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Ryan critical of club’s focus

Following a particularly brutal loss to Trenton on Tuesday night, perturbed Curve manager Michael Ryan pointed across the field to the opposing club and said, “Playoff team.”

Then the manager pointed into his own clubhouse and said, “Non-playoff team, right now.”

Ryan made numerous critical comments about his club just a few minutes after a closed-door team meeting following a 4-2 loss to Trenton at Peoples Natural Gas Field. The Thunder won the Eastern Division in the first half and already have locked up a postseason berth.

“We talked about, what did you learn from Trenton in the two games?” Ryan said. “I just wanted to see if they’re watching what a playoff team looks like.”

This has been a very weird season for the Curve. They don’t have a bunch of highly rated prospects and weren’t necessarily expected to be really good, but they absolutely have outplayed all preseason expectations.

They have the best overall record in the Western Division at 49-42. No matter what, that’s a pretty darn good accomplishment.

Still, given the new Eastern League split-season format, Altoona is on the outside looking in from a playoff standpoint.

The Curve have dropped to 5 ¢ games behind Bowie in the second-half standings. So, as Ryan said, this is not a playoff team right now, and getting into the postseason will take a whole bunch of work.

“These guys have went beyond expectations coming into this season,” Ryan said. “And they’ve earned the high expectations that’s going to continue throughout the season. … I just don’t want it to get ruined for them because there’s so many successful stories in that room, and you can’t have three or four guys that are being selfish at the moment ruin that because there’s too much hard work that’s been put in.”

The main issue, and the reason the Curve are not in better position for the playoffs, is that this team can be very frustrating to watch at times.

It has been wildly inconsistent and fails to execute in clutch situations far too often. And since there’s so little margin for error with this group, a lot of winnable games have turned into losses because of failure to do the little things.

Michael Ryan wants to win. He has been a winner throughout his minor league managerial career, capturing two league titles, one with the Curve in 2017.

Ryan sees the potential of this team. What upsets him is that the club has what it takes to get into the playoffs and perhaps even win a league title, yet there are still too many games and situations where some players fail to follow through on what they’ve been taught to do.

“You can be as gritty as you want,” he said. “I love it. But this game comes down to executing, as well.”

Some players just haven’t bought in enough all season. Ryan has complained about that a few times.

There’s some selfishness on the team.

Some guys just aren’t paying attention to everything that’s going on, which leads to them making mistakes.

This is the kind of stuff that will aggravate the hell out of a manager. Or any coach in any sport.

Ryan sees that he has a good team, but it hasn’t been good enough in either half to lock up a playoff spot yet. It might not, either, even if it does finish with the best record in the division for the entire season.

That would be a huge disappointment. And while we could look at the new Eastern League format and complain about it, saying it’s not fair for a team that’s good all five months, the bottom line is that everybody’s playing by the same rules, and this collection of Curve players must find a way to adapt like everyone else.

“The expectation is the expectation — it’s to win a championship,” Ryan said. “To be honest with you, with that group out there, I would take them — if they’re playing the way that they’re capable of and playing as a club — I will take them against any team in this league in a series. That’s how good I feel they are. And I feel that’s how good they can be. That’s the expectation.”

There’s still a month and a half left to play, plenty of time to make up 5 ¢ games in the standings. But that will only happen if everyone on the team buys into the plan, starts executing better and stops giving away winnable games.

Ryan sent that message to everyone following Tuesday’s loss.

“I said, when you come in (today), you let me know what you want to do,” the manager explained. “Do you want to get swept and not show up and then get put out of your misery against Bowie (this weekend)? Or do you want to continue to fight? Do you want to continue to play as a club and do the things that you’ve earned to play in some meaningful games late in the season, or do you just want to pack it up and try to get through it?”

We’ll find out starting tonight how the Curve respond to that challenge.

Cory Giger can be reached at cgiger@altoonamirror.com

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