Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Wenatchee walks away with 13-4 victory

The last 12 games of the HarbourCats season just might seem like an eternity. One day after the departure of four pitchers (Watkins, Torres-Costa, Delgado and Marinch) forced Victoria to go to a 10-man pitching staff, they were thumped by a score of 13-4 by the AppleSox in Wenatchee. The loss drops the ‘Cats record to 19-24 on the season and relegates them to last place in the West Division.

Balls to you!!!
The loss was even uglier than the score indicated, as the HarbourCats smashed the franchise record for most walks allowed in game. Coming into tonight, the franchise record was 12 walks allowed, but you can kiss that record goodbye. On Tuesday night, four pitchers combined to walk a stunning 17 batters in eight innings: Dylan Stowell (10 BB in 4 IP), Tim Peabody (3 BB in 0 IP), Mikey Wright (2 BB in 1 IP) and Preston Ryan (2 BB in 2 IP). The only Victoria pitcher to avoid walking a batter in the game was Carson Schneider and he only threw one inning of relief. The previous team record was set less than three weeks ago (July 9th in Yakima Valley) by Tim Peabody (8 BB in 4 ⅓ IP), Dylan Stowell (3 BB in 2 ⅓ IP) and Mark Marinch (1 BB in 1 ⅓ IP).

It is difficult to determine, but the 17 walks is likely an all-time league record. Dating back to 2010, the most walks allowed by a team in any WCL game was 14 by the Kelowna Falcons in both 2014 and 2012. Statistical records from 2005 to 2009 are not readily available.

On the plus side, the HarbourCats haven’t broken every record for most walks allowed. The individual record for most walks surrendered in a season was surpassed on Sunday by Klamath Fall’s Michael Silva. The previous record was 41 walks, set by David Otterman of the Kelowna Falcons in 2011, but Silva has already issued 44 walks this season -- in only 15 ⅔ innings!!! Unfortunately, Tim Peabody is only 10 back of Silva after walking his 34th batter of the year in 29 innings on the hill. Given that we’ll have to make regular use of all 10 remaining pitchers, Peabody still has time to catch him. Eleven more games...



HarbourCatNip
  • Hunter Mercado-Hood went one-for-four on Tuesday night, but he did not knock in a run. Unfortunately for HMH, Yakima Valley's Vince Fernandez knocked in three on Tuesday and Kevin Kline of the Knights also knocked in a pair, giving Fernandez and Kline a share of the league RBI lead with 40. Mercado-Hood is one back with 39. This tight three-way race for the RBI title will be a fun one to watch down the stretch, with the winner likely holding the new all-time league record. The current record is 48 runs batted in by Mitchell Gunsolus of the Wenatchee AppleSox in 2012.
  • Nathan Lukes went two-for-three on Tuesday night to raise his batting average to .355 (4th-best in the WCL). Don't be surprised to see Lukes make a late run at the batting title.
  • Victoria is 8th in the WCL in team ERA with a 4.40 mark, but the ten remaining pitchers on the staff have a combined ERA of 4.51. The HarbourCats are also 8th in the league with a team WHIP of 1.51. The ten remaining pitchers have a combined WHIP of 1.49.
  • The HarbourCats are second in the WCL with a team batting average of .278. They are fifth in the league with a team on-base percentage of .368.
  • Victoria’s Alex Fagalde (1-0, 2.84 ERA) gets the start on Wednesday night against Wenatchee’s Brandon Bailey (2-2, 1.90 ERA). Staff ace Alex Rogers (2-3, 2.89 ERA) faces Ian Buckles (3-3, 3.71 ERA) on Thursday. We're rooting for you A-Rog. Go get 'em!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Bums in seats

The Victoria HarbourCats lead the league in attendance this year and barring an all-out boycott, they should hang on to this mark and end the year leading the WCL. After 21 home dates, the 'Cats are averaging 1,516 awesome fans per game which is up from last year's average of 1,377 over the same number of dates. The next closest team (with one more home date played) is Medford at 1,325 a game and with six more home dates (both weekend series'), the 'Cats should come through on top.

Last year the Bend Elks took the attendance title with an average of 1,574, just edging out Victoria but they have dropped off to 1,288 this year. Not surprisingly, the Kitsap BlueJackets are at the bottom with 490 which is actually UP from last year's average of 416 - must be a few more siblings/girlfriends this year. Kelowna hovers at 819 this year but the biggest drop is Klamath Falls who have a 2014 average of just 842 while last year they came in at 1,278. All other teams are somewhere around that 1,000 to 1,300 range.

While I do not profess to have the analytical skills of a Paul DePodesta, I have listened to these numbers and tried to hear what they are saying. Below is a summary of facts and opinions based on what they told me in their admittedly small sample size:
  • The 'Cats have had nine weekend/holiday dates so far this year and twelve weekday dates, compared with twelve weekend and nine weekday at the same time last year
  • The weekday average is DOWN marginally by 40 fans per game this year at 1,331
  • The weekend/holiday average is UP significantly by 383 fans per game this year at 1,764
  • So far, a grand total of 2,930 more fans have been to the park this year so overall, a very nice increase
  • A big part of the increase was due to the Canada Day games which drew well over 2,000 fans each, a feat that, excluding opening day, did not occur in 2013 at all
  • Victoria has the biggest seating capacity of all WCL stadiums by far, with (if you include the grandstand) 4,427. The smallest stadium in terms of capacity is a tie between Wenatchee (who fills it almost every night) and Kitsap (who does not) at 1,200
  • Promotions seem to play a big role in attendance with the baseball card day drawing 2,411 fans this year and both Bobblehead nights also drawing well. Fireworks always pull in big numbers. So the lesson here is, good promotions equals good numbers.
  • Fridays have been the biggest days for attendance at an average of 1,889. Fridays were also the biggest day last year
  • Sundays are really not as big a draw as you may expect, probably because most of these are day games and Victoria has many other activities competing for people's attention, especially in good weather (i.e. summer). People tend to enjoy the outdoors, mill around the inner harbour, take kids to their own baseball/soccer/MMA games, etc. So while the "matinee" looks good on paper and works for some people, it is typically an average draw. Maybe a hot promotion on Sundays is the go?
  • Attendance turned the corner on Canada Day with the post-holiday average (excluding the Holiday itself) sitting at 1,546 compared to 1,295 prior
  • Last year attendance took a serious dive a few games after the All Star break with weekends peaking at around 1,250. This was about the time that the 'Cats fell into their listless streak and playoff hopes dimmed. It will be interesting this year to see if dwindling playoff hopes has an impact in the final 2 series
  • With the recent mass exodus of pitchers that was announced today (leaving the team as of today are Angel Delgado, Sean Watkins, Quintin Torres-Costa and Mark Manrich), it will be interesting to see fan reaction. It will also be interesting to see how a team copes with such a dent to their staff - HMH...can you pitch???




