The 2012 version of the Trenton Thunder are heading into uncharted waters. And not in a good way.
Tonight’s 8-4 loss in Reading marked their sixth straight defeat, easily a season high. After a 21-9 July boosted them to a healthy lead in the Eastern Division, they’ve now come back to Earth a bit and are 5 1/2 games ahead of both the Rock Cats and Phillies with 21 games remaining on the docket.
“I don’t think any of us really pay attention to how big our lead is,” said Thunder shortstop Addison Maruszak.
“We know we’re in first, and we knew that a week ago or two weeeks ago, we were in first by a lot. We still want to do well individually, and when we do good individually, we win as a team. But we’re not having too many players hot at one time. It’s usually one per game that’s hot, like tonight it was (Luke) Murton. Murton couldn’t get off base. We need three people hot in one night, not just one.”
As for Monday night’s series-opening loss to the Phillies, Vidal Nuno turned in his first true clunker of the season. Sure, his last few starts haven’t been fantastic — his ERA has gone up from a miniscule 0.89 after his June 25 start to a still-solid 2.57 following tonight’s – but by regular standards, he’s still done pretty well. But, in his 16th start with Trenton, he finally allowed more than three earned runs for the first time, coughing up six total (four ER) thanks in large part to three home runs by Jake Fox, Leandro Castro and the red-hot Darin Ruf.
“I made a couple mistakes, and when you do that, they’re good hitters. They’ll take advantage of it,” Nuno told me.
“(Reading) is aggressive, and they can sit back on pitches…I’ve got five days to work on my stuff and get ready for my next outing.”
The rest of the team has three days to turn it around in what is likely the biggest series this team has played this season to date. Right now, they just need to beat someone and stop their somewhat unexpected skid.
“I can’t say we’ve been playing real bad, but we haven’t been playing great,” Maruszak said.
“We’ve been playing about average. We’ve been missing the real big innings. We’ve had good opportunies. Sometimes bad luck occurs, or it just doesn’t happen. This is the first time this team has really failed like this during the season. Hopefully, we can find a way to get it back tomorrow and get it back going.”
But wins will be tough against a Reading team that features a solid lineup 1-through-9, perhaps the best starting rotation in the Eastern League 1-through-5 and a closer with an 0.29 ERA.
“I think they’ve been playing well, period,” said Maruszak of Reading. “The last time we played them, they played real well. Their staff did a good job pitching against us, their hitters did a real good job. I mean, I saw the same thing today. We know how it feels, we played really good for nine straight games like they’ve been doing. They’re riding a good streak, we’re riding a bad one.”
Thunder manager Tony Franklin’s comments to his players after the game were more motivational than they were “swift kick in the ass,” but at some point that may be necessary…
“Generally, when you’re in a corner like we are, you’ve got to come out fighting,” Franklin said.
“I only know one way. There’s no magic involved in any of this and what we have to do to turn it around. We’ve got to put some hits together, we’ve got to put some well-pitched games together, we’ve got to play good defense…we just have to get back to the business of playing good baseball, which we’re not doing right now. We’re trying hard and it’s not happening. I just told our club that there’s a difference between being a little bit unlucky and not playing good baseball, and we’re a little bit of each right now. Hopefully, the luck turns around a little bit, but we have to help the situation and play a little better.”
Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com