September 2010

Celebrating the Championship

All in all 2010 was a magical season, culminated by our organizations first New York-Penn League title. Currently in the planning phases is a championship trophy tour that will coincide with the MLB Playoffs. Right now we are working with the Recovery Sports Grill and will have a date picked out very soon.

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A shipment of championship t-shirts came in last week and have been flying off the shelves. We have ordered a new shipment, which will include different types of items such as hats, sweatshirts and pennants. So stay tuned at tcvalleycats.com, and we’ll let you know as soon as those items arrive. We’re also open to any ideas you might have on other items. Let us know on our ValleyCats Facebook page.

Check out the logo which will be featured on the sweatshirts and hats:

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Here in the office, as soon as you walk in you run into our display of items from the 2010 Championship Season:

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Game used Michael Kvasnicka autographed helmet:

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2010 ValleyCat MVP and NYPL All-Star Ben Orloff’s season long game used helmet and locker tag:

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Base from Opening Weekend 2010 autographed by the entire team. NYPL All-Star Tyler Burnett’s game used bat and cleats. Adam Bailey and Michael Kvasnicka batting gloves:

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If you’re ever around the campus of Hudson Valley Community College, drop in the office to say hello and check out the display!
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On Monday night, members of the ValleyCats front office went out to the grand opening of Buffalo Wild Wings in Clifton Park Center. We handed out championship t-shirts and said hello to all the sports fans. The atmosphere is awesome!

Our waitress Jennifer was great! (recommending the nachos and potato fries with cheese).

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We even witnessed a wing eating contest where you need to eat 12 of their hottest wings in 6 minutes. This gentleman did it with ease and won a free t-shirt and a photo on the wall..Maybe an idea for our 2011 Wingfest at The Joe?

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This is just a few of their famous wing sauces:

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Exterior shot…with outdoor seating.

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For those interested in following some of our 2010 ValleyCats, many of them are currently participating in the Astros Instructional League at their spring training complex in Kissimmee Florida. Astros beat reporter Zachary Levine breaks down the Instructional League roster.

Levine also breaks down the new Astros Triple-A PDC contract with Oklahoma City.

What is a PDC (Player Development Contract) and how does it work? Executive Vice President and COO of Minor League Baseball, Tim Purpura explains.

Also, keep an eye out on our YouTube page for some bonus footage of the ValleyCats championship celebration!

 

Field Renovations Continue

The 2010 season may have come to an end, but the ‘Cats community involvement continued this afternoon. Today, members of the Tri-City ValleyCats front office began the two-day process of “rehabbing” the Averill Park High School baseball field.

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The field has been in use since 1997, so it was in “rough condition” according to many. The Averill Park Warriors‘ Varsity, Junior Varsity, and Freshman baseball teams all utilize this diamond.

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Renovations include rebuilding both the pitchers mound and homeplate…

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The infield dirt will be rehabbed and the grass will be over-seeded…

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The baselines will be edged and finished…

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In March, the ValleyCats helped to renovate Brunswick Little League as part of their Field Renovation Program.

Here’s the story:

http://www.facebook.com/v/542851554492

Champions

The ValleyCats are champions of the first time in New York-Penn League history. Let me say that again so we all understand what just happened. The Tri-City ValleyCats are the 2010 champs!

Wait a minute. I need to slow down here so this can fully resonate. At one point in July the ValleyCats were 9.5 games out of first. Fast-forward a few months and the ‘Cats just swept the best team, statistically, in the entire league in front of their home crowd. Did that really just happen?

Oh yes it did. And how sweet it is.

After waiting a few days due to the rain, the ‘Cats took the field on Tuesday night with one thing on their mind: We are not coming back here tomorrow night. We will finish this tonight. This slogan came down from Coach Jim Pankovits and each player took that mindset and showed it on the field. The ValleyCats dominated the Cyclones, and I say that with conviction.

It was ace vs. ace in game two as Carlos Quevedo took the hill against Yohan Almonte, a rematch of a game back on July 19 (a game the ‘Cats won 7-4). Quevedo got the best of the Cyclones then and he did again on Tuesday night. Carlos was magnificent and stifled everyone in the Brooklyn offense not named Darrell Ceciliani (7.0 IP, 1 ER, 1 BB, 7 K).

