Easy to Guess Which Six American Association Teams Are Above .500
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 analyzes how teams that played in 2020 may have a considerable advantage over the teams that did not and how that may have a dramatic impact on the American Association standings.
Playing in 2020 Aids American Association Leaders
If you take a look at the American Association standings heading into the first weekend, you will notice that there are currently six teams that are above .500 – three in the North Division and three in the South.
When you look at the teams, nothing may stand out to you at first glance, but something that Sioux City Explores Manager Steve Montgomery pointed out quickly explains why this group of teams enter the first weekend with a winning record. Those teams that played in 2020 are four of the six teams that are above .500.
You cannot deny his observation. In the North, the Milwaukee Milkmen, Chicago Dogs, and Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks all played last season, and all are 2-1 this year. In the South, the Sioux Falls Canaries played, and they are also 2-1.
The two exceptions are the Sioux City Explorers and the Lincoln Saltdogs. Sioux City enters undefeated at 3-0 and Lincoln is undefeated at 2-0. They seem to defy the trend, but not really.
Start with Lincoln. They faced off against the Kansas City Monarchs to start the year, a team that did not play last season either. Kansas City is in the same boat as Lincoln, so the struggles of their team early on are a matter of facing a Saltdogs team that has their timing down a little better right now.
Sioux City began with the Houston Apollos, a team joining the American Association from the Pecos League. This is a very young and inexperienced team playing a little over their heads at the moment, so it is not surprising that Sioux City handled them.
The Big Edge
If all 12 teams were basically starting from scratch this season, then this would appear to be a simple anomaly. However, there is no denying that there are players who are off to a fast start, and it has been those who were playing last year that are setting the pace early on.
Sioux Falls Canaries
Consider Sioux Falls. Logan Landon closed out 202o with a 25+ game hitting streak. He is hitting .417 through the first three games. Jabari Henry is only hitting .250, but has a .500 on-base percentage.
The pitching staff has seen great benefits as well. Ty Culbreth tossed five shutout innings on Thursday. Angel Ventura struggled a little in his first start, giving up five earned runs in five innings, but it was just one inning where his defense let them down that cursed the right-hander.
Looking at Milwaukee, it is easy to see who played last season. The Milkmen have six players hitting at least .300, and all six played for the team last year, including David Washington, who is hitting .429 with two homers and five RBI through the first three games. Aaron Hill is off to a ridiculous start with a .364 batting average, four homers, and nine RBI. Mason Davis struggled last year, spending most of the season right around .200, but he is at .357 early on.
The Milkmen pitching staff is performing well. Myles Smith started last season as the closer and later served as the set-up guy. This year, he moved into the starting rotation and began the year by tossing five shutout innings. David Holmberg went six innings, allowing two earned runs in his first start. Matt Solter allowed two earned runs in five innings in his first start, striking out seven.
Fargo-Moorhead got off to a slow start last season, but they are dominating behind their offense early on in 2021.
Sam Dexter became one of the most impressive stories of 2020, when he became a hitting machine with the RedHawks. He is off to an amazing start, hitting .538 through three games with three extra-base hits, three runs scored, and three RBI. Leobaldo Pina is hitting .364 and Dylan Kelly is already at .300.
No one is likely benefiting more from the 2020 season than Kevin McGovern. The lefty began with Winnipeg before being released and signing with the RedHawks. He already tossed a complete game shutout in his first start of the season, striking out eight. Ryan Flores struck out all three batters he faced in his only appearance of the season and Tyler Pike allowed two earned runs in seven innings, striking out nine in his opening start.
Chicago was another team that got off to a slow start last season, but is surging early on. Grant Kay, who played with Sioux Falls last season, is hitting .300 and Ryan Lidge, who became the team’s regular catcher during the 2020 campaign, has five hits in eight at bats.
Jake Dahlberg tossed three shutout innings in his first appearance of the year and Paul Schwendel already has two saves. That is an impressive start for the right-hander, who posted a 5.81 ERA in 23 appearances last season, but has a 0.00 ERA in his first two outings.
There Is No Denying
Only one American Association team who played in 2020 and is still in the league (the St. Paul Saints became the AAA affiliate of the Minnesota Twins) have a record below .500, the Winnipeg Goldeyes. They faced off against Sioux Falls to start the season, so it was inevitable that one of those teams would be 1-2 or 0-3.
If this trend should continue through the first couple of weeks, it is going to give five teams a huge edge over the other seven in the league. This could allow a team like Fargo-Moorhead, Milwaukee, Winnipeg, or Chicago to get a rather sizable advantage in the North Division, making it difficult for the other two teams in the division to maintain that pace. The same could be true for Sioux Falls, who could enter June as the front runner in the South.
The American Association was hoping that 2021 would be a clean slate for all 12 teams. However, it appears early on that the lingering effects of 2020 remain.
By Robert Pannier