So why is attendance up so much this year, even when there were more weekend dates by this time last year? The Canada Day games are one reason, but that's only a couple of games. The HarbourCats have done a lot more "awareness" advertising this year so I believe more people are aware of what is going on, especially for the promotional games. As well, the savvy 'Cats staff is making a lot more use of social media by posting, tweeting more, sending summary emails right after games, etc. This is itself also increases awareness and support for the club. Now sometimes the tweets are a bit too frequent for my liking, but it is nothing compared to the Yakima Valley Pippins who seemingly tweet every at bat.

I'm sure they also benefit from the fact that this is the second year for the team and more people are generally aware, but they did avoid the sophomore jinx and did not succumb to fan apathy. And then there are the aforementioned promotions. The 'Cats kept the good and added a shot of originality to keep fan interest and draw them to the yard.

Last year we had a reader do some statistical analysis on the correlation between attendance and weather which I, with my limited ability, did not attempt here. Martin...are you out there???

In any case, the net message is a good one. The novelty of the first year has parlayed into a very nice second year, which means baseball should be around in Victoria for a few more years. We can all help this out - crazy promotions or not - by coming out to the yard in these final two home stands to give our lads a well-deserved send-off back to their college teams.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Fired-up HarbourCats slay the giant

Bryce Greager finally saw some playing time today
Perhaps it was Saturday night’s three bench-clearing incidents or perhaps it was the rare show of emotion from head coach Bob Miller, but for some reason the HarbourCats were fired up on Sunday afternoon, pummeling the mighty Corvallis Knights in a convincing 19-10 victory (did the Victoria placekicker miss two extra points?). The win not only salvaged the final game of the three-game set for the HarbourCats, but it was also the first-ever franchise win over Corvallis in six tries.

Based on the excessively loud bench jockeying in the top of the first inning, the Knights initially looked like the fired-up team on this day. Andrew Nelson came out of the gate firing, however, and his strikeout of Marc Gallegos in the second at-bat of the game immediately silenced the Corvallis bench. Nelson would go on to retire the Knights 1-2-3 in the first two innings, transforming the Corvallis bench jockeys into men as meek as Ned Flanders for the rest of the day.

There was a lot of good news on this day from the potent Victoria offense. The under-utilized Bryce Greager may have finally forced his way out of Bob Miller’s (questionably-populated) doghouse by driving in five runs just a few hours after hitting a pinch-hit solo homer on Saturday night. Greager went four-for-six on Sunday and he’s now hitting .268 with two homers and 17 RBI on the season.  Although that batting average may not sound impressive, he does have a .377 OBP and an .800 OPS (6th-best on the team). He also has a solid .972 fielding percentage, 3rd-best among HarbourCats infielders, behind only Sean Watkins and Gabe Clark.

Collier's summer has been a head-scratcher 
The other positive development over the last couple of games has been the resurgence of Danny Collier, who had his second consecutive multi-hit game to finally raise his batting average over the Mendoza Line. Collier walked twice in the game and reached base in four of his six plate appearances, but I was most impressed with his double in the 4th inning off of Sean Eberhardt. Collier has been pretty passive at the plate all summer, but instead of relying on his normal slap swing that merely puts the ball in play, Collier actually turned on a pitch and pulled it down the right-field line. Let’s hope that the Freshman All-American from the University of New Mexico has some success the rest of the way to make the best out of a what has been a disappointing season so far.

Hunter Mercado-Hood also had a big day for the HarbourCats, reaching base in five of his six plate appearances and driving in three runs. Mercado-Hood now leads the league with 39 RBI and he’s on pace to knock in 50 and break the all-time WCL record for RBI in a season (48, set by Mitchell Gunsolus of the Wenatchee AppleSox in 2012).

HarbourCatNip
  • The HarbourCats matched their franchise record for runs in a game (19), originally set this year on Canada Day against the Kitsap BlueJackets. They also matched the franchise record for hits (21), set on July 2nd of this year against those same BlueJackets. Given the state of the Kitsap and Corvallis pitching staffs, today’s explosion was far more impressive than the numbers put up against the weak BlueJackets hurlers. The full box score for today's slug-fest can be found on the Pointstreak site.
  • Christian Stewart of ISN has reported that "Sean Watkins, Quintin Torres-Costa, Mark Marinch and Angel Delgado are all heading home on Monday." Wow, our pitching staff just got a heckuva lot weaker. Look for some high pitch counts and more slug-fests down the stretch.
  • Victoria heads to Wenatchee on Tuesday to start a three-game series against the AppleSox. The HarbourCats then return home on Friday for a weekend set against the tough Bellingham Bells.
  • Given the three bench-clearing incidents on Saturday night, it’s no surprise that their was some animosity in the handshake line following Sunday’s series finale. The bloggers have exclusive video of a portion of the verbal exchange and we highly recommend that you check it out.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Benches clear three times as Cats lose to Corvalis

On the surface, Victoria falls to the mighty Corvalis Knghts 8-5. Could have, would have, didn't. But the score rarely tells the complete tale of a ball game, it doesn't pick up the nuances. This was a game to remember for HarbourCat fans and players alike. "I went to a baseball game and a hockey game broke out" was the theme of the day...

