2022 American Association Season Review: Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks
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, Robert Pannier concludes his look back at the 2022 American Association season by reviewing the campaign of the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks, the team that won the Miles Wolff Cup.
The Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks Season in Review
The Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks franchise is one of the most successful in independent baseball history, but they had not won a championship since 2010 and had not won a title since joining the American Association. That no longer can be said as the team put together an improbable comeback in Game 5 of the championship series to win the sixth title in franchise history.
Tale of the Tape
(League ranking listed in parenthesis.)
Record: 64-36 (2)
Home Record: 33-17 (2)
Away Record: 31-19 (1)
Average: .279 (3)
Homeruns: 115 (4)
Runs Scored: 585 (5)
On–Base Percentage: .367 (3)
Slugging Percentage: .442 (4)
Stolen Bases: 82 (10)
ERA: 4.52 (3)
Strikeouts: 852 (5)
Saves: 30 (1)
WHIP: 1.48 (4)
Shutouts: 4 (T-6)
CG: 2 (T-4)
Fielding Percentage: .986 (1)
Errors: 52 (1)
A Recap of the 2022 Fargo-Moorhead-RedHawks Season
The Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks were on the losing end of the championship series in 2021, swept by the Kansas City Monarchs. Watching Kansas City celebrate became incentive for the RedHawks, and the club overcame some incredible setbacks to win the Miles Wolff Cup, the first time the club had won a title since joining the American Association.
Fargo-Moorhead got off to a fast start, posting a 12-4 record in May, the best start in the American Association. The RedHawks were 3-3 after the first six games, but then rattled off nine straight victories, sweeping the Cleburne Railroaders, the Milwaukee Milkmen, and the Sioux City Explorers before losing to the Kane County Cougars on the last day of the month.
Drew Ward returned to the club from the Detroit Tigers organization and was impressive, hitting .355 with six homers and 14 RBI through the first 16 games. Peter Maris lived up to his last name, hitting four homers while driving in 14.
Closer Alex DuBord had an incredible month, saving seven ballgames while allowing just one run in 11.1 innings and Tyler Grauer started the season in the bullpen, but became one of the most dominant starters in the American Association, going 1-0 in May with a 0.96 ERA in 18.2 innings. The 2021 American Association Pitcher of the Year, Ryan Flores, also got off to a fast start (3.00, 2-0), but would soon be headed south of the border after his contract was purchased.
The RedHawks continued their fast start in June, going 19-8, the second straight month where the team had the best record in the league. They were 31-13 after 46 games, and it was an impressive offensive performance in June as well as a consistent pitching staff that was driving the club.
June did not get off to a great start for the team, however, as they dropped two of three to Kane County (May 31-June 2), then the Milkmen took two of three. That had Fargo-Moorhead 2-3 through the first five games and they were 4-5 through the first nine. However, a six-game winning streak got the team rolling and, after a 2-1 loss to the Gary SouthShore RailCats (June 18), the team rattled off five straight wins. The RedHawks won four of their final five games in June, putting them atop the American Association standings.
Ward continued to swing a hot bat, hitting .371 with seven homers and 22 RBI, and teammate Leobaldo Pina was on fire as well, hitting .433 with six homers, 29 runs scored, and 20 RBI. Five players on the club drove in at least 20 runs as the team averaged nearly 7 runs per contest.
The pitching staff for the RedHawks was the story all season. DuBord saved five more games in June and the combination of DuBoard, Joe Jones, Tanner Riley, and Luke Lind made this a six-inning game for most opponents, as the bullpen was spectacular. However, this was not just about the bullpen, as the starting staff was exceptional as well. Sebastian Kessay was 4-0 with a 2.57 ERA in five starts and Kevin McGovern went 4-1 with a 4.07 ERA. Grauer continued to pitch well, and Peyton Wigginton joined the rotation to give the RedHawks the best five starters of any rotation in the league.
