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Local Sports

Joliet Slammers hoping to make second-half playoff push

Joliet's Justin Garcia is one of the Frontier League leaders in both home runs and RBIs.
Joliet's Justin Garcia is one of the Frontier League leaders in both home runs and RBIs.

Things had taken on a more encouraging look for the Joliet Slammers as they prepared for their last three games before taking a few days off while the Frontier League honors its best at Wednesday’s All-Star Game in O’Fallon, Missouri.

But the last thing that Joliet Slammers manager Jeff Isom wanted to see from his squad was dropping a three-game series before the break. However, that’s just what happened to the Slammers in their weekend series at River City.

That resulted in good news for the Rascals, who moved in front in the West Division standings with a 29-22 record after they’ve gone 8-2 in their last past 10 games. It gives them a two-game lead over Evansville, a three-game cushion over Southern Illinois and a 3½-game edge over Florence in that division.

Meanwhile, the Slammers fell to 27-24 and now are three games behind East Division leader Washington, while Lake Erie and Schaumburg are each a half-game behind Joliet in another competitive battle that will determine if Isom’s team can make a serious run at its second playoff trip in the three years.

In all three games against River City, the Slammers were hurt by big innings.

A five-run first inning left them behind Friday in a 7-4 loss, and a five-run sixth proved to be too much to overcome in Saturday’s 6-4 loss. It was more of the same Sunday when the Rascals used a four-run second to establish control in a 10-3 game.

As the league’s 12 teams get ready for the all-star break, the Slammers rank second in runs scored (255), sixth in hits (419) and seventh in average (.251). They also lead the league in walks (213) and stolen bases (70) and are fourth in on-base percentage (.342).

Another of the Slammers’ strengths is their defense. They ranked second in fielding percentage (.980) and have made 36 errors in 1,771 chances.

Although the pitching statistics are much improved from earlier in the season, the Slammers still are sixth in ERA (4.16), and opposing teams are hitting .248 against them.

Joliet rookie Trenton Hill leads the Frontier League in hitting with a .348 average, which is 18 points higher than Normal’s Santiago Chirino, who is the league’s all-time hits leader. Hill has a .437 slugging percentage with 55 hits and 20 RBIs. As a result of his performance at the plate, Hill was one of three Slammers to make the Rookies team, and he’ll start at first base.

Another Slammers rookie, catcher Trey Fulton, also earned an all-star start on the Rookies team. After being a backup earlier in the year, he has 33 hits and is batting .320, which would rank him third in the league, but he doesn’t have the necessary at-bats to qualify.

Third baseman Danny Zardon earned his second-straight all-star selection and will be on the Experienced team, He is hitting .277 with 53 hits and 32 RBIs and has made one error, which came in his team’s 40th game.

Justin Garcia ranks third in the league in both home runs (12) and RBIs (39), L.J. Kalawaia is batting .292 with 38 hits, and Chaz Meadows has a .267 average with 39 hits.

Joliet’s other all-star is right-handed pitcher Liam O’Sullivan, who is 5-2 with a 3.07 ERA after returning from an injury, In his past five starts, he only allowed three earned runs in 41 innings (0.66 ERA). That’s helped his ERA fall from 6.84 to 3.07 in one month.

Despite being the Frontier League Pitcher of the Year in 2016 with an 11-1 record and 3.32 ERA, he was not selected as an all-star. He has a winning streak of five games. Other top pitchers for Joliet include Ottavio Dattolo (1.92 ERA), Nate Antone (2.07 ERA), Corey Kimber (2.61 ERA) and Duke von Schamann (4-1, 2.70 ERA).

After playing at Windy City after the break, the Slammers host three games each against River City and Florence before going to Washington.

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