Rochester Red Wings Report: This team could be good

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.

The idea of whether a minor league team is “good” is a hard one to answer.

For one thing, there’s the basic fact that the ultimate purpose of a minor league team is not to win games but to develop players for the parent club. Sure, an MLB team would prefer that their affiliates are doing well, but that’s at best a secondary concern. I, however, am going to go with the more on-the-field and in-the-standings definition of “good,” since that’s easier to figure out.

For another, the composition of a minor league team changes drastically over the year. During the season, players are called up, sent down, injured, released, traded, or in some cases even begin or end their careers. By the end of the season, the team may only superficially resemble the squad that began the campaign.

Take, as an example, the two people in the picture below: Luis Garcia and Dee Strange-Gordon. Dee Strange-Gordon, as mentioned before, is only in Rochester on a rehab assignment. Garcia is one of the Nationals top prospects and has been tearing up opposing pitchers, so it is doubtful he’ll still be here when the season ends.

That said, there is reason to believe that, at least as the team is now, the Rochester Red Wings are good. Or at the very least good enough to have a good shot at a winning record.

First, the obvious: the Red Wings are 13-11 after yesterday’s 8-3 win over Syracuse, one game back of Buffalo in the International League East. That is, obviously, a winning record.

Even looking beyond that, though, the Red Wings have been doing well. As a team, they are second in the league in batting average (.270, behind only Jacksonville’s .271). They are fifth in OPS and sixth in runs scored. They have the fourth fewest strikeouts, and are fourth in total bases. All very good places to be, even if the team’s best hitter (Garcia) is unlikely to remain in Rochester very long.

However, the pitching has been a cause for concern. The team has a 5.37 ERA, an ugly 17th in the 20-team league. They are 19th in WHIP, and tied for 12th in opponent batting average. They’ve walked too many people and are 18th in the league for BB/9, averaging 5.20 walks every nine innings.

Given that the hitting has been good and the pitching hasn’t been good, it is perhaps not a surprise that the team isn’t too far away from being simply .500.

It also speaks to how the rest of the Red Wings season will turn out. If the hitting falters, the team will too. If the pitching gets better, so will the team.

It’s that simple.

Rochester Red Wings Report: Past and future on a cold night

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.

It was a cold night on Tuesday as the Red Wings played the Syracuse Mets in front of a small but hardy crowd. That crowd grew thinner as the night went on and the temperature dipped ever-closer to 40, and it didn’t help matters that the Red Wings fell behind 8-1 in the first half of the game. Ultimately, though, those who stayed received a treat in the form of an epic comeback.

That, however, is not what this report is about. At least, not really. No, this is about how the past and future were both in Rochester on Tuesday.

To call Dee Strange-Gordon the past is perhaps not fair. He is still very much a present player. He’s no longer the All-Star he was in the mid-2010s, nor does he possess quite the quickness that makes him the active stolen-base leader. He’s moved into a more utility role at the age of 34, primarily playing in the outfield, unlike in the earlier parts of his career where he was mostly a middle infielder. Since leaving Miami after 2017, he’s hit .265/.292/.342 in 1094 plate appearances, a definite downgrade from the .293/.329/.367 of his career before. He spent 2021 entirely in the minors, and there was some thought that he’d start this season in the minors as well until he won a job in spring training.

Pity the poor equipment manager for the Rochester Red Wings, who had to fit his name on the back of the uniform.

Still, he’s Dee Strange-Gordon (the Strange added to his name in honor of his late mother). While never a superstar to the public (no doubt hurt by the fact he was traded to Miami from Los Angeles, as well as a suspension in 2016), most baseball fans know him, and for a few years he was one of the premier infielders in MLB. So when it was announced he’d begin a rehab from an undisclosed illness in Rochester just a few hours before game time, it was a pleasant surprise.

Wearing the number 1 once worn by his half-brother Nick Gordon during his time in Rochester as a Twins prospect, Dee was well-covered for the cold and wore his Nationals helmet to the plate for the game. Playing at shortstop for the first time this season (having been in the outfield and once in a garbage-time mound appearance in the big leagues), he was 0-2 with a strikeout and a walk at the plate, but still made an impact as he scored twice and reached base in the fifth on a fielders choice. He also made an impact in the field, taking part in a double-play.

It was clear that he wasn’t going to steal when he was no base (this was, after all, a minor league game to which he was essentially a special guest coming through on his way back to the show), but his speed still played a definite factor in keeping the fielders choice from becoming a possible double-play. He left the game in the 6th, but stuff like this is common for rehab appearances, particularly early on in the rehab stints. One game isn’t much to go on, but he seemed to be perfectly healthy and it is presumably only a matter of time before he joins the Nationals once again.

Strange-Gordon reaching base in the 5th, in hindsight, would prove very important, because the next batter was Luis Garcia, who was playing 2B on Tuesday. He’s the future in this tale. While he’s already played in parts of 110 MLB games, he’s still not even 22, and is almost certainly the top position player prospect on the Red Wings this year.

If his play on Tuesday was any indication, he probably shouldn’t be on the Red Wings much longer. Having already singled twice in the game, Garcia went deep in the fifth off Jake Reed, bringing home Strange-Gordon and himself to make it 8-3 in a much-needed sign of life for the Wings.

His next at-bat would come in the 7th, when he drew a walk. Little did we know at the time, but that would be start of the true comeback rally. A 2-out single by Joey Meneses moved him to third, and he then scored on a Josh Palacios hit right after. The next batter, Donovan Casey, then hit a home run to deep center (at first it was called a double, but that changed) to drive in three more and make it 8-7 Syracuse.

Finally, in the 8th, the culmination of the comeback and the culmination of Garcia’s jewel of a game came. Tres Barrera tied it with a solo shot to left with one out, leading to pandemonium among the small-but-hardy crowd. Then, after a fielding error allowed Alfredo Rodriguez (who had come in for Gordon) to reach, Garcia stepped to the plate again and hit his second home run of the night to make it 10-8. His totals for the night: 4-4, 2 HR, 4 RBI, 3 R, 10 total bases. His batting average now stands at .360, his OPS at 1.020.

The Wings would ultimately hold on to win 10-9, moving to 10-9 on the year in the process in what may forever be known as the Luis Garcia Game. The future is bright.

Someone Not to Forget

Although much of the attention no doubt goes to Garcia, Strange-Gordon, and the other hitters who got the Wings back into the game, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Sterling Sharp. In four innings of relief, he gave up only two hits and two walks while striking out four. His shutout innings kept what was a Syracuse blowout from becoming even more out-of-hand, allowing the comeback to take place. He received no win for the performance, but in some ways it can be argued he is the one who deserved it.

The Red Wings continue their series against Syracuse throughout the week.