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Team chemistry key to Columbus Clippers continuing hot streak

They’re at it again.

After winning the 2010 International League championship, the Columbus Clippers are delivering more of the same in 2011.

The Cleveland Indians may have the best record in the American League but their Class AAA affiliate is off to an even hotter start.

The Clippers (24-8) lead the west division and own the best record in the league by 4.5 games.

“We’ve won a bunch of different games already in different ways,” second baseman Jason Kipnis said. “It hasn’t been just the offense or just the pitching staff.”

Though the team was adamant that success has come from all phases of the game, the team’s hitting has been most impressive. As of Tuesday, Columbus leads the league in batting average (.297), runs batted in (191), and on base percentage (.389).

“It’s kind of contagious when one guy is hitting,” right fielder Jerad Head said. “Everybody in the group is feeling group and everybody is swinging the bat well in the lineup.”

Head has been especially proficient at the plate as he leads the Clippers in batting average.

The hot hitting has taken the pressure off of the Columbus pitching staff. Though pitcher Zach McAllister leads the league in wins, the team is only tenth in the league in earned run average and seventh in strikeouts.

Shortstop Cord Phelps attributed the fast start, which included a 13-game winning streak, to the team’s chemistry.

“I think everybody enjoys being around each other and when that’s the case the atmosphere is more relaxed and people are able to play at the top of their ability,” he said. “When you kind of have all those working parts that go together it translates to wins.”

Despite the camaraderie, the players have also been fueled by battles for playing time and the opportunity to play for the Indians.

“I think the depth on this team has been causing a lot of great competition. A lot of players have stepped their games up,” Kipnis said.

With 113 games remaining, keeping the wins coming may not be easy.

“We’ve had a really hot start and I think we can continue to play at a high level but it’s important to realize that the really hot streaks don’t always happen even when you are playing good baseball,” Phelps said. “I think we’ve just got to continue with our approach and continue to have fun and we’ll be alright.”

The chemistry the team has been able to establish may be the key to staying on top the remainder of the season and having an opportunity to repeat as champions.

“We have veterans and young guys that have really jelled and meshed together well early,” Kipnis said. “So I really don’t think it will be a problem.”

The Clippers continue their series with the Charlotte Knights tonight at Huntington Park. First pitch is scheduled for 6:35 p.m.

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