“This is the biggest win of my career, my life,” Quevedo said. “I’m going home to Venezuela and give this gift to my mom.”

The offense, led by Kik&eacute Hernandez, exploded for 11 hits and five runs as the ‘Cats flexed their muscle to become champions for the first time in team history.

I’ll admit, seeing the ValleyCats raise the trophy was the highlight of my night, but there was something else I relished just as much as the win.

Much of the Brooklyn media members and Cyclones staff did not give the ValleyCats much of a chance to win this game. And why would they? Brooklyn had been the best team all year. They have the MVP on their team (Ceciliani) and the two top ERA leaders (Almonte and Angel Cuan). And on top of all of that they are unbeatable at home (30-8 in the regular season at MCU Park). The ValleyCats on the other hand barely made the playoffs and Brooklyn handled the ‘Cats in the regular season (Tri-City was 2-4 against the McNamara Division Champions). Like I said on the air it was a true David vs. Goliath match up.

Here’s the thing though: This was a short series. Any team can win a best-of-three. You see this happen all the time in baseball, which is why I didn’t really understand the cockiness. Nevermind the Cyclones were already down 1-0.

So when the ValleyCats jumped out to a 3-1 lead, and with Quevedo pitching the way he was, I knew that Tri-City had a great chance to take home the trophy.

Then came the hit that broke the camel’s back.

With two outs in the seventh inning, Adam Bailey hit a rocket to right-center field off of Angel Cuan (a ball hit so hard that if he pulled it to right field it would have landed a few rows back in the bleachers). Two runs came around to score as the ValleyCats took a 5-1 lead, a lead that the bullpen could easily hold. As Bailey trotted into second base you could see the Brooklyn media wave the white flag. Heads dropped and shoulders sunk because they knew that the Cyclones were going to go home empty handed.

Jorge De Leon came in and pitched a perfect eighth, and the ‘Cats were three outs away from pulling off what people would have deemed impossible two months ago. Mike Ness entered in the ninth inning and had to face some of the most dangerous hitters in the NYPL this season. Ness, who picked up the save in the 1-0 pitchers duel to beat Batavia, saw this as a challenge and did not disappoint. He induced a 5-4-3 double play to end the game as the masses mobbed him on the hill in celebration.

It was a truly magical season with ups and downs. The ValleyCats looked “anemic” back in June, but through grit and hard work Tri-City persevered and have now won the NYPL’s greatest prize, something that Ben Zobrist and Hunter Pence could not do. After watching this team grow as a unit and finally come out on top, I only have one thing to say:
Congratulations. You all earned it.

Make sure you stay tuned as Kevin and I dish out awards for this ValleyCats team, including who we think is the most MLB-ready prospect on the team.

Evan Valenti

Championship-Bound

Andrew Moss should have been a playoff hero.

Moss, starting the decisive Game Three of the NYPL semifinals for Batavia, became just the league’s second pitcher this year to throw a nine-inning complete game. He allowed just four hits – one a grounder that took a bad hop, another a dribbler past the mound – and did not walk a single batter. He needed only 89 pitches to complete the game, retiring the final 16 Tri-City batters in order and only once going to a three-ball count. With the league’s best offense behind him, the one-run performance should have been more than enough to send the Muckdogs on to the championship.

Instead, the Muckdogs are done, and Moss gets a big “L” in the box score. Becuase the ValleyCats’ pitching – its strength all season – came up huge at the biggest possible time. Jake Buchanan threw seven scoreless innings and Michael Ness shut out the hosts in the eighth and ninth, and the ValleyCats are playing for the title for the third time in seven seasons.

“Our pitching has carried us all year, and it was apropos that we won with it,” manager Jim Pankovits said. “I can’t remember a player or a pitcher who has stepped up like Jake Buchanan last night. It was unbelievable.”

