History in the Making
by Evan Valenti (@EvanValenti)
I wrote about a month ago how this year’s team might be the greatest in ValleyCat history. The other two teams that even come close to comparing to this squad are the 2004 ‘Cats and the 2010 version, and each for different reasons.
The 2004 team was stacked with Major League talent (well, stacked in terms of that type of talent on a Short-Season A team). The two most successful Tri-City alums, Ben Zobrist and Hunter Pence, went on to be Major League All-Stars for both the American and National Leagues. Zobrist has cemented himself as one of the most versatile players in the Majors today. He’s the new Mark DeRosa, but better than DeRosa ever was. Pence, even though he has played for a handful of teams in the past couple of teams, is still one of the most productive and hardest working corner outfielders in the game.
Oh, I almost forgot…that team also won 50 games that season!
In terms of historical records, the ’04 team ranks first in ‘Cats history in the following categories: runs scored (425), home runs (63), on-base percentage (.352), slugging (.400), on-base plus slugging (.752), and total strikeouts by a pitching staff (667).
But that “super-team” failed to bring home the gold. They lost in the New York-Penn League championship, a colossal failure.
The 2010 team has not produced any Major League talent… yet. They had a great clubhouse, some decent prospects (Austin Wates, Ben Orloff, Kike Hernandez, Bobby Doran, Jake Buchanan), but they were more of a team that caught fire at the right time.
Tri-City that year went 17-11 in August, 3-2 in September, and 4-1 in the playoffs. How did they do it? Pitching, what else. In July the ‘Cats posted a 14-14 record, but that was thanks to a .267 average as a team. The pitching staff gave up an average of 5.2 runs per game (that’s with unearned runs factored in). That kind of production simply is not going to win you too many ball games. But the pitchers kicked it up a notch when the calendar turned to August. They propelled the team the rest of the way, sporting a 2.56 ERA in August (down almost two full runs from the previous month) and giving them a chance to win the division.
They did that and much more, as they went on to capture the first, and only, NYPL Championship in franchise history.
Where does this year’s team fit in?
Well, they just captured the 50-win mark with a handful of games to go. It’s safe to say that they will take that record shortly (knock on wood).
In terms of offensive numbers, the 2012 ‘Cats are either close to, tied with, or have already broken numerous offensive and pitching records (they have a new season-high in stolen bases).
They were the first team to win their respective division, which is impressive two-fold. One, Hudson Valley has been elite all season and Auburn is just now starting to fall apart. Two, the ValleyCats were so good against their division this year the three other teams spent the majority of the season behind by double digits in the loss column.
The ValleyCats have a couple of potential elite prospects playing for them currently (plus two that have already been called up). Outfielder Preston Tucker, catcher Tyler Heineman, former outfielder Andrew Aplin, pitchers Aaron West, Vincent Velasquez, Brady Rodgers, Travis Ballew, and Kenny Long have all drawn rave reviews from scouts one way or another.
But let’s not kid ourselves here. This season could totally be wiped out if Tri-City falters at all during the playoffs. Anything short of a championship will be considered a failure.
This team has been a joy to watch and a pleasure to cover for the three-plus months they have been playing. Previous results indicate that this team should be the favorite to win the whole thing. But there’s a reason why the games are played on the field and not on paper. Tri-City has a few more hurdles to jump and a steep mountain to climb if they want to finish this season the way they started it.