The club had a minor swoon in July, but still finished over .500 (13-12). In the previous two months, the team got off to slow starts before catching fire. Oddly enough, July began well for the RedHawks as they started 3-1. However, the club dropped two of three to the Winnipeg Goldeyes before rebounding with two victories out of three against the Sioux Falls Canaries. Chicago then came to town and took three of four from Fargo-Moorhead, but the RedHawks rebounded once again, sweeping the Canaries in Sioux Falls. The club returned home and had its worst homestand of the season, losing two of three to both Kansas City and the Explorers. Back to the road the team went, taking two of three in Lincoln, putting the RedHawks at 44-25. As impressive is that was, the Kansas City Monarchs went 18-7 in July, taking a 1.5 game lead in the West Division.
While the offense was solid, it was not nearly as potent as what had been seen in the previous two months. Ward hit .357, but was hurt just before the All-Star break and sat out the rest of July. Ben Livorsi performed well in the backup role as catcher, hitting .373 in 15 games, but Livrosi and Ward were the only two players to hit above .300.
Grauer was dominant in July, going 3-1 with a 1.85 ERA in five starts and McGovern continued to defy age, going 2-1 with a 2.87 ERA. The starting staff continued to dominate, but the bullpen was not nearly as good. DuBord recorded six saves, but had a 0-2 record with a 7.20 ERA. The big story of the month was Davis Feldman, who stepped into the rotation after Flores headed for Mexico, going 2-0 with a 3.68 ERA in five starts.
The team shook off July, going 19-8 in August to move one game ahead in the West Division. A sweep of the Explorers began the month before the team lost two of three at home to the Saltdogs. They then traveled to Lincoln where they lost two of three and were off to a 5-4 start. However, a 12-5 drubbing by the Saltdogs (August 11) seemed to awaken the club, as they rattled off nine straight victories, sweeping Chicago and Sioux Falls at home before taking the first two in Chicago.
Maris had been solid in June and July, but was a beast at the top of the order in August, hitting .375 with eight homers and 34 RBI. John Silviano also exploded, hitting eight homers and driving in 28 while posting a .304 batting average. Ward returned from the disabled list, and hit .333 in the month as the club scored 157 runs in 27 games, an average of almost 6 runs per contest.
The pitching staff remained consistent all season, posting a 4.66 ERA in August, the worst of any month up to that point, but the club was always around mid-4.5. DuBord regained his form, saving five games while posting a 1.13 ERA and the rest of the bullpen followed suit, as Jones (2.84), Riley (3-0, 3.38), and Trevor Simms (3.46) continued to make this a six-inning game on most nights. The starters were outstanding as well. Wigginton was dominant, going 4-0 with a 2.48 ERA in five starts. Grauer (3-1, 3.55) and McGovern (2-1, 3.73) continued to dazzle, but Feldman had a rough road in August, going 1-3 with a 9.13 ERA in five starts.
The club was poised to grab the top record in the league despite dropping the first game of September to Sioux City. The RedHawks then defeated Kansas City on Friday, September 2, giving them a two-game advantage over the Monarchs. However, Kansas City rallied to win the final three games of the series to drop the RedHawks into second place.
Fargo-Moorhead then began the postseason in Winnipeg, dropping Game 1, 6-3. McGovern gave up four earned runs in three innings and the RedHawks were held to one run through the first seven innings.
The teams then headed for Fargo for Game 2, a contest where the RedHawks left little doubt, scoring five runs in the second inning on their way to an 8-3 victory. Silviano hit a two-run homer, his second of the postseason, and Maris added a three-run shot in the decisive frame. The RedHawks then added single runs in the fifth, sixth, and eighth innings. Alec Olund had a solo shot and Grauer allowed two earned runs in six innings to earn the victory.
That set up the dramatic Game 3. Fargo-Moorhead jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the first thanks to an RBI ground out by Silviano and a two-run homer by Manuel Boscan. The Goldeyes tied the score in the top of the third against Wigginton and the score was tied at three through six. However, the RedHawks put three more on the board in the bottom of the seventh as Maris put his team ahead for good with an RBI single and Pina delivered a two run double. Jones earned the victory with 1.2 scoreless innings of relief and the bullpen tossed 3.1 scoreless frames.
