Dissecting the Streak
by: Evan Valenti (@EvanValenti)
The ValleyCats’ record 11-game winning streak came to a close Wednesday night as the State College Spikes, the Pittsburgh Pirates affiliate, thrashed the ‘Cats 7-2 on the back of three home runs. Tri-City did not really get anything going offensively (six hits), reverted to its old ways defensively (three errors), and put together its worst pitching performance of the year to date (seven runs on 15 hits). It was only the second lost fans at ‘The Joe’ have seen all year, the first since June 20, which was the home opener against Vermont.
It was not a ValleyCat-esq effort last night to say the least, with the exception of Catfish Elkins’s solo shot to lead off the bottom of the first. We have become accustomed to the ‘Cats striking early, which they did, always retaliating quickly, and pitching effectively.
But there was more to the streak than just pitching (we’ll get more in-depth later). It was an all-around effort that contributed to Tri-City’s 13-3 start.
‘Cats at the Dish
Coming into last night Tri-City was second in the New York-Penn League, batting .265 as a team. They led the league in runs scored (92), ranked second in on-base percentage (.353), tied for third in OPS (.718), and first in stolen bases (28).
Andrew Aplin and Jobduan Morales have set the pace for the ‘Cats offensively. Aplin is an on-base machine (.516) and when he gets he usually advances one base thanks to his speed (league-leading 11 stolen bases). Morales leads the team in home runs (3), RBI (13, tied for first in NYPL), and in slugging (.600, third in the NYPL)
But it was an all-around team effort. During the streak Tri-City hit .268 (91-340) and scored an average of 6.2 runs per game (14 coming in one game against Connecticut) . They got great production from the top of the lineup (Elkins, Aplin), which set the table for everyone else. Outfielder Dan Gulbransen and Morales, the clean-up hitters, had 9 RBI a piece in the last nine games of the streak. The only complaint comes from the bottom-third of lineup, which actually helped spark two eighth-inning rallies during that six-game home stand.
Speaking of clutch, the team was great with runners in scoring position. In those 11 games the ‘Cats hit .330 with RISP (35-106), including a 7-13 effort in the last home game against the Tigers. Fellow broadcaster on tcvalleycats.com (shameless plug) Matt Appel and I have been astounded how well the team has done with runners on base and it seems like Manager Stubby Clapp’s aggressive strategy is paying off. He knows this team does not have a “true” power bat on it, but it doesn’t mean that they cannot score. They are currently the best team with RISP (.322 – no one else is even over .300), which bodes well for this team down the road.
On the Mound
Pitching is clearly the strength of this team. They currently sport the best team ERA in the NYPL (2.44 ERA), but league the lead in home runs allowed (11). Fly balls, when the wind is right, take off here at ‘The Joe’ so that stat is not surprising. Carlos Quevedo in 2010 was the most dominate pitcher on the team, but was susceptible to the long ball (7 homers allowed).
The starting staff was on fire during the streak. They seemingly could not do anything wrong. Vincent Velasquez would hand the ball to Aaron West, who handed it to Brian Holmes, etc., opposing hitters really had no chance. The starters logged 56 innings to a tune of a 1.45 ERA (nine earned runs allowed, 15 total).
The relievers were slightly worse (and let’s be honest, teams around the league would kill for performances out of their respective bullpens).They allowed eight earned runs in 32 innings, which totals out to a 2.25 ERA.
So for those of you keeping score at home, in 11 games the ‘Cats pitched 97 innings, allowed 22 earned runs, 30 runs total, which comes out to a ridiculous 2.05 ERA. Opposing batters hit .236 (87-369), including a .205 clip with RISP (17-83). This team simply did not let batters get on base, and when they did they rarely scored.
The ‘Cats simply dominated the competition in nearly all facets of the game during this historic run. Each starter performed on the highest level in the NYPL, and when they handed it over to the ‘pen the relievers got the job done. The offense has really come around and is near the top of the league in some important categories.
Simply put, if this kind of effort keeps up this team could easily be playoff bound. It’s a young season right now (only 17 games in) and things can change. But the effort the ‘Cats have put forth over the past two weeks has been special and I, for one, cannot wait to see what else is in store.