2023 American Association First Half Recap: Cleburne Railroaders
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, Rob Pannier takes a look back at the first half of the 2023 American Association season for the Cleburne Railroaders including who is their MVP and top pitcher and discusses the prognosis heading forward.
The Cleburne Railroaders Tale of the Tape
(Ranking in American Association listed in parenthesis)
Overall Record: 30-30 (2nd in East, 6th Overall)
Home Record: 11-14 (10)
Away Record: 19-16 (4)
Last 10: 3-7
Average: .271 (T-4)
Homeruns: 82 (1)
Runs Scored: 389 (1)
Slugging %: .447 (3)
On-Base %: .368 (3)
Stolen Bases: 96 (T-3)
ERA: 5.17 (T-9)
Saves: 9 (T-10)
Walks: 225 (4)
Strikeouts: 479 (3)
Opponent Average: .279 (10)
Fielding %: .972 (12)
Errors: 61 (12)
First Half Recap
The Cleburne Railroaders entered the All-Star break at .500, a disappointing first half for a team with serious aspirations of winning the Miles Wolff Cup. However, no team, outside of the Fargo Morehead RedHawks, has suffered more significant losses to their team than the Railroaders have.
Cleburne began the season on fire, as rookie Ryan Hernandez was crushing the ball, hitting five home runs and driving in 15 in the first 11 games. However, that kind of success is going to garner some attention, and it was not long before Hernandez was headed to the Los Angeles Angels organization. José Sermo got off to an MVP start, hitting 17 home runs through the first 49 games to lead the American Association, but Mexico came calling for him.
That has left two Texas-sized holes in this lineup, three when you consider that Delino DeShields decided to hang up the cleats as well. Yet, manager Logan Watkins has found satisfactory replacements to keep this team in the thick of the playoff chase. Blaze Brothers has been an outstanding addition as has been Jarel McDade. The Railroaders Skipper is finding a way, and this is why this team continues to roll offensively, ranked first in both runs scored and home runs entering the break.
The problem has been the pitching staff, as Cleburne is ninth in ERA and 10th in opponent batting average. Injuries Kevin Hilton and the underperformance of the bullpen were major issues early on, but the return of Nick Gardewine has improved the bullpen and Hilton finally looks like he is healthy.
That is good news, as the pitching staff has been a cause for concern, posting a 5.96 ERA in May, but have posted an ERA under five in each of the last two months. Now they need the offense to get going again, as the team is hitting .262with 12 home runs through the first 15 games of July.
What Went Right?
There is a lot to like about this offense. Cleburne leads the league in several offensive categories, at least rank in the top three in most, but have not had one player having a completely dominating season beyond Sermo. Most in the lineup are hitting somewhere between .250 and .300, but they are getting a lot of power production with four batters already with 10 home runs.
What Went Wrong?
The performance of the pitching staff has been disappointing to say the least. Only two hurlers have an ERA under four entering the break. That includes Gardewine, who has only made 10 appearances.
There is a lot of depth here, as eight pitchers have ERAs under five, but Kody Bullard has really struggled (7.47) and Travis Perry has not been much better (5.34). More consistent starting pitching is definitely a must if this team is going to rank in the top two in the division.
Top Pitcher: Joe Corbett
Joe Corbett was selected to the All-Star team, and was the truly one deserving representative from this pitching staff. The right-hander has made 22 appearances, posting a 4.05 ERA. He is 2-3 with a save, numbers that do not seem particularly impressive. However, Corbett is an absolute flamethrower, striking out 51 batters in 26.2 innings, a rate of 17.2 strikeouts per nine innings. That number is absolutely ridiculous.
Corbett entered the break on fire, allowing a single earned run in his last 11 appearances. He has earned two victories and a save during that span.
Top Hitter: Hill Alexander
With Sermo playing South of the border, Hill Alexander has become the most dangerous hitter on the Railroaders. He entered the break second on the team in home runs (14) and leads the club with a .294 batting average. Alexander has scored 47 runs and driven in 46.
The outfielder has quickly become one of the most formidable hitters in the league, entering the break on a seven-game hitting streak. Alexander has 11 stolen bases, 11 doubles, and has posted an on-base percentage of .389 with a .526 slugging percentage.
Where Will Cleburne Railroaders Be on September 4?
Where will the Railroaders be on September 4? Definitely headed back to the playoffs for the third straight season. The question is where they will finish in this division. The problem is that this team has not played very well at home for the second straight season, going 11-14. That is bad news considering that 25 of their final 40 games are at home.
By the way the Lake Country DockHounds are playing, Cleburne may find themselves finishing third overall. They are going to need better starting pitching if they expect to reach second place or above and make a serious run toward the Miles Wolff Cup.
By Robert Pannier