Buchanan fanned six Muckdogs, all swinging, while only walking one – a two-out free pass in the seventh to Jon Rodriguez, who entered the game 7-for-10 in the series. He allowed only three hits: Chris Edmonson’s bloop single in the first, Victor Sanchez’s dribbler down the line in the fourth, and a hard grounder by Juan Castillo in the third, which probably should have been scored an error on third baseman Tyler Burnett.

“He had his best stuff [last night],” catcher Chris Wallace said. “His two-seamer and his change-up were giving them fits, and he did a great job locating his pitches. They didn’t stand a chance.”

The ‘Cats only scored one run: Tyler Burnett came home all the way from first on Adam Bailey’s two-out, fourth-inning double, aided when Edmonson slipped and struggled to pick up the carom off the wall. But it would be the only score they needed. Batavia, which racked up 41 hits in the first two games of the series, managed only three on Thursday. No Muckdogs made it past first base.

The 55 degree temperature, combined with the inward-bound wind and a large ballpark, provided pitcher-friendly conditions. Thursday’s pitcher’s duel, which was finished in just 97 minutes, was the polar opposite of Game 1 in Troy – a 10-9, extra-inning slugfest.

“The weather the last couple of days over there was nasty,” Pankovits said. “But we persevered, played very solid defensively, and we got some timely hits, and last night the pitching came through.”

“I used the weather to my advantage: I wasn’t afraid to pitch inside and go after them,” Buchanan said. “My two-seam fastball was good, running in and jamming them.”

As it turned out, Buchanan didn’t need any help from the elements: of the 16 balls put in play off the righty, 13 were on the ground (including 11 of 13 outs). Closer Mike Ness, however, was thankful for the conditions when his first pitch was driven to deep right-center by designated hitter Geoff Klein. The ball – which would have been a no-doubt homer at Joe Bruno Stadium – died on the warning track, and Adam Bailey ranged over from right field to make the catch.

Ness hit Edmonson – his former teammate on the Pittsfield Dukes – with one out in the ninth, but fanned Sanchez and Nick Longmire to end the game.

The Tri-City victory is likely the last NYPL contest that will be played at Dwyer Stadium. Rumors are that the Muckdogs – which averaged a league-lowest 1,100 fans this season – will be relocated in 2011. Only 600 fans were on hand for Thursday’s winner-take-all playoff game.

Brooklyn comes to “The Joe” on Saturday after clinching with a 6-4 victory on Thursday, overcoming a 1-0 deficit to defeat Jamestown in three games. The Cyclones, who finished the season with a league-best 51-24 record, are the clear favorite on paper, but the ValleyCats have been surprising people for six weeks now.

“I don’t know if all that matters now,” Bailey said. “It’s a new slate now that we’re in the championship. A lot of people didn’t think we’d be here, so we have a lot to prove.”

Saturday’s game willl start at 7 pm, and will be followed by fireworks.

Kevin Whitaker

Pennant Chase Postmortem

Me, on 7/5:

Given how strong Vermont has looked – the Lake Monsters are off to an unbelievable 14-3 start, with eight consecutive wins – the ValleyCats’ slim playoff hopes probably rest on the wild card.

Me, on 7/15:

Vermont has already all but clinched the Stedler Division. […] The ValleyCats’ playoff hopes look awfully slim, despite [the good run differential] – their recent bad fortune has left them 4.5 games back and behind seven other teams in the wild-card race, which is a very difficult hurdle to overcome under any circumstances.

Me, on 7/28:

[The ValleyCats’] playoff chances, however, are still very remote. Even if the ValleyCats played like the league’s best team in the second half, they would finish at 41-35 or so. Five teams are currently on pace to have a better record than that, and another two aren’t far behind, so they would still probably have no better than a 50-50 shot at reaching the postseason.

Evan, on 8/13:

If you had told me back in the beginning of July that, come August, the ValleyCats would have a shot to win the division, I would have had you declared officially insane. […] It was July 10 and most fans were already hoping for the wild card.

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One month into the season, it was not exactly likely that the ValleyCats would be playing meaningful games in September. They stood at 11-18 on the morning of July 19, 9.5 games behind Vermont. The Lake Monsters had cooled off slightly – it would have been impossible to do otherwise after a 14-3 start – but still had a firm hold on the Stedler Division. Tri-City was also well behind Connecticut in the division and trailed several teams in the wild card, and looked headed for a third-place finish.

