2004 Toledo Year in Review

It was an up-and-down season for the Toledo Mudhens as a strong midseason push put the team in contention to win a division crown, but a loss of many of the team's top players (either due to call-ups, injuries, or even the Olympics) spelled doom for the team as they had a freefall throughout the month of August that dropped them from first to dead last, where they would finish the year.

It was an interesting season for Toledo. They started the year extremely thin on talent, and had to go out and add veterans like Joe Vitiello and Eric Owens to help the team compete. Vitiello and Owens, coupled with veterans of the system like Warren Morris and Danny Klassen helped keep the team at respectability, despite the fact its top prospect, CF Nook Logan, had yet to hit .270 or higher in any full season of minor league baseball.

The pitching side had more prospects, but each with serious question marks. Some, like Franklyn German and Shane Loux, had a shot with the big league club, and failed miserably. Then you had Pat Ahearne, a seasoned minor league veteran at 35, still battling and competing to get back to the show.

But somehow, despite top prospects, this team came together and started winning a lot of ballgames. Vitiello and Andy Barkett teamed up with a little-talked-about minor league free agent named Marcus Thames to create arguably the most dangerous heart of the order in all of the International League.

Thames was especially impressive, as he very well may have shattered many of Toledo's power hitting records, if not for his June call-up to Detroit. At Toledo, in just 64 games, Thames .324 with 24 Home Runs and 59 RBI. Thames' OPS was an astounding 1.145.

Vitiello also had an excellent season before bowing out due to injury, hitting .328 with 16 Home Runs and 70 RBI in 86 games.

The team began to struggle after losing this pair, and the next one they were to lose certainly didn't help matters. Logan wasn't hitting the cover off the ball, but provided solid defense, and was always a threat on the basepaths. But, with Alex Sanchez struggling with injuries for most of the second half of the season, Logan was needed in Detroit, and in turn, the Mudhens lost their top prospect, their leadoff hitter and Centerfielder, and their run generator.

Barkett also missed time on the Disabled List, while the team also lost 2 starting Shortstops – first, Jason Smith to the Tigers for their utility Infielder, and then Danny Klassen, who competed for his native Canada in the Olympics in Greece.

All these losses spelled only one thing – trouble. No matter how many more players the organization tried to add to keep the team afloat, their losses were simply insurmountable. Benji Gil and Chad Alexander are nice players, but they weren't able to replace the offense that those before them provided.

The pitching remained adequate, but never good enough to carry the squad. Starters Pat Ahearne, James Baldwin, Shane Loux and Andy Van Hekken all had good games and pitched well at times, but none won 10 games, and only Baldwin carried an ERA under 4 at 3.83.

A weakened lineup combined with an average pitching staff meant only one thing – losses. And Toledo accumulated plenty of them at the end, going 6-28 from August 1 on.

Meanwhile Franklyn German continued to baffle the Tiger front office, as he was a shutdown Closer for the Mudhens, but struggled mightily every time he got promoted up to the bigs. The Mudhens may very well get the benefit of getting German back yet again for the 2005 season.

The year wasn't all bad for Toledo – for the first time in a couple years Toledo saw a competitive team, someone they could come to the ballpark and enjoy watching (their last strong season was 2002 when they went 81-63 and lost in the first round of the International League playoffs). But, the defections were just too much to overcome. Luckily, like all minor league teams, they'll have a brand new team next year and new players to learn about, watch, and cheer for.

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