A little more than three months ago, the RailRiders played their first game to start a campaign that had so much promise.
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre was optimistic heading into the season because not only was the team starting fresh with a new nickname at a revamped PNC Field, there was plenty of potential for the club with players who had a lot of success at one time or another in the minors or Major Leagues.
Fast-forward to today and just 10 players from the Opening Day roster are on the 25-man roster. There have been many ups and downs for the team up until this point. What better time to look back than right now, before the All-Star break.
April’s Ups and Downs
Before the first pitch was thrown, the offense was said to be in good shape with nine players on the Opening Day roster combining to hit 160 home runs during top times at previous stops. But batters started off slow.
The RailRiders began their stay at PNC Field dropping five of their first six games. If that wasn’t bad enough, arch nemesis Pawtucket dealt SWB a season-opening, four-game sweep outscoring the RailRiders 30-12 in those four games.
The bright spots for SWB in those games was Corban Joseph lacing the first hit in team history and Melky Mesa clubbing the first home run; both currently reside on the disabled list. The first RailRiders win was recorded by Ryan Pope, released in May, and the first save went to Preston Claiborne, currently with New York.
Vidal Nuno, who threw the first official pitch for the team getting the nod for the first start, showed he was more than the right choice for Dave Miley and his club. He only had to make four starts for Scranton/Wikes-Barre before New York realized his potential and called him up. The left-hander is currently on the disabled list, but in his four starts prior to getting the ball by the Yankees, he went 2-0 with a 1.44 ERA with 30 strikeouts and just two walks in 25 innings.
On the same day Nuno was promoted, so was catcher Austin Romine. One of the top prospects in the organization was batting .333 for the RailRiders with a home run and four RBI in 14 games (42 at-bats) prior to his call-up.
With April always comes those pesky showers. The RailRiders certainly had enough weather problems during the season’s first month with seven games being postponed due to the weather. They had a span when they didn’t play on four straight days.
Cody Johnson, known throughout his minor league tenure for crushing home runs and striking out, made a little history before being released in May.
During a school-day special in late April, the slugger blasted a home run that the stadium has never seen before when he crushed a ball off the rocks in center field an estimated 450 feet. The shot was said to rival a home run hit by Darryl Strawberry during a game in 1995 when the ballpark was known as Lackawanna County Stadium.
Thanks to a four-game sweep at Charlotte – all doubleheaders – the RailRiders ended the month with a 13-11 mark and appeared to be on the right track.
No-so-merry month of May
After beginning the second month of the campaign with four straight wins at Gwinnett, the RailRiders endured a disastrous spell dropping 18 of their next 25 games to drop into fourth place in the International League North Division, eight games out of first place.
New York rehabbers started to help the RailRiders as well. Curtis Granderson joined Scranton/Wilkes-Barre for five games at PNC Field and reliever Joba Chamberlain had a few appearances.
Injuries in New York led to some highlights for SWB players as Claiborne, Joseph, Brett Marshall and David Adams all made their Major League debuts. Adams’ call-up was perhaps the most unforgettable. He joined the Yankees and made his debut the day he turned 26, May 15 and collected his first Major League hit. Joseph also nabbed his first hit during his debut.
Meanwhile, Dellin Betances moved from the starting rotation to the bullpen. After a few tough outings, Betances has been lights out. After his final start his ERA was 6.00. He entered Saturday with an earned run average of 3.75 this season. In 18 appearances out of the bullpen, he’s been nearly untouchable with a 2.14 ERA and 43 strikeouts in 33 2-3 innings. His last eight relief appearances have been excellent not allowing any runs and just seven hits in 15 innings, while fanning 21 during that time.
The June Swoon
It was a horrible start to June for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre as the RailRiders dropped 12 of 20 to fall to 10 games under .500 with a record of 32-41. It marked the first time the franchise had been that far under the break-even point since the Yankees took over the club in 2007.
That was also one game past the midway point of the season putting the team on pace for just 64 wins, which would be the lowest franchise total since winning 62 in 1994.
More RailRiders went to New York in Zoilo Almonte, Thomas Neal and ace Chris Bootcheck. The roster was in shambles. Triple-A debuts were made by Cody Grice and Dan Fiortito – two players who never played above Single-A in previous seasons.
But help was on the way.
When catcher J.R. Murphy made his Triple-A debut it began a roster overhaul. Veterans David Huff, Randy Ruiz, Corey Patterson, Fernando Martinez, Brent Lillibridge and Mike Zagurski joined the club and led a rejuvenation and seven wins in 10 games to end June.
Sprinkled in the middle of the two stretches was a memorable RailRiders debut by Casey Stevenson. In Game 1 of a doubleheader he homered twice, including a walk-off blast in his first game with the team.
June came to a close with a 15-15 mark to stay within striking distance of a playoff berth.
A hot July start
As the weather swelled up to begin the current month so did the RailRiders. They continued a hot stretch to end June with a more impressive run, starting July reeling off six wins in a row and seven of nine to pull back to .500 for the first time in mid-May. They pulled to within six games of division leader Pawtucket.
Beginning the month, a few players received good news that outfielder Thomas Neal and starting pitcher Chris Bootcheck would participate in the Triple-A All-star game for the International League. They join manager Dave Miley, who will skipper the I.L. club this week.
Of course the biggest highlight so far of July – and well the first half – was the appearance of Future Hall of Famer Derek Jeter, who played four games for the RailRiders at PNC Field.
Where have they gone?
Several players who were thought to be a big part of the club at some point throughout the season are now gone.
Luke Murton, who blasted 25 home runs for Trenton in 2012, and Cody Johnson are now playing independently on different teams. Infielder Gil Velazquez has joined the Marlins organization at Triple-A New Orleans, while left-hander Juan Cedeno is now in the Braves organization with Gwinnett.
Chien-Ming Wang, who had several strong outings for the RailRiders, joined the Blue Jays and is now on Buffalo’s roster and was scheduled to throw against his former team on Saturday.