There were some signs that things might turn around. The ‘Cats were unlucky in close games, and their strong run differential portended better things for the future. Meanwhile, their offense was bound to improve, while their pitching staff was one of the league’s best.

You can trace the ValleyCats’ turnaround to a late-July game at Vermont. Nearing the end of a seven-day road trip that had proven less than fruitful to that point, they found themselves in a 7-3 hole to the Lake Monsters, after ace Carlos Quevedo suffered his worst start of the season. But the ‘Cats battled back, striking for three runs in the seventh and two on a Mike Kvasnicka single in the eighth to win a 10-8 slugfest. Bobby Doran picked up his first win the next night to complete an unlikely sweep.

After the great weekend, fellow VCN member Chris Chenes proclaimed that the ValleyCats would make the playoffs. Evan and I thought he was crazy. We were both optimistic about their future, but the math seemed too daunting – they still trailed the Lake Monsters by 7.5 games (with only two head-to-head matches left), and the wild card was looking less and less attainable as the Pinckney Division teams pulled away from the pack. 

Recent history doesn’t matter a whole lot in the minors – teams change almost completely from year to year. What little difference it does make, however, certainly seemed to go against the ValleyCats. Tri-City was coming off three consecutive last-place finishes, and indeed no Houston affiliate had reached the playoffs since 2007*. But Chris stuck to his guns, and would eventually be vindicated. 
*The manager on that pennant-winning Salem Avalanche? None other than our own Jim Pankovits.

Tri-City was in danger of losing its next series, a three-game home set against Lowell, when they trailed the rubber match 5-1 in the seventh inning. Such a loss, particularly on their home field, would have been very disappointing for the ‘Cats, as the Spinners had not yet won a series all season. But Adam Bailey belted the team’s first (and only) grand slam to tie the game, and Dan Adamson sent the fans home happy, leading off the 11th inning with a walk-off homer.

The ‘Cats swept another two-game set with Vermont early in August, then embarked on a six-game road trip to Mahoning Valley and State College. They lost slugger Ben Heath to promotion midway through the trip, yet ended it on a high note by winning the last two to split the six games. Tri-City allowed just eight runs over the final five games of that trip, which manager Jim Pankovits credits as the point where his team really started its comeback:

About that time, we had made some adjustments to the rotation and started to go to a more regular lineup, and I think we just got on a roll. We played very well that series, and it continued to a couple more series when we came home. The game of baseball is a really streaky game, and we got on a really good hot streak about then.

The ValleyCats then returned to Joe Bruno Stadium, where they won 11 of their final 15 games, and won series against Williamsport – then leading the Pinckney Division – and Staten Island. The All-Star break did little to cool their momentum, as they swept Connecticut on the road, pulling back to .500 for the first time since the first week of the season. More importantly, they passed Connecticut to take second place in the division, and stood only 1.5 games back of the Lake Monsters.

That paved the way for a thrilling, topsy-turvy stretch run:

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Shown above are my playoff odds on each day for the final two weeks. The ValleyCats swept a home-and-home with Connecticut – taking the latter on a heartbreaking two-error eleventh inning by shortstop Brett Anderson – pushing the Tigers three games back and seemingly knocking them out of the race. But Connecticut would not quit, proceeding to take three at Vermont while the ValleyCats dropped three of their own at Hudson Valley, an extremely unlikely turn of events that left the Tigers right back int he thick of things. The division was still completely up for grabs heading into the last week of the season.

The ValleyCats more or less saved their season in their home finale, pulling out a 14-inning thriller on the heels of a 12-inning defeat to Hudson Valley. Two extra-inning losses would have left the ‘Cats deep in third place and in an unenviable position to embark on a season-ending, six-game road trip.

Instead, Chris Wallace doubled to the left-field wall in the 14th, his third huge hit of the series. Bailey followed with his third hit of the game, a single to right field, and Wallace slid home just inches in front of the tag. Bailey was far from the ValleyCats’ most consistent hitter this season – his batting average was just a point above the Mendoza Line entering that game – but he would be critical down the stretch, racking up a league-high 14 hits in the final week of the season.

