Nuts fall to Ports day after title win

Modesto hosts Ports one more day before playoff trip to Visalia

bvanderbeek@modbee.comSeptember 1, 2013 

Here's a project for a baseball fan with unlimited time to waste, er, invest.

Find out how often a team wins the day after clinching a division title.

The Modesto Nuts had every reason and right to celebrate Saturday night after winning the second-half title in the California League's North Division. And yes, they looked more than a little lethargic in Sunday evening's 10-3 loss to Stockton.

A coincidence? Perhaps. But one that happens on an incredibly common basis in baseball.

Which is another reason teams prefer to secure their regular-season goals as early as possible.

It not only allows them to get players rested and to tweak their pitching rotations heading into the playoffs, but lets them get this particular performance out of the way and forgotten before gearing up again for games that count toward the next set of goals.

"We got out-pitched and outplayed," said Nuts' manager Fred Nelson. "The guys did play hard today, but this has been a long go and a nice run.

"I'd prefer they not necessarily take a break during a game, but they're deserving of a little bit of a blow and today they weren't quite as sharp as they have been.

"It's the relief and the anticipation of winning — not a physical letdown, but the excitement you get from winning and the emotional letdown that follows. We just come back and do it tomorrow."

Yes, there's one more game to be played in which players on both teams will have to find reasons other than the standings for motivation.

The Stockton Ports, which won't be going to the playoffs, will be packing and heading in every compass direction following today's 1:05 p.m. start. The Ports need a win to finish the season 70-70, avoiding a losing campaign.

Starting pitchers, however, don't get that kind of leeway. Ben Alsup has 12 wins, as does Stockton's Tanner Peters, and they are this afternoon's starting pitchers. Either one would emerge as the league's wins leader for the season with a decision.

Sunday's Nuts' starter Tyler Gagnon (12-10) was in the same position, but was a roughed-up by a Ports' team that has hit him hard all season..

The righty from Brentwood allowed 30 runs in 29 innings against Stockton this season, including eight runs (on 12 hits) while working 41/3 innings Sunday.

"Tyler's been able to bounce back this season," Nelson said. "He's very resilient. We didn't want to use too many bullpen guys because they're a little bit tired. They've also had a long go and we're at the end of the year."

By the time Gagnon left, the Nuts trailed 8-2. The relief trio of Geoff Parker, Ryan Buch and Patrick Johnson blazed through the final innings, combining for nine strikeouts, but Ports pitcher Josh Bowman (7-6) was even better, throwing the final seven innings to claim the win.

Modesto managed only seven hits, with three — including a solo homer — off the bat of Niko Gallego.

Bowman and two-inning starter Michael Ynoa combined to strike out nine Nuts, extending one of the more remarkable records in minor-league history.

Entering the final game of the regular season, the Nuts have suffered 1,360 strikeouts. It's an all-time California League record, and just 22 whiffs short of the minor-league record.

The positive spin on that? The Nuts have the most strikeouts of any team in minor-league history that will finish the season with a winning record.

"Go figure," Nelson said. "I'd rather have a club that strikes out and wins rather than one that makes all kinds of contact and gets beat a lot.

"Maybe this is another thing that speaks to the character of the guys we have here. Even on nights they don't make a lot of contact they make enough and they get hits that are big enough to carry us to a win."

The strikeout record is safe. And the Nuts also have this one post-celebratory stinker of a performance behind them. Just one more game before the stakes again are alive.

"A lot of players in the league are getting ready to go home and we have another 16 days to play," Nelson said. "We're trying to see if we can get everybody positioned to have what they want and need so we're all ready to play on Wednesday."

Brian VanderBeek can be reached at (209) 578-2150 or follow him on Twitter, @modestobeek

Playoff tickets practically free. Nuts notes

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