SIOUX CITY – What’s wrong with the offense is a mystery to Sioux City manager Steve Montgomery.
One thing’s for certain, though: Personnel changes are all but inevitable for the Sioux City Explorers, who dropped a 3-2 verdict Tuesday night to the Lincoln Saltdogs and have failed to score more than three runs in 16 of their first 25 games.
All-time Sioux City hits leader Michael Lang reached 600 hits with a game-tying homer in the first inning, but the Explorers managed only one additional run against two pitchers that certainly looked vulnerable.
Lincoln, rebounding from a 2-1, 12-inning loss in Monday’s series opener, snapped a 2-2 tie with a run in the top of the fourth inning and that would be all the scoring as pitching continued to dominate the first two games of this four-game series.
Pitching certainly hasn’t been the cause of Sioux City’s frustrating 9-16 start. This was the 12th time the X’s held an opponent to three runs or less.
“If you’re holding teams to three runs or less, you should win ball games,’’ said Montgomery, the sixth-year Sioux City skipper whose teams have had the American Association’s best record at 246-154 over the last four seasons.
X’s starter Taylor Jordan, the former major leaguer who was coming off a three-hit shutout last Thursday in Winnipeg, gave up base hits to Lincoln’s second and third hitters of the game. Jordan then fell behind 1-0 when Cody Regis’ infield groundout brought Christian Ibarra home from third base.
Kyle Wren led off the home half of the inning on a base hit, but the five-year Class AAA veteran was gunned down attempting to steal before Lang’s game-tying homer on a 1-2 pitch.
Lincoln regained a 2-1 lead in the third-inning with a one-out walk to newly acquired Auggie Francis and a run-scoring double by Ibarra.
Sioux City again evened it up in the next half-inning on rookie Sebastian Zawada’s homer, but the Saltdogs came back in the top of the fourth with a one-out round-tripper by John Sansone, regaining a 3-2 advantage.
Shairon Martis, a fellow ex-big leaguer, was Jordan’s counterpart for Lincoln, coming off the disabled list after three weeks and lasting four innings. Ricky Knapp, who has made four starts, came on in relief for the first time and got credit for the win after working five shutout innings to finish up, allowing just three hits.
The only late three came in the eighth inning, when Wren led off with a base hit, the third hit of the night for the son of former Atlanta Braves and Baltimore Orioles general manager Frank Wren.
Wren, though, was on the run when Lang’s bouncer went directly to Sansone, the second baseman, who quickly triggered a clutch 4-6-3 double play that foiled the threat.
“If we do a straight steal there, nobody was covering the base, both infielders froze,’’ said Montgomery, lamenting his team’s tough luck on the play. “The second baseman should have been covering and we hit it right to ‘em.’’
“We’re last in the league (in runs scored), don’t even count Texas,’’ said the X’s manager, whose team ranks 11th in the 12-team league with 108 runs. Take away an 18-3 rout of hapless Texas on May 30 and they’ve scored 90 runs in 24 games – just 3.75 a game after scoring a league-leading 6.29 per contest last season.