Scouting the South Division
By: Jay Wallis and Chris Vosters
With June upon us, the race for the first-half division title in the Texas League is in full swing. Frisco reaches the season’s midway point on June 16 against the Midland RockHounds. The ‘Riders are in the midst of a pivotal eight-game homestand and will play out the final six games of the first half on the road.
The RoughRiders entered the month atop the south division, but with all three division rivals in hot pursuit. Every team owns a winning record, which makes the playoff hunt a four-way chase. Let’s spotlight Frisco’s competition down the stretch.
San Antonio: They may have gotten off to a sluggish start in the beginning of the year, but the Missions have really picked up their level of play of late. After falling seven games below .500 in mid-May, San Antonio has since then jumped right back in the playoff hunt thanks to sustained pitching and improved hitting. As a team, the Missions hold the best ERA in the Texas League (2.99) while their closer, Johnny Barbato, leads the league in saves (15). This exceptional pitching has been present for the majority of the season but the hitting hasn’t always been comparable. However, with the emergence of outfielders Rymer Liriano and Yeison Asencio, who was named Texas League Player of the Week for May 19-25, the bats are finally making some noise. If the Missions can continue to improve at the plate during the second half of the season, they could give the ‘Riders trouble, especially since San Antonio is the only team Frisco doesn’t have a winning record against.
Midland: Out of the four Texas League teams in the south division, the RockHounds got off to the best start and held the divisional lead at the end of April. Josh Whitaker and Max Muncy both are Texas League leaders in multiple batting categories and have been the catalyst for Midland’s offense. During a four-game series with the RoughRiders in early May, though, they lost three of four and handed over their position atop the south to the ‘Riders. In addition to losing the series, Muncy suffered a lacerated finger in the second game, causing the first baseman to miss the next 17 games and put a hole in his team’s lineup. The RockHounds ended up losing 17 of 30 games in May, creating more of a gap between the ‘Riders and their competition. If Muncy can regain his confidence at the plate that he has yet to recapture since returning from the DL, it should provide a substantial spark for Midland’s offense moving forward.
Corpus Christi: The ‘Riders have handled the Hooks in 8-of-12 meetings this season. However, the teams’ four remaining meetings before the end of the first half take place under the lights of Whataburger Field. While some teams undergo hot streaks and cold spells, the Hooks’ calling card is their consistency: the Astros’ Double-A affiliate finished 14-12 in April and 15-14 in May. In both pitching and hitting, the Hooks rank in the top half of the Texas League. The ‘Riders hope to avoid damage from Corpus Christi’s Preston Tucker, a seventh round draft choice in 2012. The slugger is batting .319 against the Frisco this season with six doubles and two home runs. The 6-foot, 200-pound lefty ranks near the top of the Texas League in a multitude of categories, namely home runs, RBI, hits and doubles.
Frisco faces a daunting task, but it is important for the RoughRiders and their fans to remember the traits that placed the ‘Riders in a strong position to clinch a postseason berth: a winning record at home, contributions throughout the batting order and strong team chemistry. If the team adheres to that formula, fans can look forward to postseason baseball at Dr Pepper Ballpark come September.