On the road with the ‘Cats

Whenever I get the chance to attend a road game, I usually take advantage of it….and Staten Island is one of those “can’t miss” places (if it falls on a weekend). This edition comes on the heels of the promotion of three ‘Cats, and very important pieces to this year’s team. I’m talking about Andrew Aplin, Kenny Long and Jobduan Morales.

When I first heard the news, I was not shocked. Maybe a bit upset that we couldn’t hold onto these guys for the rest of the way, but that quickly went away, since the promotion is such a great thing for these kids. You can’t feel anything but joy for these players…who quickly proved themselves in the Penn League. They were a very important part of the team, and were big factors in the reason why the ‘Cats are where they are today (39-14, best in the NYPL).

Even with the losses of Aplin, Long and Morales, the ValleyCats remain the best team in the league, with a strong pitching staff and great hitting. Pitching is the reason the ‘Cats won it all in 2010, and this staff ranks 2nd in the league in ERA (2.58) behind Brooklyn (2.46). The only question mark may be how the bullpen handles the loss of Kenny Long, who lefties couldn’t touch (0 for 25, 14 K’s, 1 BB). Jeremiah Meiners remains the lone southpaw reliever, so he will be the guy to fill that hole. In his last 9-innings of work, Meiners has given up no runs on three hits, striking out 11 while walking four.

Hitting-wise, the ‘Cats still have the leading NYPL hitter in catcher Tyler Heineman (.365), and Preston Tucker (.351), Austin Elkins (.315), Jesse Wierzbicki (.305) and M.P. Cokinos (.305) are all batting over .300. Tucker looks to be the guy who adds that big bat to the ‘Cats lineup. Tucker drove in six runs against Staten Island on Friday night with two homers, and is now batting over .370 in his last 10-games.

Taking over in centerfield will be a platoon of Neiko Johnson and Emilio King. There’s no replacing Aplin’s play at that position, but Neiko and King are both capable of playing a respectable centerfield. Plus, this will give Neiko more playing time, and he’s a gamer who gets on base and helps the team win in any way possible.

With 23 games remaining in the regular season, the ValleyCats lead their division by a commanding 14-games. Their magic number to clinch now stands at 10, with Lowell, Vermont and Connecticut in a virtual tie for 2nd place. Pending a historic collapse, it will be interesting to see just who the ‘Cats face in the first round of the playoffs. If the season were to end today, the ‘Cats would face the Brooklyn Cyclones, who are currently leading in the wild card standings. That would be a bit of Deja Vu, as the ‘Cats defeated the Cyclones in Brooklyn to win their first ever championship in 2010.

However, this year’s ValleyCats are in a completely opposite position from where they were in 2010. That year, the ‘Cats clawed their way back into the division race after a dismal start to the season. They were 9.5 games out of first place on July 19, then squeaked into the playoffs on the last day of the regular season (in Brooklyn), and the rest is history.

This season, the ‘Cats are the cream of the crop, the best team in the league and the one to beat. With that comes added pressure to perform, and to win. The 2010 team was not expected to win it all, let alone even make the playoffs. With the way the 2012 season has gone thus far, anything short of a second championship would be a disappointment for this team.

-Chris Chenes

1 Comment

Excellent assessment Chris. I am pulling for State College to overtake Auburn in their division, so the ‘Cats can get another crack at them @ The Joe. Would be nice to see Barrett Barnes play once more. It is great to see so many hitters and pitchers taking advantage of their opportunities here. I have been telling folks this is the best ValleyCat team I will ever see (I’m 65). Come out and witness history.

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