Doug Dascenzo: When the wind is calm or blowing out, it plays towards the hitters. When it is blowing in, it is tough to hit it out. It is kind of like Wrigley Field.
I think it is pretty fair. Straightaway left field – even with the wind blowing in you can get one out of there. The gaps are big. If you can keep it in the middle part of the field it plays pretty fair.
You had a predominately left-handed lineup early in the year. Is that a challenge for them when they have to face a southpaw?
Doug Dascenzo: Not at all since I would throw all the batting practice. In actuality, they hit left-handers about the same as they did right-handers. It didn't seem to bother them that much at all.
How have you been able to keep these guys on track. There was a point where you lost a couple of games in a row in that first half and then went 13-2 to win the first half and have kept winning in the second half.
Doug Dascenzo: I think what happened was they started to put a little bit of pressure on themselves. The first half was within three weeks of being over. The Dodgers organization was playing pretty well. Even though we had a pretty good lead, we hit a six-game losing streak and the pressure started to build up.
(Hitting coach) Tom Tornicasa said, ‘I think the guys are pressing a little bit.'
We brought all the hitters out for batting practice one day and put all the pitchers out in the outfield. We split the batters up and made two teams. We played 45 minutes of Team A versus Team B and just brought the fun back into it basically.
These guys are still kids and need to have fun when they play this game. No matter how old you get, you still need to have fun doing it. That kind of helped them bring on success. They ran nine off in a row and have continued to finish off well.
That was a nice thing to find during the season and a little trick in the bag to remember when you see it happen again.
What kind of reward was it for you to win the first half?
Doug Dascenzo: The reward for me and the staff is to know that the guys are going out there doing what they are supposed to be doing. The reward is to see the smiles and the joy they have because we do the same job as we always do. To see the guys go out and perform, and perform at a high level, makes us extremely happy.
You had a couple of guys leave the team during the All-Star break. Talk about what you saw out of James Darnell.
Doug Dascenzo: Tremendous young player in all aspects of the game. Really above average. On-base – tremendous. His walks were up really high and he had plenty of RBI.
A good defender that had a little trouble with his throwing. He made a few errors throwing, but who doesn't in A-Ball? These guys are going to make errors but he has a plus arm, had power, knows how to hit, get on base – what more do you want?
It seemed like Matt Clark only batted with men on base.
Doug Dascenzo: The only bad series he had was in West Michigan when he had a bunch of guys on base and couldn't cash in. Other than that, Matt ended up with close to 60 RBI. That is a pretty nice half. He has plenty of power and had 11 home runs.
He played well defensively, especially considering this is only his third or fourth year over there. A tremendous young individual.
Nick Schmidt you had two seasons ago for seven innings. This year, you got to see him a bit longer before he was promoted. He was especially sharp down the stretch.
Doug Dascenzo: Three pitches in the strike zone. Coming off the Tommy John surgery, every time out you could see a little more stuff.
Nobody has more competitive spirit than he did. I thought the guys feed off him a lot.
A tremendous young man who has a chance to have a great career.
Was he on a limited pitch count coming off the surgery?
Doug Dascenzo: Not necessarily. We kept a close eye on him. We made sure we stuck to our guns with pitch counts. But, he was good to go and good to throw. He has a brand new elbow. He got built up like every other guy and you would expect him to have a full pitch count even now.
When he is on, he can go deep into the game.
Sawyer Carroll also moved up. He had a little bit of a slow start but really turned it on down the stretch.
Doug Dascenzo: He went 4-for-4 in the All-Star game with two stolen bases – MVP.
Sawyer really grinds it out. He loves to play the game of baseball. Hard-nosed, leads by example. He turned on the power numbers as well, turning on a couple of balls and hitting them way out. He has the ability to hit the ball the other way, which is always nice to see.
It really surprised me how well he played defensively. He made some nice long running, sliding catches into foul territory. A nice arm that got quite a few assists.
Jaff Decker had that back injury which slowed him some and took him out of the All-Star game but outside of a slow start, this young man has had a great season in the Midwest League.
Doug Dascenzo: I look back on my days. The year after I graduated high school – two years even – being a sophomore in college, there is no way in the world I could have been ready for this.
When you see an individual like Jaff Decker step right in and play with these four-year college guys and fifth-year senior college guys and be able to have success against them tells you a lot about the kid.
A tremendous talent, good defender, good arm, a good runner. When you look at him, it wouldn't appear he can do that but he can.
He can hit the ball a long way. He has the ability to hit the ball all over the field. Anytime you see a hitter that can hit the ball on a line the other way and pull the ball with loft like he can – and being 19 – you have to think the world of him. And we do.
Zach Herr was a huge part of the success as the eighth inning man and bridge to the closer.
Doug Dascenzo: He comes in and pounds the strike zone. He doesn't worry about anything. If someone gets a hit off him, it is water under the bridge.
He has a good curveball he can throw over for strikes. He commands his fastball pretty well. He comes in there and does his job and hands it over to Brad Brach.
Brad did a good job last year being thrown into that role and has been nothing but nails for us. He does the same thing. He pounds the zone with great tempo. He throws three pitches for strikes. We feel very comfortable with him in the game.
It seems like as a team that all of the pitchers are feeding off each other. If one starter does well, the next guy coming in has to match it or best it.
Doug Dascenzo: It is kind of an inner battle when that snowball starts going. They don't want to mess up and screw the streak up.
At the end of the day, this is a really good team. We have had a team with power, speed, great pitching, and defensively they have played a lot better than they played in the previous two years. That makes a big difference. When you can control the extra outs that the other team gets, it makes it a lot easier.
What kind of adjustments have you made for the second half?
Doug Dascenzo: The objectives are still the same – finish in first place. The objective is to win the game. That is the most important part of the game. We have different personnel than we had in the first half. The old saying is, ‘There is more than one way to skin a cat.' We have found that way. We see more hit-and-runs and being more aggressive on the base paths and manufacturing runs because we didn't have as much power in the lineup.
The objective is still the same. Go out and work hard, play hard, and try and win the game.
Talk about this story on our subscriber-only message boards