Place: 1st in the South Division (13 Game Lead)
Team Pitching (League Ranking Listed in Parenthesis): ERA: 3.86 (3), Strikeouts: 433 (9), WHIP: 1.26 (1)
Team Batting (League Ranking Listed in Parenthesis): Average: .301 (1), Home Runs: 56 (6), Slugging: .445 (2), Stolen Bases: 77 (3)
Wichita Wingnuts First Half Recap
With the Laredo Lemurs folding before the season began and former Pecos League team Salina joining the league just two weeks before the season got underway, it was expected that the Wichita Wingnuts would roll through this division. The Joplin Blasters essentially moved to Cleburne, and were not expected to be a great challenge for the Wingnuts, and the Texas AirHogs were breaking in new manager Billy Martin, Jr. The path looked like smooth sailing to the seventh straight South Division title.
That has been the case to this point, as Wichita has the biggest division lead in the league, but the team has struggled a lot more than anyone expected. The Wingnuts were 5-5 to start the year, then got on a roll. They won the last three games of May as part of a four-game winning streak. The Wichita Wingnuts went 21-7 in June and took a commanding lead over the Cleburne Railroaders. The team has had four winning streaks of at least four-games and one of seven. They were truly rolling.
However, July has not been kind to Wichita. The Wingnuts are 9-11 in the current month, and entered the All-Star break on a seven-game losing streak. They have won just three of their last 13 and are will start the second half of the season in Game 4 of their 18-game road trip. If any team in the South is going to make a run, this is when they have to do so.
There are a lot of things to like about the Wichita Wingnuts, starting with the fact that they are first in batting average, third in ERA, and fourth in fielding percentage. The lineup has been absolutely spectacular. The team has only carried 10 position players this season, and eight of them are currently hitting above .300. Matt Chavez is in a bit of a slump, but is still a triple crown threat. Harrison Kain and Christian Stringer are doing a great job of setting the table and Martin Medina and Richard Prigatano have been exceptional in the back end of this lineup. There isn’t an easy out in the group.
The starting rotation has been struggling a bit lately, but they are the best group in the American Association by far. Jordan Cooper is 4-1, Ryan Kussmaul 5-3, Tyler Kane, 6-1, and ace Alex Boshers is second in the league in wins at 8-2. That does not even include Eddie Medina, who is 6-3 with a 2.98 ERA and will likely move to the bullpen with Tim Brown back from Europe. It is a excess of riches in Wichita.
The bullpen has always been a big factor in the success of the Wingnuts, but this season they have struggled. That included a stretch where they lost three consecutive games in walk off fashion. Closer Seth Harvey has looked brilliant at times, but a 3.85 ERA is extremely high for the guy finishing off games.
There isn’t a lot to feel is ugly going on with the Wichita Wingnuts but July has not looked pretty. Add to it the seven-game losing streak, and there are some reasons to be concerned.
1st Half Most Valuable Player: Matt Chavez
Despite the fact that he has been in a little bit of a slump over the last 10 games, Matt Chavez has been nothing short of brilliant. He is easily leading the league in RBI with 65, and is among the leaders in home runs (14), batting average (.336), and doubles (15). The fact that the team is struggling has coincided with Chavez’s slump which points to how much of an impact he has on this team.
1st Half Top Pitcher: Eddie Medina
Alex Boshers is returning to the form that we saw last season when he went 12-3, but the pitcher who has really stood out has been Eddie Medina. The right-hander has been spectacular since taking over a regular spot in the rotation, going 6-3 with a 2.98 ERA, ranked ninth. A case can be made for any one of the starters, but Medina has separated himself.
Unless one of the teams in the South gets on an unbelievable role, Wichita is sure to win their seventh division title in a row. However, pitching coach Anthony Capra has his work cut out for him getting this bullpen in better shape. With Tim Brown back, it is likely that Medina will move to the bullpen. If he pitches as effectively there as he has in the starting rotation the relief corps became a whole lot better.
By Robert Pannier