07/17/2018 10:49 AM -
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July 17, 2018
The Mad Dash Commences
The second half of the American Association season is upon us. The RailCats officially surpassed the halfway point of the schedule with game number 51 on July 11 against the Texas AirHogs.
With six weeks to go in the season, the playoff race is shaping up to be an exciting one in both divisions. With the elimination of the Central Division over the offseason, the addition of another wild card has added intrigue to both the North and South Divisions, with three teams (and potentially four) in each division fighting for two playoff berths.
Currently, the RailCats sit on the outside looking in, sitting in third place in the North. The ‘Cats are just 27-26 on the season, but sit only three games back of first-place St. Paul and 2 ½ back of second-place Fargo-Moorhead.
The first half of the season has been characterized by struggles throughout the North Division, with no team being able to seize the reigns and run away. The RailCats were able to capitalize on that, despite an uneven month of June.
On June 26, the RailCats moved into a tie for the division lead, then took the outright lead the next day, holding the top spot for the next eight days.
As the season goes on, plenty of matchups inside the division will allow all teams the opportunity to gain ground as they try to muscle their way into the American Association postseason.
What We Expected…
The expectations coming into the season were high for the Gary SouthShore RailCats after sneaking into the playoffs on the last day of the 2017 season. It was just the second postseason berth in Gary’s eight seasons in the American Association, and their first since winning the AA title in 2013.
However, the RailCats were thoroughly demolished in a three-game sweep at the hands of the Wichita Wingnuts in the first round of the playoffs, leaving a bad taste in the mouth of the RailCats, and leaving a veteran team hungry for more.
The RailCats would return a vast majority of the 2017 squad. Key contributors such as Jorge De Leon, Frank Martinez, and Chase Harris would depart, being joined in departure by Ryan Fitzgerald, who signed with the Boston Red Sox on May 3.
However, staff ace Alex Gunn, along with Daniel Minor and Jeff McKenzie would all return to anchor the rotation, while catcher Wilfredo Gimenez and nearly the entire infield (Alex Crosby, Randy Santiesteban, Cole Fabio, and Andy De Jesus) would be back for another go-around. Reggie Wilson would be back manning the outfield, but the key piece was reigning American Association Rookie of the Year Colin Willis, who returned for his second season with the ‘Cats after leading the team in most offensive categories during the 2017 season.
The addition of American Association veterans Mitch Glasser, Myles Smith, and Gabe Perez, as well as former Organized Baseball players Christoph Bono, Andy Paz, and D.K. Carey gave the RailCats a roster strong enough to make another run at the postseason.
…And What Actually Happened
The North Division has been characterized by uneven play for all six teams, and the RailCats were not immune to that.
After scoring 10 runs in the first three innings on Opening Night to spur a win over St. Paul, Gary would stumble out the gate, dropping five of their next six, in part due to some issues in filling the middle infield
However, with Andy De Jesus’ season debut on May 26th in St. Paul, the fortunes of the squad would change, as De Jesus recorded three hits to help spur a 16-7 shellacking of the Saints that would kick-start the RailCats.
That win would be the first of an eight-game winning streak, though the eighth win took nearly a month to get (more on that later). The streak anchored a stretch where the RailCats won 12 of 14 games to shoot into the thick of the North Division race and reach their high-water mark with a sparking 14-7 record
The stretch was aided by the dynamic duo of Daniel Minor and Alex Gunn, the latter of whom ended the eight-game winning streak by tossing his first career shutout against Fargo-Moorhead. The offense was paced by hot hitting from Andy Paz and the surprising D.K. Carey, who emerged from an open tryout camp to spend most of the first half among the top-10 of the American Association in batting average.
Colin Willis would get off to a slow start, but he emerged in early June, using his first career two-home run game to gain American Association Player of the Week honors for June 4-10th.
The pitching staff would also be bolstered by the signing of Adam Quintana in the second week of the season, as he would throw 12 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings spanning the majority of June, striking out a mind-boggling 26 batters over that stretch.
However, the ‘Cats would cool in the second half of June. Gary would lose two of three to Winnipeg before suffering their first sweep of the season at the hands of the league’s top team in Sioux City.
The RailCats would tread water throughout the end of June, thanks in large part to Daniel Minor, whose first career shutout (in abbreviated fashion) would help secure him the American Association Pitcher of the Week award for June 18-24.
Despite their struggles, the RailCats ascended to first place on June 26th win a win over Chicago as the rest of the north hit a collective rut. However, once the calendar flipped to July, Gary would lose 6 of their final 7 games of the first half to fall out of the top spot, and fall below .500 to 24-25. The team would bottom out, losing twice at home to the league’s worst squad in the Texas AirHogs.
Over the past weekend, though, the RailCats would bring in veteran outfielder Ronnie Mitchell, who helped spur a series win in Winnipeg, the RailCats’ first series victory in over three weeks.
The series would feature Daniel Minor’s sixth consecutive victory, giving him a league-high nine wins on the season, while Colin Willis ended the series having reach base in 14 of his last 15 games.
Curse the Sky!
Bad weather would be a hallmark of the season for Gary. After battling unseasonably cold temperatures throughout the first week of the season, the RailCats would then have to battle the rain.
After being rained out on May 30, the RailCats would play a doubleheader the following night against Chicago. After winning the first game in comeback fashion, game two would be delayed for over an hour, which proved to be costly when the game went to extra innings and was subsequently suspended by league curfew rules, with the resumption taking place on June 27.
As a result, the RailCats’ winning streak, which would reach seven games a few days later, would retroactively extend to eight straight wins once the game was completed nearly a month later.
More bad weather would strike as the series finale against Cleburne at the Steel Yard was rained out on June 21st, ultimately costing the ‘Cats a home game as the contest will be made up in Cleburne.
Three days later, the series finale in Sioux City would be washed away in the bottom of the seventh inning, though the RailCats would win the rain-shortened game 3-0.
The month of June would end with a Saturday night postponement in Lincoln that was subsequently made up the following day in a doubleheader.
Finally, Mother Nature was in no mood for fireworks on July 4 as the skies opened during the second inning of the second game of the Independence Day doubleheader against Chicago. The subsequent storm would cause that game to be suspended, which will be completed in August in Rosemont.
A big series for the RailCats begins tonight on the plains of North Dakota as the RailCats visit the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks for a three-game series.
The RedHawks enter 2 ½ games ahead of the RailCats for second place in the North Division, however the ‘Cats have had Fargo-Moorhead’s number, going 5-2 against the RedHawks in the first half.
After that, Gary will return home for another crucial series beginning Friday night, this time against first-place St. Paul.
The second half will feature at least one series against every team in the North Division, as well as tilts with every South Division squad except Sioux City. Beginning on Friday, the RailCats will play 24 of their final 43 games at the U.S. Steel Yard, with the season ending at home on Labor Day, September 3 against Kansas City.
A day at U.S. Steel Yard is non-stop fun, and that's even without the baseball! The RailCats promise a wide array of laugh-out-loud between inning entertainment, great giveaways, jaw-dropping fireworks and a family-first, kid-friendly atmosphere! RailCats fans come in all ages, shapes, and sizes, and the RailCats promise every fan will have fun.
U.S. Steel Yard
One Stadium Plaza
Gary, IN 46402