07 Jul Season Hits Halfway Mark
Last night’s 6-5 loss to the New York Boulders was the 48th game of the year for the Miners, marking the halfway point of the 96-game season, and, despite some ups and downs, the team is still on target to make a run at the Frontier League playoffs.
The postseason begins with Wild Card games on Sept. 6, but, of course, Sussex would prefer to skip the Wild Card process by winning the East Division championship outright.
After Wednesday night’s loss, the Miners are now 27-21 and in third place in the East, trailing Quebec (31-15) and Ottawa (29-17). When the regular season ends, the No. 2 and No. 3 teams will play a single Wild Card game, with the winner going on to face the No. 1 team in a best-of-three series for the division title. The East and West champs then meet in a best-of-five for the overall league championship.
But, all of that is still a long way away.
First, the Miners will try to build on the positives of the first half of the season while looking to improve on some of their first-half shortcomings.
Pitching has been a definite positive. With a team ERA of 4.40, Sussex County ranks No. 4 in the league, and the staff has been notably stingy in giving up just 150 walks – the fourth lowest total in the league.
Righthander Dwayne Marshall and lefthander Michael Mediavilla have emerged as league leaders at the top of the Miners rotation. Marshall (5-2) has the second best ERA in the league at 2.48 over 10 starts, and Mediavilla (4-2, 3.39 ERA) ranks among the top 10 with 61 strikeouts, while yielding a ridiculously low 18 walks.
And, speaking of ridiculous, 24-year-old John Baker opened the season in the bullpen, then, after 10 straight excellent relief appearances, he moved into a starting role and is now 4-1 with a 2.82 ERA. The ridiculous part? He’s got 44 strikeouts with just six walks. Those are ridiculous numbers for the former Florida Marlins 2019 draft pick out of Ball State University who’s in his first year with the Miners.
Another 24-year-old newcomer, Conner Dand, gave up three runs in six innings last night, but he’s been a solid contributor as both a starter and a reliever, ringing up 41 Ks with just 13 walks, now at 3-2 with a 3.23 ERA.
Former big leaguer Vin Mazzaro (3-3, 3.86 ERA) is third on the team in innings pitched, and New Zealander Jimmy Boyce (2-1, 4.85 ERA) has made 15 relief appearances and one spot start, posting 27 Ks and eight walks.
The team’s top reliever, Robert Klinchock, had a rare tough outing on Wednesday night, throwing one pitch in the bottom of the ninth that went for a New York walk-off home run, leaving the lefty at 1-1 over 19 games and raising his ERA from 1.86 to 2.33.
Good pitching has been the key ingredient in the Miners winning 10 of their first 15 series this year. They’ve only been swept twice – by Windy City and by Ottawa, and they earned their revenge by sweeping Ottawa a few weeks later.
On offense, the team has struggled but has come up with big hits at key moments.
With a team batting average of .262, the Miners rank 13th in the league. They’re 15th in the league in home runs, extra-base hits, total bases and slugging percentage, ahead of only the Empire State Greys in those categories, and they’re 10th in the league in runs scored. Instead of power, they’ve used every other means available to put points on the board, leading the league in walks, sacrifices and stolen bases.
In fact, Sussex County is currently on a pace to break the league record of 204 steals in a season. With four thefts last night, the Miners have 109 right now, aiming at 218 for the year. Center fielder Jawuan Harris leads the way with 22 stolen bases, second best in the league, while infielder/outfielder Nilo Rijo ranks fourth in the league with 20.
Harris has provided a major boost this year, leading the team with eight home runs and ranking second on the team in RBI. Rijo has been a pleasure all year, playing various positions and batting up and down the lineup, from leadoff to No. 9, currently sporting a .315 batting average.
Another utility man, Mikey Reynolds, has been another consistent performer, now batting .308 and adding 13 stolen bases to the total.
The big man at the plate, however, has been Martin Figueroa – again. He led the league with a .352 average last year and he’s just as dominant this time, currently ranked in the league’s top 10 at .343 after playing in all 48 first-half games. He’s also among the league’s best with 40 RBI, plus 12 stolen bases and a team-leading 36 walks.
Newcomer David Maberry, acquired from Ottawa in early June has made an impressive impact right away, batting .340 over his first 26 games in town.
It’s been a mostly-good first half. Manager Bobby Jones would never be happy being in third place, but he’s experimented with 20 different position players and 21 different pitchers since opening day and he’ll surely be fine-tuning things as the second half of the season progresses.
That begins with a home series hosting Tri-City this weekend, followed by the second series of the year against the New Jersey Jackals next week. After that, the Miners face the three West Division teams they’ve yet to see, at home against Evansville, then a long road trip to Gateway and Florence.
By then, after the all-star break, it will be August, a month when the Miners will host the homeless travel team, the Greys, nine times down the stretch – a team that is currently 2-43.
PHOTO CREDIT: Phil Hoops
By Carl Barbati, former sports editor of the New Jersey Herald, Daily Record and The Daily Trentonian.