The Chattanooga Lookouts spent the first half of the Southern League season trying to climb to .500, which they finally accomplished with a 35-35 record.
They had a 10-8 start to the second half and seemed poised for a playoff push, but then the bottom dropped out. In the worst stretch since the Lookouts became Class AA affiliates of the Los Angeles Dodgers after the 2008 season, Chattanooga went into a 6-29 tailspin that quickly clinched the first losing season since 2010.
"There were a lot of factors that contributed to the swoon, and at the end of the day sometimes that happens," first-year Lookouts manager Jody Reed said. "The most important thing through that whole experience, and we tried to convey this to our players, is that when you're going through a tough patch, a person's true character is going to come out. It forced us to show professionalism and that we can be hard workers and grinders.
"It also taught us about minimizing the tough times. Instead of it being a month next time, how do you minimize it to two weeks or 10 days?"
Chattanooga plummeted to the bottom of the league in hitting during its skid and entered this weekend batting just .232. From July 12 until Aug. 11, the Lookouts were shut out nine times.
"I thought it was going to be a line-drive, gap club," Dodgers player development director DeJon Watson said. "There wasn't a ton of power here, so there were going to be some shutouts unless you had that veteran bat in the lineup who may have played in this league for two or three years. We're trying to push our younger kids in here, but there is an adjustment period."
The Lookouts began this season with four of the top six prospects in the Dodgers organization, a list that included outfielders Yasiel Puig and Joc Pederson and starting pitchers Zach Lee and Chris Reed. Puig quickly became a player fans had to watch, as the 22-year-old Cuban defector hit a league-leading .313 and had 37 RBIs in 40 games before his June 3 promotion to Los Angeles.
Puig also was benched twice by Reed and was arrested for driving 97 miles per hour on Amnicola Highway,
"I think Yasiel starting the year here was good for him, and I think it was good for us to assess his overall skill set," Watson said. "There were areas we felt like we needed to address and are still addressing at the major league level, from his outfield play and consistency in throwing to the cutoff man to baserunning and the proper leads, jumps and reads.
"Having him and Joc Pederson in the same lineup early helped them feed off each other, and I thought we played with a little energy when they were both on the field. From a development standpoint, it was really neat to see two high-end position players kind of pushing each other to excellence."
Pederson spent most of the first half hitting over .300 and entered this weekend with a .279 average with 19 home runs and 55 RBIs in 114 games. He ranks among the league's top five in runs scored (75) and total bases (201).
The 21-year-old is hitting .320 against right-handed pitchers but only .194 against lefties.
"I just have a little better pitch selection against righties," Pederson said. "I've been working on it. It's part of the process, and we're going to try to get it all to where it should be the same."
As for the pitching, Lee ranks among the league's top 10 with his 10-9 record and 3.18 earn run average. He enhanced his four-pitch mix, according to Watson, and is second in the league with 125 strikeouts.
Reed has a 3.68 ERA but a tough-luck record of 4-10, while reliever Yimi Garcia leads the team with 45 appearances and 17 saves. Garcia is 4-6 with a 2.72 ERA.
"It's been an up-and-down year, but we've had a lot of good things come out of it," pitching coach Hector Berrios said.
The Lookouts came out of their slide earlier this week with four consecutive wins over Jacksonville. Pride is the motivation from now until the Labor Day finale, and Reed is hoping his players can benefit from what has transpired.
"The wins and losses wasn't it," Reed said. "You always want your kids to have success on a personal level and as a team. For me, that was the hard part, because I saw them struggling, and you know they're trying their hearts out. You're trying to share your experiences and help them in any way to come out of the bad spell we were in, and it just took a little longer than we would have liked.
"We went through some really heartfelt moments that hopefully they will hold on to, but we're playing better baseball now, and isn't that what matters?"
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...