green,” he’s saying to a visitor.

This after a 6-1 victory over Great Lakes.

This after his team raked nine hits against the Loons for the second straight night, and two nights after they raked 11 at West Michigan.

This after a second straight gem on the hill, Colin Rea going six innings and giving up no runs and just two hits.

All well and good. All reasons why, later on, Valentin says he’ll “take my chances with anybody” in the upcoming playoffs.

Oops. Make that, take his chances … if.

There are numbers, see, and then there’s what’s behind the numbers, and what’s behind the numbers for the TinCaps, especially in a maddeningly inconsistent second half, will be the difference between going deep in the playoffs or going home by Friday.

That their starting pitching has largely been sound is irrefutable; four of their starters have ERAs under four. That they have any number of dangerous sticks in the lineup is plain, too; in the last four games of the regular season, the TinCaps collected 43 hits and scored 25 runs.

On the other hand, they also made eight errors in those four games. As a team, they’ve made 167 this season.

Third baseman Gabriel Quintana has kicked it away 27 times. Luis Tejada has made 18 errors at first. Rodney Daal has made 18 behind the plate. And the second basemen have combined for 43.

So, this is a team that can do some damage. And, like any low-A club, has its flaws.

“Bowling Green, those guys will make you pay,” Valentin said the other night. “That’s a team, they run well, they play the game hard, and you make mistake defensively, sooner or later you’re gonna pay the price.

“And the thing is, too, we’ve got pitchers that are supposed to go pitch their limits, so we can’t afford to give some outs away. It’s hard to get 27 outs in nine innings, and then to give up some outs, it makes it hard. It’s extra pitches, extra hitters. So instead of going five or six innings, he might go three or four. And then we have to use our bullpen too early, which is not good, especially late in the season.”

The players, of course, know all this.

“Absolutely. You’re not gonna win baseball games with errors,” pitcher Walker Weickel says. “That also goes for starting pitching and the bullpen. You can’t be giving up walks, and you really have to attack hitters from the first pitch and especially start burying hitters when you’re ahead in the count – and with runners on base, working for double plays.”

As for Valentin … he sees what his team is capable of, but he also sees what can prevent it from getting there. Like booting a double-play ball that could have gotten his starter out of an inning without using up precious pitches. Like getting the guy home from third with two out. Like trying to go yard when going yard isn’t the play.

“We’ve got to pull everything together to beat a team like Bowling Green,” Valentin says. “Playoff time is about winning. It’s about playing winning baseball. How? Just execute. Get the guy in. Just be a team player. Forget about the numbers.

“If we can do that, we’re gonna be tough to beat.”

Ben Smith has been cover ing sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at bensmith@jg.net; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.

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