HarbourCats pitching toward the playoffs, Bellingham in town

So quite a lot has happened since the last blog post… I hadn’t previewed the second Bend series – but then again we had just seen them and there wasn’t much new to tell… or so I thought? Actually there’s a bit going on worth bringing you up to speed on…

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Will McAffer – Doesn’t like the road unis?

Starting with the previous series down in Gresham, which was interesting for a couple reasons. The GreyWolves took two of three from Victoria dishing out a couple of 9-8 and 9-6 losses, with a 12-4 Victoria win sandwiched in. Austin Dondanville was the only pitcher with a win in the series, while All-star Will McAffer suffered his second loss. Interestingly, McAffer is 0-2 on the road, and 4-0 at home… Giving up 9 runs twice in a series is also something we haven’t seen this year, and even the victory was a little less than spectacular – Gresham left 13 men on base or it would have been much closer. It was the first series-loss for the HarbourCats since the opening one of the year.

Then three games in Bend, and the games followed similar script as the week prior. Two wins (by identical 7-3 scores) around a (4-2) loss as Victoria took 2 of 3. The obvious highlight of the series was Josh Mitchell’s complete game 9-hit, 2ER game in which the All-Star proved he deserved every bit of it, striking out 7 while not giving up a single walk. Game three saw Cameron Schneider avenge his previous start against Bend as he tossed a masterful 6 innings giving up only a single run on 6 hits and 3 walks (much better than the 5 run, 9 hit outing against the Elks last week). The middle game featured a good start by Blake Hannah, and a surprising loss by Holden Lyons, who gave up his first two earned runs in a month and a half (he gave up runs in his first start of the season – none since).

With Hannah, he became the 13th HarbourCat pitcher to be given a start so far this season. Seem like a lot? Same as 2015 actually – 13 different starters went last year as well.

So lets stick with the pitching story this week shall we? The staff down the right-field line is beginning to morph a bit as the season goes on. What seemed like a fairly solid rotation with some established bullpen roles during the streak has altered into a more dynamic mid-season machine working its way toward the playoffs. Injuries, player moves, and workload are all adding to the mix, making arm-planning one of the most critical jobs for the coaching staff. As Jim Swanson loves to say, “That’s why they call it managing, not coaching in baseball. It’s like walking through a minefield some times”.

What’s happening to the HarbourCats this year is not unusual, nor is it unexpected. In past years, the team has limped into the last few weeks of the season with tired arms, players shutting down for the season, and players heading home early. This year, Victoria has had it’s share of issues, but due to better pre-season planning, it’s not impacting quite as much as it has. There have been a few departures however:

  • Dalton Erb of course, after dominating his first start was selected in the draft and signed with the Padres.
  • James Kannenberg had four quality starts in June before feeling a tweak in the elbow of his throwing arm. He returned home for tests and has been working with the SF Giants medical staff, and has been shut down for the summer as a precaution.
  • Ryan Steindorf gave up only 2 hits in a couple relief stints before he too felt something in his arm. He returned home for tests, and felt it best to take the rest of the summer off rather than risk further fatigue.
  • Casey Costello had found his stride coming out of the bullpen, picking up a couple of wins during the streak. He’s hasn’t pitched since Canada Day as he had to return home to deal with some school issues and is awaiting the results of some tests (academic not medical). He may still return later in the season.

The remaining staff is holding together admirably. Starters Mitchell, McAffer and Dondanville show no signs of slowing down their dominating play, keeping their spots in the rotation firmly solidified. The question now, is what to do the rest of the way?

Victoria now starts a stretch of 18 games in 19 nights to end the year. The only day off comes on August 4th, just before the year’s final series against Yakima. A day off after that series and the playoffs start, with games set for August 9-11 potentially. So that’s 21 possible games in 23 nights, 10 of them on the road. That’s a lot of innings for not many arms. Here’s some numbers on just how much work that is…

Let’s assume home games all need 9 innings of pitching, while in the road games, Victoria wins every series 2-1, and pitchers are needed for 9 innings twice, and 8 innings once.  That means a total of 185 innings are needed to the end of the first round of the playoffs. Lets also assume a 5-man rotation – at least, that means that each of those three get four days off between starts.

Dondo averages a solid 6 innings per start, McAffer a little less, and Mitch a little more. Overall, lets use an average of 6 innings for each of them. Realistically, using a 5-man rotation they could each get 4 more starts including the three of them each starting one first round playoff game.

Top 3 starters: 72 innings pitched. That leaves 113 innings remaining.

