Gary Southshore RailCats: 2019 Season Recap
In American Association Daily, Robert Pannier looks back on the 2019 American Association season of the Gary Southshore RailCats. This includes looking at the top player and pitcher as well as what to expect in 2020.
The 2019 Gary Southshore RailCats Review
After two straight years of making the playoffs, the Gary Southshore RailCats spent much of the last half of the 2019 American Association season trying to stay out of last place. The team finished 40-59, going 9-6 in May and September combined, but were 22 games under .500 in between.
This was a disappointment to say the least. Manager Greg Tagert had gone out and added some AAA talent plus he kept many of his core players from the past three seasons, but it was not enough to make a contender of this squad.
The RailCats began the year by going toe-to-toe against the big boys, taking two of three against the Sioux City Explorers and sweeping the Kansas City T-Bones, the two teams that made the playoffs in the South. After sweeping the T-Bones, the team was 9-6, and this team looked poised for a serious run. Gary had been notorious for slow starts, then turning on the jets in the second half of the season, so a quick start to the year was seen as a sign of great things to come.
However, June was brutal to the RailCats. After sweeping K.C., they lost six straight series, twice being swept. They would rebound to win three straight series, including three of four from Milwaukee and two of three from Kansas City, but would then drop the next three series, including getting swept by the Chicago Dogs in a four game set.
The Achilles heel for Gary was the offense. The team never hit better than .247 in any month until the final two games in September. While it would have been reasonable to assume they would not have four or five .300 hitters, this has traditionally been a team built on a bunch of guys who hit in the .260-.280 range but that would not be the case in 2019.
The RailCats did have three that finished at or above .300 (Marcus Mooney, Colin Willis, and Thomas Walraven), but the cupboard was quite bare from there. Danny De La Calle hit .276, but no other hitter with more than 20 plate appearances finished above .246. Five players who appeared in at least 55 games hit below .250. It was clearly not a recipe for success.
Adding to the challenge were the woes of the starting staff. Justin Sinibaldi had an incredible year, winning the ERA title, but he was the exception. There were 16 different pitchers who made starts, but only two of those made at least 14. Trevor Lubking made 24 starts and was a respectable 6-11 with a 4.53 ERA, but the two other starters who made 11 starts both had ERAs over five.
By the Numbers
(league rankings are listed in parenthesis)
Record: 40-59 (Fifth in North, T-8th in League)
Home: 22-28 (10)
Away: 18-31 (9)
Score First: 28-27
Extra Innings: 2-3
Hitting: .242 (T-10)
Pitching: 4.38 (7)
Fielding: .977 (9)
Batting Average: Marcus Mooney (.310)
Homers: Colin Willis (10)
RBI: Colin Willis (60)
Runs Scored: Colin Willis (65)
Stolen Bases: Colin Willis (16)
ERA: Sandy Lugo (1.27)
Wins: Justin Sinibaldi, Trevor Lubking (6)
Losses: Trevor Lubking (11)
Saves: Sandy Lugo (11)
IP: Trevor Lubking (139.0)
Strikeouts: Trevor Lubking (108)
Team MVP: Colin Willis
In all honesty, is there really any other choice? While other players had good seasons in Gary, Colin Willis is going to be the star of this team as long as he is around. He is one of the most dynamic players in the American Association, who would probably be the MVP of the league if he played any other place.
Willis set single season marks in every category but average. He clubbed 10 homers, the first time he has reached double digits, stole 16 bases, hit 23 doubles, drove in 60, and scored 65, all personal bests. He also led the team in all of those categories. His .302 batting average was second on the team and, ironically, was the second best batting average with the RailCats.
His two biggest games of the season came in the span of three days. On August 14, Willis was 4- 5 with three runs scored, a triple, two homers and three RBI. Two nights later he went 3-3 with a run and three doubles.
He was also the MVP of the 2019 American Association All-Star game.
Top Pitcher: Justin Sinibaldi
Justin Sinibaldi began the season in the bullpen, then turned into one of the best starters in the league. He won the American Association ERA title at 2.74, going 6-7 in 25 appearances, 19 of which were starts.
Of his last 17 starts, the right-hander went five innings or more in all but one of those starts. He allowed two runs or less in 11 of his starts and did not allow a run in seven starts, including his last one of the season.
Sinibaldi posted his longest winning streak of the season from July 13 through August 4 when he was 4-0 with two no decisions. He allowed nine total runs in 34.0 innings during that stretch. That included victories over the Cleburne Railroaders and Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks where he did not allow a run in either of those starts.
What to Expect in 2020
It might be time for a little dose of reality in Gary, Indiana. There is no doubt that Greg Tagert is one of the best managers in the history of independent baseball. He is absolutely brilliant at getting every ounce of baseball out of his players, but the American Association is not the same league it was two years ago.
In 2019, 37 players had their contract sold to affiliate clubs and many others went to Mexico to play. This league is drawing top talent, Major League level talent, and a team is not going to compete in this league scrapping out runs with Division-II and Division-III college baseball players. If a club does not have at least eight or nine guys who played at or above the AA level, they are simply not going to compete.
That is the challenge for the Gary Southshore RailCats. Can they go out and lure those kinds of players? Tagert has done that before, but not for six years. Right now, with the current philosophy in place, this is a 40 win team at best. If ownership opens up their wallets, then they will likely be in the thick of things.
By Robert Pannier