Even before Saturday afternoon, the Harrisburg Senators were ahead of the torrid pace the 1993 club set back in their record-breaking season. But then the 2019 edition of the team rallied in the ninth inning to score two runs and walk-off the Reading Fightin’ Phils to push its record to an even more improbable 14-2.
We picked the three biggest keys (as we see them) to this historic start to the season.
Brothers in Arms
Pitching has been the most significant factor in the Senators’ success this season. Simply put, the pitching has just been better than the batters they’ve faced in the first 16 games. By a lot.
The staff as a whole has posted a WHIP of 0.934.
How crazy ridiculous is that?
It’s the best mark in all of minor league baseball. Only one other team, the Class A- Hickory Crawdads, is even under 1.00.
Including Mario Sanchez’s spot start, the rotation has pitched to a 2.74 ERA. They’ve only allowed more than three runs twice. No one taking the ball to start a game has laid an egg. Wil Crowe, Erick Fedde, Sterling Sharp, Tyler Mapes, and Ben Braymer have been really, really good.
But the bullpen has been even better.
Jordan Mills and Jacob Condra-Bogan have yet to allow an earned run. Joan Baez, James Bourque, Aaron Barrett, and Sanchez all have earned run averages under 2.00.
There will be churn in the pitching staff. Injuries will happen. The longer the Nationals’ bullpen is historically bad, the greater the chance that it directly will affect the reliever corps here in Harrisburg.
But for now, the pitching has carried them to such great heights.
New in Town
Conventional wisdom says the jump from High-A to Double-A is the toughest in the minor leagues. But for the Senators, the players who are new to Double-A are not only treading water but flourishing in the deep end of the pool.
Catcher Tres Barrera leads the Eastern League with a .429 batting average and has multi-hit games in five of the 11 games he’s played. Rhett Wiseman is so hot you can’t stop him, you can only hope to contain him. The outfielder is the reigning EL Player of the Week and leads the league in home runs (8) and RBIs (17).
Ian Sagdal is batting only .244, but manager Matt LeCroy pointed to a pivotal at-bat on Thursday night as a prime example of his hitting abilities. During Harrisburg’s rally in the second inning, Sagdal was down 1-2 in the count but singled up the middle to drive in two runs and keep the line moving.
Luis Garcia is struggling…but only against left-handed pitchers. Garcia is batting .295 against righties, while just managing one hit in 13 at-bats versus southpaws.
Those four are collectively batting .323/.372/.574 in the first taste at this level.
From a pitching standpoint, Braymer, Condra-Bogan, Baez, and Taylor Guilbeau have all excelled on the mound.
In other years, Braymer’s first three starts would be a highlight of the young season. Now it’s just par for the course.
It will be interesting to see how the hitters and pitchers adjust after the rest of the league gets a book on them.
Flashing the Leather
Defense in April is typically not pretty. A combination of cold and wet weather conditions along with the first month of the season doesn’t usually bode well for clean baseball. But so far, the game conditions have generally been warmer than usual, and the Senators have been playing in the field like it’s the middle of July.
Harrisburg has been one of the best defensive teams in the league. The Senators are tied with Altoona with the lowest number of errors (6) in the Eastern League. One of those wasn’t even an actual error in the “normal” sense of the word as Spencer Kieboom’s catcher interference last week gets counted as one by the rule book.
Harrisburg has also turned the most double plays, 43, in the league. The solid infield defense has been especially beneficial to ground ball pitchers like Sharp and Mapes.
“Our defense is still playing spectacularly,” LeCroy said. “I think (Drew) Ward’s playing the best defense at third since he’s been in Harrisburg. Sanchie we all know is maybe the best defender in our organization. We’ve done a lot of good things in securing the ball.”
Defensively, 18-year-old Garcia is already Major League ready. Whether at second base or shortstop, Garcia has been better than advertised making the tough plays look routine.
Or the improbable plays, possible.
— Mick Reinhard (@Mayflies) April 19, 2019
— Joel D. Smith (@JoelDReports) April 19, 2019
They’re not going to continue pitching at this level. Batters will slump. But fielding is something that should remain relatively constant for Harrisburg.