Ringing out the Bells and ringing in the Sweets

BellinghamNow that the Bellingham Bells have come and gone, let’s take a look at where the HarbourCats are sitting as they head down the final stretch of this 2015 WCL season. After being swept at home, Victoria set out to return the favour in Bellingham but came up short losing two of three to go 1-5 in the pivotal series.

It was not exactly what the doctor ordered for a team that was chasing the Bells for the West division crown which is now all but mathematically out of reach. Again the ‘Cats didn’t play badly and had a nice 4-1 win sandwiched between a couple of close losses – 7-4 in the opener and 2-0 last night in a tight pitcher’s duel.

A cynic would say that the only win was due to the fact that the Bells made 5 – count ‘em, 5 – errors in that game and should be on a six game skid. At the end of the day though, good teams somehow find a way to win close games and the ‘Cats, to their credit, took advantage in that game.

What is revealing though, is that the other two games (and the three in Vic-town) were all up for grabs with a play here or there making the difference. Somehow, Victoria needs to be able to be the ones making “that play”, especially now that they are down to the final 15 games of the season, with the finale being back in B-town for another three game set Running with the Bells.

On the plus side, pitching may not have been as clutch as it was in the nine game winning streak, but it was still very respectable. Dominic Topoozian pitched a strong seven innings last night allowing only two runs while striking out six and walking four. Shawn Kennedy (II) kept a clean slate by striking out three and teasing the Bells with three hits in his inning of work. Bad luck for them that fellow All Star and Bells’ ace Andrew Kemmerer (Bell Durham?) was even better in his seven innings of shutout work.

Austin Dondanville and Nick Wojtysiak spun a gem in the only series win allowing a single earned run in their 9 innings.

Over the course of the series, the ‘Cat staff held Bellingham to a .216 average but did allow a total of 14 walks. Compare that to the 17 walks they allowed in their nine game winning streak and you can see what may need some tweaking. But again, overall pitching was not really too bad so there is reason for optimism as they head down the home stretch looking for a wildcard berth.

At the plate though, they need the head of live rooster or something to get these wooden things heated up. Last series Victoria hit only .198 (18 for 91) with no single ‘Cat getting more than three of them. During the streak, they were hitting above .320 so a nice happy medium should be good enough to make some of those L’s turn into W’s.

We need the head of a live rooster...

We need the head of a live rooster…

All in all, the Bells’ series was a missed opportunity, but looking ahead, the ‘Cats still have a realistic shot of scrambling into a wildcard spot. Aside from the Bells, Victoria plays Walla Walla, Cowlitz, Wenatchee and Yakima Valley – all of whom are within 3 wins of Victoria so it is not like they are facing titans like Bend or Kelowna (did I just say that…Kelowna??) to get into the post-season.

What they will need though is consistency. There are not enough games left to go on any kind of extended skid like the Bellingham foray. HarbourCats players need to listen to their coach and just win every series. If they take two of three the rest of the way, I’m thinking they are in. play .500 ball, and with such a log jam of teams, it is early exit time again. Victoria won’t hit its pre-season goal for wins, but if they can pull it all together – starting tonight – there is still a chance of some playoff action for these Garden City lads.

Walla Walla Series Preview

The Walla Walla Sweets come to town for a three game set today with the same thing on their minds as the HarbourCats – let’s get into the post-season.

Best...mascot...ever

Best…mascot…ever

It should be a good competitive series as the Sweets – lead by awesome mascot “Sweet Lou” – come in at 20-19 and sit at third place in the East. By comparison, Victoria are at 18-21 and in second spot in the West. While Victoria stumbles back home after losing five of the last six, the Sweets are coming in on a high note with consecutive home series wins over two very good teams – the Bend Elks and Kelowna Falcons.

Walla Walla has had an up and down season so are hard to peg, but if you go by recent play they are going to be tough to handle. I’m sure they are thinking the same thing about the Jekyll and Hyde HarbourCats so hey, like the song at the start of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom – “Anything Goes”.

Which 'Cats team will show up this series?

Which ‘Cats team will show up this series?

Comparing the two teams at the plate, I give the edge to Walla Walla who are the “Best of the Rest” sitting at third in the league with a .256 team average behind Bend (.319) and Kelowna (.296). Victoria comes in with a .245 team average, good enough for ninth in the league.

