A month ago, with the starting rotation mired in a major slump, the RedHawks were a longshot to make the Pacific Coast League playoffs.
Despite a 2-1 loss to the El Paso Chihuahuas on Wednesday night at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, the RedHawks opened their final homestand of the regular season involved in a pennant race.
“There’s a lot of talent here,” said Oklahoma City pitcher Paul Clemens said. “The starting pitching has been killing it, and the offense has been really good since the All-Star break. We’re right in the middle of it with 11 games left.”
Pending Omaha’s late game, the RedHawks trailed the Storm Chasers by only 21/2 games in the PCL American Northern Division. Wednesday’s game was the opener of an eight-game homestand before OKC closes out the regular season with a four-game series at Iowa.
Because of a rainout that won’t be made up, the RedHawks will play 144 games, the Storm Chasers only 143, so there’s won’t be a tie.
“It’s all about momentum,” said outfielder Preston Tucker, who has 24 homers and 86 RBIs this season. “If we can stay hot, and take that into the playoffs, we’ve got as good a shot as anyone of winning (the PCL) title.”
It’s actually a three-team race, but OKC has leapfrogged former division-leading Iowa after going 6-2 on an eight-game West Coast road trip to Fresno and Sacramento.
“We weren’t in great shape a few weeks ago, but the offense has been great and our pitching staff has been fantastic,” said utility man Joe Sclafani. “We’ve been getting quality start after quality start until we get some timely hits. That’s been the formula. We play small ball or get a clutch homer, whatever it takes to win.”
In late July, Oklahoma City (68-65) fell to three games below .500 to fall five games out of first. But the RedHawks have gone 12-6 the past three weeks to climb back in the race.
It’s been a team-wide resurgence that began when the offense caught fire. During the hot streak, the RedHawks have averaged 6.0 runs a game.
L.J. Hoes was added to the roster earlier this week. Hoes has struggled in the majors (.237 average) but is riding a 14-game hitting streak with Oklahoma City dating back two months between stints with the Astros.
“If we can keep L.J. hot, plus all our other guys keep it going we can keep it going,” RedHawks manager Tony DeFrancesco said. “(Jonathan) Villar has been a great catalyst at the top, and (Ronny) Torreyes and Tucker have been hot. It seems everyday somebody different contributes when we need it.”
The pitching staff ended a month-long slump on the eight-game road trip to Fresno and Sacramento, posting a 2.31 ERA and limiting opposing hitters to a .207 batting average.
Over the past 10 games the RedHawks rotation has notched a 1.72 ERA, holding hitters to a .195 average.
Former Oklahoma City University star Ruben Sosa was on last year’s team when Astros rookies, outfielder George Springer and first baseman Jon Singleton, helped the RedHawks get on a late-season roll to post the best record in the PCL (82-62).
“Those are some great memories,” Sosa said. “Of course, I’d love to be up playing with them now in the big leagues, but right now my focus is helping us get back to the playoffs. We have a lot of talent to where we can make it happen. It should be a lot of fun, especially if we can keep this going.”