Railroaders facing Chicago Dogs in East Division Series
Cleburne faces second-place Chicago in first round of 2023 Wolff Cup Playoffs after clinching final East playoff spot with tie-breaker over Lake Country
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Game one of the East Division Series begins at 7:06 p.m. Wednesday at La Moderna Field in Cleburne. Game two and game three, if necessary, will be at Impact Field in Rosemont, Illinois.
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Chicago beat Cleburne in nine of the 12 games they played against each other over two six-game series in 2023. Chicago finished second in the East Division while Cleburne finished in fourth place.
I think it’s an understatement to say Cleburne is the underdog in this series, but I don’t think Cleburne’s defined by its recent struggles. Getting hot at the right time, like Chicago seems to have done, matters, but I think Cleburne’s offense is more than capable of leading this team past Chicago.
Cleburne led the American Association with 620 runs scored, ranked second with 136 home runs and fourth with a .271 team batting-average while Chicago ranked fourth with 572 runs scored, tied for fifth with 108 home runs and third with a .275 team batting-average in 2023.
Cleburne’s Jose Sermo, a 2023 All-Star, led the league with 28 home runs in 2023 along with 77 RBIs and a .273 batting average.
All-Star Zach Nehrir led Cleburne with 81 runs scored and 80 RBIs as he hit .289 with 15 home runs. Nehrir won the 2023 American Association Home Run Derby.
Rookie Bret Boswell led Cleburne with a .318 batting average as he hit 14 home runs and drove in 43 runs in 37 games for Cleburne in 2023.
Chicago’s Josh Altmann led the league with 88 RBIs and finished second behind Sermo with 26 home runs to lead Chicago and hit .290 in 2023.
Chicago’s pitching staff led the league with 876 strikeouts and finished fourth with a 4.50 team ERA while Cleburne ranked fifth with 783 strikeouts and ninth with a 5.23 team ERA.
Cleburne heads into the series after struggling down the final stretch of the regular season, losing its last four series and going 16-24 since the All-Star break. Cleburne clinched the final East playoff spot over the Lake Country Dockhounds (46-54) with a tie-breaking 7-5 record over Lake Country in 2023.
Chicago brings a three-game win streak into the series and has won four of its last five series.
While the starters haven’t been announced, due in Cleburne’s rotation is Kevin Hilton (7-5), who led Cleburne in wins and finished with a 4.48 ERA and struck out 52 batters through 106 and 1/3 innings in 2023.
Hilton took the loss in his last start after surrendering eight earned runs through one and 2/3 innings pitched in Cleburne’s 9-6 loss to the Lincoln Saltdogs Thursday.
Due in Chicago’s rotation is Steven Lacey (2-1), who finished with a 3.12 ERA through 31 and 2/3 innings in 2023.
Tyler Palm (8-4), Chicago’s leader in pitching wins and innings pitched (105) could also be available to start as he hasn’t pitched since he shut out the Gary SouthShore Railcats through six innings in Chicago’s 5-2 victory August 25.
Elsewhere in the East Division Playoffs, the first-place Milwaukee Milkmen (56-44) faces the third-place Kane County Cougars (49-51) in a best-of-three series, with the winner playing the winner of the Cleburne/Chicago series. Milwaukee, finishing in first place, elected to play Kane County instead of Cleburne or Chicago in the first round.
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