With that in mind, we present to you, the moments you missed if you weren't one of the 1222 fans in attendance tonight (or if you were in the Bin-4 lineup again)...
  • Kelly Norris Jones in the lineup, and it's not even a bobble-head night! I hope he doesn't get injured again...
  • Andreychuk leads off... Corvalis starting pitcher Angel Landazuri had great stuff early, but in the bottom of the 1st inning, leadoff man Griffen Andrekchuk hit a 2-2 curve ball he had no business getting a piece of. He laced it into center for the Cats first hit - a great piece of hitting.
  • While we're talking Landazuri - the Knight haven't lost in games he's started all season (7-0).
  • Collier gets back on track... Danny Collier who has had some mighty struggles this year hits a dying quail base hit in the 2nd, and follows it with another in the 4th. He's robbed in the 6th however on a play where replay showed him clearly safe, he was called out at 1B. Wasn't even that close really, just a blown call by blue.
  • Defence at 3rd... In the top of the 2nd, did you see Noah Cummings shoe-top grab and great chuck to 1st for the out? Nice D from a guy who looks out of place at 3B. More on Noah in a minute.
A new bat for Mama Clark's trophy case
  • Clark hits one out... Gabe Clark, fresh of his HR contest win on Monday, and being presented with a bat in a pre-game ceremony, proves it wasn't a fluke, getting the HarboutCats an early lead. I wonder if Clark has ever heard his walk-up song "Welcome to the Boomtown" before. A classic 80's hit for David and David, it reached #37 on the Billboard Charts. Gabe's HR puts him 2 away from the WCL's all-time home run record charts though.
  • Smith's run-saving catch... Top of the 5th, Corvalis 3B Kevin Kline launches one into left field, but Wyler Smith reaches over to bring it back for out number 3. At the time, that saved two runs and kept the score at 3-2 'Cats.
  • Clark hits two out... Bottom of 5, Clark catches another one and hits it a long way. He's only one away from the record now.
  • Sean Watkins fist pump... Top of the 7th, Carson Schneider hits a guy, walks another, and gives up a single to load the bases. DH turned reliever Sean Watkins comes in, gets 2 strikeouts and a fly ball to get out of the inning without giving up a run! In the middle of that, KNJ takes a foul tip off the jaw as he is removing his mask to throw out a runner stealing second. Kelly is done for the night.
  • Clark plonked... Bottom of the 7th, Gabe Clark up looking for HR number 3 on the night is hit in the middle of the back on the first pitch he sees. He glares all the way to first, and the benches empty for the first time with some choice words said by all. Cooler heads prevail this time.


Bench Clearing #2 on the night. Hit somebody with a shoe already!
  • Sean Watkins plonk... Top of 8, Watkins takes matters into his own hands and sticks up for his teammate by hitting Knight's SS Mike Lucarelli. Bench clearing #2 of the night and Watkins is ejected, which doesn't help the team cause, especially when effective relievers are at a premium.
  • Angel shuts em' down... Angel Delgado was just hanging out watching the game and enjoying himself, until Watkins gets tossed. He has about 5 minutes to stretch, warm, and be ready to pitch. He throws a fantastic inning, inducing a fly-ball out and striking out two.
  • Fizzle in the eighth... After Smith reaches on a lead-off single, 0-3 .212 hitter Noah Cummings gets to hit. Why? Down by 1, runner on, isn't that DH time? Bryce Greager anyone? Nathan Lukes? Cummings watches strike 3 go by, and Aaron Barnett continues to struggle by killing the rally with a double play.
  • Give it away in the ninth... Delgado gives up a couple hits and as runners on 2nd and 3rd with one out. Corvalis Catcher Logan Ice lifts a lazy fly ball into left field that is in no way deep enough to score the runner from 3B. It's a big out for Delgado and keeps Victoria close - but it doesn't happen. Wyler Smith takes his eye off the ball at the last second to find the runners, and the ball falls to the ground. A run scampers home from 3B while the Knight's Scott Quinlan takes third on the gaff. But it's not over. Smith stands there in disbelief that he missed the ball - still holding the ball! Quinlan heads for home as well, making it a 3-run deficit.
  • Twister game at 2B... Same inning, Logan Ice looks to be out at 2B on a stolen base attempt, but Andreychuk can't squeeze the ball. Then he finds it, Ice is off the bag, and Griffin dives on him to make the tag. Pushing shoving, bad words, and bench-clearing #3. Ice would later score an 8th Corvalis run.
  • Pinch hit too late... So now down by 4 runs, and down to their last out, it's time to pinch hit. In comes Bryce Greager fresh from the dog house, and what does he do? He hits a rope to left that leaves the yard for his second Greager-bomb of the year. One inning too late.
  • Cats fall just shy... A hit, walk, and an error load the bases for pinch hitter Alan Baldwin, who hits a lazy grounder to 2B for the final out of the game. Close, but no dip.

HarbourCatNip

  • This has been bugging me all season. You can't play "Stayin Alive" on the pitch that makes it 3-2. That song is reserved for those epic battle where a batter fouls off 5 or 6 pitches, has adjusted his cup 50 times, the pitcher has thrown every pitch he know how to, yet the batter keeps wasting $7 balls over and over again... It's not the second strike song!

Friday, July 25, 2014

All-Star starter shuts down HarbourCats

It's called the Butterfly Effect. No not that horrible Ashton Kutcher / Amy Smart movie, the concept where seemingly unrelated events that occur miles away impact your life in a negative way. Monday night's All-Star game rain-out in Corvalis proved to be the HarbourCats butterfly Friday night at Royal Athletic Park. All-Star game planned-starter Jackson Lockwood who never got his chance to pitch Monday night, threw everything he had at Victoria for 7 strong innings, leaving the game to the bullpen up 5-1 and holding Victoria to a five-spot of hits and a single run. 

Cats starter Alex Rogers gave up home runs in both the 1st and 4th inning to dig a hole Victoria could never get out of. He gave up 4 runs on 7 hits. Tim Peabody gave up a run in 2 innings of work, but showed great command of a nasty curve ball  that netted him 3 strikeouts.

Watkins, Clark, Degoti discuss hitting strategies in the 8th
The game got interesting in the 8th inning when the Victoria bats finally came to life. The heart of the 'Cats order got it done loading the bases for WCL RBI leader Hunter Mercado-Hood with only 1 out. HMH had a tough at bat, striking out on 5 pitches. Sean Watkins came through with a 2-run double to get the game to 5-3, but DH Aaron Barnett couldn't come up with a hit to tie the game. Barnett is struggling mightily of late, going only 3 for his last 20. Since July 7th, he's lost 83 points off his batting average, sitting now at .264.

