The Dust Devils have their first off-day of the season today. Overall they, as well as each Northwest League (NWL) team, get three off-days all season throughout their 76 game schedules. Now that we’ve hit break number one of the 2011 NWL schedule, let’s take a look at how the Dust Devils and their division rivals have performed so far.
Yakima Bears (7-18, Fourth Place):
This season is shaping up to be one to forget for the Yakima Bears, whose play on the field hasn’t helped the rumors of the team’s proposed move away from their home for the last 22 years. Apart from the play of relievers Kable Hogben and Evan Marshall, the numbers don’t paint a pretty picture of the 2011 Bears.
Yakima didn’t win a series in the month of June and have won just one series, July 1-3 when they took two of three at home against the Boise Hawks, while losing six series. Offensive production has been the biggest struggle for the Bears. They have the lowest team batting average (.212) and on-base percentage (.279) as well as the least amount of team runs scored (78) and runs batted in (68) in the Northwest League.
Currently sitting at 7-18 on the year at the bottom of the NWL East Division, the Bears have struggled in most circumstances. Yakima is 5-10 against the East Division, 2-8 against the West Division, 4-5 at home and 3-13 on the road. Although they’ve played the least amount of home games of any team in their division, being seven games back of division leader Boise with 13 games remaining in the first half of play this season will likely be too big of a hill to climb for the Bears.
Spokane Indians (13-12, Second Place):
Sitting in second place and just one game back of the division lead is a scenario the Indians would likely have taken at the beginning of the season and is where they are at now. After an up and down start to the year, Spokane, like much of the East Division, has leveled out of late and is in contention for the first half East Division title.
As opposed to Yakima, Spokane is one of the top hitting teams in the league, with the second highest NWL team average (.276). With five regular players each batting .321 or higher, the Indians have one of the tougher lineups in the league. The offense is led by catcher and first baseman Brett Nicholas, who leads the team in average (.361), home runs (4), runs batted in (22) and doubles (9).
The bulk of the Indians’ struggles have come on the road, where they are 3-6 and have won just one of their three series. At home, on the other hand, they have played well, going 10-6 and losing just one of their four series at Avista Stadium. Should their strong offensive performances continue, nobody will be surprised to see Spokane return to the NWL playoffs for the second consecutive season.
Boise Hawks (14-11, First Place):
The Boise Hawks are alone atop the East Division despite, like Tri-City and Spokane, having some very inconsistent play this season. The fact that the Hawks are in first seems a bit strange when you look into the numbers a little bit deeper.
The Hawks have yet to win a series on the road, tallying a 4-7 record away from Boise, and have won just three of their seven series this season. You wouldn’t expect a team that has lost more series than it has won to be leading their division. But, it isn’t how many they’ve won, but who they’ve beat that has put the Hawks in prime position. Boise is 10-5 against the East Division, giving them the best intra-division record of any East Division team.
Statistically, Boise doesn’t jump off of the page when you look at their team as a whole. They are in the bottom half of the NWL in the majority of the team batting statistics and have just one player, Pin-Chieh Chen who is batting over .300 at .319. Although their pitching statistics are better, they are somewhat underwhelming. Boise has the third lowest team earned run average (4.08) and the second least runs allowed (118). But, they’ve also surrendered the second most walks (105) and have the league’s second highest WHIP (Walks-Hits per Inning Pitched) at 1.48.
The East Division first half crown race will likely stay tight until the July 26 end date, and one would think that if the Hawks are going to stay in the top spot that either their hitting or pitching will have to become more consistent. Although, if they continue to beat up on their division rivals as they have thus far this season, they may not need to be.
Tri-City Dust Devils (12-13, Third Place):
In third place and just two games back of the division lead, the Tri-City Dust Devils are in as good a spot they could hope for as they are 12-13 on the year.
On July 4, as they started an eight game road trip, Tri-City was in first place in the East with a 10-7 record. After the trip the Dust Devils slid down to third, going 2-6 away from home, losing two of three in Spokane and four of five against Salem-Keizer. Leading up to the road trip the Dust Devils hadn’t lost back-to-back games all season, but they had to win the series finale with the Volcanoes to end their longest losing streak of the season at four games.
Solid pitching and timely hitting have often been the Dust Devils’ recipe for success, playing half of their games at pitcher-friendly Gesa Stadium, but this season power offense has found its way to Pasco. The Dust Devils are third in the NWL in home runs (18) and lead the East Division in that category as well. They’re also second in the league in runs batted in (135) and third in the NWL in doubles (51).
Leading this power surge are first baseman Jordan Ribera and outfielder Tyler Massey. The duo has combined for nine of the Dust Devils’ 18 home runs and 44 of their 135 runs batted in. They are each also batting over .300 on the year and are among the Northwest League’s top hitters in the majority of offensive statistics. Although these numbers are great, they don’t reflect the inconsistency with which the Dust Devils’ lineup performs. Tri-City has scored in double-digits an impressive four times this season, but has also scored two or less runs five times.
Pitching has also been somewhat of a guessing game for the Dust Devils. As a team they have the second lowest earned run average (3.60), tied for second lowest amount of runs allowed (118), second lowest walks allowed (82) and the third lowest WHIP (1.36).
Yet, despite having good numbers in these key pitching categories, Tri-City is under .500. Much like hitting, the inconsistency tells the story for the Dust Devils’ pitching staff. On the year they have allowed six or more runs seven times, while allowing three or less runs 13 times. In those 13 games in which they’ve allowed three runs or less Tri-City has a 10-3 record. Where they play also seems to be having an effect as well, as the Dust Devils have a team earned run average of 3.45 at home and a 5.71 team earned run average on the road.
Leading up to the end of the first half of the season Tri-City has 14 more games, eight at home and six on the road. While their ending stretch to the first half starts tough, with five games against the NWL leading Eugene Emeralds, who are 21-4 this season, the final nine games should give them a solid chance to take the division. In those nine games the Dust Devils take on the last place Bears for six games, three at home and three away, and the Indians for three games in Spokane as well.