That sent Fargo-Moorhead onto the West Division Championship Series against the Monarchs. The series began in Fargo where Kansas City came away with a 5-2 victory. The RedHawks had a 2-1 lead heading into the ninth, but Kansas City tied the score on a single by Pete Kozma and J.C. Escarra hit a three-run homer to give the Monarchs the victory.
The series then shifted to Kansas City, who had the best home record during the regular season (36-14) and they had just taken three of four games from the RedHawks at home to end the regular season. To many, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that the Monarchs would advance, but Fargo-Moorhead had the best road record during the regular season (31-19) and were not intimidated by Legends Field at all.
The RedHawks fell behind 3-1, but scored two in the sixth and seventh innings, a run in the eighth, and two more in the ninth to earn an 8-5 win. Boscan tied the score in the sixth with a two-run homer, his second of the postseason, and the club went on top by two when Silviano delivered a two-run single in the top of the seventh. The Monarchs tied the score in the bottom half of the frame, but Sam Dexter gave his team the lead for good, delivering an RBI single in the eighth to make it 6-5. Fargo-Moorhead added two more runs in the ninth on an RBI single by Silviano and a single by Olund. DuBord came on in the eighth and tossed two scoreless frames to earn the save.
It was time for another dramatic Game 3, and the RedHawks left little doubt about this one as Wigginton tossed six scoreless frames to lead his team to a 4-1 victory. The RedHawks took the lead in the third on a two-run homer by Christian Correa, then added single runs in the fifth and sixth. DuBord came on in the ninth to earn his second save of the postseason, advancing Fargo-Moorhead to the championship series.
This was a series where the winner in each contest dominated. The Milkmen dominated Game 1 in Milwaukee, scoring two in the first, three in the fourth, and two in the fifth to jump out to a seven run lead. A.J. Schugel tossed six shutout innings and Fargo-Moorhead did not get on the board until the seventh in the 7-1 loss.
The RedHawks responded in Game 2, jumping out to a three-run lead in the top of the third. Pina delivered a two-run triple and Silviano drove him home with a ground out. The Milkmen responded with two runs in the bottom half of the inning, but Fargo scored one in the sixth, two in the seventh, and one in the eighth to earn a 7-3 victory. Olund, who became an unsung hero for this team during the playoffs, had an RBI single in the sixth and Boscan delivered a two-run double in the seventh. Correa closed out the scoring with an RBI single in the eighth. Feldman allowed two runs in five innings to earn the victory.
Game 3 was in Fargo, and Grauer was nearly untouchable, allowing one run in 7.1 innings to lead his team to a 7-2 victory. The game was scoreless through the first two innings but the RedHawks exploded for five in the third as Maris hit a two run homer, Boscan had an RBI single, and Nick Novak had a two run single.
Christian Young tossed a gem in Game 4, going five scoreless innings to lead Milwaukee to a 3-0 victory. The Milkmen scored single runs in the third, fifth, and sixth innings to set up another winner take all contest for the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks.
Game 5 was truly one of the greatest games in American Association history. Milwaukee took the lead in the top of the first, scoring a run, but then got a two-run homer off the bat of Evan Alexander in the bottom of the second take the lead. The Milkmen tied the score in the top of the third, only to see the RedHawks retake the lead in the bottom of the fourth on a sacrifice fly by Novak.
In the sixth, the wheels came off for the RedHawks bullpen, giving up six runs on five hits. That put Milwaukee on top 8-3, and it looked like this series was over. However, in the bottom of the seventh three errors helped the RedHawks tie the score, scoring five runs in the frame, all with two outs. Olund drew a bases loaded walk and Dexter followed with a single that plated a run. An error on the play allowed Pina to score to make this a two-run game. That brought Alexander to the plate, who reached on a single, but another throwing error allowed two more runners to score, tying the score at eight. The game went to extra innings where Pina delivered a walk-off single with one out, plating Correa with the game-winning run.
What Went Right
The postseason run of the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks was a testament to the resiliency of this club. They could have hung their heads low after losing the final three games in Kansas City to close out the regular season, and found themselves trailing in every series during the playoffs. However, they won when it mattered and showed what a brilliant job that managers Chris Coste and Anthony Renz did. Coste was suffering from a back injury nearly all season, and Renz was called upon to lead the club for the most part. He was brilliant, and the combination of the two made this club even better.