The ninth inning saw another surge from the Cats, but it was snuffed out in a hurry by lights-out pitcher Joey Wise. Wise has yet to allow an earned run this year in 11.2 innings of work. Final score 5-3.

HarbourCatNip
  • One thing is for sure, Baseball Card giveaway day is a success. Over 2,400 fans came out to enjoy the game, raising Victoria's WCL attendance lead on the season. I sensed a lot of "new" fans in the park, and heard nothing but positive comments leaving the park. There were some impressive defensive plays that were the talk of the evening, including a fabulous diving catch by Corvalis LF Scott Quinlan to end the 5th inning, and a leaping grab by also-All-Star 2B Marc Gallegos in the 9th off the bat of Wyler Smith.
  • And speaking of Smith, Victoria really needs a new lead-off hitter. In non-Kitsap games, Wyler is a combined 2-20 in the leadoff spot. Them ain't table-setting numbers...
  • Say goodbye to Quintin Torres-Costa when you're at the park this weekend. Q has really found his stride these past couple of weeks, and seems to have returned to his pre-Tommy John arm strength. He will be leaving us early next week to attend to personal matters. We here at the blog wish him all the best this year at the U of Hawaii, and hope to see him back. He leaves us with a 3.19 ERA in 25 innings pitched, with 33 Ks and only 22 hits. Mahalo Q!


Corvallis Knights series preview

The Victoria HarbourCats welcome in one of the signature WCL franchises on Friday as the Corvallis Knights make their only visit of the year to STD at RAP this weekend. The Knights are currently leading a hotly contested (and very strong) South division so every game matters to them. The same is true for the 'Cats as they try and pull a rabbit out of their hat and claw their way back to within shouting distance of a wildcard spot.

Corvallis comes in on a relative hot streak, winning seven of their last ten games while Victoria has been playing about .500 ball. The 'Cats have just come off playing two of the weaker franchises in Klamath Falls and Cowlitz and now take on a true titan. In the nine years that the WCL has been in existence (this being the tenth), the Knights have been in the finals six times, winning it three. They are currently the reigning champs and playing like it again so Victoria definitely has their work cut out for them.




Tale of the Tape 

Victoria: 18-21 (.462), 2nd in West Division
Corvallis: 25-14 (.641), 1st in South Division

Hitting

Victoria: .273 avg. (3rd in WCL), .367 SLG (5th), .364 OBP (6th)
Corvallis: .264 avg. (7th in WCL), .386 SLG (2nd), .368 OBP (T-5th)

Pitching

Victoria: 4.09 ERA (7th), WHIP 1.45 (8th)
Corvallis: 3.44 (4th), 1.28 WHIP (2nd)

Who to Watch - Victoria

Snubbed All Star Nathan Lukes has been on fire lately and has taken over the HarbourCat lead in average with a lofty .351, good enough for fifth in the league. In the second game of Thursday's twin bill, Lukes had a six game hitting streak snapped, with all six games being multi-hit affairs. In fact, he has hits in twelve of his past fifteen games with nine of them being of the multi-hit variety. Hunter Mercado-Hood is a force at the plate as well, sitting just below Lukes at eighth overall in the League with a .341 average. HMH continues to lead the league in RBI's with 36 and - as Gus pointed out - has a chance to challenge the WCL single season record of 48. Speedster Wyler Smith has also quietly raised his average to .308 by hitting safely in thirteen of his last sixteen games as well.

On the mound it has been the usual suspects - starters Mikey Wright, Alex Rogers and Logan Lombana - continuing to dominate batters. Both Rogers and Wright still have a WHIP below 1.00 and all three have ERA's around 2.50. But in the last few outings, the 'Cats have had some pretty solid relief appearances with Angel Delgado, Sean Watkins and more recently Carson Schneider making very trustworthy contributions. This has to keep up against the Knights, especially with Quintin Torres-Costa and Alex Fagalde recently dabbling in the starter's role.

And as with every series, if the 'Cats decide to wear their iron gloves ("clank") then things could get ugly quickly. Victoria has made 50 errors this season to the Knights' 39.

Who to Watch - Corvallis

Kevin Kline the actor
Heavy hitting Kevin Kline sits in second place in the league in home runs with six (tied with our own Home Run Derby champ, Gabe Clark) and is only 3 RBIs behind HMH for the league lead. He is hitting a respectable .310 but has only one hit in his last five games and his average has fallen every game since July 7th when it was .376. Let's hope his lumber stays asleep at least for three more games. Dalton Kelly has been pretty consistent of late and leads the Knights with a .342 average while hitting in the three-spot. Another guy to be wary of is lead-off hitter Grant Melker who is batting .326 and is tied for the league lead in stolen bases with 16, while also sporting a very nice on base percentage of .458.


Kevin Kline the Knight (photo courtesy of corvallisknights.com)
The Knights' pitching staff is led by ace right-hander Jake Lockwood who leads the league with six wins against two losses. In four of those wins, Lockwood has received excellent run support and has a WHIP of 1.26 so he is not untouchable by any means. Probably more scary is lights-out closer Brandon Choate who has a WHIP and ERA of just over 1.00 and is second in the league with seven saves (on top of a 2-0 record). Fans may remember Choate from last season where, as the Knights' closer, he ended up with 5 saves and an unworldly 0.51 ERA. Finally, the 'Cats can't forget about starters Angel Landazuri and Jason Snodgrass who both have unblemished 3-0 records and near identical ERA's of 2.18 and 2.17 respectively. Landazuri also brandishes an Indiana Jones-like WHIP of 0.85.



Prediction

Lots to consider in this one and it goes beyond the numbers which show the teams statistically fairly even. Corvallis does have more pop at the plate and they also have more at stake in trying to fend off the Bend Elks from stealing their division crown. I know Victoria still dreams of a playoff spot, but that is essentially a pipe dream. For this reason, I'm tipping the Knights to take at least two of three with a sweep not out of the question. That said, I will be at the yard cheering against that prediction as hard as I can!

After our one rainy day this summer, the weather looks to be excellent again for me to try my next victim on the Bin 4 menu rotation so come on out and join me. After this three game set, there are only two more home series' so stop putting it off. The lawn can wait. Paint the fence later. I expect the Knights to bring a good calibre of baseball to the diamond so in the words of WWF and Canadian legendary announcer Billy "Red" Lyons, "Don'tcha' dare miss it"!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

‘Cats split first doubleheader in franchise history

The HarbourCats played their first doubleheader in team history on Thursday night with bittersweet results. After winning the first game 1-0, Victoria dropped the nightcap to the Black Bears by a score of 4-3. The ‘Cats record now sits at a disappointing 18-21 on the season.

