Well it’s finally happened – the Victoria HarbourCats are the talk of the town. The city’s darling sports team everyone is talking about around the water cooler, everyone is tweeting and Facebook posting about… You can’t turn a corner it seems without hearing a news story or seeing a headline talking about the mighty HarbourCats and their oh-so-very impressive winning streak. Heck even the blog traffic is up as people from near and far hunt for information on this small-town powerhouse that is our Cats. Seventeen in a row, one game away from clinching the first-half playoff berth… wow.
And it’s about damn time! I keep hearing coach Graig Merritt’s quote about the early season victories and their effect on player morale: “Winning solves everything”. He was talking about on the field, and how the players react, but the same is true for the entire city. HarbourCats games are now the place to be. We’re actually going to make the playoffs and host games at RAP this season – how cool is that! I wasn’t even alive the last time something of that magnitude happened (the Victoria Tyee’s won a championship on that field back in 1952). Yes the city loves a winner. Like the hockey Royals will tell you – win it, and they will come. Win a few games, and word gets around. A good winning streak will bring an extra few hundred fans to the game just to be part of it. Win an unfathomable 17 in a row? You’re going to have to start putting in more seats…
Of course it works the other way too. If winning solves them, then losing causes the problems. People quickly find other things to do in this, one of the most beautiful and diverse cities on the planet. It’s partially understandable, but it also doesn’t make sense when you think about how many people around these parts still proudly display the Canucks logo on hats, shirts, and car bumpers after 40 years of nothing to show for it.
But that’s a story for another day. For now, it’s all about the streak! Seventeen games may not sound like much to the average fan, but it’s pretty incredible in any team sport to see these kind of numbers. Parity of talent, the odd mistake or bad game, and just plain dumb luck are always working against you. As Darth always says, “Even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while”.
Usually he does. Modern-day winning streaks of this nature are few and far between. The 92-93 NHL Penguins made it to 17 in a row, the longest NHL streak in history and experts say, it may never be broken. In baseball, back in 2002 the Oakland Athletics won 20 in a row, 6 short of the all-time record of 26 set in 1916 by the New York Giants. A closer comparison is college baseball, where surprisingly, mid-teen streaks happens more frequent than one would expect. In NCAA Div I, both Texas (1977) and Florida Atlantic (1999) hold 34-game records. In Div II, Savana State (2000) hold an incredible 46-game record.
And the longest sports winning streak of all time? The Harlem Globetrotters once won 2,495 games in a row before the streak was ended one night in 1971.
In reality though, seventeen wins in a summer college baseball league is a monumental feat that may end up being one of the most amazing things we will ever see in this town, and something we may never see again. Simply put, those blind squirrels aren’t having any luck beating this team…
Opponents just aren’t finding wins against the HarbourCats – in fact, Victoria is outright stealing wins away in games they probably shouldn’t be winning. There’s no domination happening on most nights, these are close games coming down to the wire, games in which the HarbourCats are coming back and hanging on to win. It’s player chemistry, team resiliency, excellent and timely coaching, and yes, a little luck sprinkled in. Some will argue it’s the teams they are playing – opponents during the streak have a combined 56-88 record this season, teams Victoria has not played on the streak hold a 47-43 record – but that’s nothing more than sour grapes. Of course the teams we have played are losing more games – we’re the cause of that!
Whatever the reason, 2016 is a magical ride that shows no signs of slowing down, and no reason to doubt it can’t continue. While all good things must come to an end I’m sure, there’s no point talking about it until we have to…
The Streak, by the numbers
There are some really interesting stats from these 17 games that form the streak. Here’s a few you may not have thought about:
- Victoria has had home-bats in the ninth inning only once this year. Sunday’s win against Kitsap in the 11th inning was the only ninth and only walk-off win of the season so far.
- Victoria has trailed in 7 of the 17 games, but never by more than 2 runs.
- Victoria has trailed for only 14 of 154 innings during the streak, and no more than 3 in one game. The latest the team has been behind in any game is the sixth inning.
- Over the streak, Victoria has outscored opponents 119-52, and outhit them 166-95 (despite not having 11 of those ninth-inning last-bats).
- Victoria has committed only 13 errors in the 17 games, while opponents have committed 28.
- Victoria has outscored opponents in every inning except the ninth (again, because they aren’t batting much in the ninth). The most prolific innings are the fourth and eighth (20 runs in each) and the sixth (17 runs), while the least runs have been scored in the first (8) and seventh (11).
