Gary Southshore RailCats Claw Their Way to the Top: RailCats RoundUp
There is a new leader at the top of the Central Division in the American Association, and it is not a top Dog leading the pack. No, instead it is a top Cat. The Gary Southshore RailCats have clawed their way to the top of the division, and now must fend off those pesky SaltDogs if they intend to keep their playoff status.
Gary holds a one-game lead over Lincoln, with both teams having seven-games left in the season. Both teams had Monday off and now must jump into playoff mode a week before the season ends, because every game must be played like it’s a “win or go home” affair. The RailCats have shown that they are ready for that kind of baseball.
Three weeks ago the Lincoln SaltDogs came to Gary for a four-game series, down by five games. The RailCats had a chance to make a big statement against their Central Division foes, but instead they made a big flop. Lincoln swept the series, all close games, getting four straight saves from closer Marshall Schuler and cut Gary’s lead to just one game. One day later Fargo-Moorhead dropped the RailCats 4-1 while the SaltDogs squeaked out another closer victory to place the two teams in a tie atop the Central Division standings. It looked as if Gary may be in a lot of trouble, as they were struggling and the SaltDogs were getting hot.
For the next four nights the teams remained tied, but on August 12 the SaltDogs beat the American Association leading Wichita Wingnuts 4-2, while Gary was losing to Sioux City. This gave Lincoln a one-game lead, and when the same thing happened the next night, the lead was up to two. Over the next three games the SaltDogs added a half-game to that lead, and with two weeks left in the season Lincoln had the division lead, they had the momentum and they had confidence that this division was theirs.
The RailCats had one answer for that though – Not so fast.
Gary knew that a great opportunity was coming their way. Lincoln would be traveling to Wichita to play the Wingnuts for three games, and although the SaltDogs had taken two of three from Wichita the previous week, that was in Lincoln. This was going to be in Wichita, where the Wingnuts were an impressive 32-10 at the time. This was going to be their chance to make a move and that is exactly what they did.
On Sunday, August 17, Gary beat Kansas City while Lincoln lost at Sioux City. That put the Lincoln lead at a game and a half. The SaltDogs then rolled into Wichita where they were battered for 41 runs while being swept by the Wingnuts. The RailCats, on the other hand, took two of three from St. Paul, and, just like that, Gary was in first by a half-game.
Gary had endured some challenges, but they had played intelligently and put themselves in position to retake the division lead, and that is just what they did. Since the slaughter at the hands of Wichita, the SaltDogs have gone 3-2 while Gary is 3-1, adding another half-game to their lead.
Now the two teams enter the last seven games of the season with just one game separating them. Interestingly enough the team that will have the greatest impact on the race with be the Sioux City Explorers. Gary opens a three-game series in Sioux City tonight, and then the Explorers come to Lincoln for a four-game series to close out the season. The Explorers will be involved with one of the two Central Division leaders every day for the last seven games of the year.
The RailCats may have the toughest route to the playoffs. Besides the three against Sioux City, they travel to North Division winner Winnipeg for the last four games of the year. The Goldeyes have the second best record in the league, and have been incredibly hot of late, winning nine of their last ten games. Meanwhile, Sioux Falls comes to Lincoln for three games starting tonight, and the Canaries have the league’s worst record.
The odds may be against the Gary Southshore RailCats. They may have the more difficult path to reach the playoffs, but as they have shown time and time again, if there is one thing these Cats can do, it is claw. They have clawed their way to the top, now it is time to keep those Dogs from getting a whiff of first place.
By Robert Pannier
Senior Baseball Editor
Member of the IBWAA