Off to Wenatchee looking for 15 and beyond

Well isn’t this interesting… The Wenatchee AppleSox once won fourteen WCL games in a row… Way back in 2011 before the HarbourCats were in existence, the A’Sox were blown out 9-1 in their first game of the season by Kitsap, then rattled off the next 14 before Corvalis finally stopped the streak on the 20th of June. Today, five years and a week later, Victoria heads to – you guessed it – Wenatchee, to see if they can replace the AppleSox in the record books for the longest streak in WCL history.

The HarbourCats are on more than a roll now, winning all the games they should, and pulling out victories in games they maybe shouldn’t. But that’s what happens to good teams – they find ways to win. Take Sunday’s contest for instance. Kitsap brought WCL ERA leader Jake Brewer to the mound, and he lived up to his pre-billing going 5.0 strong innings giving up 4 runs on 6 hits while walking only 1. He was seriously let down by his defence though, as only two of the runs were earned thanks to a couple of fielding errors by third baseman Gavin Blodgett. His only real mistake of the day was a pitch DH Ryan Anderson put over the left-center wall in the fourth inning.

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A win and a Save this weekend for Greg Casper – and his hat stayed on!

Victoria clawed back a couple times to tie the game and force extra innings. They couldn’t give the game away late, putting Kitsap’s lead-off man on in the ninth, tenth, and eleventh inning – but none of them came around to score thanks in part to some clutch pitching by Casey Costello and Greg Casper. In the top of the tenth inning, the most awesome defensive play of the weekend kept the game alive when with 1 out and Kitsap runners on first and third, SS Cameron Cannon stretched out and snagged a fading liner an inch off the ground and gunned it to first base before the runner returned for an inning-ending double play. The play was made more spectacular by the high throw to first that has IB Matt Smith using all of his 6’4” reach to bring the ball down without taking his foot off the bag. It saved the run, prolonged the game, and gave the offence time to come alive in the 11th. Another error at third base – this time by new 3B Jack Stronach – allowed Brad Pluschkell to scamper all the way from first with the ball bouncing around the right-field wall to score the winning run. The 2-out walk to Pluschkell was the first base runner Victoria had managed since the seventh inning.

Honestly, I don’t think this team believes it can lose. Behind early, tough pitching shutting them down, not getting any runners on base… they just don’t care. They know it’s going to come together in the end, and someone will lead them to victory. Just rally-cap it, and all will be ok. So far, it’s never failed.

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Is it offense or defense that wins championships? Neither actually, it’s well-timed rally caps – as Casey Costello (L) and Josh Mitchell (R) demonstrated Sunday

As predicted, Victoria pitching was dominant the whole weekend, despite a couple of rough innings. Take away the 4-run inning Sunday, and Friday’s scary 3-run ninth, and Kitsap was held to 4 runs on 11 hits the entire rest of the series.

So now, we can start talking about playoffs! It’s not too early – don’t forget, the way the WCL playoff structure is designed, the league crowns a first-half winner in each division, and they play the second-half winner. And guess who’s in the driver’s seat for the first half? With 10 games remaining, Victoria’s magic number seems to be 5. It’s convoluted, but even if Walla Walla, Kelowna, or Bellingham win the entirety of their remaining games, nobody can win more than 18 games – so if Victoria gets to 19, they clinch. If all goes according to plan, by Canada Day, the HarbourCats could be first-half Northern Division champions!

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The squad is all smiles after the extended inning win on Sunday

Standing in their way to start that countdown, are those aforementioned Wenatchee AppleSox. In an odd bit of scheduling, Victoria is playing Wenatchee twice in the first half, and not again – while they don’t play Bellingham at all in the first half, yet play them in a home and home later in July. Wenatchee was the victim to start the current streak, and they will no doubt look to end it at home.

8572_wenatchee_applesox-cap-2005Wenatchee sits at the bottom of the North Division at 8-10. Impressive lately in that they have won 7 of their last 10 after a dismal 1-7 start. They are coming off a high-output series down in Gresham where they scored 26 runs in the 3-game set, which has helped to raise their offensive numbers considerably. The ‘Sox are collectively hitting .242, and have scored an average of 4.77 runs per game.  As mentioned in our first preview of the team, their offence continues to be led by Evan Douglas’s .333 BA, but he’s kind of on his own – his 15 hits is second on the team, but he’s been brought around to score only 4 times. He’s also yet to go deep this year, and is stuck on 3 RBI so far. Wenatchee is getting better production from 2B Parker Price who leads the team in runs scored with 11 (on 13 hits and 10 walks). Left fielder Otis Statum leads the team in HRs with 2, but he hit them both on Friday night in Gresham.

On the mound, Wenatchee is struggling to find consistent pitching. The team boasts a 4.42 ERA, with starters showing slightly over that at 4.47. Jimmy Dobrash (1-2, 4.65 ERA) gets the start Monday. Dobrash took the game 2 loss in the first series against Victoria, lasting only 3 innings giving up 5 runs on only 4 hits. Tuesday sees Luke Mattson (0-3, 7.71 ERA) – who took the third game loss in the first series after giving up 5 runs on 8 hits over 6 innings. To close out the series on Wednesday, staff ace Justin Blatner takes his 2-0 record (0.77 ERA) to the hill. Blatner has given up only a single run on 11 hits over 11.2 innings of work this year.

Victoria responds with James Kannenberg (0-1, 1.68 ERA), James Wolger (0-0, 7.36 ERA), and newly-minted Cat Kyle Mora (0-0) is on the schedule to start Wednesday. Mora, a freshman from UCLA  is expected to be joining the ‘Cats just in time for the trip. Nothing like trial by fire…

If Mora stays on the schedule it will be something you don’t see every day – a team with a 14-game winning streak rolling out three starting pitchers without a single win between them…

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Familiar sight: Jarron Silva on his way to first

On offense, Jarron Silva continues his torrid pace, sitting at .372 on 16 hits and 10 runs scored. Griffin Andreychuk is in a serious slump by his standards sitting at .371 – he’s hitting 2-18 over his last five games. Brad Pluschkell is liking his increased playing time and is hitting .348 on the season on 8 hits in 23 ABs, registering at least a hit in every game he’s played so far. Cody Snider is doing his best to lead the entire offence, leading the team in RBI with 9 and runs scored with 11 (tied with PJ Floyd). His 2 HRs are also tied for team best.  On the other end of the spectrum, a couple of returning players are struggling this season. AJ Alcantara – after lighting things up upon his arrival, has gone 1-12 in his last 4 games, and Austin Guibor has also struggled since landing in Victoria, hitting only 2-13 to this point.

Overall, Victoria has made it to the top of the team batting stats, with a combined .282 BA and a lofty .376 slugging percentage. Their 10 home runs also leads the league. Interestingly, we have yet to see a triple!

Where Victoria is shining the brightest though, is defensively, where they lead the WCL with a .977 fielding percentage, committing only 14 errors so far. Pitching has been so good to this point, Victoria has fielded only 600 balls this year – 99 fewer than the next busiest team and a whopping 248 fewer than Yakima.

And team comradery of course. There’s no stat on it, but if there was, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them on top of that too. Soiled it!

 

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About Brian

Avid baseball blogger since June 2012. Blogger, photographer, and graphics designer for both the defunct Victoria Seals Baseball Blog, and the first edition of the Victoria HarbourCats blog.
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