The 51s have been below .500 since very early on in the season.
But as the summer wore on and the team started winning more games, manager Tony DeFrancesco started talking about that mark more and more.
Tuesday, they inched within a game of .500, capping off their road trip with 9-6 win over the Iowa Cubs at Principal Park in Des Moines, Iowa. The 51s finished their Midwest road trip 5-2 which puts them in good position to reach that mark when they return home on Thursday to host a four-game series against Reno.
First baseman Peter Alonso helped lead the 51s’ (57-58) offense, delivering an RBI double in the first inning and following that up with a three-run home run the next inning.
Alonso, who has been heating up at the plate, went 4-for-5 in the win with four runs driven in.
He now has 12 home runs and 47 RBIs in 43 games since being called up in mid-June and has raised his average from .196 on July 21 to .247.
“Coming up to Triple-A, all the expectations, he kind of felt a little pressure,” DeFrancesco said. “I think once he figured out how pitchers in Triple-A use offspeed, he started commanding the strike zone a lot better and he can do a lot of damage when he swings at good pitches.”
The 51s added two more runs in the third and then one each in the fourth, seventh and ninth innings.
Cody Asche, who tripled in a run in the third, also homered in the win for the 51s while Kevin Kaczmarski drove in a pair of runs.
Those runs helped give the 51s a cushion, though the Cubs (42-72) did mount a late rally in the ninth innings, scoring three in the ninth off Chris Beck with two outs.
Beck loaded the bases — the last an intentional walk to face the pitcher — before collecting the third out of the inning.
“We got to the ninth inning, Beck came in with two outs and just didn’t execute pitches,” DeFrancesco said. “It came down to bases loaded with two outs. (He) got a ground ball to end the game.”
For most of the game, starter Drew Gagnon was in control.
The righty pitched six innings, giving up two runs — both in his last inning — on six hits while striking out nine.
“Drew’s been good. The last three or four outings, he’s been locked in. He doesn’t look like he’s panicking anymore. Early in the year some of the pitches he made were mistakes and he gave up a couple home runs but more in control of his body,” DeFrancesco said. “Doesn’t overthrow right now. He’s changing speeds. Nine strikeouts, he’s got a couple good offspeed pitches for strikeouts. He’s pitching with confidence.”
The outing marked his second straight quality start and helped the 51s inch closer to the elusive .500 mark.
“You look at how we started and the makeup of the team, all the changes in personnel, all the pitching, it was very difficult early but now we’ve got a good makeup of the team,” DeFrancesco said. “The guys didn’t quit. They didn’t get selfish just caring about their own personal numbers. They’re playing like a team and having fun. Hopefully the goal is at the end of the season to make every game count so that last series hopefully we’re still in the race and can compete for the division title.”