Baseball: In 2012, ThunderBolts had moments — just not enough of them
By Steve MIllar For Sun-Times Media September 5, 2012 9:02PM
Windy City ThunderBolts pitcher Mike Recchia. | Larry Kane~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 7, 2012 8:02AM
The Windy City ThunderBolts’ season came to an end Sunday, the team finishing 54-42 and failing to make the Frontier League playoffs for the second straight season.
That’s on the heels of four consecutive postseason appearances from 2007 to ’10, including league championships in 2007 and ’08.
Here is a look back on the season and a look ahead to 2013:
Biggest story lines
1. Mike Recchia: The T-Bolts signed Crestwood native Recchia, a Shepard alum and former New York Yankees farmhand, on April 2.
He went on to have one of the best seasons in team history, becoming the first T-Bolt to win the Brian Tollberg Award as the league’s top pitcher.
Recchia finished 11-3 with a 2.51 ERA and shattered the league’s strikeout record with 177. He reached double digits in strikeouts in a game seven times.
On two different occasions, Recchia threw complete game shutouts in back-to-back starts.
2. The playoff chase: The Frontier League never has seen a playoff race quite like this season’s, and the T-Bolts were right in the thick of it.
While Traverse City ran away with the league’s best record at 64-32, six teams went into the final weekend with a shot at one of the remaining three playoff spots.
Gateway, Florence and Southern Illinois — which made the playoffs — and the T-Bolts, Lake Erie and Schaumburg — which did not — all finished with between 54 and 57 wins.
3. Cregar leads a power surge: After hitting just 68 home runs combined in 2010 and ’11, finishing last in the league both seasons, the T-Bolts finished fifth in the league with 75 round-trippers in 2012.
The boom largely was fueled by Chad Cregar, who broke franchise records for home runs (31) and RBI (93). He led the league in homers and finished second in RBI.
“It’s fun to see guys hitting some home runs,” Cregar said last month. “Last year was brutal with how few we hit.”
Brandon Decker hit 18 homers.
4. Burkhart’s first year: Morgan Burkhart’s first season as T-Bolts manager turned out to be a mixed bag for the former major leaguer.
While he and pitching coach Ehren Wassermann often pushed the right buttons in close games — the T-Bolts finished 15-8 in one-run contests — Burkhart struggled to find a consistent lineup as his team finished eighth in the league in runs.
“Morgan is a competitor and he really wants to win,” Windy City pitcher Dustin Williams said. “It’s more of a professional atmosphere with him here.”
5. Pitching, pitching and more pitching: The T-Bolts’ pitching staff broke the league record previously held by the 2010 Windy City squad by striking out 838 hitters, more than 100 more than River City, which was second in the league with 736.
Aside from Recchia’s success, fellow starters Williams, Tyson Corley, Stephen Sauer and Blayne Weller all had dominant stretches.
1. Corley vs. Lake Erie, Aug. 28: Corley threw the second no-hitter in team history, and 16th in league history, walking three in a 7-0 win.
“I’ve never had anything like this happen,” Corley said. “I think I threw a one-hitter when I was like 4 years old, but that’s it.”
2. Recchia vs. Evansville, July 2: Recchia struck out a career-high 16 and allowed three hits in the first of back-to-back complete-game shutouts.
3. Cregar vs. London, July 14: Cregar homered twice and drove in six runs in an 8-1 win.
4. The T-Bolts bullpen vs. Normal, July 18: After Weller was hit by a line drive and left after one inning, Windy City relievers Andrew Chilcoat, Mark Kuzma, Michael Click and Andy Mee combined for eight scoreless frames in a 1-0 win.
5. Mike Torres vs. London, June 29: In a 15-6 win, Torres had three hits, an RBI, four runs and four stolen bases.
Three gut-wrenching defeats in a span of a week left the T-Bolts out of the playoffs.
1. Lake Erie 4, Windy City 2, Aug. 30: The final home game of the season brought the biggest heartbreaker for the home fans.
The T-Bolts rallied from a 2-0 ninth-inning deficit to tie the game, but back-to-back Lake Erie home runs in the 10th left Windy City two games out of the playoffs with three to go.
2. Gateway 1, Windy City 0, Aug. 23: The T-Bolts wasted a tremendous start from Corley, managing just three hits as Gateway completed a three-game sweep in Crestwood and took over first place for good.
3. Southern Illinois 6, Windy City 5, Aug. 26: Windy City led 4-1 in the fifth and 5-4 in the eighth before the Miners tied it in the eighth and won on Will Block’s 10th-inning home run.
Early questions for 2013
1. Will Recchia be signed by a major league organization or return to the T-Bolts?
“I try not to think too much about it,” he said. “My wife always says everything happens for a reason. I’m just trying to take it one day at a time.”
2. Can the T-Bolts improve offensively?
If Windy City’s top hitters in 2012 — Cregar, Decker, Torres and Chris Wade — all return, the pieces are there for a successful offense.
However, the T-Bolts need more. Outside of those four, no player that was a regular all season in 2012 hit higher than .240.