LINCOLN, Nebraska — A return to the playoffs in 2022 highlighted another successful season of professional baseball at Haymarket Park — the 21st for the ‘Dogs since their inception in 2001.
Lincoln’s first playoff berth in five years was the culmination of four months that included a hot start, hard work, and plenty of perseverance along the way. And after narrowly missing out on a postseason berth last year, the ‘Dogs won eight of the last nine — including the final three against the Sioux City Explorers — to sneak in as the last of the eight playoff teams in 2022.
Though the season didn’t end like many had hoped, for the ‘Dogs to snap the playoff drought in Brett Jodie’s second season marked a big step forward for a franchise in search of its first league championship since 2009. And as Jodie’s teams in Lincoln and Somerset have always shown, the ‘Dogs persevered when a playoff berth seemed the least likely — trailing Sioux City by three games with three games to go, and needing to win all three to finish in a tie and advance by virtue of a head-to-head tiebreaker.
But Lincoln didn’t mistake its way into the postseason. The ‘Dogs jumped out to an 11-3 record through 14 games — the second-best mark in the league. They won each of their first five series to build a cushion that would end up strong enough to keep Lincoln in the hunt down the stretch.
The ‘Dogs got a career year from Greg Minier, who went 6-6 with a 2.48 ERA in 19 starts in just his second year back rehabbing Tommy John surgery. Ryan Long was another standard of consistency, hitting .288 with 10 homers and 44 RBIs in the middle of a lineup that turned over many players throughout June and July before settling in for the stretch run in August and September.
Josh Altmann finished with 15 homers and 69 RBIs — just three shy of his 2021 total — while Justin Byrd hit .337 with 10 homers in 49 games, split into two stints separated by a seven-week period in which he was one of the best hitters in the Mexican League. Hunter Clanin hit .273 with a career-best 14 homers and team-high 21 steals in his first season with the Saltdogs, and ex-Husker standout Luke Roskam provided much-needed depth with a .344 average and 1.094 OPS in the final three weeks. Jason Rogers — an ex-MLBer — joined the club in late-July and had some of Lincoln’s highest-leverage swings, finishing with 31 RBIs in 36 games.
Rookie reliever Matt Cronin was one of the best stories in all of independent baseball in 2022 — going jobless in mid-June to one of the league’s best relievers with a 1.99 ERA and 43 strikeouts across 40 and 2/3rds innings with Lincoln. Cronin drove overnight from Massachusetts to Lincoln before the ‘Dogs bussed up to Winnipeg in June, and after a fantastic first weekend, Cronin quickly cemented himself in Lincoln’s bullpen the rest of the way.
Other rookies, John Bezdicek and Zach Keenan, provided depth in the starting rotation, with the former tossing five scoreless innings on short relief in the winner-take-all regular season finale at Sioux City. Carter Hope improved to a 3.80 ERA in his second year with Lincoln, while Carson Lance was a go-to arm out of the bullpen down the stretch. Steffon Moore — who struggled in the second half of 2022 — did have one of the best first-halves in league history, earning an All-Star nod with an ERA of 0.36 at the break. And both Jonathan Cheshire and David Zoz showed consistency in the back end of the bullpen from start to finish.
The ‘Dogs also had some record-setting outings, including Buddy Baumann’s franchise-record 15 strikeouts May 28 vs. Winnipeg, and now with a fourth season under his belt, Kyle Kinman is Lincoln’s all-time leader in starts (60) and strikeouts (316). Though Kinman’s season wasn’t as consistent as he was hoping, he still managed to power through enough starts to claim the top spot on a few all-time leaderboards.
The Saltdogs had their share of struggles, including a run in which they won just 12 times in 38 tries from late June to early August, but with the expanded playoff format and finishing the final nine games as the hottest team in the Association, the ‘Dogs earned Brett Jodie his seventh playoff berth in nine seasons of managing at the professional level, and Lincoln still has a sturdy foundation moving forward.
But as it always is, 2022 will be remembered as another fantastic season of professional baseball at Haymarket Park, which included exciting finishes, highlight reel plays and another Saltdogs team that Lincoln is proud to have been represented by. The ‘Dogs nearly set a single-game attendance record with 7,602 against Sioux Falls on June 10th, and throughout the year fans showed up in droves to support the 21st year of the franchise.
While disappointment sets in that another offseason is here, it’s always a reminder that we’re one day closer to another season of Saltdogs baseball in 2023.
As always, that’s when we’ll see you again.