THUNDER ROAD TO PLAYOFFS APPEARS BUMPY AT THIS POINT

TRENTON, N.J. – Back on July 2, the Thunder, with Derek Jeter playing and 9,002 fans at Waterfront Park, scored a come-from-behind 4-3 win over the Altoona Curve.

As the team celebrated Corban Joseph’s game-winning RBI that drove in Damon Sublett, and settled into a postgame clubhouse feast provided by Jeter, manager Tony Franklin and his players had the satisfaction of a 48-33 mark and could look forward to a strong second half.

The team had settled into a rhythm, and with no other Eastern League East club really asserting itself, another division crown seemed to be on the horizon.

“We just have to keep doing what we’re doing, playing winning baseball and picking each other up,’’ said Joseph. “This is a good club.’’

All was indeed rosy then, but since that day, the Thunder, heading into Friday night’s game with Harrisburg, is 11-24, fighting to stay above .500 and is tied for second place with the Reading Phillies, a team it has finished its season series with, for the final playoff spot.

The picture has taken on a hue that is not the most pleasant. The club has fallen behind in many games, tried to rally and fallen short, having lost 8 of its last 10.“This is wearing on all of us,’’ said Thunder manager Tony Franklin.

Can this team, which played a spectacular first half of the season, recover and claim a playoff berth? There are teams in similar situations – even 2010 league champ Altoona – that have caught fire at the right time and won it all in the Eastern circuit.

On paper, the odds are against the Thunder. Following the weekend series in Harrisburg, the Thunder have a day off Monday before resuming their road trip against the Erie Seawolves.

The Senators are having a superb year at 65-51, featuring uber prospect Bryce Harper and a solid pitching staff. In their only other visit to Harrisburg this season, the Thunder were swept in a three-game series. A series win in Harrisburg could get the Thunder back on the right track.

Yet, while the Thunder have played exceptional baseball at home until the last few weeks, in fact, still holding a 35-23 mark at Waterfront Park, the road, for whatever reason, has been treacherous for this team. Franklin’s club will travel to Harrisburg with a 23-34 mark.

In addition, the Thunder are hitting .249 (935-for-3,873) as a team – 11th in the 12-team Eastern League – and have struck out an aggregate 985 times, the most in the circuit. Lack of timely hits in timely spots, a trademark during the first half of the season, have not been there.

The pitching? There have been rough spots, but a Team ERA 3.88 – sixth in the EL – is certainly acceptable.

Why? It can happen with young players. Three Thunder players, including Cody Johnson, who has since been dispatched to Tampa, have fanned 100 times or more.

Sometimes it takes awhile for such players to get into rhythm in the Eastern League, and shows what a jump it is from Single-A to Double-A.

Certain games have been decided by a misplay here or an error there.  When a team is not hitting on all cylinders, as the Thunder are not presently, those plays can make a team a bit snakebitten.

Following the Erie series, a very tough Bowie team visits. Then, the Thunder play three in New Hampshire and finish their home slate with an eight-game homestand featuring four games each with New Britain and New Hampshire.  Those contests will decide the Thunder’s playoff fate prior to the club’s season-concluding four-game road trip to New Britain.

Baseball was never meant to be easy, especially at the Double-A level. All an organization can hope for is consistent play and progress.

It appeared the Thunder were on their way to that just five weeks ago. Now, the road to any playoff berth is rather rocky.

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