South Division playoffs will come down to the wire

As this is being written, most of the teams in the California League’s South Division have 23 games remaining and there’s a decent shot it’ll come down to the final few games to decide the final two playoff spots.

Assuming Lancaster wins the second half (and they have a 3 1/2 game lead currently and are the most consistent team in the division), there are two spots up for grabs.

RIght now, Lake Elsinore (56-61)  and the 66ers (55-62) are the leaders, but the Quakes (54-63) and Mavericks (52-65) aren’t far behind.

One team might drop out of the running, but it seems likely at least three teams will be battling for those final two spots.

The Quakes missed a golden chance at a win Friday, letting a 6-2 eighth inning lead slip away with a six-run frame in an 8-6 loss to Lancaster.

Ryan Mount, Abel Nieves and Efren Navarro had two hits apiece for the Quakes.

The Sixers held on for a surprisingly low-scoring 5-4 win over the Mavericks. They will need to win a lot of low-scoring games to remain in the hunt for the playoffs.

Quakes attack is bolstered

Fresh off a 2-1 victory over the 66ers, the Quakes found out after the game Thursday night that two players would be returning to the team: catchers Flint Wipke and Brian Walker.

It’s part of the trickle-down effect with the activation of Angels catcher Mike Napoli from the disabled list, and possibly another player.

Walker was batting just .179 with four home runs and 14 RBI in 40 games with Double-A Arkansas, but hit .283 with five home runs and 21 RBI in 42 games with the Quakes in the first two months of the season.

Wipke was batting .278 with three home runs and five RBI in 10 games for Arkansas, and hit .265 with three homers and 19 RBI in 27 games with the Quakes.

Both should help: the Quakes current backup catchers C.J. Bressoud and Alberto Rosario (who are both going to low Single-A Cedar Rapids) were batting .161 and .218, respectively, this season.

Hank Conger is catching again, but probably only a few days per week, leaving a good opportunity for one of the other two to DH when Conger catches or catch when Conger DHs.

How good is Quakes’ O’Sullivan?

On Wednesday, Quakes right-hander Sean O’Sullivan tied the franchise record  for wins in a season (14), with a 6-3 win over the 66ers, a mark set by Rick Guttormson in 1999.

It’s hard to get that many wins in one league, because if you’re that good, you’ll be promoted at some point. For O’Sullivan (14-5), he won games earlier this season when he was not sharp: 5 1/3 innings, five earned runs; 7 1/3 innings, five earned runs; five innings, seven earned runs.

He’s pitching well now. He was 5-0 with a 1.59 ERA in July, so he’s deserving the wins he gets. His overall ERA is 4.66, down from 6.35 in the middle of June. Who knows, he might not be around long enough to break the record.

The Sixers have their own starter who has benefitted from strong run support. Josh Wall is 9-5 with a 6.39 ERA, and that’s the reason why he’s still in the California League.

Quakes turn triple play again against Sixers

Turning a triple play is unusual. Doing it twice against the same team in the same ballpark in the same season is downright bizarre.

On Tuesday at the Epicenter, Sixer Esteban Lopez hit into a 3-2-5-2-6 triple play. Lopez was out at first, then Justin Fuller was out between third and home and then Christian Lara was out trying to go from first to third on the play. Lara’s baserunning blunder turned what should’ve been a double play into a triple play.

On June 7, it was Scott Van Slyke with the baserunning blunder. That time, with runners on first and third, Bridger Hunt lined out to shortstop, and Jaime Pedroza was doubled off first. Van Slyke then inexplicably tried to tag up from third and score and was out easily. That double play went 6-3-2.

The minors are known for baserunning blunders, so you’d think it wouldn’t be so rare. But it is very rare. Yet this time, the Quakes didn’t win. Last time, the Quakes won 8-6. This time, the Sixers won 4-0.

66ers, Quakes need someone to step up

Both the Quakes and the 66ers lost their big bats in the past week. And now, they need someone to fill the offensive void.

Last weekend, the Sixers lost catcher Carlos Santana, who was leading the league in RBI at the time he was traded to the Indians organization. After Sunday’s game, the Quakes lost first baseman Mark Trumbo, who was second in the league in home runs before he was promoted to Double-A Arkansas.

In the six games since Santana’s trade, the Sixers have scored at least five runs three times, but they’ve also been held to one run apiece in the other three games.

In the five games since Trumbo’s promotion, the Quakes have yet to win. They’ve scored 11 runs (a 2.2 per game average) in those five games and have scored more than three runs only once.

The bottom line is, Santana’s replacement (Esteban Lopez) and Trumbo’s replacement (Efren Navarro) aren’t the same players as their predecessors, and they shouldn’t be expected to be. The Quakes and Sixers can get to the playoffs without those big bats. But to make any noise in the playoffs, they’ll need someone to go above and beyond what they had been doing to this point in the season.