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