2023 American Association First Half Recap: Sioux City Explorers
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 Sioux City Explorers including who is their MVP and top pitcher and discusses the prognosis heading forward.
The Sioux City Explorers Tale of the Tape
(Ranking in American Association listed in parenthesis)
Overall Record: 31-28 (3rd in West, 4th Overall)
Home Record: 18-10 (2)
Away Record: 13-18 (10)
Last 10: 7-3
Average: .259 (T-9)
Homeruns: 54 (9)
Runs Scored: 309 (8)
Slugging %: .405 (10)
On-Base %: .356 (7)
Stolen Bases: 78 (7)
ERA: 4.46 (2)
Saves: 13 (6)
Walks: 243 (8)
Strikeouts: 532 (1)
Opponent Average: .232 (1)
Fielding %: .979 (6)
Errors: 42 (5)
First Half Recap
If there was any residual from the Sioux City Explorers dropping the final three games of the 2022 season to be knocked out of the playoffs, it did not appear to be the case when the 2023 season got underway. The Explorers won the first four games of the season and were 8-1 at one point. However, things turned quickly as the club went 3-11 over the next 14 games and were 11-15 in June.
It was a lack of offensive production hurting the club, especially after start third baseman Matt Lloyd headed to the Pan-Am Games to play for Team Canada. However, it has been a different story in July. The Explorers have the second-best record (10-5), despite only hitting 13 home runs.
In fact, it is not just this month that has seen the team play much better. The club was 17-21 on June 24, but has gone 14-7 since, vaulting them into third in the West Division. It has been Lloyd leading the way, as he hit .432 over his last 10 contests and is hitting .370 in July with 10 runs scored and seven RBI.
What Went Right?
One of the biggest things that has gone right has been the performance of Manager Steve Montgomery in adding a few key players that have helped to improve the fortunes of the team. Tyler Rando rejoined the team in June, and he has hit .342 with 13 runs scored and 13 RBI in 21 games. John Nogowski also returned and was hitting .313 before he headed for Mexico. The club traded for Delvin Zinn who has added some depth in the infield.
While the offense has been trying to work things out, the pitching staff has been spectacular. Sioux City is second in team ERA, and is one of only four teams with a team ERA under five. Closer Sean Rackoski has been spectacular and he has teamed with Kent Hasler to give the best 1-2 bullpen punch in the league. The starting rotation has also been very good, especially the top three as Mitchell Verburg, Trenton Toplikar, and Solomon Bates all have ERAs under four.
Lloyd has become one of the most dangerous players in the American Association, ranked second in batting average. His numbers would be even more impressive if he did not compete for Team Canada.
What Went Wrong?
Without Lloyd this is a rather pedestrian offense. The club is eighth in runs scored and 10th in slugging percentage. Even the stolen base numbers are not that impressive. Speed has been a hallmark of Montgomery teams, but not this season.
There also needs to be better production out of players like Miguel Sierra (.215), Chase Harris (.213), Zinn (.197), and Jake Sanford (.210). The four have combined to appear in 206 games but all are hitting bwlow .220. Each needs to raise his batting average at least 40 points.
Top Pitcher: Sean Rackoski
It would be very easy to choose one of the big three starters, and each is deserving of credit for helping this team rise to third in the division. However, it is the performance of Sean Rackoski that has had the biggest impact on this team overall. Sioux City has played in 22 one-run games and seven extra inning affairs. That is a lot of close contests, and the Sioux City closer has had an even bigger impact on the team’s success because of the number of close games.
Rackoski is 4-3 with 11 saves, posting a minuscule 1.89 ERA in 27 appearances. He has been virtually unhittable recently, allowing just one earned run in his last 12 appearances, a span of 11.2 innings. The right-hander has tossed 33.1 innings, allowing 28 hits and 12 walks while striking out 36.
Top Hitter: Matt Lloyd
Matt Lloyd has been the savior of this offense. He entered the All-Star break hitting .353, second in the league, with 10 homers and 36 RBI in 47 games. The club moved him into the leadoff spot where Lloyd has been incredibly impressive, scoring 41 runs with an on-base percentage of .464, tops in the American Association.
Despite the move to leadoff spot, the power numbers have not dwindled. Lloyd has a .594 slugging percentage, fourth best in the league, and his 1.058 OPS is tops. The infielder entered the All-Star break with three hits or more in three of his last four games, going 11-19 during that span.
Where Will Sioux City Explorers Be on September 4?
With arguably the best starting staff and the best closer in the West Division, the Sioux City Explorers are going to be right in the thick of things until the end. They also have the benefit of a struggling Winnipeg Goldeyes club and a Sioux Falls team that cannot win on the road. That should give Sioux City enough of an advantage to lock them into one of the four playoff spots in the West.
The Explorers are one of the best teams at home this season, going 18-10, but they need to be better on the road (13-18) if they have serious aspirations of winning the title. Another big bat would help as well. Look for Sioux City to finish in second and advance to the West Division finals, but fall short of reaching the championship series.
By Robert Pannier