by Evan Valenti (@EvanValenti)
Earlier this month, I wrote about how this year’s ValleyCats team could end up being the best ever in terms of record (and quite possibly major league players). A little more than half the season is gone and Tri-City is a league-best 30-12. The ‘Cats earned their off-day on Tuesday after winning both legs of the two-team road series against fellow division leaders Hudson Valley and Auburn. To date, the ValleyCats are now atop of the New York-Penn League in terms of road record at 18-4.
Yeah, you heard me. 18 wins and four losses. That is absurd.
To put it in perspective, from 2004-2011 Tri-City is a respectable 138-159 away from Joseph L. Bruno Stadium (winning percentage of .465). Those numbers, however, are a little skewed thanks to the team’s success in 2004 and 2006, the only two years since 2004 the ‘Cats have finished above .500 on the road. Taking those two years out of the equation the team is 90-133 (.401 winning percentage), with the most wins coming in 2010 (19).
Fans will always remember the 2004 ‘Cats. They had the dynamic major-league duo of outfielder Hunter Pence and switch-hitting infielder Ben Zobrist. That team feasted on teams on the road, going 25-12 and having five hitters bat above .300 (including Zobrist and Pence) helps. Pence had some very impressive numbers (.333/.392/.639, 18 XBH including 7 HR), but arguably the biggest road warrior on the team was Ronnie Martinez. The right-hander made six starts going 6-0 with a 1.46 ERA (1 CG). In 37 innings, Martinez surrendered 25 hits, six runs (all earned), walked five, punched out 36, and held opposing hitters to a .189 batting average. Outfielder Edgar Babilonia (.379/.423/.500, 6 XB) and reliever Rodrigo Escobar (3-0, 0.62 ERA, 14 G, 5 SV) were two others with solid road success.
The 2006 team, powered by outfielder Jordan Parraz, finished the season 23-14 away from Troy, NY. That version of the ValleyCats had trouble at the plate (only two players that season hit over .300), which accompanied the squad on the road (.249 batting average as a team). Parraz’s road splits stand out (.359/.450/.531, 16 XBH, 19 RBI), mostly because he was the best hitter on that team, but the ‘Cats pitching staff propelled the team to those 23 wins (collective 2.76 ERA). Reliever Victor Garate (2-0, 0.81 ERA, 11 G, 5 SV) and starter Chris Salamida (6-0, 1.02 ERA, 7 starts) were a two-headed monster for Manager Gregg Langbehn.
But this year’s team is, again, different. They seemingly do it all. They’re getting it done at the plate (.281 batting average and scoring about six runs per game) and on the mound (2.32 collective ERA, opposing batters hitting .216 against the ‘Cats staff).
Outfielder Andrew Aplin and second baseman Catfish Elkins, who are first and third respectively in the NYPL in batting average, are feasting off of opposing pitchers this year, and being on the road has seemingly made no impact on either hitter. Elkins has the most impressive triple-slash (.418/.451/.657), with 10 extra-base hits and 13 RBI. Aplin, who might be the MVP of the league right now, has been just as good (.360/.478/.560 8 XBH), but has played in four more games.
The pitcher with the best road splits might surprise you. It’s not Vincent Velasquez, Brady Rodgers, or Aaron West. Closer Blake Ford has been lights out (only allowing one run), but not even he has been as dominate as lefty Brian Holmes. Coming off a 7-inning complete-game shutout against the Hudson Valley Renegades, Holmes boasts a 3-0 road record and a spotless ERA. In 19 innings, Holmes has only allowed nine base runners (four hits and five walks) and has punched out 18.
Road success always translates well. Ask anyone. A good road record is a synonym for a physically and mentally strong team. The ValleyCats have only made the playoffs three times. What do all of those teams have in common? A .500 record or better on the road. The ‘Cats are currently 18-4 on the road and have a double-digit lead in the division. It’s a long way off, but Tri-City’s road dominance could translate well as they make a push for the playoffs.