Quintin Torres-Costa
Quintin Torres-Costa gutted out a solid performance in game two, but he would ultimately take a no-decision. He gave up three earned runs on five hits in six innings pitched, walking three and striking out nine batters. Torres-Costa threw 100 pitches on the night, one week after throwing that same number in his first start of the summer. Prior to that July 17th start, Torres-Costa had not thrown more than 56 pitches in any outing since undergoing Tommy John surgery in May 2013.

Alex DeGoti tied the game at 3-3 with a clutch RBI single with two outs in the top of the final frame. Hunter Mercado-Hood had an RBI single to knock in his league-leading 36th run of the season, and Sean Watkins also chipped in with an RBI.

Preston Ryan entered the second game with a 3-3 score in the final inning of game two, but he took the walk-off loss after allowing three of the four hitters he faced to reach base. It was Ryan’s fourth consecutive appearance in which he was tagged for the loss and his fifth loss in his last six outings. Ryan now has a 5.32 ERA and 1.61 WHIP on the season. The reliable Sean Watkins and Alex Fagalde weren't available to pitch after making appearances in the first game of the doubleheader, but reliever Angel Delgado (2.00 ERA, 1.22 WHIP) was nowhere to be seen with the game on the line.

In the first game of the doubleheader, the HarbourCats squeaked out a 1-0 victory in a pitcher’s duel between Alex Fagalde and Cowlitz’s Chris Castellanos. It was the first start of 2014 for Fagalde, and he was impressive, giving up only three hits and two walks in 5 ⅔ innings on the hill. Falgade also struck out five batters to lower his ERA to a tidy 2.84. Sean Watkins picked up his second save of the season by pitching 1 ⅓ innings of hit-less baseball. Gabe Clark knocked in Alex DeGoti with the game’s only run in the top of the sixth.

HarbourCatNip
  • Hunter Mercado-Hood is on pace to knock in 50 runs, which would be an all-time WCL record.
  • Last Wednesday we wondered if the Bellingham Bells were as good as their 25-7 record indicated. We pointed out that they had benefited from an extremely easy schedule up until that point and that they still hadn't played Corvallis, Yakima Valley or Medford. So what did they do this week in their six games against Corvallis and Yakima Valley? They went 3-3, proving that they are at least competitive against the best in the league. However, that still gives them a 4-5 record against Corvallis, Yakima Valley and Bend and a 24-5 record against the rest of the league. The Bells play their only three games of the season against Medford early next week.
  • The HarbourCats are heading into the toughest part of their schedule this season. Their next 12 games are against Corvallis, Wenatchee, Bellingham and Walla Walla, so Victoria will be challenged to finish the season at the .500 level. Their last three games of the season are against the feeble Kitsap BlueJackets, however.
  • The standings in the wildcard race are as follows:

Team
Record
GBL

Bend Elks
24-15
-

Medford Rogues
21-18
3

Wenatchee AppleSox
21-18
3

Walla Walla Sweets
19-20
5

Victoria HarbourCats
18-21
6

Cowlitz Black Bears
17-22
7

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

HarbourCats rained out; Doubleheader tomorrow vs. Cowlitz

Tonight’s game between the Victoria HarbourCats and the Cowlitz Black Bears was rained out. The two teams will play a pair of seven-inning games in Cowlitz County on Thursday beginning at 5:05 p.m.

I’m sure the boys were quite alright with getting a night off, because it’s a long, tiring summer of baseball. The HarbourCats only have two more off days between now and the end of the season on August 10th. It sounds like tonight’s rainout was legitimate -- unlike the rainout the exhausted players manufactured in Bull Durham.



HarbourCatNip
  • The HarbourCats return home on Friday to face the powerful Corvallis Knights in the first of a three-game set at STD at RAP. The first 1,500 fans will receive a free set of HarbourCats baseball cards. Get there early because approximately 1,700 tickets had already been sold by early Wednesday evening.
  • Hunter Mercado-Hood is leading the WCL with 35 RBI and he is on pace to knock in 51 this season. If he keeps up that pace then he’ll break the all-time single-season WCL record of 48 RBI set by Mitchell Gunsolus of the Wenatchee AppleSox in 2012.
  • Steven Packard of the Klamath Falls Gems came into the three-game set last weekend at RAP with a 17-game hitting streak. He got at least one hit in all three games against the HarbourCats to lengthen that streak to 20 games. On Wednesday night, Packard broke the all-time WCL record when he extended the hit streak to 22 games (and counting). Congratulations, Steven!
  • One of the many hilarious video clips shown on the RAP scoreboard is played immediately following a walk to a HarbourCats batter. The clip is from an interview with Liza Minelli in which she exclaims “Balls to you!!” Why on earth would she say that? For the answer, watch the clip below to find out the context of her seemingly nutty comment.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Oh the thinks I can think...

The Victoria HarbourCats and Cowlitz Black Bears entered tonight's game with identical 16-20 records with both teams needing a Flash Gordon-like run to the finish line for any hope of a post-season birth. The 'Cats sent Mikey Wright to the mound and (yawn) he had another stellar outing, scattering five hits over his six innings of work and picking up the "W" in a 'Cats 6-0 victory. He did walk four and only strike out one but come on, this is yet another quality start for Mr. Wright. Carson Schneider came on in relief and held the Bears at bay to preserve the win.

And at the plate, Victoria hammered out fourteen hits - many of them of the clutch variety - with the stand-out being Nathan Lukes who was three for five with three RBI's. Every HarbourCat starter except catcher Aaron Barnett had at least one hit and that is the consistency throughout the line-up that makes a good ball club. So good starting pitching, good relief, solid and clutch hitting...very nice!