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Schneider eyes up a rotation spot

The other two starts in the 5-man rotation are really coach’s choice at this point. Don’t forget – this is still a development league, with players playing roles they don’t usually play in their regular college year. Starts are given to players based on performance to date, work done in practice, timing and availability… and numerous other personal and performance-related factors. In the end, it’s about giving a player a chance to be successful and contribute – that’s why these guys are here for the summer. So lets roll out the Mora’s, Wolger’s, Hannah’s, and Schneider’s of the world and see what they can do! At this point, it looks like Schneider is a likely candidate to be the full-time fourth consistent starter, so give him 4 more starts as well, averaging slightly less at 5 innings a start. The fifth spot let’s leave as a rotation, and hope for 4 innings from whomever goes out there. Four of those and that’s 20 starts, so let’s give 2 rotation spots in the last series for a total of 21 games to line up for the playoffs.

Schneider: 20 innings pitched.

Rotation: 20 innings pitched.

Innings remaining, 73.

So that’s not bad actually. With the signings this week of Ethan Skuija and Indigo Diaz, there are 10 arms in the bullpen for the coaching staff to play with. Even if 3-4 of them are used in the rotation spots, there should be enough arms to finish most games off at this point without overworking key guys like Greg Casper and Holden Lyons.  It’s easy to see though that each one of the staff will play a key role in getting the team through the season and past the first round of the playoffs. Oh yeah, I didn’t include the WCL finals in my numbers above – all hands on deck for those 2 or 3 games!

Bells In Town for three

BellinghamAs for the Bells preview, they come to town with the same second-half record as Victoria at 5-4. A perennially strong team, Bellingham is 15-8 against Victoria all-time. They also have arguably the best uniforms in the league, their home Dodger-esque are SHARP!

Bells 1B Jake Vieth won yesterday’s Home Run Derby hitting 4 in the final round, although he’s hit only 2 in the regular season so far. He leads the Bells with 13 RBI, tied with SS Chase Strumpf and OF Elijah Skipps. Another pair of outfielders find themselves at the top of the Bells offense as well: Shane Hanon leads the club hitting .342 on 39 hits and 21 runs scored, while Andru Cardenas is close behind as .327 on 33 hits and 22 runs scored. Overall the team comes in hitting .251 with 8 home runs and 151 runs scored in their 36 games.

Victoria bats are cooling off quite a bit lately – but not all of them. Outfielder AJ Alcantara now finds himself on the top of the charts at .347. PJ Floyd has turned it on of late, going 6/15 in his last 5 games and sits second .343. Jarron Silva had been held hitless in six games and saw his average get as low as .304 before rebounding to go 3-4 Sunday in Bend. Likewise, Griffin Andreychuk is in the midst of a tough 3/27 slump and has seen his average plummet down to .275 – his lowest point since August 2014.

On the mound, Bellingham is led by a trio of respectable starters and some solid bullpen arms. We will see only one of their top starters in Jody Matulovich. He’s suffered a bit of late losing his last 2, but was lights-out in his previous 5 outings giving up only 4 runs total while striking out 34 22.1 innings. Newly minted starter Spencer Howard also gets a start, he’s yet to give up a run in 10 innings of work, 8 as a starter.

As a team, Bellingham comes in with a 2.81 ERA, a half-run lower than Victoria’s 3.34 which has been going up steadily since the streak ended back on July 1. Matchups for the series look like this:

Nick Silva (1-1, 1.80 ERA) vs. Blake Hannah (101, 3.00 ERA) Wednesday

Spencer Howard (1-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. Will McAffer (402, 2.64 ERA) Thursday

Jody Matulovich (2-3, 2.97 ERA) vs. Cameron Schneider (2-0, 4.09 ERA) Friday

HarbourCatNip

A few more lineup points worth mentioning as this series gets underway…

  • Griffin Andreychuk took a fastball to the head during Sunday’s game in Bend. He’s fine, but sat out Tuesday’s All-Star game to rest rather than take a chance. No alarm bells or serious concussion issues, he’s just taking a couple days off. Expect to see him at some point this series.
  • Cody Snider has left the team due to a medical issue with his back. Again nothing overly serious, but a nagging injury is no fun to play through as a platoon outfielder. While he possibly could return, my money would be on not seeing him again this season.
  • The All-Star game held yesterday in Cowlitz was a success by all accounts. Six HarbourCats were selected and four made it into the game (Griff sat it out, and Will McAffer was scheduled to pitch the ninth inning but wasn’t needed as the South didn’t need to bat. Jarron Silva played the whole game and went 1-4 while Ben Polshuk subbed in and went 0-2. Dondanville and Mitchell each pitched an inning, giving up a run each. 1,823 fans took in the game, overall a good showing.
  • On a final note, the Toronto Blue Jays organization released 1B and ex-HarbourCat Gabe Clark last week. Gabe was in Vancouver playing for the Canadians (the Jays Short-Season A team) after spending the previous year with the Bluefield BlueJays down in West Virginia. Gabe has decided to hang up his cleats, return to school, and take his life in a new direction. We here at the blog – along  with every HarbourCat fan I’m sure – wish Gabe nothing but the absolute best in the next phase of his life. He’ll always have a special place in Victoria’s baseball history – and a special place here on the blog (yes that’s him still proudly adorning our header graphic). Best of luck Gabe.

 

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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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