The return of the Northwoods League has been a breath of fresh air for fans who have been aching for live sports.
The Rochester Honkers are off to a 2-4 start and they sit three games back behind division-leader Waterloo in the Minnesota-Iowa pod, but the 2020 season has a long way to go. It is so different from anything that we’ve ever seen and, with teams playing just 40 games, every game matters even more than in the past.
There is still plenty of time for the Honkers to get back on track.
Here are five things we’ve learned about the Honkers after a week of games.
Shortstop Robert Moore and first baseman Bryce Matthews have started the season smoking hot. The Arkansas duo have been staples atop the Rochester lineup. Moore is hitting .333 with one double, one homer and four runs driven in. He owns a terrific .414 on-base percentage and has four stolen bases.
Matthews hit a three-run homer to help the Honkers beat Mankato 5-4 on Monday. He’s tied with Tanner Tweedt for the team lead with two home runs. Matthews has struck out a team-high 11 times, but the power more than makes up for the strikeout rate. Plus, he’s played error-free defense.
The pair of Razorbacks have been standouts in the early going and they have no plans of slowing down any time soon.
DENNING IS FLEXING
Connor Denning has gotten a hit in all six games this season. The Campbell University star is 11-for-22 on the year. In each of the last four games, he’s notched at least two hits. Denning has the best batting average (.500) among any player in the Minnesota-Iowa pod.
His patient eye has helped him draw six walks so far. No one has more hits than Denning (11) and no one has scored more runs (7). Manager Deskaheh ‘Bomber’ Bomberry has to love that Denning has put the ball in play at an incredible rate too. He’s struck out just four times in 29 plate appearances.
The Honkers have a team earned run average of 7.26, which just isn't a winning recipe. The Honkers have given up double-digit runs in three of six games and they haven’t held an opponent to less than four runs in a game. Some of the problem lies with control issues. The Honkers have allowed 43 free passes in six games. That’s over seven extra baserunners per game.
Eli Saul, Larson Kindreich, Stone Churby and Kragen Kechely have been phenomenal, though. The quartet has only allowed one earned run combined. But only one other Rochester hurler (Matt Lozovoy) has an ERA of lower than 6.00. Nine pitchers have an ERA above 6.00.
One could point to the rust of just starting back up after a quarantine. Bomberry’s a life-long pitching coach, and so he’ll work to get the Rochester pitching staff back on the right track.
DEFENSE WORKING OUT KINKS
Rochester's pitching hasn’t been consistent enough, but the Honkers' pitchers also haven’t had a ton of help. Thirteen Rochester errors have led to eight unearned runs. Good defense and good pitching will win a lot of ballgames. But the Honkers have been average at both to start the season. That’s why they’re 2-4. But as the Honkers begin to mesh and get more comfortable, the defensive issues should start going away. It’s only a matter of time.
SACRAMENTO SQUAD SHOWING OUT
The Honkers' roster is littered with talent from California. Saul, Tweedt, Churby, Bryce Begell, Steven Moretto and Jack Zalasky all played their college ball in Sacramento and are spending their summers in Minnesota. Tweedt and Begell played under Bomberry at Sacramento City College. Churby, Moretto, Saul and Zalasky all played for Sacramento State University.
Tweedt has cranked two homers and owns a sparkling .333 batting average. Moretto has driven in four runs. Churby and Saul have been two of the biggest bright spots among the Honkers' pitchers. Churby’s allowed just one hit in 6 1/3 innings. He’s fanned four and allowed just one earned run. Saul has yet to give up an earned run this season, and he’s tied for the team lead with six strikeouts.
California is stockpiled with baseball talent, and the Honkers are seeing that pipeline pay off.