By: Brian Frank
The Bisons start the second half of their season tonight with a 0-0 record. The new Triple-A playoff format divides the International League season into two halves, with the first half winner hosting a best-of-three playoff series against the second half champion. The winner of that series advances to Las Vegas to play the Pacific Coast League Champions in a one game playoff.
The league’s first half ended on June 25. After a slow start to the season, the Bisons finished the first half with a 34-41 record, 14 ½ games behind the Norfolk Tides, who ran away with the league with a 48-26 record.
The Herd Chronicles spoke with Bisons manager Casey Candaele, catcher Rob Brantly, infielders Spencer Horwitz and Davis Schneider, and relievers Hayden Juenger, and Brandon Eisert as the team prepared for their first game of the second half.
Bisons manager Casey Candaele. Photo Credit: Brian Frank, The Herd Chronicles
Herd Chronicles: with the new playoff format and the season resetting today with the second half starting, do you or do you think the team feels a sense of renewal now with the standings resetting to 0-0?
Casey Candaele: Yeah, it can’t hurt. You kind of start anew and see what happens. We’ve been pitching better recently – our starting pitching and relief pitching have been good. We need to swing the bats better and we definitely need to play better defense – so those are the things we’ll be working on. But it is kind of a second chance, so it’s kind of cool.
Spencer Horwitz: Yeah, absolutely. Baseball is a long season. We’ve had stints of playing really good baseball and stints of playing not our best baseball. We’re excited to get the second half started and have a chance to make the playoffs and get into the championship.
Hayden Juenger: It’s definitely a fresh start. I think we started playing better baseball down the stretch but when the first half kind of gets away – I guess it is what it is. I think it’s a new day and a new start to the year essentially. I think the guys will be ready to go.
Davis Schneider: Yeah, for sure. Everyone’s at the same level now, no one’s ahead of us, no one’s behind us. It’s kind of a clean start. It feels good to have that because we didn’t start out too well, or as fast as we could. I think we have a chance of taking the second half.
Brandon Eisert: Yeah, everyone is back to the same record, so there’s a restart to the season. Hopefully, we get off to a better start than the first half and give ourselves a chance to finish at the top in the second half.
Rob Brantly: I think as the season was progressing, we kept feeling better and better. You hear this reiterated a lot with athletes, but it’s important that we stick to those processes that will put us in the best position to succeed. The fact that we’ve been improving upon those things result wise by sticking to our process, I think we stay the course and keep playing better baseball, cleaner baseball, and keep improving everyday. That’s how we'll find ourselves in a good spot at the end of the second half.
Bisons catcher Rob Brantly. Photo Credit: Brian Frank, The Herd Chronicles
Herd Chronicles: What did you see from the team in the first half that gives you optimism for the second half?
Casey Candaele: We’re just getting better. We’re playing better. I think obviously pitching and defense is going to propel us to greater heights – so we’re going to have to really focus on the defensive play. I think our pitching was rounding up and doing much better, settling in and feeling comfortable with what they’re doing. I think it comes down to us playing better defense. That’s a big, big factor.
Spencer Horwitz: It’s just how much depth we have. One through nine in our lineup can beat you. Our pitching too. Our bullpen is loaded in the backend. Once we all put it together – and we’ve shown flashes of it this year, but we just haven’t put it all together with our pitching and our defense and our hitting all at once. But I think we’re close.
Hayden Juenger: I think we were starting to put all the pieces together. Our pitching last week was really good. Our offense is going to be there. Our offense was really there the whole first half. I think it’s going to be a great second half.
Davis Schneider: I think hitting wise, we didn’t start out too well. I feel like in the cold, no one really hit as well as they could have. And when the pitchers pitched well, we didn’t hit well, and when the pitchers didn’t throw well, we hit well. So it was kind of like we weren’t on the same page. But I feel like lately we’ve kind of come to a spot where we’re both in a good spot hitting wise and pitching wise – and I think we have a good chance of winning the second half and going to the playoffs.
Brandon Eisert: I think at times we’ve been able to hit and at other times we’ve been able to pitch. When we’re able to combine the two we’re a really good team. If we can just do that, instead of pitching good one game but not getting the hits, or getting the hits but not pitching well. If we can combine the two I think we can be a pretty good team.
Rob Brantly: Overall I think we just started playing cleaner baseball. I thought that our pitchers were doing a really good job of keeping us in ballgames and our offense has been pretty impressive so far this season. I think with those two things combined, we’re looking to have an exciting start to our second half.