We’re Here, So Are You
With the AAA/AA All Star festivities divorced from the MLB schedule this season, we sit here at the “official” All Star Break with the IronPigs having completed 94 games–or almost exactly 2/3 of the season. After a matinee this afternoon, they sit atop the International League by 6.5 games with the RailRiders due to play later this evening. Not only that, it’s the best record in the International League and the second-best (Memphis) in all of AAA baseball.
So get those playoff tickets ordered, right?
Well, not so fast. There’s certainly a lot to like about this 11th season of IronPigs baseball, and about this squad in particular. But there’s also a lot that could change over the coming days, weeks and months. Let’s take a look at what could go right–and wrong–as we enter the mid-season grind and the “dog days” of the minor league season.
|Lehigh Valley IronPigs (PHI)||57||37||.606||–||–||32-18||25-19||42-25||9-1||W5|
|Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders (NYY)||50||43||.538||6.5||40||28-20||22-23||37-30||7-3|
|Pawtucket Red Sox (BOS)||45||47||.489||11.0||36||25-23||20-24||30-37||6-4|
|Rochester Red Wings (MIN)||44||47||.484||11.5||37||16-26||28-21||32-33||3-7|
|Buffalo Bisons (TOR)||42||45||.483||11.5||37||23-18||19-27||32-34||4-6||W1|
|Syracuse Chiefs (WSH)||38||55||.409||18.5||29||17-25||21-30||27-41||3-7||L3|
What Could Go Right
The IronPigs have a 32-18 home record, a strong clubhouse lead by proven veterans, some young talent and a competitive manager. The IronPigs have been lead by one of the strongest rotations in the International League. They also have a pretty good lead in the IL North.
So there’s a lot to like. And, with only 46 games to go, there are some things that could really help the ‘Pigs down the stretch run:
- Pitching on Pitching: While the chaos of the trade deadline is fast approaching, the IronPigs could still end with a strong rotation just as we’ve had all season. De Los Santos and Irvin could continue in the co-ace role, while newcomer Ranger Suarez has been strong so far. Eshelman is starting to find his groove, and Waguespack has been finding some rhythm as well since taking over Leibrandt’s “super-reliever” role. Drew Anderson has been solid all season. And, even if injuries and trades take pitchers away, we could find ourselves with additions from above and below: JoJo Romero has been starting to shove his way out of AA, and Kilome has been stronger lately as well. If the Phillies opt for a veteran rotation piece through trade, a guy like Eflin or Velasquez or Pivetta could find their way back to AAA for a spell. The same kind of scenarios could play out in the bull pen, as losses could be offset by additions and the squad should remain strong.
- Top To Bottom: It really is a strong lineup from top to bottom. There aren’t very many innings where you’ll have to sit through Ozzie Chavez, Melvin Dorta and Paul Hoover.
- Get Well: A couple injuries could begin to resolve, which could reinforce the lineup a bit. On the minor league level, Will Middlebrooks broken leg–suffered in spring training–could heal and he would find himself ending the season in Allentown. Roman Quinn will certainly have some opportunities in Philadelphia in September, but once his finger heals you’d think he’d be getting back into the swing of things here in the Lehigh Valley. On the major league level, if JP Crawford’s hand heals up, Trevor Plouffe may not make it back to Allentown, but Jesse Valentin could.
- Schedule: While the IronPigs do have more away games left versus home dates, and they finish on the road, the schedule isn’t horrible. They have two different series with last-place Syracuse. They go to league-worst Louisville. Last-place Gwinnett comes in for a series next week. Buffalo and Rochester are both below .500.
- Chicks Dig The Long Ball: The IronPigs continue to slug home runs, leading the league. And, while Joey Meneses has been a revelation, and leads the league, it’s not just him. Even if one or two bats go quiet, others could heat up. Guys like Cozens and Walding and Green can crank the ball as well. Cowgill is in the top 10 in the league. Rickles has sneaky power. They’ll continue to get those long balls.
What Could Go Wrong
I haven’t plunked down cash for a playoff package yet. There are a few reasons for that, but some is the dreaded thought that they could blow this. How? Well:
- Pitchers Break, and the Phillies are Hungry: With the Phillies in first place and hungry to make a splash headed into trading season, we could see our strong rotation decimated. Maybe Eshelman never gets it fixed. Maybe the Phillies take a starter and make him a reliever (Anderson). Maybe a pitcher with the Phillies gets injured and they need our best guy (De Los Santos) and a lefty to boot (Irvin). Perhaps they trade away Suarez and/or Romero thinking they’re dealing from a position of strength. If we’re headed down the stretch with Arauz and Viza as our top two AAA starters we could be in trouble.
- Injury Status Unknown: The truth is, I have no idea if or when Will Middlebrooks ever gets healthy. Roman Quinn’s status is also fragile. It could be September by the time JP Crawford comes back to Philly–in which case the rosters have expanded and help will not be on the way.
- Bats Go Limp: If everything dries up home-run-wise, the basic hitting might not be enough to carry them. Espinosa is hitting .158 since his got here. Logan Moore is hitting .195. Youngsters like Green and Tomscha haven’t found things easy in their short try-outs at the top-level of the minors. Danny Ortiz is having a down year and hitting only .212 without a significant surge in power.
- Schedule Tougher Than It Looks: Some top teams are still on the docket: Toledo this weekend, and Durham comes to town. Indy is tough. And while Buffalo doesn’t look good right now, we do know they’ll likely get some reinforcements with names like “Vlad” and “Biggio” and “Bichette” from AA-leading New Hampshire. It might not be enough for them to climb back into it, but it could make our games against them much more difficult than we anticipated.
- Never Underestimate the Philles…and their capacity to screw things up for us. Of course, we serve at their pleasure. But, with the major league affiliate staring down the barrel of a pennant run and with a desire to avoid the one-game wild card if possible, you know the priority will be helping them and getting fannies in the seats at Citizens Bank Park, not so much Coca Cola Park.
So hold off on those playoff packages if you want. I’m relatively optimistic, but seats will be readily available pretty much anywhere you want. Season ticket holders can lock in their own seats with their reps right now, I believe, but I haven’t seen anything yet about public and single-game packages. There’s plenty of time. And, we should have something to talk about down the stretch around here.
See you at the park,
Cover by Jack Mitroka