The Fort Wayne TinCaps didn't have the best second half. After clinching a playoff berth in the first half with a 43-26 record, they couldn't seem to get in sync. Players weren't talking as much or smiling, or just simply having fun at the ballpark manager Jose Valentin said, and it showed with a 29-41 second half record.
Good thing the TinCaps had the third season – the playoffs. In the first playoff series the team put it all together, sweeping the Eastern Division's top overall team, Bowling Green, with a dominant two games 6-1 and 9-5.
Now, the TinCaps get the South Bend Silver Hawks in the Eastern Division Finals three-game series starting tonight at 7:05 at Parkview Field. It is the TinCaps second straight year making it to the Eastern Division Finals.
“Real confident, we are definitely playing one of the best stretches of baseball we've played all year,” said Max Fried, who gets the start for the TinCaps tonight. “Really confident, especially sweeping a team like Bowling Green who has consistently been one of the better teams all year. Pitching, hitting, to be able to come together as a team and pull those out has been unbelievable.”
The confidence is aided by the TinCaps having swept South Bend in the last series at Parkview Field just two weeks ago. The sweep came after the Silver Hawks had dominated Fort Wayne all season. Even with three wins in the last series, the TinCaps are only 4-15 against South Bend.
“Even though we lost a lot of games against them (South Bend), seems like every game we were right on them,” Valentin said. “Make one pitch or make one play or one hit when we need it. If we do that, we're going to be fine. Our pitchers are good enough to beat those guys.”
That strong pitching starts with Fried tonight. The first-year pitcher has compiled an impressive season. He has a 6-7 record with a 3.49 ERA, but also leads the team in strikeouts with 100 and walks with 56.
Fried said he understands how important his accuracy is in the first game if the TinCaps are going to win. He also is trying not to let his first postseason start in the Padres system influence him too much.
“I'm just really focusing on giving my team the best chance to win, throwing strikes and just really trying to get ahead of hitters and not walk guys, not beat myself and let my team work behind me and trust them,” Fried said.
The first postseason start won't be the only pressure on Fried, though. He also pitches in the TinCaps only home game in the series. The second and third games are played in South Bend on Sunday and Monday, if necessary.
That puts extra pressure on Fort Wayne to leave town ahead 1-0 knowing it would have to pull off two wins in South Bend to win the series if they lose tonight.
“Well, I mean you want to protect your homefield advantage,” Valentin said. “Can't afford to lose at home, losing one at home, then (we) have to beat their team in their place two games is just not going to be easy, especially in their place, we haven't played good in that place. … (Tonight's) game is pretty much do or die, do or die.”