It's been a busy weekend, but a good week, and it might get quite a bit better. After having four straight games postponed by weather last week, the Cedar Rapids Kernels found themselves playing a lot of baseball in just a few days' time.
The Kernels played back-to-back doubleheaders in Clinton on Saturday and Sunday.
Midwest League rules prohibit a team from playing doubleheaders on three straight days, so they played a single game against the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers Monday night, despite having two games in Wisconsin postponed a week ago. Tuesday night, it was another pair of games.
That's a lot of games to find pitching for.
Manager Jake Mauer had planned to use a six-man rotation, but with postponements resulting in seven games being scheduled over the course of just four days, he and pitching coach Gary Lucas could have found themselves a couple of starting pitchers short.
It could have been a recipe for disaster.
There was one disaster among those games but, ironically, the disaster came on the one night that only one game was scheduled. Monday night, the Kernels got what Mauer called, "an old fashioned (butt) kicking." The Kernels dropped that game to Wisconsin 14-2.
But the Kernels had swept Saturday's doubleheader in Clinton, split the Sunday twinbill with the Lumber Kings and wrapped up the seven-game stretch with a doubleheader sweep of the Timber Rattlers Tuesday night.
After all of that, the Kernels found themselves a half-game ahead of Quad Cities atop the MWL Western Division standings.
Byron Buxton also sits atop the League with a .474 batting average, a .556 on-base percentage and a 1.292 OPS. He has to settle for just the second-highest slugging percentage (.737) in the league. Buxton sat out the first game of Tuesday's doubleheader after taking a pitch off of his upper forearm in Monday night's loss. But he came back to get three hits (two of them in the Kernels' eight-run first inning) during the nightcap.
Buxton's not the only Kernels hitter off to a hot start. In fact, Dalton Hicks was named the MWL's first Player of the Week for 2013. Hicks' slash line is .341/.426/.732 for an OPS of 1.157, good enough for third in the league through Tuesday's games. Hicks is also one of five MWL hitters leading the league in home runs, with three, and has also hit a MWL-leading seven doubles.
Jorge Polanco has contributed a .317/.349/.463 line, with one home run and three doubles.
As a team, the Kernels lead the MWL with a .759 OPS and have hit nine home runs.
Not to be outdone, the pitching staff is also leading the MWL with a 2.56 ERA (though they do have to share that honor with the South Bend staff).
That six-man rotation Mauer talked about before the season started hadn't exactly worked out the way he expected. The sixth man in that rotation, Brett Lee, didn't get his first start until the first game of Tuesday night's doubleheader. Until then, he'd been limited to a couple of one-inning "stay sharp" relief appearances. Lee came through big time, though. He threw six innings of shutout ball.
Steven Gruver, who found out earlier in the day Tuesday that he would become the "seventh starter" in the Kernels rotation, likewise came through for the Kernels, throwing four shutout innings in Game 2 Tuesday.
Tyler Jones and Tim Atherton pitched equally well in relief roles. Jones got his second save with an inning of shutout work in Game 1 and Atherton threw three innings, giving up a single run on two hits, to earn the "W" in Game 2.
All told, in the 14 innings of work Tuesday night, the four Kernels pitchers struck out 12 Timber Rattlers and walked exactly zero hitters.
How could things get any better?
Well, we may be about to find out.
The Cedar Rapids Gazette's Kernels beat reporter, Jeff Johnson, tweeted late Tuesday that starting pitching prospect Jose Berrios is expected to join the Kernels from Extended Spring Training on Thursday. If so, Berrios would likely meet the Kernels in Peoria for the beginning of a week-long road trip.
SD Buhr covers the Kernels for MetroSportsReport.com in Cedar Rapids. His alter-ego, "Jim Crikket," is a co-founder of Knuckleballsblog.com.