Railroaders Back on Track Thanks to Bottom of Order
In American Association Daily, Robert Pannier looks at how the Cleburne Railroaders have overcome a rough start to jump to the top of the South Division. Now, the team is right on track with where many felt they would be when the season began, and that is thanks in large part to the performance at the bottom of the order.
A Season Filled with Promise
When the 2019 American Association season got underway there was great hope in Cleburne, Texas that this was going to be the year when the Cleburne Railroaders jumped to the top of the American Association. The team was under new management, not only in terms of ownership, but also with who was conducting the team. This was going to be the year when fans had a lot more to cheer about than a former Major League great opting to come out of retirement at age 53.
However, it was not long before the Railroaders season looked like it was going to derail. Star slugger Levi Scott was hurt four games into the season and May ended with the team at 8-6. Not a bad start, but clearly not the performance that many were expecting when the season began.
A mediocre May turned into a disastrous beginning to June. Cleburne began the month 4-4, then went 4-9, including losing five straight. Were the expectations just hype and nothing more. Many were beginning to wonder, but there was really only one response to that – oh ye of little faith.
Back on Track
Since suffering an 8-2 loss in Kansas City on June 23, the Cleburne Railroaders are 6-0. Now that was more like it.
There have been a lot of positive signs that this team is on the right track. The team ERA this season is at 4.12, but they have posted a 3.00 ERA over the last week. The team batting average is at .268, but the team has hit .329 since a week ago Monday.
The hitting has been a key factor in the team’s rise. They left May hitting just .235 as a group, but the Railroaders hit .285 in June, scoring 165 runs, giving the team just over six runs per game.
That has helped Cleburne vault from fifth place, all the way to the top of the South Division, now tied with the Sioux City Explorers at 22-20. They are the hottest team in the league with those six straight wins, and will have an opportunity to take hold of this division as 15 of their next 18 games are against teams with a losing record.
Rising to the Top
Things are looking bright in Cleburne. The team has a full head of steam going now, and that is thanks in large part to the bottom of this Railroaders order: Hunter Clanin, Nick Rotola, Logan Trowbridge, and KC Huth.
With names like Nester, Nehrir, and Brett, no one was expecting the bottom of the order to be carrying this team, but they had proven to be an anchor holding this lineup down for quite some time. Two weeks ago, Huth was at .209, and Clanin, despite providing some big hits, has struggled at the plate all season, hitting .159 as late as June 19. Trowbridge, a super utility guy in Wichita last season, was at .188 three games ago. Only Rotola had contributed, but he was at .259 on June 18.
As this group has stepped up their game, so has the team as a whole. In the last five games, Rotola has been deadly, hitting. 450 with six runs scored and four RBI. Huth has a .350 average in his last six games, and it is no coincidence that with the six, seven, and eight guys getting on regularly that he has eight RBI in that span.
Trowbridge has appeared in just three games during the winning streak, but is 4-13 (.308) and has four runs scored and three RBI. Even Clanin is stepping up his game, hitting .250 over the last four games with four runs scored and three RBI.
What is often lost on many fans is that, with a limited roster size and classification rules that require a certain number of rookies per team, everyone must play a role if a team is going to make the playoffs. No team has the luxury of carrying a good bat off the bench or a guy who is a defensive replacement. Everyone must contribute and that is exactly what the Railroaders are getting out of this lineup now.
Manager Brent Clevlen and Head of Baseball Operations Josh Robertson have been patient enough to wait on this group to turn things around, and they have rewarded that patience. If this group continues to contribute, it would not be surprising to see the Railroaders come out of these next three weeks 13-5, sitting alone the top of the South Division. That may prove that those preseason predictions were right after all.
By Robert Pannier