CEDAR RAPIDS – In their first year as an affiliate of the Minnesota Twins, the Cedar Rapids Kernels have accomplished more than they ever did in 20 years of marriage with the Los Angeles Angels.
A wee bit of editorializing there, though you can't deny the off-field boost the Twins have given the local club on multiple levels this season. It's been even better on the field.
The Kernels beat Peoria, 3-1, Monday night to accomplish something no Angels affiliated team here ever did – win 83 regular-season games. It's a gaudy 83-48 mark for the Men of Corn, who still have seven games remaining and the playoffs to look forward to.
Let's be fair and point out the Kernels won the Midwest League championship in 1994, their second year with the Angels. They went 82-56 in 2010.
But the last time there have been this many regular-season victories was 1990, when the Cedar Rapids Reds were 88-46. If you remember, C.R. was Cincinnati's high-A club playing primarily low-A teams back then.
By the way, Cedar Rapids is tied with Triple-A Durham for most wins in affiliated minor-league baseball.
"It's been pitching and defense (lately)," said Kernels Manager Jake Mauer. "We pummeled teams (offensively) early. The first month, two months probably. We didn't pitch so good, really didn't catch the ball as well as we would have liked. A lot of guys moved on, the guys that came in, we got a lot better defensively. (Pitching coach) Gary (Lucas) has done a fantastic job with the pitchers. More importantly, our starters have been very good."
Just as Tim Atherton was Monday night. The Australian right-hander continues to impress since being converted from relief pitcher to starter, going seven innings to win for the third time in four starts.
Cedar Rapids scored two unearned runs in the second inning and an earned one in the third. Jeremias Pineda went 3-for-3 with an RBI.
"Our starters are going six, seven, eight innings almost every night," Mauer said. "You're seeing that when we can line up our bullpen the way we want to, we're pretty tough. If we keep getting those kinds of starting performances, that sets the whole tone. Makes the guys catch the ball better, makes the bullpen be more aggressive. That's fun to watch.
"The runs aren't coming as easily as they were in April and May. But if we keep pitching and catching the ball, we're going to be in just about every game."
The teams conclude their four-game series Tuesday night at 6:35.
Before the game, outfielder Max Kepler expressed hope that he'll be able to play in a couple more days. Kepler suffered a deep cut on his right index finger that required multiple stitches, the result of a freak accident shortly before Sunday's game in which he was hit with a wayward bat that came from inside the indoor batting cage.
Kepler was standing OUTSIDE the cage at the time. He left a trail of blood from the cage to the Kernels clubhouse.
"I just saw red, and I was like 'I've got to go to the hospital,'" he said. "It's 2013. Not a lucky year for me."
Kepler, a touted prospect, didn't join the Kernels until midseason because of an elbow injury he incurred in spring training.
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