- Opponents score more in the third inning (8), and have scored 7 runs in innings 1, 4, 7, and 8. Victoria pitching is stingiest in the fifth inning, giving up only 2 runs total in the 17 games.
- Victoria has scored first in 11 of the 17 games, opponents in the other 6. Only once have the HarbourCats given up a lead once they get one (and of course they got it back later in the contest).
- Two games have been tied after regulation, but only one has gone past 9 innings! Huh? The 11-inning home victory last weekend is one, and the rain make-up game in Kelowna that went 8 innings after being scheduled for 7 is the other.
The next victim to the table is our Canadian kin from the north, the Kelowna Falcons. Weather should be more cooperative for this series than it was the first time these teams met – in fact, this series has become a four-game series as we play one extra game here to make up for the one that couldn’t be played up there.
Kelowna has had a real up and down season so far, and is currently on an up swing and a modest 4-game winning streak after sweeping Cowlitz last weekend. They are coming off their bye, and Thursday’s game will be their first this week. The Falcons have played the same number of games as Victoria (20), and come in with an 11-9 record.
Offensivley, Kelowna is the polar opposite of Victoria. The Falcon sit at the very bottom of the WCL in almost every offensive stat – runs scored, hits, walks, runs batted it, on-base percentage… Even in home runs, they are dead last with only a single dinner. Their batting stats don’t look like a team with a winning record at all.
There’s a couple new faces in the lineup this time for Victoria pitchers to explore. OF Jessie Moore is looking good hitting .355 with 5 hits in his last 3 games. New catcher Vaughn Shapen hasn’t been held hitless in his 7 starts so far and is hitting .409. OF Chandler Robertson is on a 7 -16 tear over his last 4 games and sits at .344. Overall, Kelowna comes in hitting .238 as a team, with 6 players hitting over .300 on the season.
Victoria is hitting a league-best .282 as a team, and is at the top of almost all other categories including home runs with 14 and runs scored with 127. The usual crew continues to lead the team, with OF Jarron Silva hitting .391, just 9 points off the league lead (he also hit Victoria’s first 2 triples of the season down in Wenatchee this week). 3B Brad Pluschkell continues to impress at .364, and OF Matt Lautz has come on lately, going 5-13 in his last 3 games to bring his average to .350. Catcher Joe Prior leads all Cats with 11 RBI, while Cody Snider continues to lead in runs scored with 13.
On the pitching side, Kelowna fares better and is near the middle of the pack with a team ERA sitting at 4.07. There are a few numbers that really stand out with the pitching crew though… Falcons pitchers have given up fewer walks (58) and have thrown fewer wild pitches (9) than any other squad by a wide margin (Victoria numbers are 72 & 22 respectively) – so one would expect those low numbers to point to increased control. Surprisingly though, they have only 94 strikeouts (Victoria has 182). Lots of balls in play maybe? Not at all, they have the second lowest number of fielding chances in the league with 766 (Victoria is the only team with less, at 716).
Victoria’s team ERA sits at 2.97, and batters are hitting a measly .186 against Cats pitchers. Hurlers continue to shine this season for the team, led by relievers Greg Casper and Holden Lyons, and starters Austin Dondanville, Will McAffer, and James Kannenberg, all with ERAs under 2.25.
In the series, Kelowna has planned to send Blake Randazzo (2-2, 2.62 ERA) on Thursday, Tanner Knapp (0-1, 1.28 ERA) Friday in game 1, Jordan Ragan (0-0, 2.55 ERA) in game 2, and Leif Storm (1-2, 2.84 ERA) in Sunday’s finale. Knapp has recently joined the Falcons and looks to build on his first impressive start. He held Corvalis hitters to 6 hits and a walk over 7 innings of work, giving up only a single run. He’s a teammate of Griffin Andreychuk at Seattle U as well, so there will be bragging rights on the line Friday for sure.
Victoria is back on a fairly standard rotation for this series sending Mighty Will McAffer (3-1, 1.58 ERA), Awesome Austin Dondanville (2-0, 1.22 ERA), Holden Lyons (2-0, 2.25 ERA) in his first start of the season, and lefty Josh Mitchell (2-0, 2.70 ERA) to end it.
Not much to report roster-wise this week. Starter James Kannenberg left Monday’s game in Wenatchee with a minor issue he will have looked at today, and OF AJ Alcantara left last night’s game late after being in some discomfort after a ninth-inning strike-out. Both are not expected to miss any time.
Look for more Victoria domination the weekend, and for that streak to continue to mount! See you at the ballpark – you’ll recognize me as the one going Ooooh-Ahhhh late Thursday night.