For the first time since 2007, the Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens are going to the International League playoffs! After a big win over the Columbus Clippers this evening, the Hens needed a loss from the Indianapolis Indians either today or tomorrow to clinch an a West division title. Sunday night, Indianapolis fell to the Louisville Bats by a score of 10-2 to give the division crown to the Hens.
The Mud Hens got off to a hot start, but due to injuries to the Tigers, much of their roster was depleted throughout the season and they started to scuffle down the stretch. Just over a week ago, Toledo was 3.5 games back of Columbus for the division lead and 2.5 games back of Indianapolis for the wild card. Since then, they turned on the jets to go 8-2 to leapfrog the Clippers and the Indians to leave both of them fighting for the wild card spot.
Toledo’s offense has been led all year by Christin Stewart, one of the top hitting prospects in the Tigers system. An IL All-Star, Stewart has clubbed 23 homers and gotten on base at a .364 clip. Jacob Robson, a talented outfielder who started the season in Double-A Erie, has also played a starring role for the Hens with 18 extra base hits in 217 at bats. They’ve also gotten a lot of quality performances from the starting rotation over the last week, primarily from Matt Hall and Spencer Turnbull. Their bullpen in the second half has been anchored by closer Zac Houston, who has struck out 55 in only 38 innings.
An influx of talent including perhaps the Tigers best all-around position prospect, Daz Cameron, provided much of that boost. Perhaps that’s a good sign. Cameron factored again with big moments in Sunday’s victory over the Clippers. Turnbull, a power sinkerballer who has struggled with injury the last few seasons, was called up from the Tigers Double-A affiliate, the Erie SeaWolves, just last week. He was brilliant in two starts for the Hens, spinning a total of 13 1⁄3 innings with a 2.03 ERA and 19 strikeouts to three walks. Willi Castro, the shortstop acquired for Leonys Martin at the trade deadline, was also promoted recently and contributed.
The Mud Hens have done a phenomenal job of rolling with the punches all season, and it’s great to see them come out on top. The last time the Hens were in the playoffs, Chris “Orange Crush” Shelton was on the roster, so this has been long time coming. Coming into the week, the playoffs looked like a pipe dream, but they responded to play their best baseball of the season. Hopefully they can keep this magical run going and bring home the club’s first Governor’s Cup since 2006!
The Mud Hens will host the Durham Bulls at Fifth Third Field on Wednesday night for the start of the International League playoffs.