WENATCHEE — Last season, the Wenatchee AppleSox were clearly the best team in the West Coast League during the regular season. However, all of the records they set and their gaudy 39-15 record didn’t mean much in the first round of the WCL playoffs — Wenatchee dropped two games to Walla Walla and was swept out of the postseason.
As such, AppleSox manager Ed Knaggs certainly knows that the league’s playoff system doesn’t always reward the league’s best team. He’s reasonably confident, however, that his squad — which put together the WCL’s best record once again this summer with a 37-17 mark — can play well in its first-round playoff series against Bellingham, which begins Saturday.
But during the course of the summer, Knaggs doesn’t talk about winning a league title with his players, or even mention the word ‘playoffs.’
“These guys come up here, and a lot of them don’t even know the name of the league,” Knaggs said after his team crushed Kitsap 13-2 on Thursday in its final game of the regular season at Paul Thomas Sr. Baseball Stadium. “They’re just not thinking about things like (league titles). They’re here to get better, to get more at-bats or innings before heading back to school.
“They do know, though, that we’ve had a lot of success over the years, and as the summer goes by, something happens, and they start talking about how they’d like to (get to the playoffs). It just happens by osmosis.
“But anything can happen (in a short series). It’s tough to win; we’ll be as good as our starting pitching. That’s how it works.”
Derek Callahan (2.59 earned-run average, 56 strikeouts) will start on Saturday in Bellingham, with Trevor Lubking (3.72 ERA, 35 strikeouts) scheduled to go on Sunday at home, and Beau Kerns (2.56 ERA, 43 strikeouts) ready for a potential third game Monday.
“We were fortunate to get everyone rested and ready during this (Kitsap) series,” Knaggs said. “Callahan, Lubking and Kerns have been our three best guys.”
The AppleSox won four of their eight games against Bellingham in the regular season.
“They’re similar to us,” Knaggs said. “Their starting pitching will be a challenge.”
Despite a recent rash of injuries and defections that have tested the team’s depth, Wenatchee has won nine of its past 11 contests. The AppleSox will enter the playoffs with an abundance of confidence, especially offensively — they scored 31 runs in their three-game sweep of the BlueJackets.
“Our bats need to stay hot, and I’m confident they will,” said third baseman Taylor Sparks, who recorded three hits Thursday, including his league-leading ninth home run of the season. “We’ve got momentum on our side. We’ve had a tendency to break out toward the end of games, but we need to start out well and get ahead early (in the playoff games). Our pitching has been solid, so if we play as well as we have been playing, I think we’ll do great.”
Left fielder Mitchell Gunsolus recorded four hits for the AppleSox to run his league-leading season total to 79.