The Inland Empire 66ers are not exactly road warriors this year (2-11), even if destinations like Lake Elsinore and Rancho Cucamonga are technically home games for a geographical blanket like that. And if you’ve been keeping up with your scorecard at home, you know that the IE’s favorite minor league baseball team isn’t faring much better at the home digs in San Berdoo, sporting a lukewarmish 9-9 record at Arrowhead Park. Though the team (11-21 overall) has shown some promise since its slow 1-8 start to the 2008 campaign, one of the problems that the casual fan might find too inconspicuous to detect (but our captious eyes at the Weekly have sort of noticed) is that, for all intents and purposes, the team bats for shit. Or, to put it another way, the 66ers haven’t brought the lumber to the ballpark this year, the one in Berdoo or any other.
Only one player, catcher Carlos Santana (not that Carlos Santana) is batting above .300 (.310 to be exact) so far. Santana is from the Dominican Republic, and, if you know that particular region of the globe, you know that any player from there is incapable of hitting less than .300, so this is not an anomaly. Infielder Josh Bell was hovering over .300 for a while, but has cooled to .292, with four round-trips and 14 RBI. Problem with Bell is, for every time he walks, he strikes out twice. Thirty two times in 113 at bats he’s been K’d, meaning he whiffs at least once a game . . . and if there’s a steady knuckleballer on the bump, as many as four times in a standard nine-inning frame. Thomas Giles is a lefty who has shown he can belt, but with a pedestrian .268 average it’s impossible to crown him the batting champion. Switch-hitting Christian Lara carries a paltry .231 average in 92 at bats, striking out 28 times. Fanning has become a pastime for him.
Another easy to overlook problem with the Dodgers Single-A affiliate that even a diehard fan might miss: The 66ers don’t pitch worth a damn. Only northpaw Pete Koss, with an ERA of 1.42, has any outside camaraderie with, say, Pedro Martinez. Most of the ERA’s on the 66ers read like the alcohol content in Belgium beer—7.40, 8.74, 4.91, 4.84, and Garrett White’s triple-barrel stout, 12.79. Though pitching is hardly necessary to winning baseball games (and, though I’m no sabermetrician, I do know winning is all about stealing bases and cleverly-timed bunting), it can’t help morale.
So, the simple solution for the Inland Empire 66ers to turn around their season is to hit better, and to pitch better. If they do these things, mediocrity will be a fading image in the rearview mirror.