Dragon Tales: The Season Begins Anew Pt. 2, The Dayton Dragons

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As we near game time for the opening tilt between the Dayton Dragons and the Lansing Lugnuts you might ask what are the Dragons chances not only in this series but throughout the playoffs.  They have the best record for the full season and were dominant throughout the second half of the season after finishing the first half at an even 35-35.  This is the fifth playoff appearance in the Dragons 12 year history.  Twice they escaped the first round only to fall in the 2nd round of the playoffs.  But this year is different.  As I mentioned in the companion piece to this article highlighting the Lansing Lugnuts the Cincinnati Reds front office decided to keep the Dragons together to develop chemistry among the team.  The experiment is working.  So with the season ready to reboot itself, what do the Lugnuts have to look forward to?

The offense of the Dragons is multifaceted, balanced and explosive.  The can beat you playing an opportunistic style of baseball, “smallball” if you will, with the one man whirlwind known as Billy Hamilton.  Billy has had a year unequaled in Reds history.  Never before has one player in the Reds organization stolen 100 bases.  Billy stole 103.  It isn’t just the bases he steals that cripple the opposition.  It is the fear he instills in pitchers and catchers who know what he intends to do.  I will site two examples though there are probably more than 50.  On September 3rd, the day Billy stole 3 bases to reach 100 for the season, Billy lead off the game with a double.  On the first pitch to Brandon Dailey, who incidentally was playing his first game for the Dragons, Billy broke for third base and the Lansing Lugnuts catcher Carlos E. Perez whipped the ball to third base and on into left field.  In essence Hamilton hit an inside the park home run it just took an extra pitch to get there.  The second instance is one I had the pleasure to witness August 19th.  The Dragons were coming to bat in the bottom of the 8th inning trailing 2-1 to the Great Lakes Loons and Hamilton walked to start the inning.  He stole stole second and as he took his lead to third the pitcher attempted a pickoff move and threw the ball into center field allowing Billy to reach third where he promptly scored on Ronald Torreyes’ ground out to second to tie the game which the Dragons went on to win with a two out double by Kurtis Muller and a bloop single to drive him in by Chris Berset.  The final score was 3-2 yet the Dragons manufactured these three runs on just three hits.

On the other hand the Dragons also hit for power.  Both Donald Lutz and David Vidal have hit 20 home runs this year and as a team the Dragons hit 93 round trippers.  They have a team OPS of .722 second in the league behind the Quad Cities squad who are also in the playoffs.  The lead the league in batting average (.264), runs scored (696), RBI (626), triples (45), and of course stolen bases (228).  Like the Lugnuts they are free swingers striking out 1144 times, second only to Lansing.

The Dragons earned a special distinction in the MidWest League this year that must make them a favorite to win the League championship.  The not only had the best batting average in the league they also led the way with the lowest ERA at just 3.39.  In addition the pitching staff compiled the most strikeouts (1292), wins (83), shutouts (14), while giving up the least runs (543) and earned runs (455).

5 pitchers still on the roster made this success happen.  Two starters and three relievers.  The starters are tonight’s starting pitcher and staff ace Daniel Corcino.  Daniel is compared to Johnny Cueto in that he is relatively small standing in at under 6′ tall and yet throws a fastball in the mid 90s with movement.  He finished second in the league in strikeouts with 156 on the year.  What makes the Lansing decision to host the last two games of the series interesting is that Corcino is a much better pitcher at home than on the road.  In the friendly confines of Fifth/Third Field he sports a 10-2 record with a 2.05 ERA in 16 starts while on the road his numbers are much more pedestrian with a 1-5 record and a 5.75 ERA in 12 starts.  Opening the series at home gives him his comfort zone and a decided advantage.  Also please note the lone road win that Corcino did record came just 16 days ago against these Lansing Lugnuts.  On the season he was 2-0 vs the Lugnuts allowing 3 runs in 12 innings of work for a 2.25 ERA and 14 strikeouts.

You expect pitchers to excel at home but the Dragons will send Josh Smith to the mound tomorrow night in Lansing and he has a 9-3 record on the road compared to a 5-2 record at home so for him the road is just fine.  In the bullpen the Dragons have a number of excellent relievers starting with closer Drew Hayes who led the league with 22 saves and recorded an ERA of just 1.35. Supporting him is Daniel Wolford (7-1, 1.46 ERA, 1 save) and Blaine Howell (3-1, 1.91 ERA, 9 saves).  combined these three pitchers have thrown 193.2 innings and struck out 232 batters.  Facing the worst defense in the division, the Dragons will be a formidible challenge for the Lugnuts.

Follow me tonight on Twitter @JohnHeitz as I tweet throughout tonight opening game.