St. Paul Saints All-Star Break Review
Record: 47-15, 1st Place, North Division, American Association’s Best Record
It has been an unbelievable start in the club’s new ballpark (CHS Field), as the St. Paul Saints have the American Association’s best record. It has not just been the record that is impressive either. Everything about this team has been a testament to how dominant they have played. The Saints have the league’s second best team batting average (.294), top ERA (3.14), and the second best fielding percentage (.982). Add to that the fact that in 18 series this season they have yet to lose even one of them (16-0-2). It has been an unbelievable run.
One of the key elements of the club’s success has been the fact that at least two players have always been hot. Ian Gac and Angelo Songco started out hitting like crazy, then it was Willie Argo and Vinny DiFazio. Mike Kvasnicka has had hot stretches, as has Alonzo Harris, and Angelo Songco once again. All six of these players are hitting at least .312, have scored at least 39 runs, and driven in at least 38. DiFazio leads the league in hitting, Kvasnicka is first in RBI with DiFazio second, and Gac was first in runs scored until an injury side-lined him for a few games.
Injuries have stretched the resources and creativity of manager George Tsamis, but the St. Paul Saints skipper has found the right combination to keep this team rolling. Joey Paciorek has gone unnoticed for the most part, but he is having an outstanding season splitting time between third, catching and the DH position. Anthony Phillips may be the best shortstop in the league, and Dan Kaczrowski has really solidified second base after being called out of retirement to take over the middle infield position. Add to it the newly acquired Ryan Lashley (hitting .387), and it is easy to see why this team is rolling.
The offense is just a small part of the story however. This pitching staff has been as solid as it gets, with easily the best five-man rotation in the American Association. Dustin Crenshaw leads the league in wins (10), with Kramer Sneed and Jeff Shields one behind. Four of their starters have ERAs in the top 16, and they have kept the club in games with every outing.
The bullpen has had moments of struggle, but since Ryan Rodebaugh took over the closer’s role the backend has been solid. Rodebaugh leads the league in saves (15), and Mike Zouzalik, Alex Sogard, Chris Peacock, Drew Gay, Mikey Mehlich and Dylan Chavez have done a great job of maintaining leads to get to Rodebaugh.
While the offensive and pitching numbers are impressive, the defense is where this team really excels. Anthony Phillips is arguably the best defensive shortstop in the league, and the outfield combination of Argo, Harris and Kvasnicka makes for a no-man’s land for opposing hitters. These guys reach virtually every fly ball hit to them, and did we mention that the trio has thrown out over 20 runners looking to advance. Argo has made several highlight reel plays, as has super-sub Mitch Elliot.
Top Player – Angelo Songco
On a club where several players could lay claim to this title, the very best of this elite group has been Angelo Songco. This is no slight on the rest of the group. The Saints first baseman has just been that good. He is hitting .340 with 39 runs scored, 9 home runs and 48 RBI. The three longest runs the St. Paul Saints had this season Songco was heating up at the same time, proving that he is a true catalyst. His defense has been outstanding as well, no matter where he is asked to play, and his energy has been infectious.
Top Pitcher – Dustin Crenshaw
This is much like the top player, in that no less than six pitchers could lay claim to this title, but Crenshaw has separated himself. He not only leads the team in wins, but leads the American Association (10-1). He finally walked a batter this last Sunday, the first time he has done so in 78 innings pitched, an unbelievable run. The right-hander is sixth in the league in ERA and has allowed just 89 base runners in 94 innings pitched for a 0.95 WHIP, third best in the league. He has been everything the club could have asked for, when they acquired him, and more.
With a .758 winning percentage and a 19.5 game lead in the North Division, the St. Paul Saints are a virtual lock for the playoffs. The major question for them now is if they can keep focused so as to not lose their edge heading toward the post season. That should not be a problem however.
There is plenty to play for in the last 38 games. The Saints are on pace to break the Wichita Wingnuts record for most wins in a season (73), and are just four up on Sioux City for the American Association’s top record. The club clearly wants home field advantage in their new stadium where they are an impressive 23-8.
It’s championship or bust for the St. Paul Saints, and don’t bet on bust.
By Robert Pannier