CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The West Virginia Power’s mission entering the second half of the South Atlantic League’s 2014 season is the same as it was entering the second half of 2013 — find a way to improve from the first half and clinch a spot in the league playoffs. The team is just beginning that mission from a distinctly different spot.
Last year, West Virginia finished just 2½ games out of a playoff spot in the first half and went into the second half four games over .500. They surged through the second half and clinched a spot in the postseason. This year, the Power finished the first half a whopping 23 games out of first place and 28 games under .500, last in the Northern Division.
How do a team’s fortunes turn so sharply in the opposite direction after just one year? The answer may lie in a few numbers.
7 — The total of West Virginia’s SAL All-Star Game contingent last season.
0 — The number of players from that total who returned this season.
That’s Minor League Baseball in a nutshell. If a burgeoning star like outfielder Josh Bell or pitcher Tyler Glasnow dominates low-Class A ball, chances are he’ll make his home next season in advanced-A at the very least. Needless to say, most of this season’s roster of the Bradenton Marauders, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ advanced-A affiliate, is comprised of the players that made West Virginia so successful last season.
4.47, 10; 424, 14 — The Power’s team ERA and its rank in the 14-team SAL, and its total strikeouts thrown and its league rank.
West Virginia’s pitching struggles are evident. Four Power pitchers have at least 11 starts this season. None of them have an earned run average lower than 3.67. Two of the four have and ERA above 5.00. And the guy who walked into the season considered the team’s best hurler, Luis Heredia, spent nearly two months on the disabled list with shoulder problems. Last season’s team was anchored by Glasnow, who threw 164 strikeouts in 24 starts.
How much has West Virginia’s batting helped overcome its pitching issues?
.255, 8 — The Power’s first-half batting average and its SAL ranking, tied with Hickory. Not spectacular, but not awful. But then …
12, 13, 13, 14 — The Power’s league ranking in doubles, RBI, home runs and triples, respectively.
Last year’s Power team finished the season fifth in home runs and third in RBI. This year’s Power team isn’t living up to its nickname. So what gives? Here’s a possible culprit …
3 — The number of Power outfielders on Baseball America’s list of the top 15 players in the Pirates system under age 25 – Austin Meadows, Harold Ramirez and Barrett Barnes.
40 — The total combined games the three have played this season out of a possible 204.
Ramirez spent some time on the DL this year, but has done his part when he’s been healthy. He batted .291 with 12 doubles in 36 games. Barnes played four games this year before another trip to the DL, where he spent a sizable chunk of last season. Meadows was called up to the Power on May 30, but placed immediately on the disabled list and has yet to play a game for West Virginia. Following the Power’s first-half-ending loss to Delmarva, manager Michael Ryan said both Meadows and Barnes could still be a couple of weeks away from seeing the field. There’s plenty of talent there for the Power, the injury bug just doesn’t always make it available.
And if there’s anything that can give the Power and its fans some hope for the second half, its that the team can get healthier. Heredia had his most effective outing of the year on the last day of the first half and said afterward it was the best he’s felt all season. Now the rest of the pitching staff behind him has to rebound.
As for West Virginia’s bats, a few hitters are showing promise. Erich Weiss is the team’s only above-.300 hitter, but Ramirez is coming along and shortstop JaCoby Jones is tied for 10th in the league with eight home runs. Catcher Reese McGuire enjoyed a 19-game hitting streak in the first half and smacked a triple in the SAL All-Star Game. If Meadows and Barnes can get healthy, their offensive talents should boost the entire team.
Could there be a second-half Power turnaround significant enough to vault the team into playoff contention? Perhaps, but such a reversal would have to be so extreme it might induce whiplash. If anything, an improved second half at Applachian Power Park would provide the home crowd something fun to watch. There wasn’t much of that in West Virginia’s 7-26 first-half home record.
If some of the aforementioned numbers start trending in the right direction, that should give the Power faithful a few more opportunities to head home happy. It probably would lead to a few more smiles in the locker room, the manager’s office and Pirates headquarters as well.