Sioux City Explorers at St. Paul Saints series preview
CHS Field before a game. (St. Paul Saints)

The St. Paul Saints sure are glad to be back in Minnesota after a 14-day road trip that took them to Joplin, Laredo, Amarillo, and Sioux Falls. Amazingly, despite playing 14 games in as many days, they are returning to Minnesota with a 9-5 record, giving them a league-best 17-8 record. That record will be put to the test, as they welcome the only team that had a better record last season, the Sioux City Explorers.

About the Explorers

The Explorers finished last season with a 76-24 record, which was the best in the whole American Association. So far, they have been unable to recreate that magic, as through the first few weeks they have a 12-11 record, and are one back in the Central division.

On offense, they are led by Nate Sanson, who is batting a team-high .322 batting average. Not far behind him are Noah Lang and Derrick Robinson, who both have .319 averages. Noah Perio leads the team in runs batted in with 25, making him the only one on the team to surpass the 20 RBI mark this season. He also is tied for the team lead in home runs with three. As a team, the Explorers are batting .289, with 14 home runs, a far cry from the numbers they put up last season.

Graham Johnson is their top pitcher, as in 22.1 innings of work, his ERA stands at 2.01. He also has a 3-0 record, the best record on the Explorers pitching staff. He also has under his belt 14 strikeouts this season. While this is his seventh professional season, it is his first with the Explorers, as he spent the 2009-2012 years in the Florida Marlins organization. 

Steve Montgomery is in his third season with the Explorers. His first season saw them compile a 47-53 record, while his second season saw them put up the best record in the league, although they lost in the league finals to the Laredo Lemurs, who surprisingly upset the Wichita Wingnuts in the first round.

About the Saints

The Saints haven't been in the State of Minnesota in two weeks, as their home field has been in use by the Minnesota State High School League. In order to facilitate that, they have seen Joplin, Laredo, Grand Prairie, and Sioux Falls. Their reprieve from the road is only temporary, as after the series they head right back to the bus to go to Winnipeg before meeting the Explorers again, this time in Sioux City.

The top hitter for the Saints is shortstop Tony Thomas, who in addition to having the best batting average, has a 24-game hit streak, the second longest in franchise history. He also leads the team in home runs with eight. Catcher Aaron Gretz is also having a good start to the season, as he has a .372 batting average, with 20 runs batted in. 

The Saints pitching staff is just as good as last season's, if not better. Closer Ryan Rodebaugh has the lowest ERA at 0.97, while starting pitcher John Straka leads the team in strikeouts with 25. Mark Hamburger is right behind him with 23 strikeouts so far this season. Hamburger also has a 4-0 record with two complete games in his second stint with the Saints.

George Tsamis is in his 13th season with the Saints. He has one league championship with the Saints, which came in 2004 when they were in the Northern League, He has an 801-710 record with the Saints. Tsamis also won two more league championships when he was the manager of the New Jersey Jackals.

Around the league

Here are the standings for the American Association.