The mighty HarbourCats start a three-game home series tonight against the Kitsap BlueJackets, hoping to match the record for the longest winning streak in WCL history (14 games).
Sorry, is that like talking about a shutout before the third period starts? Maybe so, but lets face it – Victoria shows no signs of slowing down any time soon, and the team is clearly focused on staying out front in the WCL standings. The last three wins in the all-time team best 11 game winning streak came at the expense of the Cowlitz Black Bears. Victoria gave up just six runs in the three-game set that included a 6-0 shutout and an 11-1 thumping. The middle game of the series was perhaps the most interesting, as the 6-4 win showed that even when down early, the team holds the ability to respond and come from behind.
Pitching was once again dominant as the scores would suggest, with Cowlitz managing only 12 hits in the entire series. With only 10 walks given up, the 22 base runners Cowlitz managed is one less than the total runs scored by Victoria. The results continue to move Victoria up the WCL stats ladder with a team ERA of 2.70, and an incredibly low 1.11 team WHIP (just points behind Corvalis’ league-leading 1.08). Overall 2016 is seeing better pitching than we ever have in the WCL, with 4 teams at or below last year’s WHIP leader (Corvalis again) of 1.25. By comparison, Victoria finished at 1.49 in 2015.
From an ERA perspective, Victoria starters are dominating the WCL so far with a combined 2.25 for starters, and 3.93 for the relief corp. Standouts include Friday’s starter Austin Dondanville, and relievers Skyler Henderson and Ryan Steindorf who have yet to surrender an earned run this season.
On the offensive side, Victoria hit a collective .305 against Cowlitz to raise their WCL leading batting average to .294. Victoria is leading most of the league batting stats these days, including home runs now with 7 thanks to 3 hit against Cowlitz including season-first’s by Griffin Andreychuk and Riley Guntrip. Cody Snider contributed his second of the season as well.
Individually, HarbourCat hitters are quietly destroying opposing pitching. Five players continue to hit over .400 on the season: Andreychuk .458, Stone .429, Polshuk .417, Brad Pluschkell and Riley Guntrip both at .400. I say quietly, because based on the “everybody plays” mentality of the team, none of them have enough at-bats to be considered among league stat leaders. In fact, Victoria’s only entry into the league leader group is OF Jarron Silva who is fourth with a .364 AVG. Of the group, it is conceivable that Andreychuk and Polshuk may be the only ones to make the magical 2.7 AB per team game during the season. It’s the same story in the other usual offensive categories – HarbourCats are nowhere to be found. PJ Floyd is 29th in hits, Dakota Dean is 18th in RBI, and Cody Snider is 10th in runs scored. Granted Victoria is coming off their bye series and has played three games less than some of the league leaders, but it really points to the complete team model coach Graig Merritt talked about, and the importance of having a solid roster at all positions.
As an aside on that, a favourite moment from the Cowlitz series occurred in the 7th inning of Sunday’s 6-0 win. After being held in check for the entire afternoon, walks to Austin Guibor and Ben Polshuk put 2 runners on with 1 out. Coach Joe Fabre initiated a decision to pinch hit for catcher Joe Prior and bring Dakota Dean to the plate. Dean had spent most of the game to that point cheering from the dugout fence with a bat in his hands, just waiting for the opportunity. He made the most of it, hitting a 2-0 pitch into right-center that scored both runners. The rest of the bench erupted as Dean celebrated on first, and he spent the rest of the inning with an ear-to-ear grin. A clutch contribution off a perfectly timed coaching decision.
In the upcoming Kitsap series, it appears the Blue Jackets may be in over their heads. Losers of their last three straight, the team comes in at 6-12, in last place in the South Division. The team seems is performing better than their record suggests, and have been hampered by a couple bad innings here and there, and a few low-scoring games where pitching was outstanding, but the offense wasn’t firing. But that’s baseball in a nutshell really, and the Jackets haven’t found the consistency that sees Victoria winning those close games.
The 2016 Kitsap team has four returning players from last year (all of them pitchers) including the WCL’s current ERA leader Jake Brewer. Brewer’s 1-1 record is as deceiving as it gets – in 22.2 innings of work over 5 starts, he’s holding to a 0.39 ERA. That’s only a single eared run. He’s better than last year – last year he started two games against Victoria, giving up only 2 runs in 12 innings against the ‘Cats. He last pitched on Tuesday and we will likely see him Saturday night, which remains unannounced at this time.
Friday’s starter Jake Suddreth (2-1, 3.85 ERA) is in a similar position. In his first four appearances this season he pitched 12 innings of 4 hit, 0 ER ball before getting lit up against Corvalis in his last start. Sunday will see Nick Caudillo (0-1, 4.15 ERA) take the mound.
At the dish, Kitsap is led by OF Austin Hicks. Slumping a bit of late, he’s still leading the team hitting .390 on 16 hits. Usual DH Joey Galeno is probably the hottest Kitsap hitter, sitting at .345, but 10 for his last 19.
Kitsap will be in tough against the three starters Victoria has planned for the weekend. Friday Austin Dondanville brings his 0.00 ERA to the mound, followed Saturday by College Summer Ball pitcher of the week Will McAffer (2-1, 1.62 ERA), and Sunday by the intimidating lefty Josh Mitchell (1-0, 1.20 ERA).
Like the Cowlitz series, this could shape into a battle of the bullpens. Kitsap is bringing some good arms to the mound this series, but once you get through the starters, the relief core gives up more than their share of runs. If Victoria can manage to put up some runs against the starters, then it should be lights-out early.
What’s also exciting that Friday’s game is a continuation of the “Champion’s Series”, this week focusing on the defunct Victoria Seals. As this blog was born from that team six years ago, those boys hold a very special place in our hearts! To celebrate, let’s all take a trip back and remember Terrence McClain’s awesome walk-up song – Billy Blue’s “Story of my life”. Oh yeah, convict music!