Cat-astrophic: Tri-City offense gone missing

By Matt Appel (@mattappel)

The last time the Tri-City ValleyCats had gone three straight games without scoring a single run, Jim Pankovits was their manager, Tim Tebow had yet to take a single NFL snap, and LeBron James was still a Cleveland Cavalier. That is, before the last three nights, in which the ‘Cats have been held scoreless.

The team’s third consecutive shutout on Monday night marked the first time since June 28th-30th, 2010 that they had been blanked for that long of a stretch. The ‘Cats last scored in the ninth inning of Friday night’s 5-3 loss in Vermont. Since that point, 27 frustrating innings have passed without a tally on the scoreboard.

The numbers have been ugly for the ‘Cats in their slide. In the three straight shutouts, they have 18 hits, 15 of which were singles. With RISP, which has come to stand for runners in stranded, not scoring, position, they are 1-for-21. 22 runners have been left on base, a figure which is only that low because base runners have been few and far between. Monday’s 2-0 loss to Connecticut was arguably the most frustrating of the four straight losses, as twice the ‘Cats stranded runners at third in positions to tie or take the lead. James Ramsay wrapped into an inning-ending double play with runners on the corners in the fifth, and then flew out to left with the bases loaded and two outs in the seventh. Clearly, this is the worst stretch of baseball the team has played this year, as to be shutout three times in a row is rather embarrassing. But the question begs to be asked: is this an isolated stretch of weak hitting, or the bottoming out of an offense that has struggled for the better part of a month?

In July, the ValleyCats have played 28 games thus far. In 15 of those, they have scored two runs or less! Somehow, mainly due to spectacular pitching, they have a winning record of 15-13 in the month. Only three teams, Batavia, Hudson Valley, and Vermont, have worse averages in the month than the ‘Cats team mark of .235.

How much of a drop-off has there been in production from June to July? Granted the team played fewer games in June, but the team average was 27 points higher at .262. Their on-base percentage was 47 points higher last month, .351 versus just .304 in July. They slugged 56 points higher in June. In double the amount of games this month, the ‘Cats have only hit three more home runs than they did in 14 games in June. Somehow, they still lead the league in that department with 25, even though they’ve hit just two in the last week.

The offense has either come in bunches or not at all for Tri-City recently, and the whole season, for that matter. In their 26 wins, the ‘Cats are averaging 5.6 runs per game, more than enough for a pitching staff that has been the best in the league to this point. However, when they lose, getting one run is about all to expect. In their 16 losses, the ValleyCats score on average just 1.4 runs. I don’t care how great your pitchers are; that just isn’t enough support.

The fact that the ‘Cats still rank fourth in total runs scored speaks to the fact that there is talent on this squad. We’ve seen it on multiple occasions this year, when they get on a run of three or four games in a row in which they average upwards of seven runs. However, someone in the middle of the ‘Cats lineup needs to step up. Maybe that someone is Brett Booth, who has come on strong since being called up last week. Maybe it’s Michael Martinez, who leads the club in homers and RBI. Maybe they need Thomas Lindauer back, for no reason other than they haven’t won since he was sent to Greeneville. Just saying.

The one area the club absolutely HAS to improve upon is runners in scoring position and two outs. As a team, they are hitting a league-worst (by a good margin) .156 in those spots. That has been a bugaboo since game one, whether they are scoring nine runs a night or zero. Those situations are what make or break teams down the stretch and into the postseason. It doomed the ‘Cats last year. It might wind up dooming them again.

Odds are, the ‘Cats will find their groove on the road, as they have on every road trip this season, and come back home a rejuvenated team with offensive swagger. The problem is that a week and a half later, the slumps will come back. And then they’ll get hot again. And then they’ll cool down. This team has the talent to be unstoppable, but a most streaky of lineups has produced question marks going forward.

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