The ValleyCats then swept Lowell, while Connecticut improbably did the same to Aberdeen to remain a half-game back. Vermont, meanwhile, dropped four of five at Brooklyn to be all but eliminated from the race. The two teams switched places on Friday, setting the stage for a remarkable Saturday. The ValleyCats took an 8-7 slugfest at Brooklyn – with the key hit, naturally, provided by Bailey – wihle the Tigers finally lost at Aberdeen.

That left the ValleyCats needing only a win or a Connecticut loss entering the final day of the season. Connecticut and Aberdeen began 2.5 hours before Tri-City took on the Cyclones, but the ‘Cats still didn’t know if they needed a win as their game started, because Connecticut forced extra innings. The Tigers twice threatened to make the Tri-City game decisive, scoring in the 11th and twice in the 13th. They entered Sunday with a league-best 19-10 record in one-run games, and a 6-2 record in extras, and it seemed like they would pull another victory out of nowhere (Connecticut finished above .500 despite being outscored by 44 runs).

But this time, they came out on the short end of an improbable defeat. The Ironbirds put two runners on with two outs, and #3 overall draft pick Manny Machado tripled off the right-field wall. Kipp Schutz, who hit a walk-off grand slam against the ValleyCats back in July, ended Connecticut’s season with a game-winning single, and the ValleyCats were free to celebrate.

In the end, the ValleyCats won with incredible pitching. Their 17-11 August was fueled by a 2.56 ERA and 81 runs allowed, both best in the league. Vermont, meanwhile, posted a 5.45 ERA while allowing 159 runs in August, going just 9-17 to blow a seven-game lead. Connecticut fared slightly better on that end, allowing 119 runs with a 3.57 ERA, but hit a league-low .212 for the month.

All five regular starters had a terrific month, posting ERAs below 3.00. David Martinez, a mid-season conversion from the bullpen, fared the best, allowing just four earned runs in 30.1 innings and fanning a team-high 31 batters. Bobby Doran (3-1, 2.41) and Jake Buchanan (2-3, 2.97) rebounded from slow starts with strong months, while Carlos Quevedo (3-1, 2.97) and Andrew Robinson (2-2, 2.74) continued excellent seasons in August. On the other side, the mid-month additions of Marcus Nidiffer (.317/.386/.540 in August) and Austin Wates (.368/.500/.474 in 19 at-bats) boosted an offense that saw some of its regulars drop off a bit, while the arm of Chris Wallace (14/25 CS with Tri-City) proved a valuable asset behind the plate.

The ValleyCats make the playoffs, and will be a tough match for a strong Batavia squad in the first round. All four playoff teams are very good, which should make for a very fun week.

So, Chris: You were right, and I was wrong. And I couldn’t be happier.

Kevin Whitaker

Down to the Wire

It’s amazing what a difference one day makes.

24 hours ago, the ValleyCats trailed Connecticut by a half-game, had two more games remaining with the league-leading Brooklyn Cyclones and had to hope Connecticut lost at least one to Aberdeen, which they had not done in four tries. The ‘Cats had been struggling to get hits and were in danger of wasting a tremendous effort down the stretch by the league’s second-best pitching staff.

Last night, Tri-City racked up a season-high 15 hits in their biggest game of the season, beating Brooklyn in an 8-7 slugfest while the Ironbirds finally downed Connecticut. The ‘Cats regained the Stedler Division lead and can clinch the division this afternoon with a win or a Tigers loss. My playoff odds are almost an exact reverse of yesterday’s, giving the ValleyCats a 72% chance of playing baseball next week.

The playoffs will begin on Tuesday. The Stedler Division winner will host Batavia at 7 pm, then go on the road to face the Muckdogs on Wednesday and (if necessary) Thursday. Whoever wins that will take on the winner of the other series (Brooklyn vs Williamsport or Jamestown) in the championship, which begins on Saturday 9/11.

