After a 3-8 start to what was hoped to be a major rebound season for JJC’s heralded baseball program, the lights have come on and the wins have poured in for the Wolves to the tune of 17-4 (12-2 home) since that rocky start.
The impetus of this remarkable turnaround has been a mix of brute strength by the team’s electric offense, and a vast improvement by their starting rotation, most notably by southpaw Josh Jimenez.
Jimenez started the season off roughly, but has bounced back in a big way, leading the team in strikeouts (36), wins (4, tied with Thomas Goodyear and Kevin Ruff), and is second on the team in ERA (3.52) and innings pitched (30.2).
Righty Matt DeGraw has been the staff’s workhorse, accumulating a 3-3 record in 7 games, with a team-leading 3.93 ERA through 37.0 IP, with 4 complete games. DeGraw’s low strikeout total (14) has not hindered his ability to produce outs, as he’s been able to efficiently and effectively pitch to contact and produce zeroes the hard way.
The well-documented weakness of the team, the bullpen, has managed to hold onto big leads that the offense gives them, and remain largely out of the equation in tight contests.
“The bullpen is still a problem,” said Wolves head coach Wayne King. “Jose Mendoza has come out [and] thrown pretty well, but [we’re] not getting what we need from that group.”
On a national level, the Wolves are finally making the mark they were expected to when they were featured as the National Top 10 preseason poll winner.
Currently, JJC ranks third in the nation in doubles, triples and shutouts, fourth in total bases and runs scored, and fifth in runs batted in.
The team has also managed to re-enter the Top 10 Poll at number nine, a direct result of their recent barrage of offensive-fueled wins.
Defensively, the team is finding it tough field balls cleanly, producing a less-than-stellar .946 fielding percentage, with a discomforting 45 errors in all.
“[Errors are] why we lost to Kankakee,” said King, who’s referring to the team’s lone hiccup during this streak, a 7-6 loss which featured 5 errors on April 2.
It seems silly to nitpick at the little discrepancies during such a high time, but in baseball, the slightest show of weakness – even in good times – can be a team’s undoing when the going gets tough.
This past Saturday (April 12), the Wolves committed 10 errors combined that made a world of difference in both losses to Madison College.
The first game featured three throwing errors from INF Kevin Hatcher, who had taken over for 3B Tyler Thorson, who suffered an apparent shoulder injury in the second inning of the game. INF Jeff Duschene eventually took over the hot corner, where he too committed an error.
With the game seemingly out of reach with Madison up 10-3 heading into the bottom of the 7th inning, the Wolves attacked Madison reliever Michael Pleimling, putting all four men he faced on base, with them all scoring eventually.
IF/P Brandon Gibis then came on, giving up a powerful two-run double to JJC catcher T.J. Condon, and eventually allowing JJC to crawl back to within a run with one out and the tying run at second base.
Unfortunately, the Madison Wolfpack retired the next two batters, stranding the tying run at third and sending JJC to just their second home loss of the season.
FLEETING WEAKNESSES COULD BECOME MAJOR PROBLEMS
For all of the great things the team has done at the dish, and for all of the strides being made on the mound, the weaknesses are something that will creep up on this team if those deficiencies aren’t met with focused improvement.
As conference games start to come at the Wolves in waves, their mettle will be tested.
Can they rely on the bullpen? Can they rely on their workhorses? Will the defense come through and make the plays expected of them?
Will the offense still have fuel when the miles pile up on their bats and their bodies?
If the answer to every one of those questions isn’t “yes,” the Wolves may find themselves looking at an early off-season.