And as we head to the home stretch of the season, it's now time again to take a break from the everyday analysis between the white lines, step back and throw out some very random observations about the whole HarbourCat experience this year, both on and off the field. You may agree with some, disagree with others, but - to psuedo-steal a phrase from Dr. Seuss - here are some of "The Thinks I can think":

1) After what happened at the All Star game yesterday I will probably jinx us, but how awesome is Victoria summer weather? Two years and no rain-outs? Sure we have had some cool nights (always when the longer games occur!) but Vic-town has been showing her ankles once again this summer. If you haven't been to a game, get out here! If you have, then get out there again!

2) Bear with me on this one...Victoria has three of the top pitchers in the league if you look at ERA, WHIP, strikeouts, etc. in Mikey Wright, Logan Lombana and Alex Rogers. They also arguably have three of the top ten hitters in the league in Hunter Mercado-Hood, Gabe Clark and Nathan Lukes, as well as three other guys hitting above .300. So why are they four games below .500 instead of a league leader? What is so broken that they are not challenging for a division lead with these team leaders, or at least a wildcard spot?? I know there has been some sketchy relief and lack of clutch hitting but with those team leaders I'm at a loss for why their record isn't better.

3) Harvey's off-season conditioning program is really not helping as he continuously gets worked over on the bases by much younger opponents. That said, his strength and conditioning has improved for him to be able to bounce back very quickly from the senseless beatdown that he took a few games ago. No IR for le Gros Chat - you still da' man, Harv!

4) Overall, I love the promotions this year - the wackier the better. Elvis night was great (especially when the ump cut him off), the "K" batter is awkward, but funny (for us!), the dizzy bat race is still fun (until the inevitable lawsuit comes when someone falls in the dugout), fireworks rock, bobbleheads were an awesome addition, the record for first ceremonial pitches was amazing for community spirit and the list goes on. Next year, I'm hoping for even wackier - see here for an example.

5) But the remote car race is a train wreck and it has to go. Not only do the cars only work about half the time, but people can't operate them properly and running them on the infield is a joke. Players should not have to warily look around to avoid being slammed in the ankle (it would hurt!) while they warm up. I say keep it on the sidelines or better yet, just wave the white flag on this one.

6) Alex "A-Rog" Rogers. Ten day guy. Now an All Star and one of the anchors of the staff. That story just tells itself.

7) Bin 4 burgers rocks my and - judging by the line-up every night - everybody else's world as well. Great choice for a concession. Great taste, great care taken to prepare each burger individually instead of pre-making them. I will wait. Goes best with one of those awesome Spinnakers beers. It's certainly not a chore to eat out at the yard, especially now that I can eat on the old Group Deck and watch the game too. Nice job all around.

8) Have you ever seen so many high choppers as this year at the RAP? When I was down on the field throwing my gas in the ceremonial first pitch day, I noticed that the infield dirt near home was rock hard. Take a look at batters trying to "dig in" - no holes there. I'm wondering if this was done on purpose like the old Baltimore chop from the 1890's as the 'Cats try to exploit some of their speed (a la Wyler Smith)? Conspiracy theory, or fact?

9) Let's let the seventh inning stretch just play out as it should - fans sing a rendition of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" and they stretch their legs and ample bellies. No one should be talking over it. No yoga. No back health advice. Next thing you know we'll be singing "OK! Blue Jays!". Some traditions are just meant to stay as they have been for many years.

10) Is it the Kolsch, or is the left field fair pole...I mean foul pole...leaning in slightly, also swaying in the breeze? Would make for an interesting call some night.

11) Sound effects and use of the video scoreboard is much better this year that last. From the rambling Family Guy monologues to the Ferris Bueller and Liza Minnelli blurbs to the awesome intro video (vs. the cheesy "Garden City" intro of last year) it's just an all-round improvement.

12) That said, I see they can do live video but can we have replays? If no replays, can we update the static stats of the 'Cat players each at bat/game? And how about just a static shot of visiting teams so we know who they are as they come up? Or a line-up card to show where they are in the order? I don't get why this can't be done.

13) And while I'm asking for things, I don't know how many times I watch a pitcher fire a heater and look around for the radar gun posting. I think that kind of a gun is legal even in Canada.

14) The "K" guys in right field rule! Keep it up lads (lasses?)!!

15) Attendance remains good, so no sophomore jinx or fickle fans. Let's keep it up so baseball remains a Victoria mainstay. The new seats are really comfortable - trust me on that one!

16) Finally, please...I beseech anyone...can we fix the clock above the scoreboard? We got Bubba's urinal fixed, but we have had to look at the wrong time for two years now. I KNOW it takes more than 15 minutes to play a baseball game. Great Scott!

Any more you can think of? Anyone? Anyone.......Bueller?

For reference, here is the similar post from last year which was taken much earlier in the season.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Gabe Clark wins Home Run Derby; All-Star Game cancelled

HarbourCats supporters have been well aware of Gabe Clark’s power for some time now, but the fans in Klamath Falls and the other players selected to the WCL All-Star team got a first-hand introduction to it late this afternoon. Clark smashed 10 home runs in the opening round of the Home Run Derby and then defeated Cowlitz’s Corey VanDomelen in the final by blasting four more. The secret to Clark’s success? His personal pitcher was none other than his father, Jim, who must have been beaming with pride once it was all over. Congratulations on the victory, Gabe!!

Unfortunately, the Home Run Derby was the highlight of the on-field activities today, as the weather would not co-operate and the game had to be cancelled due to poor field conditions. The cancellation was an unbelievable twist of fate, as today was the only day of rain in Klamath Falls so far this summer. Apparently there is a full tarp at Kiger Stadium, home of the Gems, but the grounds crew was not exactly efficient at getting it rolled out. According to the HarbourCats’ Twitter account, it was the first rainout in the history of Kiger Stadium.
ASG conditions at Kiger Stadium
Photo courtesy @pippinsradio

While the snubbing of Nathan Lukes, Hunter Mercado-Hood (still leading the league in runs batted in!) and Mikey Wright seemed deeply unfair when the All-Star rosters were announced, it turns out that their omission wasn't so harsh after all. The trio of spurned stars got to enjoy a couple of relaxing days in Vic-town and they avoided the grueling 11-hour trip to southern Oregon. Sounds like a fair swap to me! Besides, the real All-Star teams aren't announced until the conclusion of the season.

