There is one certainty when filling out your Buffalo Bisons scorecard this season - Dan Johnson will be in the lineup.
He’s been the one consistent element for the Herd as the team reached the halfway point of the season during their doubleheader with the Rochester Red Wings Saturday evening at Coca-Cola Field.
The Bisons split the twin bill, losing Game 1, 6-3, while taking the night cap, 7-3, in front of 8,340.
Johnson has played in all 73 games - 54 at first base and 19 as the designated hitter.
Along with his consistent presence in the lineup is his ability to hit the long ball. Johnson leads the International League in home runs and that production has earned him the top spot in fan voting for the IL All Star game.
His production at times has provided the only spark for a Herd offense that has hit a bit of a skid in June.
Actually, everything about the Herd hit a skid in June. The club that started off hot and in first place in the IL North Division found itself in last place a few times on its latest road trip.
The team won three straight games before dropping the first half of Saturday’s doubleheader.
With the doubleheader split, the Herd enters the second half of the season eight games behind IL North leader Syracuse and 4½ games behind second-place Rochester. The Herd is battling to stay relevant in the playoff race with an ever-changing lineup that comes from having the parent Toronto Blue Jays in a playoff race for the first time in 20 years.
“It seems like we have a new lineup every day because we have a new team every day,” Johnson said. “ That’s the way Triple A is, guys moving all over the place. We’re putting a pretty solid lineup out there now and starting to score some runs which is good for us and I think the way we’re running out there right now we’re going to win a few ball games.”
Stringing together some wins means getting the offense clicking and embracing the cliché that hitting is contagious.
“To an extent it is,” Johnson said. “ It’s amazing once you get a few guys going because it starts the momentum going and guys kind of catch on and all of a sudden everyone’s hot and you’re putting up 10 runs in a game and then we pop off a few wins and all of a sudden you look, oh we’re climbing in the standings again.”
The 34-year-old Johnson has 16 home runs this season and leads the league in walks with 59. Playing first base in both games on Saturday he went 2 for 3 while drawing three walks with three runs scored. Still, he described his season as a “rollercoaster” with “a lot of ups and downs. I don’t know why this year it just feels like I’m on the wrong side of luck a lot of times.”
But the home runs have been an important contribution to the Herd, at times providing the team’s only offense. Of his 16 homers, seven have been solos, seven have been two-run shots and a pair have been three-run shots.
“I don’t go up there looking to hit a home run,” Johnson said. “Usually they say home runs are a mistake because you try to hit line drives, but when you catch it good, you catch it good and it goes. I guess I try not to give up any average and when the home runs come, they come.”