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

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