By PAUL GOTHAM
ROCHESTER, N.Y. — A called third strike ended the game and with that brought to a close the 2018 Rochester Red Wings season. A campaign that started with three postponements, two because of snow, finished during a heat advisory.
The opposites in weather reflected a Wings season which the home nine’s pitchers earned the International League’s team ERA title while the bats brought up the rear with an IL-low team average of .227.
The result was a 64-76 record – the Red Wings first sub-.500 season since going 53-91 in 2011 and added a fifth year since the 2013 club reached the postseason.
“We didn’t score a lot of runs and as a result you have to play almost perfect baseball,” Wing manager Joel Skinner said after Monday’s 4-2 loss to Lehigh Valley in 10 innings. “The guys really pitched well. “You’re never satisfied with how many wins you have, but looking at the whole season there have been a lot of good things that have happened here.”
With a team ERA of 3.39, Rochester edged Pawtucket at 3.43 for the league low. A year ago, Rochester pitchers led the league in ERA going into the final week of the season before dropping to third in the category. This year’s feat bridged a more than four-decade gap marking the first Red Wing club since 1976 to win the ERA title. Joe Altobelli‘s club went 88-50 that year (Altobelli’s last as manager) and reached the playoffs for the sixth straight time.
The difference? Alto’s squad hit .275 and scored 690 runs while allowing 524. The 2018 version of the Wings crossed home just 485 times. The next closest in the IL, Charlotte, scored 533 runs in 139 games. Only five IL organizations since 1979 have scored fewer than 500 runs in a season, and the 1988 Toldeo Mud Hens (433 runs in 142 games) are the only team to score less than the 2018 Wings.
Rochester improved to 42-42 on July 5th with a 6-3 win over Pawtucket. Ten days later, Leonardo Reginatto, a steady infielder with the 2017 club, went on the disabled list and did not return. Two days after that Zack Granite, who hit .340 last season, also went to the DL.
Aaron Slegers, a 15-game winner in 2017, went 5-7 with the Wings this season. The 6-10 right-hander made three appearances with Minnesota this year – his last on July 10th. He too went to the disabled list.
Injuries like those coupled with disappointing free agent singings such as Chris Carter, the 2016 National League home run leader, and Cameron Rupp, a veteran of nearly 300 major-league games, didn’t help.
The subsequent revolving door led to a franchise mark of 36 different position players and 67 overall to appear in games.
“When you’re not happy with how many wins you have in the course of a year, you can start picking up and looking around and trying to find all sorts of reasons,” Skinner said when asked whether the roster changes contributed to the lack of run support. “That’s part of it. Injuries are part of baseball.
“To a certain extent Granite was the one guy that was hurt and Reginatto got hurt. The rest of it was an attrition thing where guys didn’t get off to very good starts and then they were replaced.”
Throughout the roster changes, though, Wings hurlers remained steady. Thirty different hurlers combined for the league-best ERA. Rochester’s bullpen finished with an ERA of 2.69. The relievers combined for a 2.24 ERA in the month of August.
Jake Reed closed the season without allowing an earned run in his last nine appearances (16 innings). Over that stretch, Reed collected 22 strikeouts against six walks (three intentional) with a hit batter and four hits allowed.
“To lead a league in ERA or come close to it and have guys that number to me is a real positive toward the health of our pitchers,” Skinner noted. “A lot of good pitchers have come through here. They go to the major leagues and they get replaced by guys from Double-A.”
Mike Flanagan, Dennis Martinez and Scott McGregor led the 1976 staff which consisted of 14 pitchers. That trio would go on to be a part of the 1983 Orioles team, coached by Altobelli, that won the World Series.
Stephen Gonsalves was tops among 2018 starters finishing 9-3 on the season with a 2.96 ERA. The left-hander struck out 95 and walked 55 in 100-plus innings. Zack Littell logged the most innings at 106. Fernando Romero made 13 starts and finished 5-6.
“Those guys got after it,” They threw the ball over and they have good stuff. They trust their stuff. They put their work in.
With Monday’s loss, Rochester fell to 6-13 in extra-inning games. Kennys Vargas finished 2-for-3 with a walk on the day. His RBI double gave the Wings a 1-0 lead in the first inning.