Ciao, ValleyCats faithful! I’m greeting you in Italian because tonight is Italian Night at The Joe. Very large crowd expected here in attendance tonight for the finale of this three game set against the Muckdogs of Batavia. No batting practice today, as the ‘Cats players took the first part of the day to make a pilgrimage to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. But don’t worry, still plenty of news, notes, and nuggets to pass along:
-The ‘Cats, as you probably already know, snapped out of their mini-slide last night with a strong 6-2 victory, led of course by the sensational Aaron “Kanye” West (no one actually calls him that, fyi). It was West’s 6th victory of the season, which leads the NYPL, and the 5th straight start in which he walked away with the win. Here’s proof of how good the former Washington Huskie has been in 2012: by allowing only one run in 6 innings of two-hit ball, his era actually rose, from 0.97 to 1.05. West has been the most consistent hurler for Tri-City this year, and is beyond deserving of an All-Star nod. Like I mentioned yesterday, I think he should wind up starting the AL-NL matchup August 14th at Mahoning Valley.
-Catfish Elkins got the ‘Cats on the scoreboard last night with a solo blast in the third. That home run also accounted for the ValleyCats first run of the series. But did you know that it was the first home run Elkins had hit right-handed this year? Well, now you do. The switch-hitting second baseman had three previous homers, all from the left side. Catfish said after the game, “I hadn’t squared up a ball well from the right side in a while, so that one felt good.”
-Tonight’s game is the rubber match of the series, as these teams split the first two games. The ValleyCats, as you might expect from a team with the best record in all of Minor League Baseball, have an incredible record in series’ this year. Tri-City 10-1-5 in series play this season, with their only series loss coming during the three-game sweep at home versus State College. Winning series after series is a good way to compile the kind of record the ‘Cats have this year, so we shall see if they can continue their torrid series-winning pace with a victory tonight.
-I’m definitely stating the obvious here, but the ValleyCats, like most teams, play better when they play good defense. Last night’s ballgame was the 16th game that the ‘Cats did not make an error, and have a 15-1 record in those contests. On the contrary, Tri-City is only 16-12 when the commit an error.
-How much can change in a year? Well, on this date in 2011, the ValleyCats were in the midst of a losing streak, and found themselves at 17-27. 365 days later, they are 31-13, an improvement of 14 games. Good news for not only the ValleyCats (obviously), but Houston as well .
-I mentioned that the ValleyCats have the best minor league record, after they briefly lost that title yesterday. The Elizabethton Twins of the Appalachian League had the highest winning percentage Thursday after Tri-City dropped their game on Wednesday.
-Brian Holmes takes the bump for the ‘Cats tonight. Holmes is coming off what was arguably the best start in the entire league. On July 27th, Holmes took a perfect game into the 7th and final inning of the 2nd game of double header versus Hudson Valley, before allowing a single to the leadoff hitter. Holmes has quietly become one of Tri-City’s best starters, a very crowded discussion, and comes into tonight’s start with a 4-1 record and a 2.55 ERA. Interestingly enough, those are the exact same numbers as Vincent Velasquez.
Thursday was Summer Olympics Night at “The Joe” as the ‘Cats defeated the Muckdogs by the score of 6-2. Aaron West allowed just one run as he turned in another sparkling performance. Catfish Elkins started the scoring in the 3rd with his 4th home run of the season. Heineman, Tucker, Morales, and Dineen all had multi-hit games to help pace the offense.
By Matt Appel (@mattappel)
Hey ‘Cats fans! Back again with the second installment of the “Pregame Meal.” Here’s all your pre-game info and coverage as the ValleyCats try to break their mini 2-game slide against Batavia with first pitch at 7 pm:
-Aaron West, who, for my money, has been the ValleyCats best pitcher this year, takes the mound tonight. West has won his last 4 starts consecutively entering this start. On the year, West is 5-0 with an ERA of 0.97, and very well might be the starter in the NYPL All-Star Game for the NL team. At the very least, he has a great case to do so. Opposing him is Tyler Melling, a lefty for Batavia.
-Bit of a locker-room mess up before batting practice today, as the jerseys of Neiko Johnson and Joe Sclafani were swapped. Needless to say, I was a little bit confused to see Neiko wearing #4 and Joe wearing #3, as each wears the other number. I would imagine this snafu probably won’t carry into actual game action. However, it could be a good decoy to confuse opponents. I’ll see what Stubby thinks.
-Over the course of the past month, both Jarrod McKinney and Catfish Elkins have been very vocal about their displeasure with the BP music, and requested we play more country. So today, we debuted a playlist helped put together by those two, which resulted in McKinney taking the field and dancing. Sadly, I do not have video evidence of this. However, it seems those were the only two that enjoyed the switch. Andrew Aplin and Jesse Wierzbicki were the biggest critics of the playlist. Neiko Johnson, upon request, gave us some hip hop to play in the future. Stay tuned folks.
-For those who have been to The Joe since Preston Tucker joined the team, you might have noticed that he is the only ‘Cat who hits without batting gloves. In today’s game, this style of hitting is a tad unconventional, especially for players at this level. I wanted to know if there was any real reason for Tucker’s lack of gloves, or maybe where he got it from. He told me it was a “comfort thing” and that it started in his junior year of college to help him get out of a slump. He used it from then on, and has only used the gloves in select games since then. I asked him if it ever hurts his hands to hit like that and Preston told me, “Yeah of course, I get blisters all the time.”
-Batting Practice Hero: I guess his lack of batting gloves is indeed a comfort thing, as today’s BPH is Preston Tucker. Tucker had the most impressive stretch out of anyone in BP today, hitting a home run in his 3rd set and then following it up with two balls off the right-center field wall. The ball really does jump off of his bat. Day in and day out, Tucker catches your eye just about as much as anyone on the roster. A close second for BPH today goes to Joe Sclafani, who according to Jesse Wierzbicki, hit his first right-handed BP homer of the year today.
