2022 American Association First Half Recap: Cleburne Railroaders
American Association Daily provides insights, features, and recaps of the action from around the American Association of Professional Baseball League, as well as player and coaching profiles and transactions. In today’s edition, Rob Pannier takes a look back at the first half of the 2022 American Association season for the Cleburne Railroaders including who is their MVP and top pitcher, and discusses the prognosis heading forward.
A Look at the First Half for the Cleburne Railroaders
(Ranking in American Association listed in parenthesis)
Overall Record: 19-33 (5th in East, 11th Overall)
Home Record: 7-20 (12th)
Away Record: 12-13 (5th)
Last 10: 6-4
Average: .263 (9)
Homeruns: 54 (7)
Runs Scored: 275 (7)
Slugging %: .432 (6)
On-Base %: .342 (T-10)
Stolen Bases: 95 (1)
ERA: 5.80 (10)
Saves: 7 (11)
Walks: 242 (11)
Strikeouts: 468 (2)
Opponent Average: .267 (9)
Fielding %: .972 (12)
Errors: 51 (12)
First Half Recap
A very tough May put the Cleburne Railroaders in a bad position. The team went 3-12 in the first month thanks in large part to a .234 batting average, as the team simply could not score runs. With the pitching staff struggling early on and little offense to count on, the Railroaders found themselves almost out of the race by the end of June, going 14-29.
However, things have looked up here in July, as the team is starting to hit, hitting 17 homers and posting a .308 batting average through the first nine games of the month. It has also helped that they have started to win on the road. Cleburne was 6-13 through their first 19 road contests, but have won their last six road games, helping to put the team just 1.5 games behind the struggling Gary SouthShore RailCats entering the second half. With four teams making the playoffs from each division, Cleburne suddenly finds themselves in the thick of the playoff chase, despite being 14 games under .500.
What Went Right?
The combination of Hunter Cervenka and Nick Gardewine at the back of this bullpen may be the best in the American Association. The two have been lights out, as Cervenka has a 0.81 ERA in 20 appearances while Gardewine has done a great job closing out contest, going 3-3 with four saves and a 3.13 ERA in 21 appearances. Manager Logan Watkins has been very careful to not overuse these two, as they have only made 41 appearances combined. That should help them stay fresh and keep the Railroaders in games for the remainder of the year.
Speaking of Watkins, he has done a great job improving this club as the season has gone along. Understanding that his club was struggling early, Watkins did not standpat, adding Edwin Arroyo who has been spectacular near the top of the order for this team (.316, 3 HR, 27 R). Kacy Clemens was added in mid-June and has been killing the ball, hitting .378 in 19 games.
Zach Nehrir continues to defy Father Time, hitting .322 with 44 runs and 38 RBI in 49 games, and Chase Simpson looks to have shaken off a couple of injury plagued seasons, hitting .305 with 12 homeruns and 38 RBI. This lineup is really coming into its own, and if they can get Hector Sanchez and Nick Shumpert to hit, this could be the best offense in the division.
What Went Wrong?
That start doomed to this team. It has primarily been the struggles of starting staff that have put the Railroaders behind in most contests, as Kody Bullard, Kevin Hilton, Garrett Alexander, and Trevor Simms have simply not delivered. If this team is going to get into the pennant race, this group cannot have an ERA over 4.50 for the rest of the season.
Top Pitcher: Hunter Cervenka, LHP
What an incredible find for Watkins. Cervenka has been spectacular, going 3-0 with a save in 20 appearances. His 0.81 ERA is ridiculous, as he has allowed just 17 baserunners in 22.1 innings pitched, striking out 30. Cervenka has likely established himself as the best set up guy in the league.
Top Hitter: Zach Nehrir, OF
There are three guys who definitely deserve consideration. However, Clemens has not been around long enough and Simpson has 17 fewer points in his batting average. When this team was struggling early on, Nehrir was the guy carrying this offense. As the offense has picked up, he has not slowed down.
Where Will Cleburne Railroaders Be on September 5?
Two weeks ago, some were already throwing dirt on this club. However, they have really stepped up their game over the last couple of weeks, and suddenly find themselves in the playoff chase. With the RailCats struggling right now and battling through some injuries, Cleburne is in prime position to grab that final spot in the East Division. In fact, count on them to do so as they become the team no one wants to face in the first round of the playoffs.
By Robert Pannier