The Visalia Rawhide only have a few weeks left in the regular season. Once the regular season concludes, they will begin the playoffs for the second season in a row and look to head back to the California League Championship game for a second consecutive season.
Rawhide manager J.R. House believes his team is ready, and doesn’t feel like his team has lost motivation after winning the first half.
“I haven’t had to get on the guys at all,” he said. “They like to win and they’re playing to win. They keep playing hard.”
The reward for winning the first half of the regular season is a bye in the first round of the playoffs.
This does mean they have an easier route to the championship, more so than any other team. House will be sure to take advantage of the rest his team will receive.
“The bye allows us to align our pitching staff and get our best pitchers on the mound for the playoff games,” he said. “But we also have to stay sharp during the off days. They have to stay tuned and keep themselves ready, and make good use of the time off.”
The Rawhide started out the season on a roll, and won the first half comfortably.
“It was early on, when I realized how quick chemistry came about with the team,” he said. “The guys really enjoy playing with one other and they try to fit in with each other also. This group has been a joy.”
With the success the team is having so far this season, awards are following for coaches and players.
House won the California League Manager of the Year award in his first season with Visalia.
House, though wants to give the credit for winning this award to the players on the field.
“It’s really just a reflection of the guys on the guys on the field. I don’t want to make a big deal about it,” he said. “The award just usually goes the team with the best record the league, but this award goes to the players.”
Though he gave credit to his players for winning the award, House did open up about what worked for him personally while managing this team to their current position in the CAL league.
“I just kept the mindset of how would I want to be treated as a player,” he said. “To be successful you have to know when to be a friend to the guys, when to be a parent, and when to keep on them.”
Expanding a little bit on the players who deserve this award, House talked about some of his offensive standouts this season who have helped the Rawhide get the best record in the California League.
“Our three through five guys in our batting order have been huge for us all season,” he said. “Jamie Westbrook, our number three hitter, has really come along in the second half of the season. He’s showing great balance at the plate and is much improved. [Daniel] Palka, our four hitter, is one of our big power guys and has been here all season, just being steady. Then Kevin Cron, our five hitter, is leading the league in some offensive categories. We’ve really depended on him all season.”
House also talked about the team’s pitching, which has been one of the best staffs in the California League.
“[Anthony] Banda, one of our starters, was named an all-star in the second half,” he said. “He’s really gained some attention as a prospect in the organization. The bullpen in general has been fantastic all year. It just shows how Gil [Heredia]won pitching coach of the year.”
Heredia was named California League Pitching Coach of the Year this year for the California League.
Over the course of the season, there has been a very important aspect of the game for this team that has improved and is excelling right now. House elaborated on how much his offense has improved in the second half.
“First half of the season, our bats started off slow, and our pitching was carrying the team,” he said. “Since the all-star break our hitters have caught up to the pitchers in the league, and are excelling now.”
There are always certain things to be concerned about when your team is heading into the postseason, and House’s main concern is a popular one amongst most managers.
“We just don’t want any more injuries,” he said. “[Mitch] Haniger, our lead-off hitter, went down a couple weeks ago. I just hope that doesn’t come back to bite us. But if all the guys do their job we will be just fine. It’ll be interesting to see who steps up when the playoffs come around.”
Even though House may be concerned about injuries once the playoffs start, he has reason to feel very good about his team as they gear up for a championship run.
“These guys have the mindset of just playing baseball,” he said. “All they do is play hard, and it really shows. I won’t be worried about their effort.”
The last regular season home game for the Rawhide will be Monday, September 7.
They will begin their run to a possible California League Championship at home on Saturday, September 12.