Texas AirHogs Mid-Season Report
Place: 2nd in the South Division (13 GB), 7th in the Wild Card (9.5 GB)
Team Pitching (League Ranking Listed in Parenthesis): ERA: 3.94 (4), Strikeouts: 484 (2), WHIP: 1.39 (5)
Team Batting (League Ranking Listed in Parenthesis): Average: .245 (10), Home Runs: 28 (10), Slugging: .345 (11), Stolen Bases: 68 (6)
Texas AirHogs First Half Recap
When the Texas AirHogs opted to go with Billy Martin, Jr. as their manager, more than a few eyebrows were raised. Their new skipper had never managed a game before, he hadn’t even coached as a professional, so many had doubts about what kind of success he could have.
The AirHogs were coming off three abysmal seasons and so it was expected that the 2017 American Association season would be no different. That is at least how the team started out. After starting the year 4-4, Texas would drop the next 14 contests, leaving them far off the pace and many questioned whether the move to hire Martin was a foolish one.
However, after a 4-18 start, the AirHogs have actually been one of the hottest teams in the league. Over their last 41 games they are 22-19, and had a stretch from June 30 to July 15 where they were 11-3. Despite losing the final three games before the All-Star break, Texas now finds itself with an outside chance of earning the South Division title as Wichita has struggled in July.
The pitching staff has been a huge bright spot for Texas so far this season. Even with James Russell heading to Mexico, this team has found a way to get outstanding pitching each and every night. The bullpen has continued to improve, and T.J. Bozeman has seen his career completely turn around, making him one of the best starters in the league.
The good has also been that the team’s manager has really grown exponentially as a skipper. Admittedly, Martin felt out of his element early on in the year, but that has not been the case since. He has turned this team into one of the more competitive in the league and they still have a shot of making a playoff run.
While the AirHogs pitching staff has been brilliant, the lineup has been lacking. Texas is not only in the bottom of most offensive categories but the fact that they are 11th in runs scored tells you a lot about why this team is not as competitive as they should be. If this team would’ve scored 40 more runs than what they have right now they might be just six games out of first.
The fortunate part for Texas is that the ugly part of the season is well past them. That 14-game losing streak was absolutely brutal, and had many questioning how bad this team could be. Fortunately, that streak is in the rearview mirror as the AirHogs are likely to be the team that no one wants to face down the stretch.
1st Half Most Valuable Player: Alvaro Rondon
Rondon has been one of the best leadoff hitters in the league, currently leading the American Association with 28 stolen bases to go along with a .307 batting average and 29-run scored. Despite the fact that the team has been unable to score a lot of runs, Rondon has not been the issue. He has gotten on base and put himself in scoring position.
1st Half Top Pitcher: T.J. Bozeman
It is hard to imagine that just one season ago Bozeman was getting lit up in the Frontier League, posting an ERA over seven. However, this season he has taken over the role as ace of the AirHogs staff after Russell signed to go to Mexico. The right-hander started out in the bullpen, but has pitched incredibly well since joining the rotation. Removing his last start against Sioux Falls, Bozeman had allowed just two-earned runs over his previous 20 innings pitched, and enters the second half with a 3.12 ERA and 56 strikeouts in 54.2 innings pitched.
While there are many who have already ruled a chance for the Texas AirHogs to get back into this race, stranger things can happen. Wichita is just in Game 4 of their 18-game road swing and if they were to just win six of those remaining games while Texas remained hot, they have a real shot of getting into this race. It’s going it take a lot of what if’s, but don’t rule the AirHogs out just yet.
By Robert Pannier