Sports Editor

Since 1986, Chris Dugan has been covering local sports for the Observer-Reporter, and named sports editor in 2006. Before joining the O-R, he was sports editor at the Democrat-Messenger, and a former member of the Baseball Writers Association of America.

The Frontier League season is rapidly approaching the halfway point as teams have played roughly 45 of their 96 games. The all-star break will begin at the end of this week.

A former Wild Things manager, many years ago, admitted that he didn’t study the standings until the all-star break. He preferred to spend the first half of the season evaluating players and improving his team. The second half was for making a playoff push.

If current Washington manager Gregg Langbehn had taken that approach to checking the standings, then he might ask the same question that many people around the league are pondering:

Does anybody want to win the East Division?

After Monday’s leaguewide off day, play resumes tonight with all five teams in the East Division separated by only six games. None of the five has a winning record.

Schaumburg, which has lost six in a row, leads the division by .001 of a percentage point over Lake Erie. Washington, which was 9-22 at one point, has played much better recently and is only three games out of first place. Defending league champion Joliet is in last place but only six games back of first.

Washington begins a series tonight at Lake Erie and hosts Schaumburg for three weekend games before entering the all-star break.

Last year, Washington edged Joliet for the division title, winning on a tiebreaker. There are a number of factors that can determine the order of finish two months from now, but don’t count on one team running away with the title.

“It’s going down to the last week like it always does,” Langbehn said. “There probably will not be a whole lot of separation. The second half of the season is going to be interesting, but we have more games before the all-star break. The next (six) games could be very revealing.”

What the first half has revealed is the West is best this season. Four of the five teams in the West are above .500.

Only four teams will make the playoffs – the two division winners and the two remaining teams with the best records, regardless of division. That means, if the first-half form holds, the West will get three teams into the playoffs and the only way to make the postseason from the East is to win the division.

“The second half is wide open,” Joliet manager Jeff Isom said. “The second half of the season is going to be wild.”

With so many teams packed so tightly in the standings, it could be one bold roster move that puts a team on a winning streak and transforms it from pretender to contender. For those who know Wild Things history, think Josh Loggins in 2002 or, more recently, James Harris in 2017. When Washington added those players, they made late-season pushes that resulted in playoff appearances.

This year, every team in the East is in search of a Loggins or Harris. So far, they haven’t found one. Joliet did acquire first baseman Dash Winningham in a trade with Windy City two weeks ago. Winningham is tied for the league lead in home runs but batting only .226.

“Every team has flaws. It’s a matter of who is able to fix those flaws and who can get a difference-maker,” Isom said. “The problem is, there’s not a difference-maker out there, at least I haven’t found that guy yet.”

Teams have been looking for that one impact hitter or pitcher and have started tweaking the roster well ahead of the league’s transactions deadline in mid-August.

“Schaumburg is the midst of making a lot of moves, Windy City has not made a lot of moves, except giving us Dash Winningham in a trade and getting (Omar) Obregon back after a Visa issue,” Isom pointed out. “Washington has already made its moves. We’re going to be making some moves soon.”

If teams can’t find that key acquisition on the waiver wire, then they might have to swing a big trade. However, one factor that could hinder the number of deadline trades is the league’s new schedule format, which limits play within the respective divisions. With two five-team divisions, there are interdivision games every night. Washington, for example, plays its final 10 games against team from the West.

The team that wins the East, regardless of whether it’s bolstered by a key acquisition or not, will get to the postseason because of consistency. If it can consistently wins series over the next two months, and avoid a long losing streak, then the road to the playoffs will be much smoother.

Sports editor Chris Dugan can be reached at dugan@observer-reporter.com.

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