Rosemont, Ill. – Riding their best ten-game stretch of the season, the Chicago Dogs begin a six-game homestand Friday night as they open a three-game series against Rafael Palmeiro and the Cleburne Railroaders.
The first 1,500 fans through the Impact Field gates Friday will receive a Dogs inaugural season pennant as part of Fan Fridays at Impact Field. Saturday’s game will feature Jimmy Buffett night with post-game fireworks, and girls and boys ages 14 and under can participate in the Top Dog Skills Showcase after Sunday’s finale as part of Family Sundays at Impact Field. Tickets to all three games can be purchased in line at the Impact Field Ticket Office and online at www.thechicagodogs.com/tickets/
The highlight of Cleburne’s roster is 53 year-old Rafael Palmerio, who after 20 years in Major League Baseball, returned to the professional ranks this year for the first time in 13 seasons. Palmeiro, who was a four-time all-star, ranks 13th all-time in MLB in home runs (569), and 17th all-time in RBI (1835). Palmeiro’s son, Patrick, is also on the Cleburne roster.
Chicago enters the series with seven wins in their past ten games thanks to two consecutive victories over the Gary SouthShore RailCats earlier this week. The stretch marks the first time all year that the Dogs have won seven games within a ten game span. The Dogs still find themselves at the bottom of the American Association’s Northern division, but have trimmed their deficit of first place to seven and one half games.
In Cleburne, the Dogs will play host to a team that has also struggled throughout the season. The Railroaders enter the series with a record of 16-27 and sit in fifth place in the American Association’s Southern division. Cleburne lost two of three games earlier this week against the Texas AirHogs.
Much like the Dogs, the Railroaders have struggled mightily this year on the road. At 3-13, Cleburne is the only team in the league with a road winning percentage lower than Chicago’s. The Railroaders hold a team batting average of just .235 on the road and have averaged just 3.3 runs per game away from Cleburne. Cleburne has lost seven straight road games and are just 2-8 in their last ten.
Another area the two teams share in common is their tendency for close games. Cleburne and Chicago have played the second and third most one-runs games in the league, respectively. The Railroaders are 8-9 on the year in one-run games, while Chicago is 8-8. Cleburne has only one victory all season by more than three runs, and just five victories by more than two runs.
Offensively, the Railroaders are a boom or bust club. Cleburne is tied for third in the American Association with 34 home runs but find themselves second to last in the league in team batting average (.245) and slugging percentage (.363). The Railroaders are also tied for the fewest triples in the league with seven, and have hit the fewest doubles with 52. 53 of Cleburne’s 170 runs this year have come by way of the long ball, good for 31 percent.
Adding to Cleburne’s struggles at the dish are their high strikeout totals. The Railroaders lead the American Association with 398 punch outs as a team, good for a full 27 more strikeouts than the next highest team total. The Railroaders have struck out 61 times over their prior six games entering Friday’s series opener.
Individually, Cleburne has the two most strikeout-prone players in the league in Cameron Monger (60) and Levi Scott (59). Patrick Palmeiro is also tied for the seventh most strikeouts in the league with 48. The Railroaders are on pace for 904 strikeouts as team this year, which would break a league-record for punch outs in a single season set by Sioux Falls in 2017 (871).
Pacing the Cleburne offense is Blake Grant-Parks, whose .313 batting average entering play Friday is the only average north of .300 on the Cleburne roster. Grant-Parks is hitting .389 over his past five games with two doubles and three runs batted in. Patrick Palmeiro has also been hot of late, going 10-25 (.400) over his past six games. Palmerio leads the team in RBI with 25, while Scott leads the club in home runs, with seven. Scott has three home runs in his past six games, while Monger has four over his past six. The Railroaders have hit more home runs (6) than any team in the league in the month of July.
The Cleburne pitching staff possesses the opposite characteristics of the team at the plate. The Railroaders have allowed the second fewest home runs of any club in the league with just 24 long balls allowed, but they have issued the second most walks with 173. The Railroaders enter the series with a team earned run average of 4.37, although much like the Dogs, their bullpen has been stronger than their starting rotation. Entering Friday, Cleburne’s starter’s ERA sits at 4.96, while the bullpen ERA is 3.71.
Cleburne starter Jared Mortensen ranks second in the league in earned run average with a 1.98 ERA. The right-hander is also tied for the sixth-most strikeouts in the league with 53, and has issued the third most walks with 23. Mortensen will start game two of the series on Saturday.
For the Dogs, the month of July has seen plenty of offensive fireworks. Chicago is 44-133 (.331) as a team through the first four games of the month. Edwin Arroyo, Treysen Vavra, and Ryan Wagner enter the series against Cleburne with hitting streaks of nine, seven, and seven games, respectively. Arroyo is 15-35 (.439) during his streak, while Vavra and Wagner are batting .444 and .320 respectively during their streaks.
Chicago continues to put the ball in play with frequency. The Dogs enter the series against Cleburne with the fewest walks of any team in the league (121) and the fourth fewest strikeouts (301). The Dogs have walked just three times over their past four games, and have struck out only 20 times in that same span.
On the mound, the Dogs bullpen continues to shine. After Chicago received stellar starting pitching during their three-game sweep of Fargo-Moorhead last weekend, Chicago starters lasted just a combined 15.2 innings over their three-game series with the RailCats earlier this week. However, the Chicago bullpen logged 10.1 innings in the series with Gary, pitching to a 1.74 ERA, and earning a pair of wins and a pair of saves. On the year, Chicago starters hold a 4.85 ERA, while the Dogs bullpen ERA sits at 3.21.
Chicago continues to fair well at home this year, where they have won 11 of their past 15 games. Despite a team batting average of .253 on the year entering Friday, the Dogs have hit .278 as a club at Impact Field. 18 of the 27 Chicago home runs this year have come at home. Vavra leads the Dogs with a .429 average and six home runs this year at Impact Field.
Chicago will send Connor Root to the mound to begin the series Friday against Cleburne left-hander Michael Gunn. Root, who is coming off the disabled list, possesses an ERA of 5.79, and will be making his first start since June 28 in Gary. Saturday’s pitching matchup pits Mortensen against Michael Wagner, while Sunday will see Josh Goossen-Brown get the ball for Chicago against Josh Hodges for Cleburne.
All three games of the series will broadcast at www.thechicagodogs.com/broadcasts/