There is one constant when Bobby Meacham talks about his club in Buffalo.
"I don't think they can work any harder," he said.
The Buffalo Bisons' manager has been pleased with the team's work ethic all season. It's not time in the cage or tweaking stances or messing around with mechanics that has the Herd starting the ceremonial second half of the season 17 1/2 games out of the division race with playoff hopes remaining only through statistical probability.
For Meacham, it's that his team has forgotten the details of winning.
"I think the key is just to learn to compete better," Meacham said Thursday afternoon before his team played the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Rail Riders at Coca-Cola Field in the first game back after the Triple-A All Star break. "Our record is what it is, and I don't think we're that different from the team that started the season as far as personnel wise or the way we go about our work. But I think the way we go about competing when the game starts is different."
The Herd spent much of the first two months of the season in first place in the International League North Division. Even when they fell back in the standings, they still were eight games over .500 (31-23) on June 4.
Then came a slide of epic proportions. The Bisons went into the All-Star break losing 29 of their last 36 games. They entered Thursday's game with a 38-52 record with 26 of those wins coming at home.
"I think we've got to re-establish a way to compete," Meacham said. "That means a lot of attention to details that don't have anything to do with taking batting practice or throwing on the flat ground or working on your mechanics. Because once the game starts, this is where it's fun. This is where you get to see how good you are and the work part, I think they get that. But the other part I think we need to redirect that.
"For me, I don't see it as the game being the tough part. I see the game being the fun part. I think they work and then they go out and hope they do good. But you do good because you're better than the other guy. You get hits because you're better than that pitcher in that at-bat. You don't do good because you worked hard. You know what I'm saying? There's a challenge there and I think sometimes there's a misfire.
"They don't look it at as me beating them. They look at it as me having the right posture at the plate or having the right swing. They come in and they work on their swing the next day to be sure they're ready and mechanically sound. I don't think that's what competing is. Competing is being better than the guy across from you. Competing is trying to make sure that you're prepared. You know how many outs there are. You know where the outfield is playing and their arm strength. You know if there's a base hit, am I going to score from second? If I'm a hitter and I get a base hit, am I going to keep going because the throw's high? That's all stuff that comes into play in competing and trying to beat the guy across from you and then winning a game. We've got to get back to that."
The statistics have been grim of late for the Herd. They are tied for the worst batting average in the International League -- .245 -- with Toledo. They have the second-fewest runs scored (344) and the fewest total hits (696).
That has contributed to the Bisons going just 7-20 in one-run games, 6-11 in two-run games and being shut out 12 times. When the Herd's offense isn't clicking, the team isn't winning. They are just 6-39 when scoring three or fewer runs and 3-39 when opponents out-hit them.
Still, Meacham sees positive signs, including the work of Jason Leblebijian, Roemon Fields and Michael Saunders.
"I like the fact that the majority of them have never backed off as far as their aggressiveness during the game. That's a good thing to build on," Meacham said. "We talked a little about continuing to build on that so they don't look at the dark spots so to speak, you know my batting average or we're losing games. There's some bright spots here, too.
"I saw a lot of guys just regroup after struggling at the plate. I picture Leb and Fields being aggressive at the plate, swinging at their pitches. Sometimes they're getting hits. Sometimes they're not. But they're re-establishing what their plan is, what their approach is. A lot of guys are doing that and really get back to what made them good.
"I saw guys like Fields really running the bases well. Saw Saunders really figure out a real solid approach with his swing. Just a lot of guys digging and trying to figure out what works best for them. I saw them really going after it instead of wondering whether it was going to happen or not. Just go for it and see how it works out."