RailCats not afraid of Wichita for championship series
By Michael Osipoff firstname.lastname@example.org or 713-2485 September 9, 2013 8:08PM
Railcat in-fielders congratulate the out-fielders as they come in after defeating Fargo-Moorhead 3-0 at The Steel Yard on Saturday September 7, 2013. | Jim Karczewski\Sun-Times Media
Championship (best-of-5 series)
RailCats vs. Wichita Wingnuts
Game 1 — 7:10 p.m., Tuesday, at Steel Yard (LHP Alain Quijano vs. RHP Junior Guerra)
Game 2 — 7:10 p.m., Wednesday, at Steel Yard (RHP Stephen Hiscock vs. RHP Chris Smith)
Game 3 — 7:05 p.m., Friday, at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium (RHP Billy Spottiswood vs. LHP Anthony Capra)
Game 4 (if necessary) — 7:05 p.m., Saturday, at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium (RHP Morgan Coombs vs. RHP Justin Klipp)
Game 5 (if necessary) — 7:05 p.m., Sunday, at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium (TBA vs. TBA)
Updated: October 11, 2013 6:24AM
GARY — The RailCats have a healthy respect, an appreciation.
But by no means are they intimidated.
The Wichita Winguts, Gary’s opponent in the American Association championship series, set a league record for wins by going 68-32 during the regular season (at .680, also the league record for winning percentage). They then proceeded to sweep Grand Prairie in a semifinal series, outscoring the AirHogs, oh, a mere 21-0 (with Game 1 even going 12 innings).
“They’re good. And when I say good, that’s with an exclamation point,” RailCats manager Greg Tagert said.
“If you’re going to be one of the final two standing, you know the other team is going to be formidable. They are as powerful a club as I’ve seen, in terms of the wins and losses, and the way they’re built. Their offense, their pitching, they have all the dynamics in place you have to have to get to this spot. But I think we do too. No disrespect to anybody else, the other two teams (that made the playoffs), but we’re one of the two best teams left playing, and it’s as simple as that. We’ll see if we can do our part.”
The Wingnuts led the league in an array of statistical categories, probably not surprising given their record. The list includes: runs (609), home runs (107), total bases (1,581), batting average (.297), walks (408), on-base percentage (.380), slugging percentage (.465) and stolen bases (146); and runs allowed (389), ERA (3.38), batting average against (.232), WHIP (1.32), slugging percentage against (.326) and home runs allowed (43).
Still, the RailCats actually won the season series against Wichita, 7-6. They went 4-3 at the Steel Yard, where the championship series begins on Tuesday night. Most recently, the teams split four games in Gary from Aug. 20 to 22 (the RailCats swept a doubleheader — the third twin bill between the teams this season — with one game having been rescheduled from Wichita, before losing the last two games of the series).
“They have quality guys over there, guys who have been in the big leagues,” right fielder Mike Massaro said. “But you know what, if there’s one team they probably didn’t want to see out of everybody else, it’s us, because we’re going to grind them out, we’re going to play nine innings, and we’re going to give them the best we’ve got.”
Wichita first baseman CJ Ziegler was named the American Association’s Player of the Year, as he hit a league-record 30 homers, had a league-leading 99 RBI (teammate and former major leaguer John Rodriguez was second with 86) and hit .318. Wingnuts third baseman Abel Nieves won the batting title with a .357 average.
“They know how to hit and they know how to win,” pitcher Morgan Coombs said. “But we beat them before and we’re going to try to beat them again. It’s going to be a great matchup, but we all feel confident we can take it to them and finish this thing.”
The RailCats are seeking their first championship since 2007, when they won their second Northern League title in three seasons. The Wingnuts, in their sixth season as a franchise, have made the playoffs four times, and are pursuing their first title, after getting swept in last season’s championship series by Winnipeg. All four of Wichita’s postseason appearances, including three straight, have come in its five seasons under Kevin Hooper, a former major leaguer who last week was announced as the Manager of the Year, adding to the award he won in his 2009 debut season.
“This club knows what’s ahead of them,” Tagert said. “But more important than anything, this club worries about the RailCats. That’s the most important thing we can do — worry about ourselves.”