HarbourCatNip
  • The ‘Cats travel to Longview, Washington to start a three-game set against the light-hitting Black Bears on Tuesday night. The Victoria starters for that series will be Mikey Wright, Alex Fagalde and Quintin Torres-Costa. Fagalde’s start on Wednesday will be his first of 2014.
  • Alex Rogers will start on Friday night at RAP against the mighty Corvallis Knights. Logan Lombana goes on Saturday. Sunday’s starter is yet to be determined.
  • Victoria is still leading the West Coast League in attendance with an average of 1,497 fans per game, 155 more than the Medford Rogues. The Bend Elks led the league in attendance in 2013 with an average of 1,574 per game, but that figure has dropped by a whopping 306 fans per game (19.4%).
  • The HarbourCats have three of the top seven hitters in the WCL batting race: Nathan Lukes (5th, .344), Hunter Mercado-Hood (6th, .344) and Gabe Clark (7th, .341).
  • Only two HarbourCats have walked more than they have struck out: Griffin Andreychuk (17 BB, 13 K, 79 AB) and Nathan Lukes (16 BB, 11 K, 122 AB).
  • With apologies to Jack Todd of the Montreal Gazette, here is our first-ever rendition of Heroes and Zeroes:
Heroes: Gabe Clark, Jim Clark, Dion Weisner (the human inside the Harvey the HarbourCat costume), Quintin Torres-Costa, Hunter Mercado-Hood, Nathan Lukes, and Mikey Wright.
Zeroes: Danny The Intern of Kool FM, coaches who overuse bunting, and the person(s) responsible for designing the roster selection process for the WCL All-Star Game.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Long night at the park ends quietly

What for a while looked like another HarbourCat victory-in-the-making ended with a late bullpen collapse in the frigid confines of Royal Athletic Park, as the  Klamath Gems pushed six runs across in the top of the 11th inning to earn an 11-5 victory. In retrospect, if may have been better to leave the scoreboard as it was for most of the night - with the Gems up 6-5 due to the game-long dispute between the coaches and umpires over the score. A late change put it back to 5-5 after the situation was sorted out correctly, giving Klamath 2 runs in the 3rd instead of 3.

Carson Schneider with a strong relief outing
Not a great start for Dylan Stowell, who went 2.1 giving up 3 runs on 4 hits and 4 walks leaving with the bases loaded in the 3rd. UNM's Carson Schneider came out of the pen and gave up a run on a sac fly. Schneider pitched brilliantly in 3.2 innings of work giving up only 3 hits. Schneider has found his college-season grove of late, giving up only six hits and a single earned run in his last 9 innings of work.

After Carson, Tim Peabody, Preston Ryan, and Ryan Keller gave up 2, 4, and 2 runs respectively in the loss. Ryan actually pitched a solid 2 innings in relief before his wheels came off. He was charged with the loss and 3 of his runs Keller couldn't keep from scoring.

Not much excitement otherwise for Cats fans. Hunter Mercado-Hood had a great night, going 4-6 to raise his non-AllStar average to .344, and keep himself leading in RBI with 35.

It was nice to see Harvey back on the field looking no worse for wear, yet from my standpoint, not moving as limber as usual. At least he's got a week to fully mend his "upper body injury".

In all, a good series for Victoria. Lots of run support, some solid starting and relief pitching, and the return - if only for a few at-bats - of some players who will be needed down the stretch.

Monday is the All-Star game in Klamath Falls - good luck to all four of our participants. It's a short break, the Cats are back in action against Cowlitz on Tuesday night at Story Field.

Friday, July 18, 2014

HarbourCats put on a clinic at STD

There are good ways to start a game, and there are great ways to start a game. The HarbourCats opted for the latter tonight, blowing open the game in the first inning when Alex Degoti and Gabe Clark both smacked 2-run home runs, 2 batters apart. Just over 1700 fans erupted from their seats while the 'Cats batted around in the inning, erasing an early lead surrendered by starter Logan Lombada.

Alex Degoti is congratulated after a 1st inning HR, while Gabe Clark (2nd from left) says "Oh yeah? Watch this"...
The true clinic was yet to come though. In the bottom of the 4th inning, the HarbourCats sent 13 men to the plate, scoring 7 times on 4 hits, 4 straight walks, an error, and a second monster 3-run shot by Gabe Clark.

Not done yet, Clark led off the 5th inning with his third home run of the game, and Victoria scored 2 more in the inning to hit 14 on the night.

Lombana had a decent start, going 5 complete innings giving up only four hits and one earned run. He also walked four batters, making it seem like he was pitching out of jams all night, except for the last of his innings which went 1-2-3. He was aided by a timely double-play in the first, and a Kelly Norris-Jones caught-stealing in the 4th to get him out of a couple potential run situations.

Yes you heard correct - a KNJ sighting! Kelly is now the official starter of all bobble-head games, and he had a pretty fair night. Besides throwing out a runner, he was 2-4 at the plate with a walk. He seemed to sustain an injury warming up in the top of the ninth and had to leave the game unexpectedly, causing Jake Lesinski to hurriedly stretch and get into the game.

And speaking of the ninth... Let's just forget it happened. Mark Marinch came in to mop up the 14-2 lead, and did his best to get the game to extra innings, throwing 22 pitches - only 2 of them strikes, walking 4 and letting 4 runs cross the plate. Andrew Nelson quickly got ready in the pen, and closed out the game after giving up a hit, throwing away a ball into center field on an error, and getting the final three much-needed outs.

Game temperature started at about 15, but dropped to (seemingly) just above freezing by the time the game mercifully ended, 3 hours and 33 minutes after it started. There were not many who stuck around to the end of this one...

My rant for the night comes from the on-field entertainment between innings. The 6th inning's dizzy bat race was taken over by the crew from 107.3 Kool FM, and featured Danny the Intern against morning host Paul Allen in some bet to be each other's slave for a day. After both men had difficulties reaching the finish line, DTI righted himself and threw a full-speed football tackle into an unsuspecting Harvey the HarbourCat, knocking him to the ground in a heap. While Danny paraded around pretending to don a wrestlers trophy belt, Harvey had to be helped off the field and did not return to the game.

