First place feels good for Blue Crabs By DALLAS COGLE
Suddenly, that dreadful first half of the season with an uncharacteristically poor 30-40 tab for the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs seems like a long time ago.
The Blue Crabs were insistent during the All-Star break earlier this month that a fresh start in the second half would do wonders for their injury-plagued, offensively challenged club.
Guess they knew what they were talking about.
Wednesday, the Blue Crabs busted out the whipping sticks — that also served as brooms — with a 10-run first inning that paved the way to a 14-1 dismantling of host Long Island and completed an impressive three-game sweep that saw Southern Maryland outscore the New Yorkers, 26-7.
In the process, the two clubs have completely traded roles in the Liberty Division from the first half.
The Blue Crabs, winners in five of their last six games going into Thursday’s series opener in Somerset that finished too late for inclusion into this edition, boast the top spot in the division in the second half. Their 8-4 mark through Wednesday was the Atlantic League’s best record.
Meanwhile, first-half division champion Long Island continues to flounder with a fifth straight loss Wednesday and a league-worst 4-9 second-half mark entering its Thursday series opener in Bridgeport. Long Island was 39-30 during the first half.
While an array of key injuries still has the Blue Crabs playing shorthanded, their offense has come to life during this early juncture of the second half. And that has only enabled their reliable pitching staff to be even more effective.
“I had some good at-bats where I felt comfortable and saw the ball well and put good swings together,” said Blue Crabs second baseman Casey Benjamin, who cranked a pair of home runs Wednesday with five RBIs to lead the onslaught, including a three-run long ball in the first.
Benjamin’s bat was so on fire during the series that he single-handedly outperformed Long Island’s usually potent offense. He sported 10 RBIs in the three games on just four hits with three homers and a triple.
Long Island managed just seven runs in the series with only one homer.
“It’s just nice to come out of there with a few wins. [Long Island] is a good team,” Benjamin added. “I feel as though we are playing good baseball and just want to keep the ball rolling. It’s a long season and we just want to give ourselves the best chance to win on a nightly basis.”
The Blue Crabs sent 13 batters to the plate in their 10-run first with eight hits. Player-coach Jeremy Owens, who has sparked the offense by thriving in the leadoff role since being moved there to start the second half with getting on base in all but one of the 12 games through Wednesday, ignited the first with what seemed like an innocent walk at the time.
And the Blue Crabs rout quickly took shape from there. Mike Daniel and Brian Barton, batting in the second and third spots of the lineup respectively, highlighted the prolific frame with a pair of hits each.
The left-swinging Daniel pulled doubles into right field in both of his first-inning at-bats, driving in a run each time, while Barton stroked a single and then a two-run homer in his two plate appearances before Long Island’s offense even got up to bat.
“The top of the first was impressive,” Blue Crabs manager Patrick Osborn said. “You don’t [normally] see that type of offensive explosion in the top of the first. I can’t remember ever seeing a 10-run inning [by the Blue Crabs in their history].”
Osborn has been with the Blue Crabs since their first season in 2008, initially as a player for three years before taking over as manager in 2011.
“If there ever was [a 10-run inning or better in Blue Crabs history], I guarantee it wasn’t in the first inning,” the skipper added.
All the Blue Crabs injuries — which grew this week when co-ace pitcher Dan Reichert hit the disabled list and is out for a month due to a broken left pinkie on his glove hand sustained July 18 from a comebacker — has the 31-year-old Osborn still on the active roster as a reserve player. But their unenviable lack of health is not keeping the Blue Crabs from winning at the usual contending rate in this second half that had always defined the franchise prior to the first half this year.
While starting pitcher Matthew Vasquez’s quality seven-inning outing was not surprising for the Blue Crabs on Wednesday for his second straight winning decision of yielding just one earned run and five hits after throwing a complete game last Friday, the team got an unexpected lift on the mound Tuesday from a highly unlikely source.
Chris McCoy, a Long Island native who lives close to the stadium, was notified by Osborn shortly before the Blue Crabs’ 7-4 series-opening win on Monday that he was desperately needed to start Tuesday.
The 39-year-old McCoy agreed to be the Blue Crabs starter on Tuesday against his former Long Island team and he proceeded to toss seven solid innings, scattering 11 hits and yielding two earned runs, in a 5-2 victory.
“I’m not sure I can single out whether our pitching was better than our hitting or vice-versa,” Osborn said about his team’s sweep in Long Island. “The past three games have been total team baseball. The biggest thing is that atmosphere of winning is returning. Guys are going into every game expecting to win, not doubting themselves.
“This team is starting to look like the team we thought it could be when we put it together.”
Reichert’s injury put the Blue Crabs in a pinch for a Tuesday starter, especially given Hughesville native and power pitcher Daryl Thompson wants to wait until next week when the team returns home for a four-game set vs. Long Island before potentially coming onboard.
Thompson, a former big leaguer with the Cincinnati Reds, is hopeful a major league organization will pick up his services after he was released in early June as a minor leaguer with the Minnesota Twins. But he’s indicated to Osborn that he would consider signing the contract offer from the Blue Crabs if he still needs a job by next week.
Atlantic League second-half standings
(Standings as of Wednesday)
Liberty Division W L Pct. GB Streak Last 10 Overall
Southern Maryland 8 4 .667 ---- W-3 7-3 38-44
Camden 7 5 .583 1.0 W-1 6-4 41-40
Bridgeport 6 7 .462 2.5 L-2 4-6 37-46
*Long Island 4 9 .308 4.5 L-5 3-7 43-39
Freedom Division W L Pct. GB Streak Last 10 Overall
*Lancaster 7 5 .583 ---- L-1 5-5 52-30
Sugar Land 7 6 .538 0.5 W-1 6-4 36-47
York 6 7 .462 1.5 W-2 6-4 42-41
Somerset 6 8 .429 2.0 L-1 5-5 41-43
*First-half division winner, playoff berth clinched
Blue Crabs 14, Long Island 1
Blue Crabs (10)10 001 020 14 15 0
Long Island 000 000 100 1 6 1
WP Vasquez (6-6), LP Lyons (0-1)
Extra-base hits: 2B Daniel 2 (BC, 15), Rios (BC, 8); HR Owens (BC, 13), Barton (BC, 5), Benjamin 2 (BC, 10)
Blue Crabs 5, Long Island 2
Blue Crabs 100 000 400 5 8 2
Long Island 000 001 100 2 11 1
WP McCoy (1-0), LP Zimmermann (4-5), Save Warden (11)
Extra-base hits: 2B Navarrete (LI, 30), Williams (LI, 10); 3B Benjamin (BC, 6)