RAINIERS SWING AWAY This team looks like a contender

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It may be early in the season, but if the recent action going down at Cheney Stadium is any indicator of things to come this summer, then Tacoma Rainiers’ fans should buckle-up for a wild ride. Tacoma held court against the Albuquerque Isotopes and the Sacramento River Cats with a 5-2 record on their last home stand. With a 10-8 record, the Rainiers trail the Fresno Grizzlies by just 2.5 games in the Pacific Coast League’s Pacific Northern Division.

Now, if those pesky Seattle Mariners can just stay healthy for a decent chunk of time, this current Tacoma line-up looks like it has the bats, speed, gloves and pitchers to make a serious run at the division title.

The next five road games could really set the table for the Rainiers. Five games at Fresno, beginning on Wednesday, April 25, should give the PCL, as well as baseball fans, a good look at what kind of playoff race we could be watching this season.

As a matter of fact, if Tacoma can catch a little fire, they could be returning home to Cheney on Monday, April 30, sitting atop the division standings. Two seasons ago, the Rainiers began the season in first place and maintained their position for the entirety of the season. They’ve shown they can play well from the top, as long as the Mariners don’t dip into the roster too much, or too often.

Last season, the Mariners were an injury-prone wreck for much of the season. It wasn’t long before the roster moves began to have a significant impact on the field for Tacoma. New players, many of whom should have still been playing at the Double-A level, took the field for the Rainiers, and the level of play slipped. The team was in first place late in May, but soon fell behind Fresno and Reno, and way out of playoff position.

Even so, the fans still flocked to Cheney Stadium. The team showed grit and gave it their all. By the time the season ended, the Rainiers had racked up the third-largest attendance in team history.

Something tells me that the Tacoma fans will once again make a run at that all-time attendance record by the time summer has waved goodbye.

Tacoma opened their recent home stand on Tuesday, April 17, with a solid 8-2 win over Albuquerque. The following night, the Rainiers’ bats exploded for 14 runs on 13 hits in a 14-2 wipeout of the Isotopes, powered by five doubles and a home run.

On Thursday, April 19, Tacoma would need just one run, a solo home run off the bat of right fielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis, for a 1-0 shutout win. Starting pitcher Max Povse earned his first victory of the season, putting in 5.1 innings of work, while giving up six Isotope hits that went nowhere. Reliever Erik Goeddel would earn his second save of the season.

The following night, Albuquerque got a bit of revenge with a 7-5 victory over the Rainiers.

Both teams would knock-around 13 hits, but two runs in the top of the eighth were the ticket for the Isotopes. Second baseman Rey Navarro hit a solo home run in the fourth inning, but that was the extent of the extra-base pop coming off of the Tacoma bats this night.

On Saturday, April 21, Tacoma welcomed Sacramento to Cheney Stadium, and the Rainiers were in a bit of a giving mood. The River Cats put three runs on the board in the first two innings, and another three in the top of the fifth. Tacoma knocked in three runs in the bottom of the sixth, but there wasn’t going to be a rally on this night, as Sacramento rolled away with an 8-4 victory. Tacoma failed to hit anything greater than a single.

Tacoma would get back into the swing of things the following day with a 12-5 whipping over the River Cats in front of 6,304 fans at Cheney Stadium. The Rainiers pushed six runs across the plate in the first inning and only needed 10 hits to rack up their 12 runs. Tacoma bats showed more power this day with doubles by catcher Mike Marjama, center fielder Taylor Motter, right fielder Cameron Perkins and third baseman Danny Muno. Reliever Ryan Garton picked up his first win of the season.

The Tyler Street boys would wrap-up the home stand in style on Monday, April 23, with a 4-1 win over Albuquerque. Ian Miller hit his first home run of the season in the third inning, while shortstop Zach Vincej clubbed his second of the year in the seventh inning. Rob Whalen pitched 6.2 innings, giving up just one earned run, while striking out nine River Cat batters. Whalen is now 3-0 on the season. Goeddel would nab his third save of the year.

Tacoma returns home on Monday, April 30, for a four-game tilt against the same River Cats. It’s an odd, midweek series, with the team heading back out on the road on Friday, May 4, to face the Reno Aces for four games, followed by four against the El Paso Chihuahuas, and four against the River Cats. The Rainiers will then return home for an eight-game home stand beginning with four against the Las Vegas 51s on Thursday, May 17, and then four against El Paso beginning on Monday, May 21.

This will mark the final season for the Las Vegas mascot. The 51s may be one of the more boring mascots in Minor League Baseball, and a fan vote will bring about a new one for Las Vegas following the season.

The next Tacoma fireworks show is set for Friday, May 18, against those same 51s.

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