The top teams in the Rock River League will be playing a game of musical chairs over the next few weeks.
Half the regular season is in the books, with Hustisford, Neosho and Clyman having emerged as the frontrunners so far.
Lebanon and Milton follow close behind.
But one of those teams is going to be the odd man out come playoff time. There are only four postseason berths available this year in the Southern Division.
Hustisford (5-1 RRL) holds a 1/2-game lead over Neosho (5-2 RRL) and Clyman, while Lebanon (4-2 RRL) and Milton (4-3 RRL) are each within 2 games of first place.
“There’s not a team that’s head and shoulders above,” Milton manager Doug Welch said Sunday. “Hustisford’s been the team that’s playing best, but I don’t know if that’s going to bear out. It’s still going to be that scrum.”
Milton owns the third-best team ERA in the Southern Division, 2.25, and has held opposing hitters to a .204 batting average. That’s even with early-season standout Drew Freitag missing the last few weeks with a wrist injury.
Alex Marro is 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA and 1.12 WHIP, while TJ Klawitter (2.25 ERA) and Sam McCann (3.75 ERA) have both put up good numbers, too.
Milton’s pitchers have combined for a 1.05 WHIP, tied with Clyman for the Southern Division lead.
The team’s pitching has been excellent, and should get even better once Freitag returns.
But the Raptors have been up and down offensively. Almost three quarters of the team’s runs came in two games—an 18-0 rout of last-place Farmington on May 26 and an 11-5 win over Johnson Creek on June 16.
Take those results away and the Raptors are averaging only 2.2 runs per game.
Milton ranks fourth in the Southern Division in on-base percentage (.377) and fifth in slugging percentage (.316). The Raptors lead the division in one offensive category—walks (37).
Fielding a consistent lineup during the summer can be tricky. Like many teams, the Raptors have to work with the players who show up.
“Every team has to fight that bear,” Welch said. “If you can get some consistency with your lineup, where guys are coming every week and taking BP, you get into a rhythm.”
Even with the revolving-door lineup, the Raptors have been remarkably competitive. Milton’s three league losses have been by a combined four runs.
Take the example of the Raptors’ 2-0 loss to Lebanon on Sunday (their largest loss of the season, by the way). The absences of key starters Freitag and Sam and Sean McCann depleted the team’s bench. Freitag would have started in center field or pitched and hit leadoff, Welch said.
Just that one hole causes a ripple effect. Now multiply that by three or four absences.
“It turns into a perfect storm,” Welch said after the game, one in which the Raptors struck out 21 times against Lebanon’s Matt Sabel. “Last week, we put 11 runs on the board. Today we showed up with four different guys in the lineup."
The Raptors should get some reinforcements back soon. They control their own playoff destiny, with four of their final seven league games coming against teams above them in the standings.
“We show up with a little better offense than we did today and we’re going to beat anybody,” Welch said Sunday.
Albion rolling in HTL
A wealth of pitching depth and a versatile lineup has the Albion Tigers tied with Stoughton atop the Home Talent League’s Southeast Section.
Both teams are 7-1.
Jake Zeimet, Jake Taylor, Charlie Hatlen, Lucas Gregory and Josh Eastman have each been credited with a win already this season for Albion. Collectively, they’ve been great, posting a 2.28 ERA and 1.37 WHIP in eight games.
Zeimet leads the team with three wins, Taylor owns a shiny 1.04 ERA in 17 1/3 innings and Hatlen and Eastman both have ERAs under 3.00.
Gregory, a 2014 Edgerton High graduate who logged over 100 innings during a four-year college career at UW-Oshkosh, has not given up an earned run in 11 1/3 innings.
“We’ve used five guys in meaningful innings already,” Albion manager Matt Towns said Sunday. “And we’ve got a whole bunch of guys and athletes who are willing to play different positions.
“Nobody makes it to every game, so what it takes are guys to fill in and be flexible.”
Adam Gregory is hitting .300 and leads Albion in home runs (2) and RBI (9). Matthew Klubertanz (.382 OBP, 7 RBI) and Hatlen (.320 avg.) are also off to strong starts offensively.
The Tigers have won five straight games since losing to Fort Atkinson, 2-1, on May 27. A date with Stoughton looms Sunday—the only scheduled meeting between the co-leaders this season. Albion will host third-place Evansville a week later (July 7).
“The schedule the next few weeks is going to be the difference between fighting for first or fighting for third or fourth,” Towns said.
Albion and Stoughton hold a 1 1/2-game lead over Jefferson, Evansville and Fort Atkinson entering the second half of the regular season. The top four teams advance to the postseason.