American Association Daily will provide insights and features on the American Association of Professional Baseball League, as well as player and coaching profiles and transactions going on with teams around the league. In today’s edition, Robert Pannier takes a look at the Sioux City Explorers starting pitching staff.
Sioux City Explorers Starters Dominate in Gary
When a team starts out 23-7 there isn’t a whole lot to find fault with, but if there was an area where the Sioux City Explorers looked vulnerable, it was with their starting pitching. Entering their weekend series against the Gary Southshore RailCats, the bullpen was the best in the American Association, but the starters had been less than stellar.
Luis Mateo had an ERA well over six and had not gone more than six innings all season. Justin Vernia had a 5.40 ERA and two of his five starts this season had lasted less than five innings. Keith Picht had an ERA of 4.50, third best among the staff, but he had not lasted into the fifth in either of his previous two appearances and had gone less than five in three of his five starts in 2018.
While James Dykstra and Taylor Jordan had been solid, posting a combined record of 9-1, the back end of this rotation made the Explorers look vulnerable. They were a combined 5-4 and only Mateo was regularly lasting at least five innings. If there was a spot that opponents could get to, it was this group.
What a Difference a Weekend Makes
While no one will confuse the Gary Southshore RailCats with the 1927 New York Yankees, this is a team that finds a way to win. They entered the weekend with a .600 winning percentage and were in second in the North Division. Yet, they had no answers for those three starters, the “Achilles heel” of the Sioux City Explorers staff.
Over the weekend, the three combined to toss 21-innings, allowing just 2-earned runs (0.86 ERA). It started on Friday, when Keith Picht tossed five shutout innings in earning his first victory of the season. The right-hander was coming off an outing against the Texas AirHogs where he had given up 6-earned funs in 4.2-innings, but he gave up just 4-hits while striking out 8 against the RailCats.
On Saturday, it was Justin Vernia’s turn. He tied a season high, going 7-innings while allowing 5-hits and a single earned run. Vernia struck out 9, a season high, and did not walk a batter.
On Sunday, it was Mateo’s turn. He would become the first Explorers pitcher to go the distance this season, giving up 7-his and a run in 9-innings, while fanning 5. He faced just five over the minimum and did not walk a batter.
While all those numbers are impressive, what stands out most is that the three starters gave up a combined total of 2-walks in those 21-innings pitched. Even through their struggles, these three have not hurt themselves by giving up large numbers of free passes. Mateo has allowed 13-walks in 40.2-innings pitched, Picht 13 in 27-innings, and Vernia only 6 in 32-IP.
They rely on their defense to make plays for them and this is one of the better groups in the American Association. That should only help to improve the staff as they get more comfortable with their defense.
The Achilles Heel Looks to Be Well-Guarded
While three games is a small sampling, the truth is that if these three can continue to reproduce their performances from this past weekend, the Sioux City Explorers are going to be very hard to beat. This can quickly became a battle for second place in the South Division.
By Robert Pannier