n American Association Daily, Robert Pannier previews two great series this weekend that will have a dramatic impact on the playoffs as the Gary Southshore RailCats travel to take on the St. Paul Saints and the Kansas City T-Bones battle the Sioux City Explorers.
Two Great Series Take Center Stage in the American Association
With less than a month left in the American Association season, two four-game series take center stage starting Thursday night as the Gary Southshore RailCats travel to Minnesota to take on the St. Paul Saints while the Kansas City T-Bones take on the Sioux City Explorers. These series will not only have a huge impact upon the four teams involved, but also on the other two teams that are in the mix for the playoffs within their respective divisions.
Gary Southshore RailCats vs. St. Paul Saints
These two teams enter the series with Gary Southshore in first place, two games ahead of the St. Paul Saints and 1.5 games ahead of the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks. The RailCats own the season series to this point, 6-3, as the two teams split the first six games of the year early in the season, but Gary Southshore swept St. Paul in a July 20-22 series.
While it is the St. Paul Saints who are chasing the RailCats in the standings, this series is likely to have a much more dramatic impact for Gary Southshore. After concluding this series, Gary has four games left against the RedHawks, two against the Wichita Wingnuts and they close the season with a three-game series against the Kansas City T-Bones.
Meanwhile, St. Paul just has two games left with Fargo and their remaining 18 contests will be against the bottom three teams in the North Division. Should the Saints take three games in this four-game set, that will likely put the RailCats in third place in the division, and they may not be able to scratch their way out of that spot.
The first and fourth games of this series should be the most interesting ones. The opening contest pits new RailCats ace Keaton Steele (4-2, 2.06) against Saints ace Eddie Medina (6-4, 2.70). Steele is currently on a run of 11.2 consecutive innings without allowing a run and was named as the Minor League Sports Report Pitcher of the Week last week. Meanwhile, Medina has already beaten Gary Southshore once this season, blanking them back in his second start of the year.
The final game of this contest pits two pitchers who are both struggling. Jeff McKenzie (4-8, 4.33) has lost his last two starts, giving up 14 runs in his last 21 innings pitched. Meanwhile, Jake Matthys, a former RailCat, has lost four in a row and has also yielded 14 runs over his last three starts, but in 10.2 total innings pitched. Should be a lot of fireworks in this contest.
The other contender in the North, the RedHawks, open a four-game series against the Sioux Falls Canaries starting on Thursday night. Sioux Falls is last in the division. Fargo is 5-2 against the Canaries so far this season and it would not be surprising to see them take three of four in the series.
Look for St. Paul to take three of four.
Kansas City T-Bones vs. Sioux City Explorers
Meanwhile, in the South Division, the two best teams in the American Association square off when the Kansas City T-Bones take on the Sioux City Explorers. These two teams are separated by 6.5 games in the standings, as Sioux City has dominated the American Association virtually all season long. However, the Explores are coming off of a series where they were swept at home by the Wichita Wingnuts and Kansas City enters on a three-game winning streak after sweeping the Texas AirHogs.
It may be far-fetched to believe that Kansas City will catch Sioux City at this point, but a sweep here would put them just 2.5 games out and there are still three games to be played between these two teams starting on August 26 when the Explorers travel to Kansas City. This division is not over by any stretch of the imagination.
The challenge for Kansas City is that they have the toughest schedule of the top three teams in the division. After battling Sioux City for four, they welcome the second-place team in the North division, the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks, for 3 games. The T-Bones end with a killer schedule down the stretch, taking on the defending American Association champion Winnipeg Goldeyes for three, then the Explorers for three before finishing out their nine-game homestand with three games against Wichita. They then travel to Indiana to take on the RailCats for the final three games of the season in a series where both teams may be fighting for their playoff lives.
The Explorers are still the class of the league, with a record of 56-20. They have a commanding lead in their division but are looking more vulnerable after being swept by Wichita. This season they have split the first eight games with Kansas City, but need a statement here. A split would be satisfactory, but they cannot afford to lose three of four games in the series.
Following this four-game set against Kansas City, Sioux City welcomes Chicago for two then plays nine of their next 12 games on the road. They have been an unbelievable road team this season, but simply can’t rely on their prior success to help carry them toward the playoffs.
Meanwhile, Wichita may have the easiest schedule of all. They play 16 consecutive games against teams with a losing record before getting a shot at their division rivals. After playing two at home against the RailCats, Wichita battles their Kansas neighbor with three in Kansas City before welcoming the Explorers for the final three games of the season.
No one is afraid to give locker room material here, so look for Kansas City to take three of four in this series.
By Robert Pannier