Medford (yawn) sweep recap – Bellingham series preview

Well what have we here? Nine games ago the Victoria HarbourCats were struggling to find their way and sitting at a very ordinary 8-16 record. What a difference an Oregon road trip can make! After sweeping both Kitsap (at home) and Klamath Falls, the ‘Cats went one better by – wait for it – bringing out the broom for the third series in a row by sweeping the Medford Rogues too! The boys have to love Oregon!!

Griffin Andreychuk - one of many 'Cats on fire

Griffin Andreychuk – one of many ‘Cats on fire

Head coach Graig Merritt said the first goal was to get to .500 and then they would start setting new goals. Well, time to get out the whiteboard and write something new down as the ‘Cats now sit at 17-16. I don’t think anyone realistically thought that Victoria could get above to .500 so quickly, but they just scorched off a new franchise record for consecutive wins at nine games and counting (old record was seven).

Over that nine game stretch the ‘Cats pitching really came to life while a rotating lineup oozed consistency, with a splash of clutch hitting. Here are some telling stats over that span – WARNING: these are some unworldly numbers:

• Record – 9-0
• Runs for – 62
• Runs against 18
• ERA/WHIP – 1.58/1.11
• Strikeouts/Walks – 69/17 (say what???)
• Team Batting Average – .322
• Total errors – 9 (4 games with a clean sheet)

En fuego! Those numbers are unreal. We do have to put it in perspective somewhat, as the combined record of these three teams is a not-so-stellar 30-69, so they did not put up the streak over the league titans, more like beating up some weak kids playing dungeons and dragons.

But still, nine wins in a row is tough against anyone and it may just be what the doctor ordered to get them rolling as they head into the second half of the season. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how you got there as a streak like this will have confidence soaring. My old hockey coach used to say “it’s not how, it’s how many”…sage words of wisdom.

It would be easier to point out the ‘Cats that are NOT having a good run, but I’ll take a shot here at who we should watch out for in the upcoming Battle of the Bells. Griffin Andreychuk joined the team a bit late but has had immediate impact in putting together a six game hit streak (with three multi-hit games in there) and batting .389.

AJ Alcantara has had three hits in three of his last four games and sits at .349, scaring baseballs everywhere. Chris “Foggy” Fougner has also been hot of late and Austin “Zsa Zsa” Guibor has quietly put together a seven game hit streak. Kevin Collard started off the season like a man possessed, slumped for a bit, but now seems to be more consistent hitting safely in seven of his last 9 games.

The Dominator at work

The Dominator at work

On the mound everything is rocking – just look at the team WHIP and K/BB ratio. So far this year the team has had 13 different starters as the coaching crew slots the fleet into their most effective roles. This crew is led by the ‘Cats only All Star, Dominic “The Dominator” Topoozian who has a stellar .990 WHIP and consistently pitches into the deep innings. Austin Dondanville shows off a 2.17 ERA and 1.28 WHIP and has been effective as a starter and, most recently, coming out of the bullpen. Alex Rogers has not pitched since July 3 but look for the Return of the Dead-Eye this upcoming series as he tries to improve on his 2.37 ERA and 1.12 WHIP. Finally, keep an eye on emerging freshman Jonathan Buckley who has been impressive in his first two start and has a ton of upside.

Bellingham Bells series preview

BellinghamI don’t want to be Debbie Downer, but the Bellingham Bells are not the same calibre as the last three Victoria opponents. In fact, they sit atop the West division with a Rush-like 21-12 record and will be a real test for the surging ‘Cats. To make it even more intriguing, they are in the same division and now play a home and home so will see each other six times in a row (separated by the All Star break which is hosted by these same Bellingham Bells).

Looking at the standings, and the fact that the Bells had won every series they have played (except this last one to Cowlitz), you’d think they’d be heavy favourites. But peeling back the onion, these two teams may be closer than you think. It’s true that the Bells have amazing pitching, sporting the league’s best ERA and opponent batting average, while coming in .01 away from also having the top WHIP (The Knights have that honour). In comparison, Victoria comes in at tenth place in WHIP (the most telling of pitching stats) but again, that is heavily influenced by their shaky start, not by their play of late.

Taking another layer off said onion, offensively these Bells struggle as their team batting average is a pedestrian .237 which is only good enough for tenth in the league and also below Victroia who sits at .249 (and rising!). So the lads from Bellingham (land of an awesome REI that I just visited last weekend to “gear up” for the summer!) rely heavily on their pitching staff at a time when the ‘Cat bats are heating up.

As well, of the nine Bellingham series wins, only three have come against opponents who have a winning record.

Throw this in your baseball food processor and you have a consistent Bells team whose record may be inflated, have a great pitching staff but struggle offensively. The HarbourCats are on an absolute tear and coming back home to the clean air of Vancouver Island. This series will be a lot closer than you’d expect and it is an excellent chance for the ‘Cats to gain ground as they chase the West Division crown and/or a wildcard playoff berth.

Will Debbie be right?

Will Debbie be right?

To show that they are contenders vs. pretenders in this league, I would think that at a minimum, they have to split these six games of the home and home. Lose four, and I’m with Debbie Downer, thinking they may just shine against the weaker teams. Win four and I sing the Monkees hit “I’m a Believer”. Win more than four and I say strap yourself in as this will be one wild ride to the finish line.

As mentioned, the Bells’ pitching is their strength with All Star Andrew Kemmerer checking in with a 1.45 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP in his six starts, only giving up two earned runs in his last three games. Mr. K just pitched last night so we will not see him in Victoria. Kyle Rossman was throwing BB’s in his four starts and had a 0.81 ERA and 1.00 WHIP but is no longer with the team. Justin Colomeni has three starts under his belt weighing in with a very nice 1.46 ERA and an even nicer 0.89 WHIP.

Bells speedster Aaron Stroosma

Bells speedster Aaron Stroosma

At the dish, the Bells are far from formidable except for All Star Bronson Larsen who has raised his average by 70+ points since June 19 and is now in sight of the league leaders with a .321 average. Another All Star, first baseman Andrew Reichenbach did have a very high average but his is going the opposite direction right now, but still very respectable at .319. That said, on June 24, his average was .395 so if he finds his old ways, look out! Reichenbach has interestingly also pitched 1 and two thirds innings of hitless ball.

This team does have speed though and another player to watch is Aaron Stroosma (also an All Star) who has 19 stolen bases. The Bells and the ‘Cats are numbers two and three respectively in this thieving category so that in itself should be great to watch.

Darth’s keys to the series for the ‘Cats are as follows, and fairly straightforward based on this analysis:

• Keep the hot bats – if they go back to sleep against this staff, it will be a long series
• Keep up the dominant pitching – the Bells are no sluggers so this may be advantage Victoria
• Minimize errors – I think it will be a close series and errors will kill them in close games

So what do you say will happen in this 3-game homestand?

I’m stretching out my prediction across the 2 series and am calling for a split as you can forget the records. I think these teams are very evenly matched. No one is sweeping anyone here in either series as they battle for bragging rights in the West Division.
So get out to the yard, the weather is hot, the ‘Cats are hot and this will be a VERY entertaining series.

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