The dejected RiverDogs walked off the field at the friendly confines of Joseph P. Riley, Jr. Park, having suffered a 6-1 loss to the Asheville Tourists on the final day of June. After narrowly missing out on clinching the 2019 first half South Atlantic League Southern Division title just two weeks earlier, Charleston stumbled into the second half of the season, winning just five of June's final 11 games and concluding the month with a lackluster 13-15 record overall.
There were many culprits behind the Dogs' disappointing first-half finish, but one of the most notable was the struggles of left fielder Canaan Smith. The Rockwall, Texas native fought through a rough 26 games after blazing through his first 43 following his callup from Extended Spring Training on April 10. Smith brought a .329 average and .409 on-base percentage into play June 1, both of which ranked third in the South Atlantic League among qualified hitters. His .509 slugging percentage had him eighth in the SAL, and his .918 OPS was goof for fifth-highest in the league.
As many hitters do over the course of such a lengthy season, Smith fell into a funk following his hot start in the Holy City. Over the course of his next 26 contests, he earned only 21 hits in his next 94 at-bats. His average dropped 39 points to .290, and his OPS plummeted to .839. His .223 June average marked the third-worst among qualified RiverDogs. He had also grounded into seven double plays, a total that led all qualified SAL hitters.
The outfielder didn't let his struggles get the best of him, though, and he's now reaping the benefits of his perseverance.
"I had a tough June, for sure," Smith admitted. "I just stayed with my approach and with my plan. I got in and put the work in, and it's showing."
What are those benefits, exactly? The former fourth round pick produced a 180-degree turn and bounced back with a white-hot July. Smith cranked 30 hits in his first 79 July at-bats, good for a .380 average that ranked second in the league. His .966 OPS in that span also finished second-best, and he swatted six doubles to add to his total of 24 two-baggers, tied for eighth-most in the SAL.
Unfortunately for the Charleston faithful, Smith's phenomenal month hasn't translated to much improvement in the standings. Following an 11-4 victory over the Delmarva Shorebirds July 28, the RiverDogs still found themselves with a 15-22 second-half record, tied for last in the SAL Southern Division with the Columbia Fireflies. The club hit for a .223 batting average through its first 26 July games, ranking second-to-last in the league.
The RiverDogs also fought through a tough schedule, one that saw 17 of 28 contests away from Riley Park, and 14 total games against teams above .500 in the second half entering play July 29. If you ask Smith, though, it's just another piece to the puzzle that is the 140-game Single-A season.
"It's very tough, but we just have to rest and prepare our bodies for these long road trips," he said. "Going to Delmarva and Lakewood, it's a long bus ride but we just have to get some rest and prepare."
The month included a suspended game, a postponed game and two doubleheaders to add to the fatigue of the long bus rides. For Smith and the rest of his teammates, they treated the postponements just like any other game in order to stay ready for each and every pitch.
"It stunk, especially having the game cancelled because the next day we had to play a doubleheader. So we just had to prepare our bodies for the upcoming doubleheader," Smith recalled of the suspended game against the Lexington Legends July 18. "I prepare well for each and every day. I go in knowing it's hot out here, so I have to try to stay hydrated, stay focused and stay locked in each and every day. We had one earlier this year, and in the Gulf Coast League during my first year we did that a lot for sure."
The RiverDogs will now try to turn the page as they head into the month of August, and they will do so without three of their best hurlers. Luis Gil, Alexander Vizcaino and Daniel Bies all received well-deserved callups to the High-A Tampa Tarpons over the past couple of weeks. Two more of Charleston's backstops have joined Josh Breaux on the 7-Day Injured List in Anthony Seigler and Eduardo Navas, as well.
"It's how it is, one guy moves up, and another guy fills in," Smith said. "That's what the Yankees teach us each and every day, but I know the guys who are coming in are going to step up, and I know Seigler and Navas are going to be back soon. We're going to miss them, but we have to embrace the 'next man up' mentality."
Entering the final month of the season, Charleston will need to take a step forward offensively in order to make northbound push in the standings. Led by Smith, though, if the club sticks to its approach and what worked in the first half of the season, there's no reason to believe that some home-cooking can't aid the Dogs in making one final push to close out the 2019 season.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.