16 Jun Brutal Schedule Ahead
This weekend begins the most challenging two-week period so far this year for the Miners, maybe the most challenging two weeks of the entire season.
It begins Friday night at Skylands Stadium when the best team in the Frontier League makes its first visit of the year to open a three-game weekend series. That would be the Quebec Capitales, who’ve gotten off to a spectacular start to the 2022 season, commanding first place in the East Division with a league-best record of 22-6 (.786).
The Caps have been especially potent on the mound, posting the most shutouts and the best team ERA in the league. They come to town with not one, but two of the best starters in the early going, 6-foot-4 lefty Miguel Cienfuegos (.2.09 ERA) and 6-foot-4 righty Michael Austin (2.23 ERA).
Not only will the Capitales be here this weekend, they will return to Augusta in two weeks for yet another three-game series.
And, if that’s not enough of a challenge for the Miners, they’ll be traveling to Canada in between those two meetings for a six-game road trip that includes three matchups with the second-best team in the league, the Ottawa Titans.
Off to a 19-7 (.731) start, the Titans might be even more balanced than the Capitales, currently ranking third in the league in team ERA but with more hitting than Quebec and with a team batting average of .294 that’s No. 4 in the league.
The big man for Ottawa has been 6-foot-6 lefthander Chris Burica, a 24-year-old San Diego Padres draft choice out of high school in 2016 who has a 1.65 ERA over his first five starts so far this year.
While in Canada, the Miners will follow their Ottawa visit with a three-hour trip north to Trois-Rivieres for three games with the up and-down Aigles. It will be the Miners second visit to Trois-Rivieres, where they won two of three games last week.
They’ve already faced Ottawa, as well, losing all three games at Skylands in early June, including one loss against Burica.
A challenging two weeks ahead? Absolutely, and with a definite Canadian twist to it.
Steals Keep Mounting
The Miners just keep on running. The stolen bases just keep piling up. The league record could fall. In fact, if Sussex keeps running and stealing at the current pace, that league record could be crushed.
The mark was set last year when Windy City stole 204 bases. However, with 71 steals over the first 30 games so far this year, the Miners are currently on target for 234 stolen bases over the course of the 96-game schedule.
Center fielder Jawuan Harris leads the team and is second in the league with 15 steals, aided by his No. 4 league ranking for walks, which helps offset his current batting average of .212 and helps the Miners rank first in the league in walks. The 25-year-old Harris had been chosen out of Rutgers University by the San Diego Padres in the second round of the 2018 draft, and he spent last year with the Pads’ High-A minor league team.
He’s followed in thefts by Nilo Rijo (11), Errol Robinson (10), Mikey Reynolds (9) and Martin Figueroa (9).
Is there ever a game when the Miners don’t steal a base? Yes, but not many. Even more rare was last Sunday’s game at Trois-Rivieres when Aigles catcher Carlos Martinez threw out all three Miners baserunners who attempted to steal.
The Big Picture
After the next two weeks of Canadian drama, the Miners will turn their attention to the Garden State Rivalry, hosting the New Jersey Jackals on Friday night, July 1, and Sunday afternoon, July 3, traveling to Yogi Berra Stadium for the middle game of the three-game series on Saturday night.
The subsequent two weeks will keep Sussex facing East Division teams until the five-day All-Star break, then it will be time for a last swing at the three West Division teams they still haven’t faced – a home series with the Evansville Otters and a long road trip to face the Gateway Grizzlies and the Florence Y’Alls.
From then on, the Miners play the rest of the season exclusively against East Division opponents, including nine home games in August against the vagabond Empire State Greys, a travel team with no home field created by the league this year to round out the eight-team East. At the moment, they are 0-27.
By Carl Barbati, former sports editor of the New Jersey Herald, Daily Record and The Daily Trentonian.