Looking at the HarbourCats schedule for 2017, the season seems to break nicely into three distinct sections. The first third of the season ended on Friday night with the team getting swept in a three game series against the Walla Walla Sweets, which included a rain-induced seven inning double-header set.
With the Saturday off and the Sunday exhibition games, Monay’s afternoon game begins the second leg of the journey. This is the grueling leg. The team will now play 13 meaningful games in a row before the next day off, and a total of 22 games in 26 nights. This middle-third of the season will go a long way to showing us what this 2017 team is made of.
Coming in 7-8 is not exactly where we expected the team to be. The pre-season expectations of an undefeated season, or recreating the massive winning streak of 2016 are dreams of the past. Last season, Victoria went 23-4 in first half play, and it wasn’t until July 20th that they lost their eighth game of the season. In 2017 now with a sub-.500 team sitting in fifth place in a six-team division 2.5 games behind leading Bellingham, we’re just hoping to somehow get close enough to give a playoffs berth a sniff. It’s a tall order given the rest of the first-half schedule though as Victoria has only 6 games left against teams ahead of them in the standings, and doesn’t play Bellingham at all – so moving up and catching them all will need some extra efforts and a little external help.
Still, this second leg now brings together the full roster for 2017. The majority of those planned to be in attendance are here, and less reliance on ten-day players is the new norm. With this should come consistency at the plate and on the mound, something that has been absent of late. The team has fallen to a .248 combined batting average, while the team ERA has been raised to a combined 3.81. The ERA isn’t actually that bad by WCL standards, but the fielding isn’t helping much with that – 17 errors have been committed by the squad, resulting in 17 unearned runs given up. The team is currently sitting at +1 in runs scored with 71 in and 70 given up – without the 17 of those given up by the defense, Victoria’s record could be significantly better.
Harry Shipley continues to be the bright star on offence – he an Bernie Huang are the only two regular players hitting over .300 at .319 and .314 respectively. Newcomer OF DJ Porter had one good game in Walla Walla going 3-4 so we’ll see if he can keep that going. The Cats best hitter early on was the versatile Noah Prewett, but an early injury on a slide into third in the Wenatchee series has sidelined him since. Hopefully he will be back soon – Jim Swanson calls him “Perhaps the best athlete we have ever had”, so let’s hope we get to see more of him. We’re also waiting to see some of that Pac-12 magic from Andrew Vaughn. The highly touted Cal-Berkeley catcher/DH has yet to breakout, hitting .200 on 3/15 with a double. He was on fire in the Sunday exhibition game going 4-4, let’s hope that kick-starts him off.
On the mound, stud pitcher of the year so far continues to be AJ Block. He’s impressed since his first pitch in Port Angeles and continues to do so, sitting at a 1.25 ERA in 3 starts and a hold out of the pen to preserve a win in Wenatchee. Travis Kuhn is right there as well, and has grabbed the closer role with a vengeance, earning 3 saves so far on a 1.28 ERA, striking out 6 in 7 innings. Starter Isaac Mullins is right there too – he’s throwing a 1.68 ERA, giving up only 3 earned runs in 16 innings over 3 starts. Those kind of numbers should have him sitting at 3-0 on the season – but he’s 0-1 after bullpen implosions and 5 unearned runs during his outings.
The bullpen excluding Kuhn though, is the true issue with the team right now, it is sitting at a combined 5.25 in 36 innings of work.
This week will be a test for sure – starting with Port Angeles and a game they should be able to win, and then three against South Division powerhouse Corvallis before finishing the home stand with another set against Walla Walla. Victoria likely needs to go 5-2 in this stretch at home to have a shot at the first-half playoff spot. A tough order that will require some additional discipline all around the diamond to achieve…