What was so right about this RedHawks team was that there was no area of the club where one would look and think they had a weakness. They were solid 1-9 in the lineup, had a very good starting staff, and a dominant bullpen. When one area of the club faltered, another area picked the rest of the club up. They were the top defensive team as well.
One piece of this team that is missed by many is the job that Jeff Bittiger did in building the club. He has been able to keep 70% of this club together over the last three seasons, but it was the acquisitions during the year that really paid off for this club. Olund was released by the RailCats, then hit .304 in 21 games for the RedHawks, and was instrumental in the team winning the championship series, having to take over in right field after Silviano broke his leg in Game 3. He made a spectacular catch in Game 5 that saved two runs and had seven runs scored and six RBI in the playoffs. Wigginton and Feldman were both spectacular once they moved into the starting rotation and Livorsi gave the team an outstanding backup catcher who hit .340 in 35 games.
What Went Wrong
What made Fargo-Moorhead so good was that they did not let things that went wrong stop them. They lost their manager who simply could not sit in the dugout with his back hurting as it did. Renz was amazing. Silviano breaks his leg in the championship series; Olund was spectacular filling in for him. Flores and Kessay left; Wigginton and Feldman were great. The bullpen struggled down the stretch and in the last two series of the playoffs, but DuBord was spectacular.
Team MVP: Drew Ward
This is a very tough call, because a strong case could be made for Pina, especially considering that he appeared in 13 more games than Ward. However, it is no coincidence that the three weeks that Ward was out of the lineup was the worst stretch of games that the team had during the regular season.
Ward finished the year hitting .345 with 17 homers, 64 runs scored, and 48 RBI in 82 games. He also walked 63 times, finishing with a .467 on-base percentage and a 1.051 OPS. Ward hit at least .333 in every month except the five games in September, and had a stretch where he reached base in 33 consecutive games (May 13-June 19). He opened the season with a 14-game hitting streak and had at least one hit in 65 of his 82 games. He reached base in all but seven contests.
Top Pitcher: Alex DuBord
Grauer and McGovern finished tied for second in the American Association in wins (10) and Wigginton had nine victories. The starting staff was spectacular, and it is hard to separate one from the other two. However, DuBord was instrumental in the club’s success. The right-hander finished 2-2 with a 2.83 ERA and led the American Association in saves with 23.
The ERA may seem high to some, but consider that both of his losses came in back-to-back outings where he gave up four runs in each outing (July 26-27). He gave up 13 total runs during the season, and eight came in those two outings, meaning that in the other 39.1 innings pitched, he allowed five total earned runs, a 1.14 ERA.
Plus, one has the tip his or her cap to the job he did in the postseason. DuBord appeared in six games, going 1-0 with two saves. He did not allow a run in his six outings, tossing nine innings, allowing one hit while striking out nine.
What to Expect in 2023
How good this team is going to be is dependent upon who the club is able to bring back. There is speculation that Pina, McGovern, maybe even DuBord may retire. Correa already retired, taking a coaching job with the Milwaukee Brewers organization. Grauer re-signed, as did Feldman and Wigginton, so the rotation should be solid, even if McGovern decides to hang up the cleats. Plus, there is a possibility that Flores may return if he opts not to play in Mexico again this season.
As long as one has a rotation like that and Silviano, Maris, Boscan, and Ward return, this team is going to score runs and shut down opponents. The West is a brutal division, but expect Fargo-Moorhead to be battling for the top record once again.
American Association Transactions
Lake Country: Signed OF Lamar Briggs
Sioux City: Traded INF Gabe Snyder to Ottawa (Frontier League) for LHP Kevin Escorcia
Sioux Falls: Signed RHP Colby Wyatt
Winnipeg: Traded RHP Zac Ryan to Gateway (Frontier League) for OF Adan Fernandez
Winnipeg: Traded OF Adan Fernandez and RHP Alex Manasa to Québec (Frontier League) for RHP Samuel Adames
Winnipeg: Signed RHP Samuel Adames
By Robert Pannier