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July 15, 2014 7:46 am

COLUMN LIKE I SEE 'EM: Talking yourself into the Pioneers’ title chances

Written by Dante Geoffrey

Hayden Cragoe winds up to throw to first base from shortstop during a game against the Glendive BlueDevils July 7 in Powell. Cragoe played short, second base, first base and center field and left fileld during the Pioneers’ 0-5 run over the weekend. Cragoe has yet to throw a pitch this season and would provide a huge boost to Powell’s rotation if he were able to return to the hill during the district or state tournaments. Hayden Cragoe winds up to throw to first base from shortstop during a game against the Glendive BlueDevils July 7 in Powell. Cragoe played short, second base, first base and center field and left fileld during the Pioneers’ 0-5 run over the weekend. Cragoe has yet to throw a pitch this season and would provide a huge boost to Powell’s rotation if he were able to return to the hill during the district or state tournaments. Tribune photo by Dante Geoffrey

Steve Young is a terrible baseball coach.

No, not that Steve Young. The one that coached my Minors Division Little League team when I was 9 years old.

That season was so miserable I can’t even remember our team name. I want to say the Cubs, but that might be just because I felt like a loser.

I was a year younger than the rest of the players on my team (in just one example of his ineptitude coach Young drafted me to his Minors team when I should have been playing in Junior Minors) and I rarely played.

The experience of that season made me never want to play baseball again — and I didn’t.

Since that time some 16 years ago my baseball knowledge has developed only as an observer, not a player. I do not know the game like a player or ex-player does.

But I do know this: Baseball is about as wacky a sport you’ll find.

Not that it looks wacky, or sounds wacky, or causes wacky reactions when you tell people how much you love it. But its absurd, arbitrary and largely unpredictable nature sometimes makes it a sport not even worth trying to understand.

For instance, right now the Pioneers are mired in a season-long slump.*

The team is seven games below .500, out of contention in its division and would be viewed as a longshot at the state tournament — if it were to make it that far.

The best thing Powell has going for it? It’s a baseball team. And baseball teams play baseball, which, aside from being a hell of a lot of fun, means there’s always a chance something that makes absolutely no sense will happen. In a good way.

*Saying the Pioneers are in a season-long slump is true, but kind of stupid. That sentence accurately states a fact but the fact doesn’t mean a whole lot.

Wyoming’s American Legion baseball season is about three months long, nowhere near long enough to accurately gauge a team’s true ability. Powell’s season, which included only four games in May, is even shorter.

That’s not enough time to collect a pool of data large enough for us to say anything with real certainty. The season isn’t long enough for a key player to recover from a relatively minor injury. Three months isn’t long enough for a bell curve to form and educated analysis to develop.

If a MLB player has a torrid two months, he had a hot streak. But is he actually any good? Maybe. Maybe not. In Legion, a hot two months is a good season.

That’s not to say the information we have this late in the season is totally useless, but with relatively few games played there’s an increased chance of a record, a batting average or an ERA totally misguiding us.

Still, the teams with good records are probably good and the teams with bad records are probably bad. But a 25-15 record tells us much less than a 75-45 record even though both equate to a .625 winning percentage.

Somewhere in between the good and the bad (probably shifting toward the “bad” side of the spectrum, if we’re being honest) are the Pioneers. A young roster, constantly changing defensive lineup and an injury-plagued pitching staff have severely limited the Pioneers’ potential.

We haven’t seen this team at its best, and that’s a good thing for fans.

If Powell can advance out of the district tournament (July 23-27 in Cody) then it will have a chance to ride the wings of baseball wackiness to a state title.

The state tournament is five days long. Five days is nothing in baseball. The best team can lose five straight and the worst team can win five straight.

It really is anyone’s game in the tournament, if you have the pitching.

The Pioneers can have the pitching, but it would take a lot of things going right. Cory Heny and Ty Whiteman have shown they’re capable of being a formidable 1-2 punch. An able-shouldered Hayden Cragoe, even if not at 100 percent, would give Powell’s rotation a No. 3 pitcher that no opponent would want to face.

Left-handers Matt Brown and Bryce Wright (if healthy) would likely be called on to start just once, if at all, in the tournament. And one overachieving performance from either would give Powell a huge boost.

The problem might lie with Powell’s offense. The three best Pioneer hitters — Heny, Cragoe and Grady Sanders — are having very good seasons, and that’s actually bad news for Powell’s state hopes. If one or more of Powell’s best hitters were slumping you could look forward to a season-saving return to form.

As it is, you can’t ask much more from them. Cragoe leads the team with a 1.333 OPS, Heny is third at 1.068 and Sanders is right behind with a 1.038.

In second place on the team is Wright, who has registered just 32 plate appearances this season as he’s recovered from an appendectomy and, most recently, an ankle injury.

Wright is one candidate to lengthen the lineup. Others are Jared Wantulok, who leads the team with 10 doubles, Zander Andreasen, who leads Powell with 25 walks and a .557 OBP and Ezra Andreasen, a singles hitter who is batting .333 in 42 at-bats in his first season at the Legion level.

Any or all can get hot at the right time.

The Pioneers have had a rough season. Their record is bad. Their health is bad. Their chances of winning it all are probably pretty bad.

But the record is meaningless if they get in the tournament. Health can improve (Cragoe recently tested his shoulder at shortstop and Wright pinch hit over the weekend) and poor odds didn’t stop five wild card teams from winning the World Series.

As long as the Pioneers are playing baseball, a sport in which anything can happen even if science, God and your mom says it shouldn’t, they’ll have a chance.

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