So, the second half of the Texas Division went so much better for the Arkansas Travelers than the first half.
With three games remaining, the Travelers clinched the second-half title last Friday after they defeated Springfield, 4-1, and second-place Northwest Arkansas Naturals lost to Tulsa, 4-3, in 12 innings. After the Travelers contest Friday night, the clubhouse watched the Northwest Arkansas game on computers and celebrated when Northwest Arkansas’ bottom of the 12th ended in a double play. In the first half, Arkansas finished a game and a half behind Tulsa and ended the half with two consecutive losses. This time they ended the second half with an eight-game winning streak and had three games to spare.
"It was really nice (to clinch early) and get that behind us," Travs’ Manager Tim Bogar said. "We had a good couple of days to regroup and give some guys some time off. It was exactly what we needed. It was really nice to watch the kids know what to do over the last eight days compared to the first half when they struggled to win games."
The Travs finished six games ahead of the Naturals and finished the second half with a 40-30 record. Overall, they are 73-66 after finishing the first half with a 33-36 mark. The 73-66 and 40-30 marks are the best finishes for a regular-season record and second-half mark since 1988.
The Travs began the North playoffs Wednesday at Tulsa. Game two Thursday is also in Tulsa with games three, four and five at Dickey-Stephens Park on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, if necessary. The playoffs are best three out of five. The pitching rotation will be changed up somewhat with Michael Roth slated to start the first game. Lay Batista starts Thursday with Mark Sappington, Brandon Hynick and Mike Piazza to follow if needed.
Even though the Travelers ended the regular-season with an eight-game winning streak, that is to be forgotten as Bogar says they are now 0-0. Playing Tulsa so many times, they two teams are familiar with one another, but Bogar pointed out that they have played well against some of their pitchers and struggled against others.
"A streak is a streak," Bogar said. "The regular season was a stepping point, and we finished off strong. Now, we need to win three before they do, and it would be good to get that first one under our belt."
Bogar is pleased at how the Travelers progressed during the second half. The defense played better which made the pitching better, and the offense was getting clutch hits when needed and also with two outs.
"(Jimmy) Swift at shortstop has made a whole difference in the team," Bogar said. "He has done some amazing things and helped the team defensively. We have had some big hits when we needed them, and it has been a different guy every night."
What makes Bogar really proud is how the Travs have learned to win games on their own. He also has seen improvement not only physically but mentally.
"In the first half, we realized as a coaching staff the players were looking towards us to win games," Bogar said. "Now, they know what to do and what they need to do to get it done."