The Tri-City Dust Devils are back in first place in the East Division despite winning just two of five at Salem-Keizer.
I realized how fortunate the Dust Devils have been, however, when they dropped into second place, a half-game behind Boise, after Tuesday's 11-4 loss to the Volcanoes. Tri-City has been top dog in the East for quite a while now.
The Dust Devils went from wire-to-wire last season holding at least a share of first place. Remember the 5-0 start? And before anybody could blink, Tri-City had a seven game lead with just a third of the season in the books.
Now this season might go a bit differently. I don't think it will be so easy to repeat as East Division champs. Spokane appears to be getting hot, and Boise always seems to be in the mix. I doubt if Yakima will repeat its miserable performance from last year.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Tri-City Herald
But the Dust Devils have already been challenged in several games and have shown they can come back to win. There is a good mix of talented first-year players and second-year veterans setting strong examples. Unlike last season, nobody has jumped out of the gate with a red-hot start — like Scott Beerer, who hit over .500 during the first three weeks, or Mike Zuanich, who hit seven home runs in his first 18 games.
But during the last homestand, Tri-City took the final game of a five-game set against Eugene. In that game, the Dust Devils pulled out an impressive win against a team that will contend for the West Division championship and against Adys Portillo — the pitcher whom Emeralds' manager Greg Riddoch called the best arm on the team.
I like the makeup of this year's team, and I'd be quite surprised if Tri-City didn't sew up at least one of the playoff spots in the Northwest League's new split-season format.
And the fans should be happy to once again have a chance to support a winning team with a shot at a third NWL title in four years.