Nuts finish home portion of first-half schedule with 7-3 loss to San Jose

bvanderbeek@modbee.comJune 9, 2014 

The fresh start will come sometime Saturday night.

At the moment of that night’s final out of the Modesto Nuts’ game in Bakersfield, the team will be able to forget about all except the lessons learned from one of the worst first halves in Modesto minor-league history.

They’ll walk out of Sam Lynn Ballpark 0-0 in the California League second half, more than ready to put behind them two months of misfortune.

Much of the first half has looked like the 7-3 defeat they took Monday at the hands of the San Jose Giants in a game the Nuts led 2-1 entering the eighth inning at John Thurman Field.

Modesto is done with first-half home games, but a little work remains. The Nuts are 21-44 heading into those four games against the first-half champion Blaze.

Since the California League split its season in 1957, the worst first half in Modesto history is the 23-47 posted by the A’s in 2001. So a team that is 7-24 on the road somehow must find a way to win three of four against a championship side to avoid matching franchise ignominy.

And it has become a first half so poor in the standings that the only chance Modesto has to reach the playoffs would be to win the outright second-half North Division championship.

The losses wear on everyone in uniform, as they should. The vast majority of these guys were top players at multiple levels of baseball before turning professional, most of them on winning teams.

And manager Don Sneddon is the winningest coach in California community college history.

“I’ve never managed a losing team, but this is a whole new ballgame,” Sneddon said. “I still don’t accept losses very well, but I’ve learned to realize why I’m here and we’re getting better.

“We’ve been close to a .500 team the last month, and I’m expecting that or better in the second half of the season.”

The shortcomings of this team have been obvious since Opening Day. The pitching staff has allowed the most hits and struck out the fewest batters in the league. Its staff ERA is 4.94, despite playing half its games in the most pitching-friendly stadium in all of Class-A baseball.

The Colorado Rockies have addressed the situation by swapping out 60 percent of the Opening Day rotation, resulting in some improvement.

“What we do on the mound is huge because you go as far as your starting pitching takes you,’ Sneddon said. “That’s the bottom line with that.”

The offense ranks at or near the bottom of the league in every significant category, and its 31 home runs – a number again affected by Thurman Field – trails the rest of the league by a significant margin.

“Hitting can be measured by the stats, and we’re improving there,” Sneddon said. “Guys are doing things better at the plate – things that maybe fans can’t see like hitting the ball to the other side with better ball flight.”

Yes, this team is improved since early April, but there remain too many results like Monday.

Modesto played great ball for seven innings behind starter Ryan Carpenter, who got an RBI double from Rosell Herrera in the sixth and a two-out RBI single from Juan Ciriaco in the seventh to take a 2-1 lead into the eighth.

The fact a Nuts starter was able to reach into the eighth was significant in itself, but once there Carpenter ran into a wall. San Jose’s first three hitters against Carpenter reached base, as did the first two faced by reliever Bruce Kern, and all five scored to give the Giants a 6-2 lead.

Herrera finished with three hits and is enjoying his hottest streak of the season. He has a seven-game hitting streak and went 8 for 13 in the four-game series.

So, yes, there have been some individual successes in Modesto’s first half, but not enough to pull this team out of its residency in the league basement.

Of course, the ultimate measure of any minor-league team is in the number of players it eventually sends to the major leagues, but that’s a number nobody will know for years.

What about now?

Well, right now the Nuts are at the bottom of the standings. Next week, that yoke will be removed from the team’s collective shoulders and they’ll be free to run.

Nuts notes – With the scoreboard thermometer reading 104 degrees at first pitch, the crowd was a sparse 1,127. The Nuts, whose Sunday crowd of 1,082 also had to face the heat, still drew 94,546 for 35 games in the first half. That stands as the second-highest first-half total in franchise history to the 97,425 drawn by the 2010 Nuts. Modesto’s average of 2,701 is third in the league behind Lake Elsinore (3,122) and Stockton (2,880.)

Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at bvanderbeek@modbee.com or (209) 578-2150. His blog is at www.modbee.com/brianvanderbeek.

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