2018 American Association Season in Review – Chicago Dogs

2018 American Association Season in Review – Chicago DogsIn American Association Daily, the Minor League Sports Report’s Robert Pannier continues his look back at the 2018 American Association season. Today, he looks back at the 2018 season of the Chicago Dogs.

The 2018 Chicago Dogs (League ranking in parenthesis)

Record: 45-55 (Fourth in North Division, 8th in American Association)
Home Record: 24-24 (8)
Away Record: 21-30 (8)
Team Batting Average: .269 (7)
Team Pitching ERA: 3.86 (3)
Team Fielding Percentage: .979 (1)

Individual Leaders:

Average: Edwin Arroyo (.325)
On-Base Percentage: Edwin Arroyo (.401)
Slugging Percentage: Joe Benson (.498)
Game Played: Trey Vavra (97)
Runs Scored: Edwin Arroyo (54)
Doubles: Trey Vavra (23)
Triples: Jonathan Moroney (5)
Homeruns: Trey Vavra (16)
RBI: Trey Vavra (65)
Stolen Bases: Kenny Wilson (13)

Pitching: Taylor Grover (43)
Starts: Josh Goossen-Brown (20)
Wins: Josh Goossen-Brown (7)
Losses: Josh Goossen-Brown, Connor Root (8)
Saves: Taylor Grover (14)
ERA: Rich Mascheri (2.34)
Innings Pitched: Josh Goossen-Brown (116.2)
Strikeouts: Scott Barnes (73)

2018 Season Recap

The Chicago Dogs were the new kids on the block in the American Association in 2018 as they played their inaugural season at beautiful Impact Field. The team made some bold moves, signing former Boston Red Sox Manager Butch Hobson to lead the team. Hobson brought in a number of established players that made this team look quite formidable on paper.

However, a tough start doomed the Dogs from the start. Chicago lost 14 of the first 15 games they played, including losing 13 in a row. Not the kind of impression the team was looking to give their fans.

Chicago was 13-28 as June came to an end, but Hobson never allowed this team to quit on themselves. He continually tinkered with the roster and the team began to put together a nice run starting on June 29. That night they defeated the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks in the first contest of a three game series. The Dogs would sweep the RedHawks, the first in franchise history, and would win eight of 10 before dropping four of six to the Sioux City Explorers and the Cleburne Railroaders. Chicago would go 14-15 in July, setting up for a solid finish.

Over the final 30 games, the Chicago Dogs went 18-12, including putting together a four game win streak (August 16-19), a franchise record. They proved to be spoilers in the playoff races as well, sweeping the Wichita Wingnuts in Wichita, taking two of three from the St. Paul Saints in St. Paul, and winning two of three in Fargo-Moorhead twice.

What Went Wrong

That tough start doomed this team. All the credit in the world goes to Butch Hobson for keeping this team focused through a tough start, but starting out 1-14 was a mountain that was too big for this team to overcome.

A problem early on was that the Dogs were not getting very much offensive production. Trey Vavra started out red hot, hitting well over .300 for much of the season, but there was not much around him. Chicago finished 11th in runs scored in 2018, and that was the primary factor why this team was not more competitive.

What Went Right

Despite that slow start, there was a lot for Chicago Dogs fans to be excited about. While the team was not producing runs, the pitching staff was not giving them up either. Chicago finished third in the league in ERA and had two relievers that posted at least 13 saves. Pretty remarkable for a team that won just 45 games.

The team was exceptional in the field as well, leading the American Association in fielding percentage. Chicago made the least number of errors (76).

Josh Goossen-Brown shrugged off some early season woes to put together a solid season in his first year as a starter. The bullpen was brilliant, as Jared Carkuff, Rich Mascheri, Kaohi Downing, and Taylor Grover proved to be as good of a group as any in the American Association.

Despite the lack of runs, there was some solid performers at the plate. Edwin Arroyo was a serious MVP candidate, playing exceptional defense while hitting .325 in 95 games with 54 runs scored and a gaudy .410 on-base percentage. Vavra had a huge year as well, hitting .299 in 97 games while leading the Dogs in RBI (65) and homers (16). Joe Benson also was a great find, hitting .300 in 73 games with 9 homers and 38 RBI. Kenny Wilson hit .318 and led Chicago with 14 stolen bases.

2018 Chicago Dogs MVP: IF Trey Vavra

Three players could have laid claim to this award, but Trey Vavra set himself apart this year for the Chicago Dogs. Vavra led the team in several offensive categories, including homeruns (16), RBI (65), doubles (23), and extra-base hits (39). Impressively, Vavra only struck out 55 times in 368 at bats, an impressive number for a power hitter. Plus, he finished with a .299 batting average.

For the Chicago Dogs first baseman this was redemption. After hitting .179 in 37 games for the Sioux Falls Canaries in 2017, Vavra put together a season that should’ve easily earned him a return to affiliate ball. He began the season with hits in 17 straight games, which included a span where he had at least two hits in five straight contests. He would later add two six-game hitting streaks, a seven-game run, and an eight game streak. Of the 97 games he played in, he recorded hits in 71 of those contests, proving to be the model of consistency all year.

2018 Chicago Dogs Pitcher of the Year: Rich Mascheri

There were a lot of worthy candidates on a staff that was one of the best in the league, but Rich Mascheri was a huge part of the success for this staff. He appeared in 32 games, three of which were starts, posting an outstanding 2.33 ERA. He tossed 61.2 innings, striking out 63.

In his 32 appearances, he was not scored upon in 20 of those outings. His most impressive appearance was on July 4, when he tossed six shutout innings against the Gary Southshore RailCats. He allowed 3 hits and 2 walks, striking out 5. He finished 4-1.

A Look to the Future

There is a lot of buzz around the Chicago Dogs already as the team signed former Chicago Cubs standout Carlos Zambrano about a month ago. He is looking to resurrect his career, looking to return to the Majors as a reliever, which should make an already deep Dogs bullpen formidable to say the least.

Edwin Arroya, Trey Vavra, and Joe Benson will be returning, which should form the foundation of a pretty solid lineup. Hobson has added a couple of live bats to the group as well. Gustavo Pierre comes from the Atlantic League where he hit .257 with 14 homers in 121 games last season. Victor Roache reached AAA with the St. Louis Cardinals last season and Kelly Dugan has reached AAA with the Philadelphia Phillies.

The key for this team is going to be getting off to a better start, and that should be no problem with Hobson now having a year in the American Association. While he already had nearly two decades of experience in the Atlantic League, it took the Skipper a little time to adjust, but he made those adjustments and now has this team on course to truly be the top Dogs in the North.

By Robert Pannier