2022 American Association Season Review: Milwaukee Milkmen
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 continues his look at the 2022 American Association season with installment No. 8 looking at the Milwaukee Milkmen.
The Milwaukee Milkmen Season in Review
The Milwaukee Milkmen rode a late-season charge into the playoffs, then made their way all the way to the American Association Championship Series before falling in one of the most exciting Game 5s in league history. It was the second trip to the championship series in three years for the club.
Tale of the Tape
(League ranking listed in parenthesis.)
Record: 53-47 (T-5)
Home Record: 31-19 (3)
Away Record: 22-28 (10)
Average: .280 (2)
Homeruns: 109 (T-6)
Runs Scored: 587 (T-3)
On–Base Percentage: .369 (2)
Slugging Percentage: .431 (6)
Stolen Bases: 121 (3)
ERA: 5.39 (9)
Strikeouts: 881 (3)
Saves: 21 (9)
WHIP: 1.51 (7)
Shutouts: 6 (T-3)
CG: 2 (T-4)
Fielding Percentage: .973 (12)
Errors: 95 (12)
A Recap of the 2022 Milwaukee Milkmen Season
The Milwaukee Milkmen made it all the way to the American Association championship series and were just three innings away from claiming their second title in three seasons. This was one of the most consistent teams in the league, never suffering from any prolonged losing streaks.
The club began 9-7 in May as the team took two of three in their first three series of the year before being swept in Fargo-Moorhead. They then returned home to take two of three from the Gary SouthShore RailCats before defeating the Sioux City Explorers in the first game of their series.
Chad Sedio, who would later have his contract purchased, hit .391 during the month and former American Association MVP Keon Barnum had a monster beginning, hitting .356 with eight homers and 23 RBI through the first 15 games. The bullpen looked very good early on, and Myles Smith started the season on fire, going 2-1 with a 2.16 ERA in four starts. The starting rotation was solid overall.
June was the most challenging month for the Milkmen, as the team went 11-15. After dropping the final two games of their series against Sioux City, the Milkmen took two of three from the RedHawks and then traveled to Cleburne where they took four of six from the Railroaders. The team then took two of three from the Chicago Dogs, lost two of three in Kansas City, then went to Chicago where they took two of three from the Dogs. They were 11-9 through the first 20 games of the month, but dropped the final six, swept at home by the RailCats before traveling to Lake Country where they were swept by the DockHounds.
Bryan Torres caught fire, hitting .429, putting his name into the MVP conversation. Barnum struggled, however, hitting .214 and Sedio saw his batting average drop to .208 despite hitting seven homers. The starting staff also saw their ERA jumped by 1.2 runs per game. José Espada was the only dependable starter during the month, going 2-1 with a 3.29 ERA in five starts. Smith struggled, giving up 20 runs in 31.1 innings (5.75) and A. J. Jones gave up 16 earned runs in 22 innings (6.55).
July did not get off to a great start when the team lost two of three in Chicago, then lost two of three at home to the Lincoln Saltdogs, but that was a turning point for this Milwaukee club. The Milkmen quickly rebounded, taking two of three at home from the Cougars before traveling to Kane County where they took three of four. The Milkmen then welcomed the Monarchs, taking three of those four contests, then took two of three from the Explorers. The club traveled to Lincoln where they took two of three from the Saltdogs before taking two of three in Kane County, finishing the last 20 games of the month with a 14-6 record.
The Torres for MVP bandwagon was rolling, as the outfielder hit .400 in 24 games and Barnum blasted nine homers. However, it was the performance of the pitching staff that turned things around, as the club posted a 3.77 ERA in July, the best in the league. Four relievers had ERAs of 1.50 or lower, allowing a combined two earned runs in 29.2 innings pitched. A.J. Schugel came out of the bullpen to join the starting rotation and was spectacular, going 3-1 with a 2.35 ERA. Ryan Zimmerman had his best month of the year, posting a 3.08 ERA.
In August, the Milkmen went 15-12, limited by a struggling pitching staff that gave up 2.5 runs more per game than the previous month. Peyton Gray returned to the team and picked up right where he left off in 2020, allowing just one run in 10.0 innings. Rodrigo Benoit had his third great month out of the bullpen and Schugel continued to dominate. Frankie Bartow also had a solid month (4.22), but only four of the 15 pitchers who made at least three appearances had ERAs under 5.29. The starting rotation was hammered and the offense was forced to carry the team.
