Showdown In St. Paul (Or Last Stand?)
Image courtesy of Szer DesignLet’s Set the Stage
The St. Paul Saints enter the series at 42-34, two games behind the Gary Southshore RailCats. The RailCats are 43-31 and have two clear advantages: they are in first place and they have two games in hand. Furthermore, a third team, the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks, is 1.5 games out and have a game in hand over the Saints.
Gary Southshore leads the season series, 6-3. The Saints began the year by going to Gary and winning two of three but a week later the RailCats came to Minnesota and took two of three. On July 20, St. Paul traveled to Indiana on a hot streak, but the RailCats swept St. Paul. They have been in first ever since.
No doubt that both teams are seeing this as their last stand. While there will be at least 20 games left in the season for both teams following the series, the ramifications of being swept are clear. In addition, a split opens the door for the RedHawks to jump in front in the division, as next weekend they have four games against the Sioux Falls Canaries, last in the North Division (30-45).
Tonight's opener is going to be telling as both teams will throw their aces. The RailCats will start Keaton Steele (4-2, 2.06), who will be opposed by right-hander Eddie Medina (6-4, 2.70). This will be Steele’s first start against the Saints this season, as the righty stepped into the rotation after Gary Southshore ace Daniel Minor signed to play in Mexico. All Steele did was toss 11 2/3 shutout innings in his first two outings, earning honors as the Minor League Sports Report Pitcher of the Week.
Medina has faced Gary twice this season, both in the early part of the year. He started the second game of the season, allowing six hits and two earned runs in five innings, earning a no-decision in a game the Saints won 8-3. Six days later, he made his first home start of the season, blanking the RailCats on six hits in seven innings, leading St. Paul to a 5-0 victory.
The St. Paul Saints look like they have the advantage in game two of this series when a pair of lefties square off. Gary Southshore will send Jeff McKenzie (4-8, 4.33) to the hill against Chris Nunn (4-2, 3.06). McKenzie has lost two in a row, but he has been the hard luck loser in his last two outings, giving up two runs in each start, but losing 2-1 and 4-3. Nunn has been a stabilizer for the Saints after being signed in early July, winning four of his last five outings. McKenzie has appeared against the Saints twice this season, allowing eight runs in 6 2/3 innings pitched.
Game three pits the red-hot Gabe Perez against RHP Trevor Foss. Perez began the season as the Gary closer but, since moving to the rotation, he is 3-1 in eight starts, allowing just one earned run in his last two outings over 13 innings. Foss has pitched much better in his last three outings, winning the last two while allowing seven earned runs in 21 innings.
The final game of the series pits LHP Alex Gunn (7-5, 4.43) against Jake Matthys (5-7, 4.71). Both of these starters are slumping lately, meaning Sunday night’s contest has the potential to be a four-plus hour affair. Gunn has allowed double-digit hit totals in each of his last two outings and has allowed 14 runs in his last 21 innings. Matthys’ struggles are even worse, as he has lost four in a row and has yielded 14 runs in his last 10 2/3 innings. Expect a lot of bullpen changes in this contest.
Reaping the Benefits
The team that is likely smiling most about this weekend’s showdown is the RedHawks. Anything short of a sweep by Gary puts them in a position to leave the weekend no further than one game out of first. A Saints sweep would likely put them in first, as long as they take care of business against the Canaries.
Truly, that Saints taking three of four is probably the most they can wish for. If Fargo takes three of four in Sioux Falls, they would be in first, a half game ahead of St. Paul in the standings. Plus, the RailCats would be 1.5 games behind.
For the RailCats, this series is a golden opportunity. They have four games remaining against Fargo-Moorhead, two against the Wichita Wingnuts, the team with the third best record in the American Association, and they close the season with three in Kansas City against the T-Bones, the team with the league’s second best record. After this weekend, St. Paul has just two games left against the RedHawks and then will play the bottom three teams in the South Division the rest of the way.
This should be an exciting weekend for sure. There may not be tumbleweeds rolling across the field, or the sounds of coyotes howling off in the distance, but this will definitely be a showdown at CHS Field. Look for the Saints to be the ones left standing.
Robert Pannier covers the St. Paul Saints and the American Association for the Minor League Sports Report.