After a rough 2-9 start, the chances of winning the first half of the Northwoods League’s North Division was a mountain the La Crosse Loggers couldn’t climb.
Waterloo and St. Cloud are left to duke it out for the first-half title, and lay claim to one of the four playoff spots in the North. La Crosse, meanwhile, played .500 baseball (11-10) after its forgettable start.
That, manager Brian Lewis said, will be important as the Loggers make a push for a playoff spot in the second half. The first- and second-half winners in each division, plus the next best two overall records in each division, earn spots in the playoffs.
That is the ultimate goal for each of the league’s 20 teams.
“We realize that we are playing better baseball than earlier in the year. A number of these guys have only been here for eight to 10 games. We finally have the full roster in and have a lot more offense with this roster than we had earlier in the season,” Lewis said of some late arrivals who were playing for their respective college teams deep into the postseason.
“It’s not like these games (left in the first half) don’t matter. We come at it from the angle that we can get on a roll.”
The Loggers, who entered Monday night’s game with Waterloo having gone 5-5 in their last 10 games, are coming off what Lewis called their toughest road trip of the season. During a six-day, three-city swing from Duluth to Willmar, Minn., to Thunder Bay, Ontario, the team traveled about 1,275 miles. La Crosse went 3-2 on the trip, and came within a clutch hit or two from going 4-1.
“This is our toughest road trip of the season, for sure,” Lewis said. “We have another one, from Thunder Bay to Rochester, but in terms of mileage, this one was tough. We left Willmar at 5:30 in the morning (heading to Thunder Bay), then got held up at the border for awhile.
“We rolled into Thunder Bay at 3 p.m. for a 5 p.m. game.”
It’s all part of the Northwoods League’s 72-game schedule in less than three months. All the road time does give the newcomers a chance to get to know their teammates, and start the hurry-up process of building team chemistry.
“I think the fitting in process is over with,” Lewis said. “The new guys are getting a good feel for us; we have great team chemistry. This team, they are really concerned with how they are playing. This is the best chemistry we have had in a long time and I think the results will start showing on the field.”
That chemistry is starting to produce some much-needed offense, as David Villar, whose .357 batting average ranks fifth in the league, has been a key cog in the lineup. Luke Rasmussen is batting .421 with a home run and nine RBI in just seven games, while Kennie Taylor is batting .321 in 15 games for La Crosse, which at .247, still ranks in a three-way tie for 14th in the 20-team NWL in terms of average.
“We have had some pretty good teams from an offensive standpoint over the past several years. Last year we had Mason McCoy, Collin Large and (Griffin) Conine. We had those three horses at the top of the order,” Lewis said.
“I think this offense is deeper one through nine, but we are still waiting for those horses to step up.”