Yakima Valley series recap, Bellingham (final…sniff) series preview

Leadoff man, Kevin Collard, digs in

Leadoff man, Kevin Collard, digs in

Even after the Victoria HarbourCats dropped the series finale to the Yakima Valley Pippins last night (a “Pippin” is a green apple by the way…one of the oldest in the USA and is an excellent source of fibre, in case you were wondering!), there is still much good news. With the series win, Victoria is now guaranteed to be above .500 for the first time in franchise history, already having accumulated 27 wins in a 54 (53 this year!) game season.

That aside, I thought the boys had more “jump” than in previous years, hitting the field with an added dose of enthusiasm that I had not seen in previous years. This team energy helped them pull out of slumps and hit the .500 plateau, instead of languishing in them and finishing 10 games below .500 or so.

Victoria will also lead the league in attendance…again. As well as an improved on-the-field product, the promotions just keep on rolling. Fireworks seem to be the biggest draw (case in point, this week’s game vs. the Pippins where over 4000 pyrotechnic-starved fans poured through the gates) but to me, the Diamond Dig was the most innovative one this year. And even better…Harvey won a mascot race! Sure it was against his brethren and on his birthday…wait, are you saying it was fixed??

Oooo, Ahhhh...

Oooo, Ahhhh…

Anyway, I know it is baseball and with a hit here, a run there or an out over yonder, they could have been even better but still, things even themselves out. Key “mulligan” stretches that spring to my mind are the slow start (hard as so many guys are missing), that mini-mid-season bump against the Bells and the extremely close games against the team they are now chasing for the final playoff spot, the Corvallis Knights. But still, kudos to the entire coaching staff and all the players for essentially ripping through the second half of the schedule as the hottest team in the WCL and giving us baseball that matters right up until the last home game. It’s a damn good feeling!

While not mathematically eliminated, many stars would have to align in order for the Cats to make it to the post-season. They would need a sweep in the upcoming series against the Bells and Corvallis would have to crumble in all four of their final games – both pretty unlikely (well, mostly the Corvallis part).

Against Yakima, hot bats continued as the HarbourCats hammered out 34 hits in the three game set batting a scorching .327 as a team to raise their season average to .267 and give them the title of “Best of the Rest” behind Kelowna and Bend at .294 and .361. Leading the way was the still-surging Kevin Collard who was six for fourteen (.429) which raised his season average to .316 behind only Griffin Andreychuk (.375) and AJ Alcantara (.323). And remember, this kid is just going into his freshman year – talk about a huge upside!

A deserving Mr. HarbourCat - Alex DeGoti

A deserving Mr. HarbourCat – Alex DeGoti

Austin Guibor continued his charge up the HarbourCat batting leaders going five for thirteen (.385). Mr. HarbourCat Alex DeGoti also continued on his hot streak raising his average back to where it belongs at .289. The aforementioned “Red Racer” – Griffin Andreychuk – “struggled” on the Pippin Series hitting only .273. But you can only say a guy struggles at .273 if he is hitting up in the clouds at .375. Well done Griff!

Finally, it was good to see Zach Bonneau get into the action going three for three last night and ending up only a triple shy of hitting for the cycle.

On the hill, things could have been better overall, as the staff gave up a total 30 hits in the series, walking only six and whiffing 18. In the two wins however, the starters– Austin Dondaville (8) and Matt Blais (7) both did their job going deep in the game and the relief gave up a total of only one earned run over both games. Given the Corvallis hot streak, this was a series where a once-in-a-lifetime game would have been welcomed.

And not to sound too negative, things just did not roll the ‘Cats way last night especially in the four-run fifth inning which turned out to be the difference.

Off the field, it was great to see Victorians support their surging club with good attendance numbers for all games – even as the chilly autumn breezes made an early appearance. And while I miss the radar gun (where did it go?), I still applaud the fixing of the clock out there above the scoreboard (golf clap, golf clap).

One final note, sitting close to the field you really see that these are NICE kids. When the ceremonial bay boy comes out with the first bat of the game, he always gets kind words and a high five (thank you Mr. Collard). And one night as I was near the on deck circle, a little boy asked the on deck batter what his name was. He could have ignored him but he didn’t…”AJ” he said with a smile (again, nice job Mr. Alcantara).

Bellingham Series Preview

BellinghamThis will be a short one as we know what to expect here. Last time these teams saw each other in a home and home series, the ‘Cats lost five of six. Most of the games were within reach Victoria just couldn’t get that one hit or even that one break from the baseball gods.

I’m not sure if it is a matter of coasting to the finish line and prepping for the postseason or what, but the Bells stumble into the final series only being 5-5 over the past ten games while as we know, the ‘Cats have been en fuego. It’s hard to tell if either team will have motivation and I also wonder if players will now start heading back early if Victoria does get officially eliminated. Whatever the case, it was great to see the core team stick it out to the end this year.

The Bells are loaded with good pitching but my guess is that Victoria will not see the ace right-hander Andrew Kemmerer as he pitched on Wednesday and I would think they will save him for the playoffs. The Bells have now clinched the West division title and have earned a chance to repeat as WCL champs. In the past four games, the staff has only allowed a total of nine runs so ‘Cats batters best beware.

Brian May, not Brian Way!

Brian May, not Brian Way!

Other hurlers on the “must watch” list are relievers Brian Way (not to be confused with guitarist Brian May from Queen) who comes in with a 1.57 ERA and .870 WHIP, and Riley Storedahl who sits at 1.67 and 1.070. This dynamic duo leads the Bells staff in appearances with 17 so if you chase a starter, you are still not home free.

The Dominator winds and he works...

The Dominator winds and he works…

Victoria counters with the Dominator (Dominic Topoozian) who sports a 5-4 record, 3.10 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP. We should see Austin Dondaville again, although he did pitch on Monday, and as I have said before, he is putting together a really nice season sitting at 4-2 with a 2.78 ERA and 1.260 WHIP.

In comparing the overall stats to the Victoria staff, the Bells are second in league ERA (3.15), second in WHIP (1.28) and first in opponent batting average (.227) while the Cats are ninth (4.14), tenth (1.51) and eleventh (.273) respectively. Advantage, Bells.

Hitting though, is another story. While Victoria has four hitters above .300, Bellingham has only one. As a team, Victoria is third in both league average (.267) and OPS (.752) and Bellingham sits at ninth (.252) and fourth (.694) respectively. Granted, I follow Victoria closer, but I think the edge is even bigger than these stats suggest as Victoria hitters have really stepped it up in the last couple of weeks so in my books, this about evens out the statistical pitching disadvantage.

The sole batter over .300 (.305) for Bellingham is Andrew Reichenbach who has been the poster child of consistency over the course of the season, always hovering at about this level. All-Star Brandon Larsen is still in free fall and only hitting .271 after being at .344 in early July. The only other sticks to be concerned about belong to Chase Scott and Walker Olis who can tag the long ball with seven and six homers apiece. That said, they are hitting .188 and .250 so…feast or famine.

In the Victoria dugout, look for Kevin Collard to continue leading the way along with Griffin Andreychuk, AJ Alcantara and Austin Guibor – all of whom are hitting above .300 and look to continue their slugging ways.

Griffin Andreychuk, 'Cats batting leader

Griffin Andreychuk, ‘Cats batting leader

So there you have it. All set for the final series in the 2015 WCL baseball season. I’m personally thinking the boys will take this series 2-1 but more importantly, what do YOU think?

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