Pre-All-Star Game Meal: Road Trip Recap
By Matt Appel (@mattappel)
Hey ‘Cats fans! All teams in the New York-Penn League are off tonight, in honor of the MLB All-Star Game at Citi Field. Two former ValleyCats, Ben Zobrist and Jason Castro, will suit up for the American League, which is looking to break a three-year losing streak to the NL. This is Zobrist’s second All-Star nod, while Castro is making his first appearance in the Midsummer Classic. As past ‘Cat legends are honored tonight in Queens, let’s take a look at what the 2013 squad did while on their six-game road trip…
The ‘Cats hit the road last week after struggling at home. From July 4th-9th, Tri-City went just 2-4 at “The Joe”, with some especially uninspired play offensively. However, the team seemed to have found its groove in Mahoning Valley and Batavia, as they swept all six games against their Pickney Division opponents. The ‘Cats improved to a league-best 20-9 overall, and 11-4 on the road after the road trip, as they return home on a six-game winning streak.
After getting rained out on Wednesday in Mahoning Valley, the ValleyCats and Scrappers played two on Thursday. The first game went into extra innings (albeit just the 8th inning, as NYPL doubleheaders are comprised of 7-inning games), making it the third straight contest for the ‘Cats that had not been settled in regulation. Thanks to a Tony Kemp double in the 8th that scored two runs, the ‘Cats took the first game, 4-1. Adrian Houser, Charles Basford, and Richard Rodriguez combined on a one-hitter for Tri-City, the second time that feat has been accomplished so far this year (the other time was a 2-1 win in Vermont on July 2nd, in another doubleheader). A James Ramsay RBI single in the 6th inning of the second game proved to be all the run support needed, as the ValleyCats swept the doubleheader from the Scrappers with a 1-0 victory. Mahoning Valley pushed across just three hits total in the 15 innings played between the two teams, a sign of things to come for the ‘Cats pitching staff.
Tri-City finished off its first road sweep of the season on Friday with another pitching-led victory, 2-1 over the Scrappers. Michael Feliz, who, if the NYPL had a “Cy Young” award, would be the front runner so far, improved to 3-1, as he struck out seven hitters in five innings of work. The duo of “Andrew Squared”, Andrew Thurman and Andrew Walter, finished out the game for the ‘Cats with four innings of impressive relief. Walter pitched the ninth for his second save. The ValleyCats offense, which was still struggling at the time, scored its only two runs in the first inning, but that, once again, was all they would need. In the previous 34.1 IP, ‘Cats starters had a mind-boggling 0.26 ERA after Feliz’s five scoreless frames in this one.
After disposing of the Scrappers, Tri-City headed back east to face the Muckdogs for three in Batavia. Chris Cotton, in his best performance of the season, did not allow a hit in his five innings of work, and received the win, as the ‘Cats won their fourth straight, by a 5-4 count. With the team up 3-0 in the 8th inning, Ronnie Mitchell blasted his second HR of the season with a man aboard, extending the ‘Cats lead to 5-0. Two runs apiece in the 8th and 9th made it interesting for the Muckdogs, but Pat Christensen put out the fire in the final inning to record his second save of the year. Five different players picked up multi-hit games for the ‘Cats, as Tony Kemp, Conrad Gregor, Michael Martinez, Ronnie Mitchell, and Jon Kemmer all acquired a pair of knocks.
In their biggest margin of victory to date this year, the ‘Cats blanked the Muckdogs on Sunday, by a final of 7-0. It was the second time on the road trip that Tri-City had shutout its opponent, and the third time in 2013. The seven runs were the most the ‘Cats had scored since a 9-4 victory over Lowell at home on June 27th. Amazingly, for the second night in a row, the starter for the ValleyCats had a no-hitter at the time they were pulled, as Zach Morton went six hitless innings, and picked up his first professional win. The ValleyCats played longball for the first time on this road trip, as Ernesto Genoves connected for his first homer in 2013, leading off the 4th inning to extend the ‘Cats lead to 2-0. 11 hits for the second game in a row were the fuel for the road team, including two more from Michael Martinez, brining his season total to 11, seven of which have come in his last ten games. The ridiculous stretch of utter dominance by the Tri-City starters now totaled just 1 ER in the last 45.2 IP, which is a nifty 0.20 ERA. Yes, you read that right.
Yesterday, the ‘Cats finished up their sweep of Batavia and of the road trip with an 8-4, come-from-behind-win. Back-to-back home runs from Jon Kemmer, his 2nd, and Thomas Lindauer, his first, gave the ValleyCats a 3-0 lead early on in the 2nd inning. By the end of the 5th, however, it was Batavia ahead 4-3, as the ‘Cats saw themselves trailing for the first time on the road trip. In the 7th inning, Tri-City received one of it’s biggest hits of the year, as an Ernesto Genoves double cleared the bases with two outs, to give the ‘Cats a 6-4 lead that they would not relinquish. Genoves went 3-for-5 with a season-best 4 RBI. Evan Grills (2-0) got the win in relief, after finishing the game with 4.1 IP of scoreless baseball and just two hits allowed.
For the second year in a row, the ValleyCats find themselves with the best record in the league at the time of the first off-day, which always coincides with the MLB All-Star Game. I speculated that it would be hard for these ValleyCats to replicate the magic away from home that their predecessors recorded, but so far, they have been just as strong on the road. While the offense isn’t quite at the level that the 2012 team was at a year ago, the pitching has been almost as impressive. Through the first 29 games this year, Tri-City has a 2.66 ERA, which is 2nd best in the NYPL, behind only State College. As they return home with a three-game lead over Lowell, the ‘Cats find themselves playing their opponents from last year’s post-season, Auburn and Hudson Valley. The ValleyCats got past the Doubledays in three games in the first round of the playoffs, and took game one of the championship series against the Renegades. However, Hudson Valley came back to take the last two games, and the title, as the ‘Cats failed to take home their second championship in three years. In a season that certainly has the look and potential of another deep run, Tri-City will reconnect with foes with whom they encountered in the playoffs during the legendary 2012 season.
With the NYPL All-Star Game less than a month away, and the MLB version tonight, it’s never too early to start theorizing which ValleyCats players might find themselves playing for the American League squad in Dodd Stadium, home of the Connecticut Tigers, next month. Right now, you’d have to guess that the two “locks”, whatever that’s worth at this point, are Tony Kemp and Michael Feliz. Kemp has been offensively the best Tri-City player not named Dan Gulbransen from season’s beginning ’till now, and leads the club in batting average, runs scored, stolen bases, hits, on-base percentage, slugging percentages, as well as tremendous plays in the field. Feliz, as I mentioned earlier, looks more impressive with each succeeding start. Amongst all qualifiers, Feliz leads the league with a 1.07 ERA, and is third in K’s with 32. In 25.1 IP this year, the 19-year old has surrendered just 14 hits and three earned runs. Those two are in good shape to receive strong All-Star considerations. With the way the ‘Cats have been playing, and especially pitching, of late, it’s a good bet that they won’t be alone in Tri-City uniforms in Norwich next month.