Torres had his third straight month hitting over .400 (.410) and Hector Sanchez was acquired from Cleburne and became an instant hit with the club, hitting .358 in 14 games. The offense was solid, hitting 26 homeruns and scoring 159 runs in 27 games, but it could only limit the struggles of the pitching staff.
Milwaukee lost the final game of their series against Chicago to begin September, then split a four-game set with the RailCats to finish off the season. That left them one game behind Chicago and Kane County, finishing in third place in the East Division.
Chicago chose to face-off against Milwaukee in the first round of the playoffs, and that seemed like a smart decision. First, it meant far less travel, as Kane County had to venture to Texas to take on the Railroaders. It also seemed smart as the Milkmen had been hammered for 21 runs in their loss to the RailCats on Sunday and gave up 34 runs in the four-game series to Gary. It seemed almost inevitable that Chicago would advance.
However, that’s why they say these games are not played on paper. The Milkmen took the first contest of the three-game set, scoring two runs in the second inning and then watched Schugel dominate, allowing one earned run in six innings to lead the team to a 2-1 victory. Gray, Bartow and Benoit each tossed a scoreless inning out of the bullpen and Logan Trowbridge provided all the offense the team needed, delivering a two run double in the second.
Milwaukee looked like they would make this a short series, scoring five runs in the first inning of Game 2, but the Dogs scored four in the second and two in the third to tie the game at six, then added two more in the seventh on their way to an 8-6 victory. Sanchez blasted a three-run homer for the Milkmen and Barnum hit his first homerun of the postseason. Zimmerman was hit hard in the loss.
That set up a dramatic Game 3, a contest where Christian Young got the start, tossing 3.2 scoreless innings, then turning the game over the bullpen, who were absolutely spectacular in the 3-1 victory. Bartow tossed three scoreless innings to earn the victory and Benoit finished off the game, earning his second save of the series. All three runs for the Milkmen came in the fifth, as Miguel Gomez hit a two-run homer and Sanchez added his second homerun of the postseason.
Milwaukee advanced taking on the Railroaders in Round 2. Once again, it was an outstanding performance by the pitching staff that carried the club. Schugel returned to the hill for Game 1 and tossed six shutout innings. Gomez hit his second homerun of the playoffs to give the Milkmen a 1-0 lead in the second, then added his second homerun of the contest in the fourth. In the eighth, he sealed the victory with a two-run single, and one more run scored on an error.
The Milkmen finished off the series in Game 2 behind a spectacular performance by Zimmerman, who allowed no runs in 5.2 innings, striking out 12. Milwaukee took a one-run lead in the second on a wild pitch and extended their lead to two on an RBI double by Trowbridge in the eighth. Benoit came on in the ninth and gave up an RBI double to Kacy Clemens, but retired the final two batters of the game to send Milwaukee to the American Association Championship Series.
This became one of the most entertaining series, as the Milkmen dominated Game 1, scoring two runs in the first, three in the fourth, and two in the fifth to earn a 7-1 victory. Schugel was spectacular once again, tossing six shutout innings and Myles Smith tossed 2.2 scoreless innings to finish off the game. Trowbridge blasted his first homerun of the postseason.
Games 2 and 3 went to the RedHawks, as Fargo-Moorhead dominated Game 2, 7-3, then returned home, scoring five runs in the third on their way to a 7-2 victory in Game 3.
This series looked like it may end in four, but Young returned to the mound for just the second time in the playoffs and was outstanding in Game 4, tossing five shutout innings to help lead Milwaukee to a 3-0 victory over Fargo-Moorhead. Bartow tossed three scoreless innings and Benoit had a scoreless frame to earn his fourth save of the postseason. Milwaukee scored single runs in the third, fifth, and sixth innings.