Up and down the lineup, the Tri-City bats came through last night. The two newest ValleyCats – Telvin Nash and Austin Wates – only had one hit apiece, but they were big ones. Nash led off the third inning with a fly ball over the fence in left-center, and later that frame Wates homered off the hitters’ background in center field. Wates’s first homer of the year was crushed; the wind blows out hard here on the shore, but MCU park is huge – the fence is about ten feet high and 415 feet away where Wates’ homer left the park. That was only the second homer hit off the backdrop in center field – the first came from Vermont last week.

Chris Wallace and Adam Bailey each went 3-for-5, and both have really carried the lower half of this lineup down the stretch. Wallace came through with three huge hits in the home series against Hudson Valley last week, and Bailey has 12 hits in his last six games, including a walk-off single to plate Wallace in the final game of that Hudson Valley series. Bailey was again the hero in the top of the ninth inning last night, bringing Tyler Burnett home from second with a one-out single with the eventual game-winning run.

Burnett and Jacke Healey each had two hits, as well as Ben Orloff, who reached safely in four of his five plate appearances.

We saw another well-played game last night, as neither team committed an error for the second consecutive night. Part of that is generous scoring – I would have called one of last night’s hits an error, and you could have made a case for a couple more – but both teams have still been very solid defensively.

So the ValleyCats have a couple ways to clinch the division tonight. It would be nice if Aberdeen could take out Connecticut in the afternoon and remove all suspense, but the ValleyCats could earn it themselves regardless if they beat Brooklyn.

Two of the best starting pitchers in the NYPL take the mound tonight, as Cyclones starter A.J. Pinera and the ‘Cats’ David Martinez rank fifth and sixth in ERA, respectively. Darrell Ceciliani returns to the Brooklyn lineup tonight after missing a few games to injury. VCN will have coverage of tonight’s game and the division race, and hopefully we can continue to bring you baseball next week.

Kevin Whitaker

Close Calls

The ValleyCats have outplayed Connecticut by 5.5 games this season in contests decided by more than one run. Unfortunately, in one-run games, the Tigers are 19-10 while the ‘Cats are just 8-11. That gap widened last night, as the ‘Cats fell 5-4 at Brooklyn while the Tigers won their fourth straight over Aberdeen, 7-6.

The ‘Cats generally played well last night but allowed one big inning – four runs in the fourth off starter Bobby Doran – and that proved the difference. Both teams were fairly efficient with their baserunners; the ‘Cats left four on and scored four, while the Cyclones had five of each. So Tri-City now has to win one, and almost certainly two of its next two games, and even that won’t guarantee a playoff spot. I have the ‘Cats at just 27% to make the playoffs now, with Connecticut nearly a 3-to-1 favorite. (Vermont was eliminated with its loss to Staten Island last night.)

The ValleyCats’ offense, save for a couple games at Lowell, has not played well over the last week and a half, and it can’t count on the pitching staff to continue putting up otherworldly numbers to stay in games. The ‘Cats need to get some runs against newly-converted starter Jonathan Kountis if they want to keep their playoff hopes alive.

I’ll be tweeting updates from the game.

Kevin Whitaker

Unhittable

ValleyCats starters over the past two series (six games):

34.2 IP, 27 H, 6 BB, 32 SO, 3 R (0.79 ERA)

That’s incredible.

The ‘Cats took three relatively easy victories at Lowell this season, but Connecticut held serve with a sweep of its own over Aberdeen. Nothing has come easy for the Tigers this season, who have been outscored by 42 runs (!) but are above .500. Connecticut is 18-10 in one-run games; no other team in the league is more than three games above .500 in such contests.

So the ValleyCats will have to continue pitching well this weekend against the league’s best team, the Brooklyn Cyclones. Vermont is essentially out of the race, at 2.5 games back with three remaining and two teams to catch; they need to sweep Staten Island, have Brooklyn sweep the ‘Cats and have Connecticut lose at least two of three to Aberdeen in order to win the division. But the ‘Cats need to match or better Connecticut over the final three games, and the Tigers have a weaker opponent – the same Ironbirds they just swept.

It’s do or die time for the ValleyCats, who need to put up some wins against the top team in the league. If they do, they’ll be playing playoff baseball next week. VCN will be at this weekend’s games, so stay tuned for coverage of the critical series.

