The Spokane Indians had little trouble against the Tri-City Dust Devils during the first half of the Northwest League season. The Indians outscored Tri-City 49-17 in winning five of six games. But the second half of the season has a different feel, as the North Division first-half champion Indians are discovering. Tri-City routed Spokane 7-0 on Sunday, outhitting the Indians 16-6. The Dust Devils are 3-2 against the Indians during the last five days and are tied with Vancouver for the division's second-half lead with 14 games left in the regular season. Spokane leads the season series 7-4 heading in to Monday's regular-season finale between the teams at Avista Stadium. It may be the end of regular-season play between Spokane and Tri-City, but the Dust Devils have put themselves in position to win the second half and set up a Sept. 2 divisional playoff opener in Pasco. Read story
Tri-City ended the first half of the season 14-24 and 11 games behind the Indians. The second half didn't start well, either, as the Dust Devils lost six of nine out of the gate.
But since the start of August, Tri-City is 9-6, including splitting six games with Vancouver -- which tied Spokane for the first-half title and is tied for the second-half lead -- and taking three of five from Spokane.
First baseman Sean Dwyer, Sunday's hitting hero with two homers, started his season at high-A Modesto (California) but played his 34th game with the Dust Devils.
"I wasn’t here at the beginning of the year with them, but I can tell just from the month I’ve been here that guys are starting to get a little confidence and starting to have fun playing baseball, and that makes a world of difference," Dwyer said.
Dwyer hit .252 in 58 games with Tri-City last season and was batting .204 at Modesto when he returned to the Northwest League.
"It wasn’t that I was failing and doing poorly, but I think it was a mixture of playing a new position -- I was playing outfield -- and I was hitting the ball hard but just at people," Dwyer said. "I just got frustrated, so the (parent-club Colorado) Rockies decided it’d be best if I moved back to first base. I came down here to get that frustration to go away and start having fun playing baseball again. I don’t mind the move and it’s fun. We’re in a playoff race now, so that’s all that matters."
The Dust Devils have held the Indians' potent offense to 15 hits in the last three games. The Indians entered the night with the NWL's best team batting average (.278) while Tri-City entered with the league's worst team earned-run average (4.81). The Indians dropped to .277 and gave up the lead to Boise, which is hitting .278.
"We’re aggressive at the plate and they’re throwing a fastball and we’re swinging at it," Indians manager Tim Hulett said. "Unfortunately, we couldn’t square up anything today to get anybody on base to do any damage. I don’t know if (Dust Devils starting pitcher Logan Sawyer) had some late sink, but we didn’t seem to get many good swings off him today."
Half of Spokane's six hits came from Diego Cedeno, who replaced Luke Tendler in right field in the third inning. Tendler hurt his ankle on the first-base bag while trying (unsuccessfully) to avoid a double play in the first inning. That left the Indians with three healthy outfielders: Eduard Pinto, Saquan Johnson and Cedeno.
"We’re still waiting on a player," Hulett said. "Maybe (the parent-club Texas Rangers) will send us one now because we’re down to one guy on the bench. We’re pretty thin, but hopefully (Tendler will) be all right."
The Indians are 13-19 since hitting their high-water mark on July 13. Still, Hulett said he expects the Indians to return to a high level of play when postseason begins.
The Dust Devils just might be waiting for them.
(Side note: Indians reliever Luis Pollorena, who picked up his third save Aug. 10 in Everett, was promoted to Hickory, North Carolina while the Indians were on the road. Pollorena was 1-0 with a 1.90 ERA in 23 2/3 innings with Spokane.)