Game 5 was one for the ages, where the lead changed hands five times in the contest. The Milkmen scored one in the first, only to see the RedHawks battle back with two in the bottom of the second. Milwaukee tied the score in the top of the third on a sacrifice fly by Gomez, but Fargo-Moorhead retook the lead in the bottom of the fourth. In the sixth, Milwaukee put together a crazy inning, scoring six runs as Sanchez homered for the third time in the playoffs and Barnum stole third base in a wild inning. The series looked like it was Milwaukee’s, but three errors proved to be costly in the seventh as the RedHawks battled back for five runs to send this game to extra innings, where they would win in walk-off fashion in the 10th.
What Went Right
The offensive production of this club was absolutely spectacular. Torres had an MVP caliber season and Gomez, Mason Davis, Aaron Hill, Barnum, Sedio, and Will Kengor helped to make this one of the most formidable lineups in the league. Four players hit at least 10 homers and they had three players with at least 22 stolen bases, including Trowbridge, who had 33. This club could beat opponents in a multitude of ways, and they did.
One cannot deny the resiliency of this club as well. They ensured that they had no prolonged losing streaks that kept them out of the pennant race, and were in position to win the division all the way up until the last two games of the season. The rebound after losing to the RailCats by more than 20 on the second to last game also demonstrated what type of club this was. That could have been a rather humiliating loss, but this team did not allow it to be so.
The job Manager Anthony Barone did also needs to be mentioned. For the third straight season, he had a number of his players return to affiliate ball, but still figured out a way to win. He also made a couple of key moves for this club, not only acquiring Sanchez but reliever Kyle Huckaby as well. Plus, one cannot ignore that this team caught fire after he took Schugel out of the bullpen and put him into the starting rotation. The performance by the Skipper was made even more impressive by the fact that Smith, a year removed from being the top pitcher in the American Association, struggled in the second half of the season.
What Went Wrong
Two things really hampered this club from being better. The first was defense. The club finished last in fielding percentage and in errors committed, and three costly errors cost his team the championship. The team was willing to sacrifice a little bit of defense to get better offensive production, but they will need a little better balance for next year.
While injuries occur with every team and no manager will use that as an excuse, one must recognize that this had a dramatic impact on the team. Smith struggled with arm injuries and Correlle Prime took some time to overcome early-season injuries, finally got healthy and was on fire late in the season, but was hurt before the playoffs and did not appear in the postseason. Davis was off to a fast start as well before he was injured. Those are three of the top eight players on the team, which likely had an effect on this team’s ability to win the title.
Team MVP: Bryan Torres
There was a lot to like about Milwaukee, and Torres was at the top of that list. He had an MVP caliber season, hitting .374 with 73 runs scored, 33 extra-base hits, 56 RBI, and 22 stolen bases in 93 games.
The outfielder had 40 multiple hit games and had two impressive streaks during the year, hitting in 22 consecutive games, second longest in the league last year, and reaching base in 35 straight contests, also the second-longest. At one point (May 20-August 24), Torres reached base at home in 42 consecutive games. He was definitely the catalyst that got this offense started.
Top Pitcher: A.J. Schugel
There is no denying that you expect a former Major Leaguer to perform well, but Schugel very likely saved the season for the Milkmen. This was a team that did not have a dependable starter, much less an ace they could count on, but Schugel came out of the bullpen and dominated in the rotation, his first time working primarily as a starter since 2015.
The right-hander had made just four starts in the previous six seasons, but he became one of the most dominant starters in the league after joining the rotation on July 20. Schugel gave up 10 earned runs in his eight starts, a span of 42.1 innings pitched. He was nearly untouchable through the first three games of the playoffs, allowing one earned run through his first 18 postseason innings.
Schugel finished 4-4 overall with a 3.37 ERA in 20 appearances. He allowed 43 hits and 17 walks in 53.1 innings, striking out 50.
What to Expect in 2023
This is the Milwaukee Milkmen after all, so one has to expect that this team will be right in the thick of the playoff hunt. The club has been in the postseason the last three years, the only American Association team to do so, and they have a rising star as a manager in Anthony Barone.
The team has already made several key acquisitions and re-signings and we are just into February. It would be foolish to think that this team will not be in the playoffs again next year.
American Association Transactions
Fargo-Moorhead: Signed RHP Brendan Knoll and LHP Peyton Wigginton
Kansas City: Signed OF Mallex Smith
Winnipeg: Signed OF Max Murphy
By Robert Pannier