-Following up a tidbit from yesterday, after last night’s loss, the ‘Cats no longer have the best win percentage in all the minors. That accolade now belongs to the Elizabethton Twins of the Appalachian League. But hey, let’s not look down on Tri-Cities .698 clip, which is still pretty darn good.
-Player to look for: Tyler Heineman has been red-hot of late. He has 4 multi-hit games in his last 10, and is now 2nd on the team with a .345 average. Heineman, tonight’s DH, is hitting 5th.
You guys have brought up some great questions. We’ll be having another Stubby Session later this week. Place your questions in the comments section and we will ask him the best ones!
The ValleyCats 5th Annual Going Green Night with the first 1,200 fans receiving a reusable grocery bag as they entered the stadium. Our green vendor fair featured a number of local and regional companies displaying on the concourse.
By Matt Appel (@mattappel)
Hey ValleyCats fans! Today we are excited to unveil the newest ‘Cats Corner feature: Pre Game Meal. I’ll bring you all the pre-game and batting practice tidbits I can uncover, as well as going through the ValleyCats starting lineup for each game.
-Through hard work and hours of extensive research, we have found that the ValleyCats, at .714 have the highest winning percentage in all of Minor League Baseball. Pretty impressive, huh? The ‘Cats enter tonight’s ballgame against the Batavia Muckdogs at 30-12, and have a 10 game lead in the Stedler Division. In fact, Tri-City is the only team in the Stedler with a record above .500
-42 games into this season, the ValleyCats leader in RBI’s is…….Joe Sclafani. You read that right, folks. The ‘Cats shortstop has surpassed Jesse Wierzbicki, Jobduan Morales, and Dan Gulbransen, all who have 24 ribbies, with 26 of his own. I asked Joe what he thought about leading the team, and he gave a pretty good answer. “It’s pretty easy to lead the team in RBI’s when every time you come up, there are guys on 2nd and 3rd.”
-Emilio King slugged his first home runs of the year while the team was on the road in Auburn. When I asked him how that long ball felt, he put on a huge grin, and simply said “Good” with a chuckle. I’m sure Stubby & Co. would love to see King, who has struggled at points this year, start to show some power.
-Behind the cage today, Chris Sale, the left-handed fire throwing stud for the Chicago White Sox, was brought up in conversation. ‘Cats outfielder Dan Gulbransen, upon hearing Sale’s name, interjected with his own experience facing Sale. The at-bat came when Sale was a junior at Florida Gulf Coast. According to Gulbransen, “I fouled one ball off of him, and that was about it.”
-Batting Practice Hero: Today’s Batting Practice Hero award goes to none other than Jarrod McKinney. During his final round of batting practice, on what was I believe his final swing, McKinney went down on one knee to reach for a pitch from Stubby, and lined it over the left-field wall for a home run. McKinney’s homer was lauded as being “Adrian Beltre’d” as the Rangers third basemen is known for hitting dingers in a similar manner.
-Conflicting reports out of the ValleyCats clubhouse about what happened yesterday on a fishing trip between Jarrod McKinney and Catfish Elkins. According to McKinney, after Elkins caught, get this, a catfish 5 minutes into their adventure, the ‘Cats 2nd basemen told McKinney he did not properly know how to unhook the fish. McKinney’s gripe with Catfish was “if you’re name is Catfish, you should know how to unhook one.” Elkins defense was that before they went out fishing, he had alerted Jarrod that he would need his assistance, and then from the first catch on, he would be good to go on his own. Catfish also noted, something McKinney failed to mention, that the catfish he caught was the only catch between the two of them the entire day. More to follow.
by: Gabe Cassillo
With the calendar turning from July to August, the action in the NY-Penn League is about to get a bit more intense. With 42 games down, Tri-City holds a beautiful 30-12 record, good for first place in both the Stedler Division and the entire league. What more, the ‘Cats currently hold a ten-game lead over second-place Vermont with 34 games remaining.
While it may be a bit early, the ‘Cats magic number for clinching a Division title is 25….yes, I said it. Superstitions aside, the numbers do not lie. With such a large lead and frankly dominant play thus far, there’s no reason Tri-City won’t be headed to the postseason for the first time since 2010.
As a refresher, the magic number is a combination of the first place team’s wins (Tri-City), added to the number of losses of the second place team (at this point, Vermont). So let’s take an educated look at the schedule in August.
The ‘Cats will be home to start the month, taking on Pickney Division members Batavia and Mahoning Valley. Following the six-game homestand, Tri-City will make their way south to take on Aberdeen and Staten Island for three games apiece. After breaking for the All-Star game, Tri-City will take on Brooklyn, Staten Island and Brooklyn, again, before returning to Stedler Division play the final week of August.
Given their schedule, even if Tri-City regresses from their current winning percentage of .714, to just above .500 for the month of August and put forward a record of (15-14), and Vermont plays WAY above their current .476 mark at say 19-10, the ‘Cats will still clinch by the time August turns to September. (For the record, I do not expect Vermont to play WAY above their current 20-22 mark, because, well frankly, they haven’t shown signs of being able to. Similarly, I don’t expect the ‘Cats to fall down in a heap, for the same reason, coupled with their strong starting pitching that stops any losing streak cold, and their ability to win in SO MANY different ways).
Now I know some will stay away from the “p-word” like they’re allergic, but I’m proud to say that I’m looking forward to the opening round of the 2012 NY-Penn League Playoffs, confident that the ValleyCats will not just be there, but will be ready for big things….But until then, let’s enjoy the ride.