Explorers Pitching Staff Has Team Reaching the Peak
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 looks at the impressive start to the season for the Sioux City Explorers pitching staff as they have the team reaching the top of the American Association through the first six days.
These Guys Are Good!
If you have been an American Association fan for more than eight seconds, then you are fully aware that pitching and speed have become the hallmark of the Sioux City Explorers since Steve Montgomery became the team’s manager in 2014. The Explorers have not only had some of the best pitching staffs in each of the last nine seasons, but have sent several of their hurlers back to affiliate ball, including nearly a dozen reaching the Major League level.
Last season, the team faltered a little, as the group fell to sixth overall in the American Association with a 4.87 ERA. It was not a surprising result as the team had just one starter with more than six victories (Kevin McCanna – 10) and the lowest ERA among pitchers who made at least six starts was Patrick Ledet, who had a 4.27 ERA.
While it is early in the season, the 2023 group looks to be an entirely different story. Through the first four games of the season, this group has been dominant, especially in the bullpen. While not looking to hype this team too early, this is looking like it may be one of the best staffs that Montgomery has constructed.
Let the Results Speak for Themselves
Through the first four games of the year, the pitching staff has allowed three total runs. That includes allowing a single run in three of the games and tossing a shutout in the second game of the double-header against the Kansas City Monarchs on Saturday. It is not just that they are shutting down opposing offenses, but are denying opponents from even getting on base.
In the three-game set, the Monarchs produced just seven hits and walked eight times in the series. They had no extra-base hits and struck out 27 times in 23 innings. The Lake Country DockHounds received a little taste of that on Tuesday, as they recorded just four hits and walked twice in their loss to the Explorers, scoring one run in the game.
That has the team allowing just 13 hits and 10 walks through the first 32 innings this season, giving Sioux City a team WHIP of 0.72 and an opponent slugging percentage of .117. They have not allowed an extra-base hits through the first four games, setting a franchise record for that mark and have struck out 39 batters along the way.
The highest ERA on the team through the first four contests is 2.45 as starters Austin Drury and Jared Weatherbee have each allowed one run in 3.2 innings. In fact, it is the starting staff where opponents have had the most success (if you want to call it that), as they have allowed two of the three runs given up by Sioux City this season. However, one must consider that this group of four has allowed just two earned runs in 17.1 innings, allowing nine hits and six walks while striking out 23.
The bullpen has been spectacular as well, as the group has made nine total appearances, allowing one earned run on four hits and four walks in 14.2 innings. They have struck out 16. Two starting pitchers have ERAs of 0.00 and five relievers have recorded that mark as well.
Can They Keep the Momentum Going
The incredible performance of the pitching staff has this team at a perfect 4-0 through the first six days of the season. It is a welcome change for the club, as they struggled out of the gate last season, going 3-12 through the first 15 games. The four straight victories are the longest to begin a season in the Steve Montgomery era, and will likely continue as long as this pitching staff continues to dominate.
We are going to learn how good this pitching staff is starting this weekend. After finishing their series against the DockHounds, Sioux City travels to Kane County and then to Sioux Falls. The Cougars have the fourth best batting average in the American Association and are tied for fifth in runs scored. The Birdcage is a notorious hitters park, so the ERA is clearly going to rise.
Sioux City follows up those two series with a set at home against Lincoln, then travel to Cleburne to take on the power-driven Railroaders. This is going to be an opportunity for the team and for its fans to learn how good this pitching staff is going to be. While no one should expect the team to post a 0.84 ERA coming out of May, the incredible performance of the entire staff should keep the ERA under three, helping this team to come out of the month at least six games over .500.
It is definitely the type of start that has the naysayers (including myself) eating their words.
By Robert Pannier