The fact that the Lehigh Valley IronPigs have the worst offense in the International League is a bit surprising. With proven hitters like Val Pascucci, Andy Tracy and Chris Snelling in their lineup, you had to figure that there would be at least a decent offensive attack from this club. Instead, they're hitting .177 as a team and have scored just nine runs in seven games this season. Brennan King (.227) and Brandon Watson (.310) are the only two players on the team hitting over .180 and the collective on-base percentage of the IronPigs sits at .230 through the first seven games. They've now gone 13.1 innings without scoring a run and have been shutout twice this season.
Watson has been a breath of fresh air for this ailing offense. The leadoff hitter, who had a 43 game hitting streak last season, started the season with a six game hitting streak which was snapped Wednesday night in Pawtucket. Even with the nice average, Watson's OBP is also just at .310 since he hasn't drawn any walks on the season, something that has plagued him throughout his career, but at this point, the Pigs will take whatever Watson can give them. Meanwhile, King has just picked up the pace in the last two games after starting the season hitting .143 (2-for-14).
The IronPigs can take comfort in the fact that they have a strong, steady hand at the helm. Manager Dave Huppert is no stranger to turning around slow starts. It was just two seasons ago that Huppert was managing the Lakewood BlueClaws and saw his team start the year 0-9. Things turned around though and the 'Claws finished the first half of the season at 37-32 and ended up winning the South Atlantic League Championship in 2006. Huppert also guided the Clearwater Threshers to the Florida State League title last season, so he knows how to win. Actually, with his past, it's surprising that Huppert hasn't gotten a shot at managing a Major League team since he can put post-season appearances in five of his last six seasons as a manager, including a third championship leading the Brevard County Manatees to a Florida State League title in 2001. The IronPigs can also take some comfort in the fact that they're playing teams that were pretty good last season and figure to be good again this season. Their first four series feature three playoff teams from last season (Scranton, Richmond and Toledo) and when you throw in the Pawtucket Red Sox, those teams had a combined record of 310-259 in 2007.
As for the heart of Lehigh Valley's order, Snelling, Tracy and Pascucci are hitting a combined .159 (10-for-63) this season with just Tracy's solo home run and RBI to show on their stat lines. All three have at least some Major League experience and all three were figured on to provide offense for the 'Pigs this season. Jason Jaramillo, who is one of the top catching prospects in the organization, has also struggled and is hitting just .111 (2-for-18) on the year.
All of the struggling offense has put pressure on the pitching staff to shut down opponents and for the most part, the pitching has been pretty good. The starters (Travis Blackley, Ron Chiavacci, Brian Mazone, J.D. Durbin and J.A. Happ) have posted a combined mark of 4.84 this season, with the bullpen picking up a lot of early work. Chiavacci has been brilliant and now has a 10.1 inning scoreless streak to his credit and a 0.79 ERA to show for his work. In the bullpen, Kevin Beirne, Joe Bisenius, Matt Childers and Gary Knotts have all been strong and form the nucleus of the IronPigs relief corps. Beirne is unscored upon in four innings and Childers hasn't given up a run in two innings of work. Bisenius has a 2.25 ERA in two appearances and Knotts has pitched in three games with a 2.45 season ERA.
The 0-7 start could come to an end Thursday afternoon in Pawtucket, but if it doesn't, the home fans will get a chance to see the team's first win when they return to the Lehigh Valley for their first official games at Coca-Cola Park. If nothing else, perhaps some home cooking and a friendly environment would give the 'Pigs offense some muscle and the hometown fans a chance to see the franchise's first win when Lehigh Valley hosts Richmond Friday night.