SIOUX CITY – A relief pitcher who has performed quite well all season, Keith Picht deserved better.
However, the Sioux City Explorers are limping toward the 2017 American Association baseball season’s finish line without so many of the things that help to win games.
And, instead of the applause Picht deserved for blanking the Lincoln Saltdogs for the first four innings Saturday night, he got charged with the first seven runs in a 10-4 loss to the league’s winningest team.
It’s quite a diversified combination of shortcomings that has led to too many drubbings like Lincoln’s blowout verdict in this one, extending Sioux City’s season-worst losing streak to seven games.
There’s the offense that has never totally recovered from a rash of injuries like the X’s have never seen in their 25-year history. There’s the ever-changing defensive lineup the injuries have also impacted, leading to a league-leading 93 errors.
Worst of all, there’s the shortage of arms in the pitching staff that hung Picht out to dry, forcing him to show the league’s winningest team his repertoire one too many times for just about any bullpen specialist.
The third time through the order, suffice it to say, wasn’t pretty as Lincoln’s North Division leaders erupted for three runs in the fifth inning and four more in the sixth, adding another three runs over the next two frames.
It was a win that improved the record for Manager Bobby Brown’s team to a league-best 52-30. Also, with 18 games remaining, the Saltdogs’ lead in the Central Division improved to 5.5 games as Kansas City, 48-37, moved back in front of Gary SouthShore for second place in the division and first in the wild-card playoff chase.
Tyler Ogle’s second-inning home run gave the Explorers a 1-0 lead that actually held up while Picht retired 11 in a row after retiring the first Lincoln batter in the fifth. Brandon Jacobs’ double was followed by a routine fly ball for the second out. However, when Picht walked Ivan Marin, the No. 9 batter with a .220 average, it flipped the lineup and set the table for disaster.
Lincoln leadoff man Joe Robbins continued to swing a hot bat, launching a two-run double that centerfielder Tony Campana couldn’t chase down, and then Cesar Valera’s bloop single made it a 3-1 lead for the visitors.
Forced back to work in the sixth, Picht logged on long out before failing to retire the last four batters he faced, surrendering a two-run double to Jacobs and a two-run homer to Brent Dean, whose second and third round-trippers of the season have come in the last two nights.
Nathaniel Maggio added a two-run homer off Brad Orosey in the seventh inning and the Saltdogs tacked another their 10th and final run in the eighth.
The Explorers, who’ve tumbled from 39-39 to 39-46, wasted back-to-back singles to start the fourth inning and then trailed 7-1 by the time they got something else going again in the sixth inning. Base hits by LeVon Washington, Ogle and Eudor Garcia put two runs on the board and three straight two-out singles in the ninth added a final run for the X’s.
The series finale today at 6:05 p.m. closes out what could become a winless six-game homestand. That will leave 14 games on the schedule, with only six more at home. After a day off Monday, a six-game road trip gets under way Tuesday night in Winnipeg, the North Division leader and the league’s defending champ.