Curve still struggle with unbalanced schedule

By the time Thursday rolls around, the Curve will have played 45 games, with a whopping 17 of those against one team – the Akron RubberDucks.

Even by traditionally quirky Eastern League scheduling standards, that can only be described as excessive.

“It’s less than ideal,” EL president Joe McEacharn acknowledged Sunday night during a visit to Peoples Natural Gas Field.

“We have a list of scheduling priorities,” he added, “and we have an obligation to meet those priorities.”

It’s not atypical for Altoona to play one or more teams – usually closer foes such as Akron, Erie, Harrisburg or Bowie – a bunch of times early in a season. Not only have the Curve already played Akron 13 times, with four more coming this week, they’ve also now played Richmond 10 times in the first 41 games.

The Flying Squirrels pounded Altoona on Sunday, 8-2, before 3,024 fans at PNG Field. Richmond has owned the season series, improving to 7-3 against the Curve.

Altoona also is just 3-10 against Akron – including losing nine in a row at one point – so it’s a total of 6-17 against those two teams alone.

Those just so happen to be the two best teams in the Western Division so far, making it tough to gauge if the Curve, who are nine games below .500, really are that bad or if they’re just not up to par against two of the league’s best.

It might appear Akron is far superior to Altoona, but that hasn’t been the case. Of the Curve’s 10 losses to the RubberDucks, five have been by one run and four by two runs.

“It’s not like we lost by big margins with them,” Curve manager Carlos Garcia said. “It’s not like they slug us. We make a lot of mistakes when we play them, simple as that.”

But why have they played so much already?

“Every year there are teams that play each other a bit more earlier in the year,” McEacharn said.

Two of the main reasons for the bizarre scheduling, the EL president noted, are weather and how spread out the league is geographically.

There are so many rainouts in April and May around the EL, so to make sure those games eventually get made up, the early season games have to be against teams that play a lot throughout the year. That way there’s plenty of time to schedule doubleheaders.

Additionally, there are also great distances between so many teams in the league, so some teams get paired with two or three close foes early on to cut down on travel.

Put those two elements together, and the result is that some teams will see each other early and often the first couple of months.

But 17 times in 45 games?

“It’s less than desired,” McEacharn said.

Farm directors from every organization sign off on the schedules each year, and McEacharn said that while some might express concerns over certain issues, ultimately the schedules are approved.

One positive aspect of playing a very good team such as Akron so many times in a short span is that a team like the Curve will have to learn what it takes to beat a quality opponent.

“Basically we know those guys very well,” Garcia said. “We know what they do, we know how to pitch them, now it comes to who is going to execute better.

“In order to compete with them, we have to play error-free in the game and throw the ball downhill very well.”

The Curve competed with Richmond for six innings Sunday, trailing just 3-2, before the Flying Squirrels pulled away with three runs in the seventh and two in the eighth. Reliever Tyler Sample gave up all five runs after starter Zack Dodson (0-2) allowed three runs – two earned – in five innings.

Richmond starter Jack Snodgrass (4-0) gave up two unearned runs in five innings and remained unbeaten.

SUBHD: Transactions

C Ralph Henriquez was promoted to Triple-A Indianapolis on Sunday for catching depth. Henriquez was just 1-for-33 (.030) at the plate for the Curve.

C Kawika Emsley-Pai was brought up from low-A West Virginia to fill Altoona’s backup catcher spot. He was hitting just .185 (5-for-27) for the Power.

SUBHD: Game recap

Key player: 3B Mario Lisson went 4-for-5 with an RBI and a run for Richmond.

Key play: SS Matt Duffy’s two-run double in the seventh helped the Flying Squirrels break open the game with a 5-2 lead.

Key stat: Akron is back in town tonight, and the Curve will play the RubberDucks 17 times in the first 45 games.

SUBHD: How they scored

Top 1st: Graham singled, scored on Duffy groundout (0-1); Lollis doubled, scored on Villalona single (0-2).

Bottom 2nd: Diaz singled, scored on Maggi single (1-2); Cunningham walked, scored on Dodson sacrifice bunt (2-2).

Top 3rd: Lisson doubled, scored on Villalona single (2-3).

Top 7th: Tomlinson singled, Graham hit by pitch, both scored on Duffy double (2-5); Lisson double scored Duffy (2-6).

Top 8th: Schroder singled, scored on Oropesa single (2-7); Harris singled, scored on Graham double play groundout (2-8).