OSIPOFF: RailCats off to solid start after first homestand
By Michael Osipoff 713-2485 or firstname.lastname@example.org May 22, 2013 11:30PM
Updated: May 22, 2013 11:32PM
GARY — Wichita won the Central Division in each of the RailCats’ first two seasons in the American Association.
Last season, the Wingnuts went 59-41, posting the second-best record in the league. In 2011, they went 55-45, edging Gary by one game in the division.
“It gives us a little bit of a benchmark,” manager Greg Tagert had said of Wichita before the start of the RailCats’ just-completed three-game series, comparing the Wingnuts to teams such as Fargo-Moorhead and Winnipeg. “It will give us an early indication of where we’re at, and where we need to be.”
Yes, it is indeed early, based on a small sample size. But if the RailCats’ play against Wichita, as well as against Lincoln in a four-game series to start the season, is any indication, they have the potential to have a season more in line with their established standards.
As they closed a seven-game homestand to open the season, they will take a 4-3 record on their first road trip, to Kansas City, beginning a three-game set against the T-Bones on Friday after Thursday’s off day, their first. After splitting with the Saltdogs, the RailCats took two of three from the Wingnuts — Gary had gone 3-6 against Wichita last season, including 2-4 at home, and 5-10 in the previous two seasons combined — despite Wednesday’s 5-1 loss at the Steel Yard.
“We like where we’re at,” veteran outfielder Mike Massaro said. “We would’ve liked to have won a couple more games. But with that being said, it’s a promising start. We feel good about ourselves. It’s a big series win against one of the top teams in the league. We’re going to be chasing them all year, so to get two of three from them early is big.”
Before Wednesday’s loss to snap a three-game win streak, the RailCats had been 4-2, matching their best start since 2009 (though they also were 4-3 last season, before finishing 50-50); they were never two games over .500 last season. They didn’t win three games in a row last season until July 13 to 15 at Worcester, 55 games into the season. They already have spent four days in first place; they spent just one all of last season, after an Opening Day win.
For sure, though, the RailCats have reasons for concern in the early going.
Despite their pitching staff looking strong overall — the rotation seems solid, and the bullpen could be even better — they have allowed eight home runs, including five three-run shots. They also have hit eight batters.
They have not hit a homer; that aspect typically has not been a staple for them, though Tagert thought he had added some pop in the offseason. He still believes the long ball will come around, though their trademark small ball at times has been lacking too.
“Offensively, there’s no doubt we’ve been a little short,” Tagert said.
“We have not executed at all like I hoped we would early on. Some of the things we did in spring training offensively, we’ve actually gotten away from a little bit. Hopefully we can get back to some of those fundamentals we did so well in camp. But I’ve also been overly pleased with the way we’ve competed, which has kind of balanced out the two — it’s a highly competitive group.”
It’s seemingly a fairly close-knit group, too. There’s a more harmonious vibe in the clubhouse in comparison to last season.
“It’s a team that’s really good about picking each other up,” Massaro said. “We’ve come together pretty well pretty early, and we’re excited to see where we can take it.”
Stephen Hiscock, who started Wednesday’s game, agreed.
“We’re jelling a little more,” said Hiscock, in his second season with the team. “I just have a good feeling about the guys we have in here. Unfortunately, I didn’t get them the best start today, but we’re battling to win games. Hopefully we’ll be able to get things rolling.”