HILLARY SMITH: RailCats need to tack with winds of change

2013-07-07T18:00:00Z 2013-07-07T19:59:41Z HILLARY SMITH: RailCats need to tack with winds of changeHillary Smith Times Columnist nwitimes.com
July 07, 2013 6:00 pm  • 

A mere week ago the RailCats were basking in the glory of 10 wins in 11 days.

Just seven days later, they dropped three games in a four-game series to sub-.500 Sioux City -- a fellow Central Division team -- and lost their closer to the San Diego Padres.

Thanks to a similar fate by the Wichita Wingnuts, the RailCats remain within striking distance of first place in the Central Division as the halfway point of the season sneaks closer.

By the time the 'Cats leave Winnipeg for the last games this season against their old Northern League compatriots they'll have hit the 50-game mark.

This year is a little different for the RailCats, who will finish the season with just 99 games, instead of the 100 originally scheduled by the American Association. The June 12 rain out with no makeup against Quebec makes remaining games going forward that much more important to win.

With a half-game potentially deciding a wild card fate or a slot in the postseason, winning more games than the next closest team is crucial.

Here's the problem: in the wild card race, the 'Cats are a mere half game ahead of Amarillo, the next closest team.

Against other Central Division teams, the RailCats are 15-10, thanks mostly to a 6-1 record against Kansas City this season. They're 4-3 against leader Wichita and 2-2 against No. 3 Lincoln. Behind this latest series loss, they're 3-4 against No. 4 Sioux City.

It's not just winning series, but winning series against division teams that will make the difference in August.

What could make a difference now is to find a closer.

The RailCats have proven to be a late-inning winner.

Clay Zavada, whose contract was bought by the San Diego Padres last week, had six wins, which was tied for second-most in the league.

A closer with six wins indicates the number of games his team won late.

To win those late, they also needed a pitcher on the mound with confidence. His three runs allowed in 16 1/3 innings were every indication that he was the cool, calm and collected that the 'Cats needed on the mound. His 18 strikeouts also breeds confidence in the players on the field.

For the RailCats to continue winning in the manner that they see fit – late in the game – a closer will have to step up who can maintain that air of confidence.

The other option is to redefine the team in the next 50 games of the season.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach her at hillary.smith@nwi.com.

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