There's a small number of games left, but enough to make or break the Lincoln Saltdogs' season.
Fresh off suffering a three-game sweep at the hands of the Chicago Dogs, Lincoln went from half a game ahead of Cleburne to 1½ games behind the Railroaders entering a four-game series between the two teams at Haymarket Park. Thursday's series opener starts an 11-game homestand for Lincoln to finish out the regular season.
“They know we've put ourselves in position for postseason play,” Saltdogs manager Brett Jodie said. “They also know as short of an amount of time is left, there is a good amount of time left. We can kind of control our own destiny still, which is a great thing, but we have to take advantage of things, play well and get better in all facets of the game.”
The Saltdogs lost the first two games against Chicago by a combined score of 18-5, but even though Lincoln fell 4-3 in the final road game of the season and was swept for just the third time in 2021, Jodie saw something from his team.
“In all honesty, I was actually happy, even though we got swept in the last game,” Jodie said. “You could feel the life come back in and some confidence come back in. Hopefully we are moving in the right direction and it's all about who gets hot at the right time. We were hot there for a while and I don't think it went away, I just think we went through a little bit of a spell. We were still finding ways to win with the exception of this last series. Now it just comes down to us getting the job done and leaving it all out here on the field.”
Lincoln is fairly healthy late in the season, though it lost Keenan Bartlett for at least 21 days after he was placed on the inactive list Thursday. The Saltdogs signed Western Michigan product and infielder Drew Devine to fill out the roster.
"It is good to have a lineup that is healthy," Jodie said. "I'm a little concerned with our pitching, actually, but we just have to step up and get through it. The lineup is healthy, but the pitching is up in the air. There are some things we are trying to figure out right now. It's a long season that kind of wears on you. We are just trying to reach down and hold on to what we've got to fight until the very end."
Cusp of history: Josh Altmann has put himself in striking distance of the Saltdogs single-season home run record, but he also is near a first for the 20-year old franchise. Altmann, three shy of tying Iac Gac's Lincoln home run record of 27 in 2018, needs one more stolen base to become the first Saltdog to hit 20 home runs and steal 20 bases in the same season. If Altmann accomplishes the feat, he will be just the fourth player in American Association history to do so.
Where's home? Kansas City has locked up the top seed in the American Association's South Division, leaving three teams battling for the final two playoff spots in the division.
Pending the outcome of the final standings among Lincoln, Cleburne and Sioux City, the third seed may get the home location for the one-game playoff to advance to play the Monarchs. With Cleburne, Texas, the farthest south city in the division, American Association Commissioner Joshua Schaub has not ruled out Lincoln or Sioux City hosting the play-in game if one of them finishes as the third seed, the reasoning being to keep travel to a minimum with a series against Kansas City awaiting.
The Saltdogs currently hold the final playoff spot and are a game ahead of Sioux City.