Kevin Whitaker

Potential Playoff X-Factors

The ValleyCats find themselves 0.5 games up on the
Connecticut Tigers and 1.5 games up on Vermont. Assuming things stay the same,
which they might not (the ValleyCats finish up the season in Brooklyn, the best
team in the NYPL, Connecticut takes on Aberdeen, and Vermont takes on the
Yankees after finishing up their five-game series with the Cyclones),
the ‘Cats will go roaring into the playoffs and take on the Batavia Muckdogs
(who went 18-11 in August).

Batavia took two out of the three games in Troy, the only
series these two teams have played against each other so far this season. The
Muckdogs hit almost .300 in that series and drove in 20 runs against the
ValleyCats pitching staff (12 off the relievers). That’s the bad news. The good
news is, with the exception of Murillo Gouvea, the starters only gave up three
earned runs (the Muckdogs scored the only unearned run off of Tom Shirley this
season) in nine innings. Also, the ValleyCats pitching staff held, at the time,
perennial MVP candidate Nick Longmire to a .214 average. Since then Longmire
has cooled off considerably. His average dropped to .290 after batting .255 in
August. And keep in mind this series came back in early July, a little bit
before the ValleyCats started to heat up.

If the ValleyCats make it that far and want to beat the
Muckdogs it won’t take a superhero effort. Tri-City has been one of the best
teams over the past month and a half. The pitching has been phenomenal and the
hitting is really starting to come around. But it might take something extra to
beat Batavia. Here’s a list of potential x-factors:

Appologies to Ben
Orloff, Dan Adamson, Tyler Burnett, Carlos Quevedo, and Bobby Doran. They have
been consistently good all year long. They don’t count as x-factors.

Austin Wates -

Wates is one of the players the ValleyCats did not have the
first time around, and I’m sure Jim Pankovits is ecstatic that the Hokie will
be there for the playoffs if the team can get there. Wates is just a pure
athlete and does almost everything exceptionally well. Granted, this is a small
sample size, but he has adjusted well to the pro level (7-23, .309 BA, 2 2B).
He is also one of those guys that can turn a walk into a double. In eight games
so far Wates has five stolen bases, including three in one game against Lowell.
He’s a distraction for any pitcher on the mound. He makes pitchers throw over
and keep the focus on him, and that usually bodes well for ValleyCat hitters.
Wates has been on base 12 times, including walks, and has scored seven runs.
You do the math. When Wates gets on, the odds are in his favor to score.

 

Adam Bailey -

I have been waiting for Bailey to break out of his shell for
the entire season, and the playoffs would be a great time to do it. Bailey has
arguably the best power out of anyone on the ValleyCats this year (this
includes when Ben Heath was on the team). He has hit some of the furthest home
runs I’ve seen in batting practice (I’m talking clearing both walls in RF and
sometimes going over the Dunkin’ Donuts cup). Bailey is hitting only .225 in
August, but leads the team in doubles and has eight RBI. In his last three
games, Bailey is 6-13 (.462) with a double and an RBI. Bailey also gives you
flexibility at the corner outfield position and has a cannon for the arm. He can
limit the runners scoring from third on a fly ball.

 

Kik Hernandez -

I know. I know. Evan, what are you thinking? Kik has been
one of the best players on the ValleyCats this year. Here’s the thing though,
I’m not too sure he will be back for the playoffs. He sprained his ankle in a
game against Hudson Valley on August 28, and hasn’t been back since. Last we
saw him he was on crutches, which isn’t a good sign. He is only on this list because he is injured. But, if he makes it back and is 100% healthy for the playoffs the
ValleyCats could be very dangerous. You could argue Kik has been one of the
most valuable players on the ‘Cats this season with the way he has played. He’s
really started to hit lately, and has even added power. He is a great defensive
option out there at second base. We all wish Kik a speedy recovery.

