Bundy manages to get most out of 51s

Forget the part about baseball managers being judged exclusively on overall record. Not at this level.

Not when you are trying to remain in a race when every player is more concerned about leaving. Not when you have as much chance predicting the makeup of your roster on a weekly basis as Brett Favre does appearing selfless.

Triple-A ballplayers know their statistics like the Sirens of TI know sex appeal. Hitters and pitchers can tell you batting averages and ERAs down to places a geometry teacher might struggle finding.

It’s part of the makeup for those so agonizingly close to a place first dreamed about between pregame trips to a Little League snack bar. They tend to be a tad narcissistic.

Lorenzo Bundy is fine with all of it, expects it, even encourages it.

“But I would also hope,” he said, “they check out the standings.”

It is where you will discover how capable a job Bundy has done with the 51s this season, with a team that is uncharacteristic of this level, which is to say it’s a lot like Dane Cook’s comedy act: old and not entirely original.

But they are 51/2 games back in the Southern Division after an 11-6 loss to visiting Tacoma on Friday night, an encouraging enough spot to think the season’s second half might not be the desperate effort to avoid last place as in recent years.

Las Vegas sits three games from its All-Star break and in second place with the realization it follows the annual mini-vacation with a four-game series at division-leading Sacramento.

You would think the 51s need to win at least three against the River Cats, that avoiding a fate of falling eight or more back in the loss column is essential for a team trying to prove it can hang around and play meaningful innings throughout August.

Talent isn’t why the 51s are six wins better at this point than last season. They had more major league prospects on teams that finished fourth two of the last three years, more names destined to graduate to a Dodgers uniform. They also had some high-maintenance egos meant more for a sandbox than batter’s box.

There aren’t as many on a team with 22 players 27 years old and up and seven beyond their 31st birthday. Seven are free agents, including one (Jason Johnson) who leads the Pacific Coast League in wins and another (Terry Tiffee) in hitting.

There are guys who have swallowed large portions of the major league lifestyle, guys who have just enjoyed a taste and guys who still hunger for their first per diem allowance that can finance a restaurant without a drive-through.

“Some guys who have played in the big leagues and want to get back there are not happy here,” Bundy said. “Fine with me. You don’t want them to be. Just like I don’t want our young guys who made the jump from Double A this year to be happy or get comfortable.

“At the start of the year, we let it be known this team was a little different than past ones. We have more veterans, which brings more responsibility. I’m not here to baby-sit, especially men with wives and kids. I just expect certain things from this group that maybe I wouldn’t from a younger group. For the most part, these guys have lived up to the expectations.”

By hitting. By leading the PCL in average and runs despite 10 watts of power. By remaining relatively injury-free throughout the starting rotation.

By having a bullpen that understands it’s OK to hold late leads, something last year’s version never fully grasped. By getting numbers from places it expected (everyone knew John Lindsey would drive in runs) and from those it didn’t (no one knew Tiffee could hit .390).

“At the end of the day,” Lindsey said, “we all want the same things: Get to the major leagues and win here.”

It’s no surprise which goal he mentioned first. The thought of advancement consumes Triple-A players like the Internet does Christie Brinkley’s latest ex, which is why Bundy wasn’t sure at first how high a bar of expectations his team set.

His concern: Would so many faces from different age brackets and levels of experience be just as obsessive about winning a championship here? He still might not know, but he has an idea.

“I know it’s a good bunch that gets after it,” Bundy said. “I know they go about their business pretty well and know how to play.”

He knows what the standings say, which is that the second half could mean something this year.

Ed Graney’s column is published Sunday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday. He can be reached at 383-4618 or egraney@reviewjournal.com.

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