BY DENNIS CHASE
TRAVERSE CITY — With the finish line ahead — and his Traverse City Beach Bums in control of the Frontier League's East Division — manager Gregg Langbehn is not about to let his team ease up on the accelerator.
Traverse City, which has 12 of its final 18 games at home, entertains the Joliet Slammers tonight in the opener of a three-game series at Wuerfel Park.
"They've won 8 of their last 10," Langbehn said of the Slammers. "They're probably out of playoff contention (in the West), but they're the defending champs. They came in here a couple weeks ago and took two games from us. They're not going to quit. Our guys understand that.
"We have a lot to play for. We're trying to lock up a playoff spot, hopefully the division and home field advantage. That's the goal."
With a 50-28 record, the Beach Bums lead the East by four games over Southern Illinois and seven over Lake Erie.
"We've been leading all year," Langbehn said. "We've been consistent, that's the biggest thing. You try to avoid the lengthy losing streaks and find a way to put together significant winning streaks and we've kind of done that. We're happy where we're at.
"The last couple years we've been chasing (the leaders) at this point. Now we're out ahead of the pack. But nothing is guaranteed. We certainly realize that, understand that. We have a lot of work to do. But it's better to be where we're at now than where we've been at in the past. We'll take it."
Langbehn said he's interested to see how his team responds to Sunday's tough loss when Schaumburg scored five runs in the ninth off closer Scott Mueller to post a 10-7 win.
Mueller, an All-Star, has struggled some in recent weeks.
"He tries so hard," Langbehn said. "What people don't understand is how passionate he is about baseball and about this team. He feels if he's not perfect he's let the team down. It's been difficult for him. He's had some great games for us this season, and a couple where he just didn't get it done.
"It's not lack of quality pitches or quality stuff. The stars were just not lined up right for him (Sunday). It's not like they (Schaumburg) hit five consecutive balls off the wall. I'm not worried about Scott. It's about getting him to continue to throw his pitches with conviction."
Langbehn made one tweek in his stand-pat lineup recently, flip-flopping Brian Heere and Ryan Still in the order. Still, who's already set the Frontier League record for walks in a season, was moved into the leadoff spot.
"I think I got bored putting the same lineup down every single day," Langbehn said, laughing.
Still, who has the league's best on-base percentage, will continue to lead off.
The gates open at 5 p.m. tonight with Red Wing Darren McCarty on hand to sign autographs from 5:30-6:30 on the concourse. Reid Kelly (7-3, 3.98) will take the mound for the Traverse City against Jim Schult (5-5, 4.61) for the Slammers.