"The best thing you can say [about the season] is a little streaky," said first-year manager Phil Nevin. "We had a couple of rough months, one really good month and a few average months. First and foremost, we're Detroit Tigers here, and things are going really well up there, and we've had a lot of players from here go up there and contribute."
These moves were epitomized by the team's starting rotation. Of the team's opening day rotation: Andrew Oliver, Duane Below, Charlie Furbush, Adam Wilk and Thad Weber, only Weber did not see time with the big club this season.
However, Nevin explained that losing your top players is the nature of this league, and that they have to make adjustments to compensate.
"To see stories like Duane Below and Andy Dirks … to see our guys go up there and do well, it's Triple-A baseball so you're going to have a lot of moves and a lot of personnel changes, and we've had that," Nevin said.
As a team, the high point of the season was a 20-9 record in July that saw the Mud Hens creep within striking distance of second place in the International League West Division.
"That definitely got us going a little bit … we felt like with the way we were played we could jump a couple of spots in the division," Wilk said.
From a player standpoint, while the team did lose several key contributors during the season, it game some guys the opportunity to step up and prove themselves.
Perhaps no other player is better exemplified by this than Fu-Te Ni. After never had starting a game on American soil in his professional career, Ni made 12 starts for the Mud Hens in 2011, posting a 3-3 record and a 2.76 ERA in those games. He also did a great job keeping the ball in the park as a starter, allowing only six home runs in 71 2/3 innings pitched.
"He really came up big in some spots for us this year," Nevin said.
The Mud Hens also received strong efforts on the mound from Wilk and Below, while he was still with Toledo.
Below made his last appearance at Triple-A on July 15, and ended up finishing third on the team with 115 innings pitched in 18 starts. In those starts, he went 9-4 with a 3.13 ERA.
Wilk, on the other hand, spent much of the season with the Mud Hens, aside from a brief stint with the Tigers in the middle of summer.
Making his first appearances above Double-A this season, he was one of the team's most consistent arms throughout the season, finishing the season with an 8-6 record and a 3.24 ERA in 18 starts. He demonstrated excellent control by walking only 14 batters in 102 2/3 innings pitched.
"Early in the season, my pitches were a little flatter, they didn't necessarily have a lot of plane to them," Wilk said. "I went up to Detroit, and then for whatever reason I came down and it clicked to me that if I could start throwing the ball with some downhill plane, it's harder for [the batters] to square the ball up.
"My six or seven starts right after I came back down, they were all really good and I think that's one thing that really helped me."
However, Wilk knows that he still has room to improve his game, saying that he is looking to add some bulk to his frame this offseason.
Offensively, the Mud Hens had a rough year, partially due to the loss of two of their best hitters early in the season: Dirks and Scott Sizemore.
While Toledo saw several Tigers make appearances with the team on rehab assignments – including prolonged stints from Brandon Inge, Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen – they still finished 12th in the league in runs score. Power was a big problem for the team as well, as they finished 11th in the league with 108 home runs.
But, the team's best offensive player this year was Ryan Strieby, who led the team in home runs (19), RBI (76), runs (66), total bases (209) and walks (60). The 2008 TigsTown Minor League Player of the Year was able to stay healthy for this season, after being sidetracked by a broken hamate bone two years ago and still suffering the effects of it last season.
"In that regard [staying healthy] I would say that this season was a success," Strieby said. "But to come out and be able to put up numbers too has been really nice."
Strieby was remarkably consistent with his health, playing in 130 of the Mud Hens' 144 games this season. That total is also a team-best.
"Staying healthy was my main goal coming into this season," Strieby said. "I wanted to be able to prove to myself that I was still capable of playing a whole season without getting hurt."
While what next season holds for the Mud Hens remains unclear, Nevin said that he hopes to be back managing the club again next year.
"It would be nice to be in the same place for two seasons in a row," he said.