After winning the past three nights, the defending champion Tulsa Drillers are close to clinching a Texas League playoff berth with 17 games remaining.
The big question left is whether the Drillers will qualify as the North Division second-half champion or as a wild card.
On Thursday, Cody Thomas homered twice to help the Drillers defeat the Springfield Cardinals 7-1 at ONEOK Field.
Tulsa (67-55 overall, 30-23 second half) took the series 3-1 over Springfield and moved into a tie with North-leading Arkansas.
“It was a huge series with playoff implications, and we got the job done,” Drillers manager Scott Hennessey said. “I was proud of the way they got the job done. They came out with energy and focused and no hangover from last night. We’re playing well in all phases.”
Springfield (54-69, 24-29), which would have to win the second half to take a playoff berth away from Tulsa, is six games behind Arkansas and reeling with 12 losses in its past 16 games.
Before Wednesday’s game, Springfield lost TL home run leader and top prospect Dylan Carlson, who was promoted to Triple-A Memphis. In addition, Springfield placed dynamic defensive outfielder Justin Toerner and starting second baseman Irving Lopez on the injured list.
Tulsa finished the season 19-9 against Springfield, including 13-3 at ONEOK Field.
The only difference between Tulsa qualifying as the second-half champion or a wild card is that the second-half winner would get to host a potential Game 5 in the best-of-5 series. Arkansas, the first-half champion, will host the first two games and its opponent hosts Games 3 and 4 (if necessary).
Carlson’s departure gives Thomas a better shot at the TL home run title. Thomas, who hit a walk-off homer Wednesday, is second in the TL with 19 homers — two behind Carlson.
“He’s been working on his swing in the cage. Started about three days ago and it seems to be working,” Hennessey said. “How you know he’s fixing his swing is the one to the opposite field — the ball wasn’t carrying, but he just smoked it the other way.”
Drillers right-hander Edwin Uceta (6-2) continued his stretch of stellar pitching. Uceta is 6-0 with a 1.29 ERA in his last seven starts. He could have finished Thursday with five shutout innings, but Springfield scored during a two-out rundown that Tulsa didn’t execute efficiently. But that was just about the Drillers’ only misstep.
Carlos Rincon’s second-inning homer opened the scoring off lefty Evan Kruczynski (2-8), who allowed four runs in four innings. Since shutting out Tulsa over seven innings in his TL debut last July, he has gone 0-5 with a 9.00 ERA in six starts against the Drillers.
Eric Peterson’s third-inning homer increased Tulsa’s lead to 2-0. The Drillers added two runs in the fourth. Angelo Mora singled, raced to third on Thomas’ single and scored on center fielder Connor Capel’s wild throw. After Rincon walked, Errol Robinson’s double drove in Thomas for a 4-1 lead.
Thomas homered in the sixth and eighth innings — the second was an opposite-field drive over the left-field wall. Omar Estevez’s sacrifice fly drove in the other run.
Robinson went 2-for-4 and is batting .441 in his last 10 games.
“He’s playing as good as I’ve ever seen him play offensively and defensively,” Hennessey said.
Peterson went 2-for-2 and reached base in all four of his plate appearances. He was returned to Single-A Rancho Cucamonga after the game to make room for reliever Marshall Kasowski, who is coming off the injured list.