The Southern Maryland Blue Crabs return from the Atlantic League All-Star break to resume play today, eagerly wanting to put the first 68 games of the 2019 campaign behind them.

Southern Maryland (24-44, tied for third in the Atlantic League’s Freedom Division) headed into the All-Star break two games shy of having completed the first half of the Atlantic League season.

One of those games will be taken care of and the second half’s 70-game schedule will also kick off with today’s scheduled 5:05 p.m. doubleheader with the Lancaster Barnstormers (also 24-44 and tied for third) at Regency Furniture Stadium in Waldorf, the first games of a four-game, three-day series this weekend. While deep in their second half slate of games, the Blue Crabs will officially wrap up the first-half schedule during the Labor Day weekend when York next returns to Southern Maryland to make up a July 4 postponement.

Blue Crabs manager Stan Cliburn, who spent the All-Star break in Ocean City, insists the second half of the season has plenty of promise.

“We just have to look at the season now as just winning series,” Cliburn said. “We have to win games and maybe find a way to get a wild card for the playoffs. Our pitching has been great, but we have not been hitting the ball well all season. We’re near the bottom of almost every offensive category in the league and we’re only averaging three runs per game.”

Southern Maryland veteran pitcher and first-year pitching coach Daryl Thompson headed into the All-Star break at 6-6 with a 3.79 ERA and 81 strikeouts in 95 innings of work. Like Cliburn, Thompson has been pleased with his own efforts on the hill and those from his staff. Three other Blue Crabs hurlers — Craig Stem, Mat Latos and Kevin Munson — also earned a spot on the Atlantic League All-Star team.

“Each time I’ve gone out there I’ve felt pretty good and I know that I can still pitch in this league,” Thompson said. “I know that I can’t throw the ball by every hitter anymore and that’s what I try to teach these guys. They’ve all been great. Our staff has done very well through the first half of the season and I think they will continue to pitch well.”

Catcher Charlie Valerio, one of three Southern Maryland position players to be selected as Atlantic League All-Stars along with outfielders Cory Vaughn and Rubi Silva, has also been impressed with many of the pitchers on the Blue Crabs staff. Valerio has also made valuable contributions at the plate, heading into the break batting .303 (53 for 175) with 11 doubles, two triples and five home runs with 15 RBIs.

“Our staff has been really good all season,” Valerio said. “Daryl is the consummate pro. Whatever pitch you call he’s going to throw it for a strike. Guys like Stem and Latos are always right around the plate. Offensively, we have to do more to help them out. They’re keeping us in every game. We have to do our part.”

Southern Maryland catcher Mike Falsetti has also gotten a bird’s-eye view of what the Blue Crabs pitchers can do. Like Valerio, Falsetti admits the Southern Maryland staff has more than held its own during the first half of the schedule.

“It’s amazing catching for a guy like Daryl,” Falsetti said. “We have the same approach to every hitter in the lineup on almost every pitch. Wherever I put the glove he’s going to throw it. You look up at the board and see them guys giving up one, two, three runs each night and know they’ve done everything they need to do to help us win ballgames. As hitters, we have to do a lot more.”

After the series versus Lancaster, Southern Maryland has Monday off before its first road trip of the second half, a three-game series at New Britain starting Tuesday. Then, the Blue Crabs are right back in Waldorf for a three-game series next weekend versus Sugar Land, which won the first-half Freedom Division crown. Cliburn insists his team has ample potential to be in hunt in the second half.

“In our last two games at Long Island we had 36 hits and scored 23 runs,” Cliburn said. “That’s the type of talent this lineup has. We just have to be more consistent. Offensively, we just did not get it done the first half of the season. Our pitching was outstanding, but our bats have to be more consistent. Scoring three runs a game is not going to get it done.”

Cliburn will head into Friday’s twin bill one win shy of 1,700 career victories as a manager at every level. Cliburn recorded 1,098 wins during his time with affiliated major league teams and sports 601 wins with independent teams.

Twitter: @tblacksomds1

Twitter: @tblacksomds1