During the 2022 season, I’ll have occasional reports on games I’ve attended of the Rochester Red Wings, the AAA affiliate of the Washington Nationals.
This isn’t about any specific game- I didn’t do a post on the doubleheader I went to on Saturday. Instead, it’s about the season thus far for the Red Wings.
And, to be blunt, the season so far has been… very good! Earlier this month I said that the team could be good. Now, I feel safe in saying that the team as it is now is good. As of the morning of May 12, the Wings are 20-12 and first in the bizarre new International League East division (MLB’s takeover has made everything weird). They also are currently in a three-way tie for second-best record in all of AAA (only Milwaukee’s Nashville affiliate has a better record). They have a five-game win streak and have won eight of their last ten. They are 12-6 at home even without poor weather keeping the crowds lower than they should be.
The hitting has held up. As a team, they remain second in batting average and fifth in OPS. Luis Garcia, as mentioned before, has been extremely impressive, but other hitters have also contributed. Longtime minor league 1B/OF Joey Meneses is hitting .316/.354/.538 with 6 HRs, behind only Garcia on the team. OF Nick Banks hasn’t seen too much playing time, but what he has had he’s used well, slashing .355/.395/.566 in 81 PA. Andrew Stevenson, who has a long history of bouncing between AAA and the bigs, is unexpectedly tied for the league lead in stolen bases with 12.
What has really powered the Wings to their current first-place spot, though, has been the pitching. It has improved sharply since earlier in the month. Since May 2, the team’s ERA has plunged from 5.37 to 4.50, sending them from 17th in the league up to eight. At the start of the month, they were 19th in WHIP (second-to-last), now they have moved up to 10th. The opposing batting average of .237 is fifth in the league. While they still have been walking too many people (4.40 BB/9, 15th in the league), that is still an improvement over the 5.20 BB/9 they had back in early May. The relief corps especially has been impressive: the team’s relievers have a 2.88 ERA, third in the league. They are fifth and fourth in WHIP and opposing Batting Average, respectively.
Individually, long-time MLB reliever Carl Edwards Jr. was recently called up (although his debut didn’t go well), and looking at his stats it’s not hard to see why: he was absolutely shutdown. He had a 0.63 ERA and 0.49 WHIP in 14.1 IP. His call-up came after a perfect week that also saw him get a World Series ring from the Braves for his short stint with them last season.
The relievers that remain in Rochester, though, are hardly slouches. Sam Clay has gone 9.2 IP on the season thus far and still hasn’t given up an earned run. Francisco Perez has gone nearly as far (9.0 IP) without an earned run outside of his stint with the big club. Alberto Baldonado, Reed Garrett, and Jordan Weems haven’t given up runs in over two weeks. Old Nationals mainstay Tyler Clippard‘s season 4.73 ERA is a bit deceiving and is the result of two particularly bad games back in April: he has a 0.75 WHIP and non-existent ERA in May.
In my post early in May, I said that ultimately the Red Wings fortunes would depend on the hitting remaining good and the pitching improving. That has happened. Now the question becomes: can it keep up?
There is surely no way to answer that, and there are definite causes for concern. Sooner or later, Garcia will finally get called up for good, and the bullpen will presumably regress to the mean. What’s more, the teams that the Wings play will be better: the last 15 days have been against Scranton, Syracuse, and Worcester. All three of those teams are under .500 right now. The Wings are currently only .500 against teams with a winning record. So while it is safe to say that the team is good, just how good is still an open question, as most of their wins have come against weaker opponents.
So when will we get a better idea if the Wings truly belong with the big boys of the IL? The start of that answer will come next week against Lehigh Valley (Philadelphia), who are above .500, but the real answer may not come until the start of next month, when Buffalo (Toronto) comes to town. By that point, the roster may be different, and we’ll get a better idea of just how the Wings may do in the pennant chase.