Blue Crabs re­flect back on 2016 sea­son

Blue Crabs re­flect on tough 2016 cam­paign

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By AJ MA­SON aj­ma­son@somd­news.com

In 2015, the South­ern Mary­land Blue Crabs were just two wins away from cap­ping off a his­toric sea­son, fall­ing to the Som­er­set Pa­tri­ots in four games in the best-of-five game At­lantic League cham­pi­onship series.

How­ever in 2016, it would be a much tougher sea­son as the Blue Crabs failed to earn a play­off berth in the team’s ninth sea­son in fran­chise his­tory.

Un­der man­ager Jeremy Owens, South­ern Mary­land fin­ished with a 57-83 over­all record. The sea­son’s first half re­sulted in a 26-44 mark, a last place fin­ish in the four-team At­lantic League Free­dom Di­vi­sion stand­ings. The sec­ond half fea­tured a stronger out­ing, but the Blue Crabs still fin­ished last in the di­vi­sion with a record of 31-39.

De­spite com­ing up short of a lofty play­off spot, Owens and the Blue Crabs were happy to have made a push to­wards of the end of the reg­u­lar sea­son. At one point in the sea­son’s sec­ond half, they were just four games back out of first place in the di­vi­sion.

“As rough as the sea­son was, the guys didn’t stop play­ing,” said Owens, whose team fin­ished the sec­ond half eight games be­hind Free­dom Di­vi­sion sec­ond-half cham­pion Sugar Land, which swept the Blue Crabs to close out the reg­u­lar sea­son. “We had hopes of get­ting to the play­offs this sea­son, but we dug our­selves a hole in games and could not come up enough on the win­ning end. I’m proud of how ev­ery­one just kept grind­ing and I can’t ask for any­thing more.”

While South­ern Mary­land had its strug­gles, there were mem­o­rable high­lights, play­ers who were among the league lead­ers in sev­eral

cat­e­gories and league records that were bro­ken.

The Blue Crabs had five play­ers se­lected to rep­re­sent the Free­dom Di­vi­sion in the At­lantic League All-Star Game in July: Left-handed start­ing pitcher Brian Bur­res, first base­man Michael Sny­der, third base­man Bryant Nel­son, out­fielder Ja­mar Wal­ton and right-handed closer Cody Ep­p­ley. Free­dom was man­aged by 2015 Blue Crabs man­ager Stan Cliburn, who man­aged the Lib­erty Di­vi­sion New Bri­tain Bees and won his 1,600th game as a man­ager dur­ing the sea­son. The Bees, a first-year fran­chise, fin­ished with a 71-69 over­all record, 35-35 sec­ond half, fin­ish­ing four games be­hind Som­er­set, the Lib­erty Di­vi­sion’s sec­ond-half cham­pion.

Nel­son, a 42-year-old league vet­eran, broke two league records this sea­son. He claimed the all-time hits record on Aug. 3 ver­sus Lan­caster and fin­ished the year with 1,096 hits. Then on Sept. 12 ver­sus New Bri­tain, Nel­son set the new all­time games played mark, which now stands at 1,013 at sea­son’s end. He reached 1,000 ca­reer hits on June 2 and played in his 1,000th ca­reer game on Sept. 6.

“It was a very in­ter­est­ing year for me,” Nel­son said. “Per­son­ally I had a pretty good sea­son break­ing some records and mak­ing the all-star team for the fourth time in the last five sea­sons. This is the first time since 2010 that I haven’t been in the play­offs, I don’t like go­ing out on the bot­tom, but I met some re­ally good peo­ple this year that will be friends for life, in­clud­ing Steve Lom­bar­dozzi. I think this sea­son helped me re­al­ize that coach­ing and help­ing play­ers is def­i­nitely in my fu­ture.”

Af­ter get­ting off to a slow start early in the sea­son, Blue Crabs in­fielder Zach Wil­son turned it for the rest of the sea­son and re­ceived the Bill Wootan Most Valu­able Player Award pre­sented by the team’s booster club.

Wil­son, who was third in the league in dou­bles with 34 along with a teamhigh 70 RBIs on the sea­son, hit a tow­er­ing grand slam in an 8-5 home win over the Som­er­set Pa­tri­ots on Aug. 30. It was the only grand slam on the sea­son by a Blue Crab.

Sny­der, the team’s cleanup hit­ter, made his pres­ence felt around the league as he fin­ished third in the league with 25 home runs, to go along with a team-high .304 bat­ting av­er­age. He was just two be­hind Sugar Land’s Jeremy Barfield, the league’s home run cham­pion.

“This past sea­son was by far the most fun I have had play­ing pro­fes­sional base­ball,” Sny­der said. “I learned more in the past year than the past four years. There’s no bet­ter way to learn the game then to learn from my guys with ex­pe­ri­ence in ev­ery level. It was a rough year record-wise, but the bond we had as a team was the strong­est I had ever been apart of. It’s ex­tremely un­for­tu­nate that we didn’t make the play­offs and con­tinue play­ing but that’s part of the game.”

Blue Crabs in­field­ers Angel Sanchez, Eric Gar­cia and out­fielder Gary Brown each came on strong of­fen­sively.

Sanchez bat­ted .280 with seven homers, Gar­cia col­lected 114 hits with a .261 bat­ting av­er­age. Brown had 100 hits on the sea­son and scored 62 runs and had a sea­son-best game at the plate, go­ing 6 for 6 in a nine-in­ning game Sept. 9 with two dou­bles, three RBIs and four runs scored.

The Blue Crabs start­ing pitch­ers also had a strong cam­paign, spear­headed by Bur­res and Brian Gren­ing.

Bur­res fin­ished tied for sec­ond with York’s James Sim­mons in league wins with 11 and was fourth with 139 strike­outs. Gren­ing fin­ished with 10 wins on the sea­son, tied for fourth in the league, and had the third-low­est ERA in the league at 3.09.

“I re­ally en­joyed the group of guys we had,” Gren­ing said. “Not happy about the out­come and the missed op­por­tu­ni­ties to make the play­offs. It was great play­ing for JO [Owens] and would like the op­por­tu­nity in the fu­ture. Thank you Blue Crab fans.”

Bur­res added, “I thought we had a good team. We just could never put it all to­gether at once.”

Starter Gaby Her­nan­dez was sec­ond in the league with 150 strike­outs and four com­plete games for the Blue Crabs. Ep­p­ley fin­ished tied for fourth in the league with 31 saves and was six away from Som­er­set’s Jon Hun­ton, the league’s save leader.

“Our start­ing pitch­ing was im­pres­sive all sea­son,” Owens said. “They at­tacked the strike zone and kept us in a lot of ball­games.”

The Blue Crabs opened the sea­son with for­mer ma­jor lea­guer Lom­bar­dozzi, who played with the team up un­til sign­ing back with the Na­tion­als or­ga­ni­za­tion on June 6 with Triple-A Syra­cuse. He bat­ted .367 through 40 games.

PHOTO BY BERT HINDMAN

Blue Crabs third base­man Bryant Nel­son broke At­lantic League all-time records in hits and games played dur­ing the 2016 sea­son.

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