 

Alex Sogard -

I felt like I needed to include a pitcher and it came down
to Sogard, David Martinez, and Mike Ness. The nod goes to Sogard because he is
a lefty. Alex has been one of the best arms out of the bullpen this year. His
versatility gives you a guy out there that can come in and stifle the
opposition if the starter isn’t doing well. Or he can come in during a pressure
situation. Before his last outing on August 29 against Hudson Valley (2.2 IP, 5
hits, 3 runs, 2 earned), he had only surrendered four hits and had not let up a
run in seven straight appearances, covering a span of 13 innings! Sogard
dominates lefties (.229 average against, 0.68 ERA), but can come in against
either side and keep batters off the basepaths.

 

The ValleyCats are on the verge of making their first
playoff appearance since 2006. If they can get there, I believe they could make
some serious noise and get to the championship.

 

Evan Valenti

Roster Additions

The ValleyCats got some help from Greeneville today: outfielder Telvin Nash and pitchers Garrett Bullock, Ryan Cole and Brian Streilein have been promoted to Tri-City. The four reinforcements will help the ValleyCats, who currently lead the Stedler Division, for this week’s pennant chase and hopefully a playoff series or two. Greeneville finished its season last night with a 31-35 record.

Nash, who was drafted out of high school in the 3rd round of the 2009 draft, led Greeneville at year’s end with a .515 slugging percentage and .863 OPS. The left fielder slugged 25 extra-base hits in an even 200 at-bats and should provide pop for a ValleyCats offense that has struggled occasionally of late. Regular playing time may be hard to come by for Nash in Tri-City, which starts four outfielders most nights (including Austin Wates at DH), but he becomes the top pinch-hitting option in games he does not start and offers more flexibility to give a regular some rest. Nash torched lefties to the tune of .300/.345/.588 this season and was named Greeneville’s MVP. Two Greeneville players have joined the ValleyCats this season – Marcus Nidiffer and Chris Wallace – and both have made major contributions already.

Bullock posted a 1.26 ERA in 43 innings at Greeneville, leading Astros relievers in both categories. The lefty was signed by Houston as an undrafted free agent out of Wake Forest last summer but has made great strides in his second season. He will add balance to a Tri-City pitching staff that leans heavily to the right – Bullock joins only Alex Sogard, Travis Blankenship and Adam Champion as left-handed options. He should be more than just a one-out matchup specialist, however; the southpaw was slightly better against lefties but held opposite-handed hitters to just a .250 batting average this season, and got more than three outs in 16 of his 21 outings this year. Bullock allowed earned runs in each of his last two outings, but allowed none in his previous 26 innings, and has fanned 40 batters with 14 walks.

Cole, who ranked second among Greeneville pitchers with a 2.83 ERA, is one of two righties joining the ValleyCats’ bullpen. Houston’s 34th-round draft pick is from the general area, calling North Syracuse home and playing his college ball at St. John’s. His August ERA jumped a bit to 4.05, but his peripherals generally held constant, except for a slight uptick in walks that he appears to have corrected. Cole held batters to just a .222 average this season, fanning 28 with eight walks. He had a very pronounced platoon split, allowing righties to hit just .184 while lefties were 100 points higher.

Streilein is also from the northeast; he hails from Point Pleasant, NJ and attended Villanova. He was drafted by Houston in the 37th round of this summer’s draft, and has allowed a .293 batting average and a 5.06 ERA this season. But he certainly has the stuff to make hitters look foolish; he fanned 35 batters in 32 innings, while allowing eight walks (four of which were intentional). Streilein also forces batters to pound the ball into the ground – a 2.81 GO/AO ratio, which led the team – and converted each of his last four save opportunities.

To make room for Nash, the ValleyCats placed Kik Hernandez on the DL. None of the pitchers have been added to the active roster yet.

In more promotional news, it appears that Ben Heath will finish the season at AA Corpus Christi.  That represents quite a rise for the catcher, who was drafted in the fifth round this summer and began the season in Tri-City.  For frame of reference, nobody from the 2009 draft reached AA until J.D. Martinez was promoted two months ago.  Heath, who led the ValleyCats in homers when he was sent to Lexington in early August, hit a terrific .290/.405/.551 with four homers and two triples (!) in less than a month in A-ball.
Kevin Whitaker
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