That said, Victoria does have a better OPS (On base Plus Slugging) with a .685 mark as compared to .676 for the Sweets – numbers four and five in the league. Strikeouts are close, walks are close so my reason for the tip to the Sweets really comes down to individual performance.

Parker Coss, a sophomore for Cal Irvine, leads Walla Walla with a .320 average which is good enough for twelfth in the league. Coss was one for two with a walk in the All Star game and has recently hit safely in nine of his last twelve games. On July 4th, he had a season high .370 average which has steadily tapered off to the low .300’s where it sits right now.

Sweets Leadoff hitter Connor Kopach

Sweets Leadoff hitter Connor Kopach

Leadoff hitter Connor Kopach is another one to watch. Weighing in with an average of .294 – good enough for 18th in the league, Kopach just had a 13 game hit streak stopped in his last game against Kelowna and his average has been pretty consistent around the .300 mark for the entire season.
Finally, newcomer Nick Halamandaris has only had one hitless game since joining the team on July 7th and sports a .326 average (and climbing). “Big Nick” does not have enough at bats yet to be ranked with the league leaders but the ‘Cats pitchers best be careful with this guy as he is a nice compliment at the top of the order to Connor Koplach.

On the hill, Walla Walla comes in with a 1.38 WHIP (6th in the league) as compared to Victoria at 1.53 (10th in the league). The Sweets also hold the edge for opponent batting average at .240 to .275 but again, Victoria’s is somewhat inflated from the early season batterings. I could go on, but suffice it to say that Walla Walla comes out on top in most other pitching categories. One stat of interest is that the ‘Cats are last in the league in giving up the long ball having grooved it 23 times so far this year (vs. 11 for the Sweets).

Walla Walla does give up walks though, as they are number three in the league with 163 (vs. 145 for Victoria) and are the “Plunkfest” league leaders too with 40 HBP. Both teams are pretty good at whiffing batters and come in tied for second in the league with 292, one behind league leading Wenatchee.

The Sweets’ staff is led by hurlers Jarred Zill and Joe Demers. Zill has a very respectable 1.06 WHIP and a miniscule 1.52 ERA to go with 9 walks and 25 strikeouts. He can start and is also used out of the bullpen on occasion. Demers comes in with a 1.01 WHIP and a 2.36 ERA and seems to now pitch mostly in relief.

In the field, neither team is super-tight but Walla Walla does boot the ball a bit more on occasion, so the ‘Cats best look to take advantage. The Sweets have 69 miscues to the HarbourCats 53. As with any series, if the ‘Cats limit errors, good things will happen.

AJ Alcantara takes a rip

AJ Alcantara takes a rip

Individually in this series for the Victoria, it will be up to the usual suspects to get and keep this train rolling. Fireplug second baseman Griffin Andreychuk looks to up his team leading average of .328 while AJ Alcantara tries to find a way out of his feast or famine hitting streak. AJ has hit safely in only four of his last ten games but in all four he has tallied three hits. Freshman Chris Fougner will look to keep his steady .300 average (.296, actually) on track and even take it up a notch in these coming few series. And if Victoria truly is to make a last season charge, Mr. HarbourCat Alex “Don’t Shave Off” DeGoti will need to amp up his .238 average. DeGoti has been hitting a bit better lately and the ‘Cats need that to continue as he marches on in his leadership role.

Austin Dondaville needs to keep it rollin'

Austin Dondaville needs to keep it rollin’

As mentioned, pitching has been pretty good but it really needs to step up now until the bats get going. The ‘Cats look to the Dominator (Dominic Topoozian) to keep up his good work of late. Henry Omana – he of the 1.07 WHIP – also needs to keep up his improving form whether it be in a starting or relief role. Austin Dondaville has been quietly putting together a good year as he comes in with a sparkling 2.17 ERA and has pitched well recently. Finally, keep your eye on tonight’s starter, freshman sensation Jonathon Buckley. “J-Buck” has only eight stingy innings so far this year and he is supposed to be the real deal. Here’s hoping that he starts the drive tonight with a good opening against the Sweets.

So what do you think will happen?

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