Aug 05, 2009 Russ Tarby Uncategorized
Can Syracuse Chiefs rise above the challenge of its revolving-door roster?
Since the 2009 International League season started, the Syracuse Chiefs have made 110 transactions in 112 days. Promotions, demotions, injuries and outright releases are not uncommon in minor-league baseball, and the Chiefs have certainly seen their share of all of the above.
Within the past week alone, the hometown nine lost three of its best players: On July 29 outfielder Corey Patterson opted for his release, and on Aug. 1 the parent Washington Nationals recalled power-hitter Elijah Dukes and power-pitcher Jorge Sosa.
Despite the revolving-door roster, the Chiefs have hung on to second place in the league’s North Division, trailing the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees by less than three games.
So Chiefs fans — who have n’t seen a playoff game in 11 seasons — retain reasonable hopes for post-season baseball at Alliance Bank Stadium for the first time since 1998.
That year the Buffalo Bisons swept the Chiefs 3-0 in the first round.
Syracuse’s last league championship was 33 years ago, in 1976, when the club was still affiliated with the Yankees.
Wild card spot?
If the 2009 Chiefs hold on to overcome Scranton for the North Division pennant or nail down the wild card playoff spot, they’ll do it with a cast of characters who hardly know each other.
Just four of the 13 Chiefs who played in the April 9 home opening loss to Rochester remain on the roster — heavy hitters Brad Eldred, Kory Casto, Justin Maxwell and Pete Orr.
Sitting on the bench that day was Jorge Padilla, a 29-year-old outfielder who soon emerged as the sparkplug of this year’s squad. The fleet-footed Puerto Rican all-star leads the league with a .365 batting average and boasts a .410 on-base percentage.
Padilla, who celebrates his 30th birthday on Aug. 11, rarely strikes out, bunts beautifully, has socked 23 extra-base hits and has stolen 14 bases so far this season. Padilla hit safely in 018 straight games from mid-June through July 6, recording the Chiefs’ longest hitting streak of 2009.
With solid swatters like Padilla, Eldred, Casto and Maxwell all in a producing mode along with former Mariner Mike Morse, all-star second baseman Seth Bynum and Triple-A veteran Mike Vento, the Chiefs can expect to plate plenty of runs down the stretch.
But pitching is the key to winning. A lineup that scores five or six runs a game isn’t worth much if the pitchers routinely allow seven or eight runs in the same game.
And, having lost big guns like Sosa, Collin Balester, Craig Stammen and Garrett Mock to D.C., pitching remains a huge question mark for the Chiefs.
The team’s ace-by-default is Mexican right-hander Marco Estrada, 5-4 with an unenviable 4.34 ERA. He leads the staff with 75 strikeouts as compared to 24 walks over 93 innings. The rotation also includes 22-year-old righty Shairon Martis (4.68 ERA), lefties Ross Detwiler (3.18) and Horacio Ramirez (5.67), and 6-foot-7 right-hander Andrew Kown (3.70).
Pitching is key
Pitching coach Rich Gale, manager Tim Foli and catchers Gus Molina and Johnatan Solano must light a fire under those starters ASAP. Same goes for the Chiefs equally shaky bullpen with veterans such as southpaw Dave Williams and right-hander Saul Rivera plus rookie righties Josh Wilkie and Zech Zinicola.
If these under-achieving hurlers can be transformed into champions over the next couple weeks, the Chiefs will finally have a chance to vie for the Governor’s Cup once again.
Home games are scheduled Aug. 11-15 against Toledo and Rochester, 18-19 against Buffalo, 22-25 against Durham, 28-29 against Lehigh Valley.
The division race could be decided here Aug. 30-31 and Sept. 1 with games against first-place Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. The Chiefs conclude the 2009 home season Sept. 6-7 against the Pawtucket Red Sox.
Alliance Bank Stadium is located on Syracuse’s North Side, just east the Regional Market. Ticket prices range between $4 and $10; parking costs $4 per vehicle; 474-7833; syracusechiefs.com.