To me, this was an absolute disgrace bordering on assault (remember the Marty Marmot incident last year). It's one thing when it's a drunken fan losing control - but this guy is supposed to be a media professional. I don't care what kind of contest you're trying to win - what possesses someone to show that much disregard for a person's health and safety that they would be that stupid. And DTI isn't a petite girl hugging Harvey and knocking him over (which has happened this year a couple times) - he's a big freakin dude, and that was a mean hit. Kool should be ashamed of what was done, and there should be a formal apology to everyone involved - including "Harvey" and his handlers, the team, and the many fans who saw it happen and watched Harvey being tended to in the third base area. I have since heard there was no serious damage done and that "Harvey" is fine. It could have been significantly worse.

HarbourCatNip

  • Nice to see Danny Collier make an appearance in the game as a late-inning substitute. Collier went 1-2, and made a great running grab in left.
  • Norris-Jones' 2 hits raised his average up to .130, and gave him his first 2 RBI of the season. Lets hope the injury he sustained is not significant and he can continue to contribute. He has probably the best defensive arm behind the plate...
  • Noah Cummings got the start at third and had a great game, snagging two hot shots just off the ground that could have easily been hits. One started a double play back at first where the Klamath runner was hung out to dry.
  • Gabe "The Babe" Clark, with his three home runs is now tied for the league lead with 6. Clark went 3-4 on the night, and the one out was another mammoth shot that was actually pulled back from over the fence at the absolute deepest part of the park in center field. Five feet either way and he would have had a fourth dinger. 
  • Clark's home runs are the first time a HarbourCat has ever hit three in a single game. Both Schuknecht Brothers (John and David) hit two in a game last year. Clark is also tied now with Alex Real and John Schuknecht for the most home runs in a season by a HarbourCat at 6. Me thinks he may hold that record on his own pretty soon.
  • The 13 men to the plate and 7 runs in an inning are new HarbourCat records.
  • Alex Degoti's dinger in the first inning was his 4th of the year, surpassing his last year total of 3. His 3 RBI tonight moved him into tenth place in the league with 22, also surpassing last year's total.


Thursday, July 17, 2014

'Cats say mahalo to Quintin

QTC bears down for another strikeout
In the quest to find that elusive fourth starter, the HarbourCats sent erstwhile reliever Quintin Torres-Costa to the mound tonight to face a lower team - Klamath Falls - in a great division. And man, did he get it done. The final line on Torres-Costa was a solid seven innings pitched where he allowed one run on four hits while giving up only one walk in a 7-1 win for the 'Cats. The "K" guys out in right field were tested tonight as they (sometimes aided by a security guard because they were running out of room!) slapped up twelve K's for Quintin alone.

The Gems never once looked like they were going to put up that big inning as the 'Cat pitchers did it right - starter got deep in the game and the relievers shut the door. Angel Delgado and Ryan Keller each pitched a perfect inning and struck out one of their three victims. And there was clutch hitting to boot. Base hits with men in scoring position, back to back hits, with Nathan Lukes leading the way going three for four. Gems starter Jordan Kron entertained the very healthy weekday crowd of 1,635 with his flashy "El Tiante" delivery, but to no avail as he surrendered four of the seven runs off eight hits.

But the story of the game was Quintin Torres-Costa who has looked good in his last four, albeit short, outings, not allowing an earned run and firing a WHIP of just over 1.00. Up until tonight, QTC (or "Cutie"...you know, "QT", for short!) had pitched a total of twelve and a third innings, all from the bullpen except for one start way back on June 7th against Kelowna, where he lasted three innings. On his college team - the Hawai'i Rainbow Warriors - Torres-Costa was also primarily a reliever as well, also getting one start and throwing a max of 56 pitches. So net, he is a short inning, middle-relief kind of pitcher who has thrown a maximum of 46 pitches in an outing twice year for Victoria, most recently when he threw on back to back days against Kitsap. He also had Tommy John surgery back in May of 2013 so really, he was never expected to go much past four or five innings, even if they were to test his arm.

All was on track after his fourth inning of work when he was up to 54 pitches and he was looking solid having whiffed eight batters by then. So far so good. In the sixth, he struggled for a batter or two and the 'pen got busy. But he got out of it and left after throwing 84 pitches. Coming out some time in the sixth would have been exactly what was needed but he strolled out again in the seventh and BOOM...struck out the side. When all was said and done, he had tossed 100 pitches which normally would be about perfect...unless you were a guy who had never thrown more than half of that in a game all year, and making your way back from arm surgery. Hopefully though, he comes through it OK and can be that guy who can be the fourth starter and give the 'Cats five to six innings. Ice, Ice that arm baby! We want you back on the hill!

Highlight of the Night was reserved for Victoria third baseman Bryce Greager who ended the eighth by ranging to his right to snag a nasty grounder and gun out the runner at first. The only cheer bigger than that was when the "K batter of the game" - number eight hitter for the Gems, Jake Whisler - struck out for the third time giving some lucky fan a very nice Keg gift certificate. This dubious honour brought a lot of fan excitement to his at bat and littered the crowd with awesome Ferris Bueller references, thanks to the video board guy.

In other news, congratulations to pitcher Logan Lombana who was named to the All-Star team today making him the fourth 'Cat to be making the trip to K-Falls. Upon hearing the news, Hunter Mercado-Hood, Mikey Wright and Nathan Lukes were heard to ask if there was room for a couple more players...come on coaches??? That's the issue with every All-Star game I suppose, not every deserving candidate gets a shot and there is no one selection system that will fix that, especially in a league like this where coaches are way more focused on their own players vs. looking at the ones they face. Now let's see if Gabe can make some noise in the home run derby!

The "K" guys were busy tonight!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Klamath Falls series preview

After six attempts this season, the Victoria HarbourCats finally defeated the Bellingham Bells. On Wednesday night the ‘Cats knocked off the Bells 5-3 to salvage a game in their three-game series in the City of Subdued Excitement. Wyler Smith knocked in pinch-runner Danny Collier with the winning run in the top of the ninth inning with a pinch-hit single. Hunter Mercado-Hood reached base in four of his five plate appearances and he knocked in a pair of runs to give him 32 runs batted in this season, only one fewer than league leader Kevin Kline of Corvallis.

Sean Watkins picked up the win with 2 ⅓ innings of yeoman’s work on the hill. Watkins threw a season-high 57 pitches (!!) to finish off the Bells. Victoria’s ace of the starting rotation, Alex Rogers, took a tough no-decision in the game in spite of pitching 6 ⅔ strong innings. Rogers gave up only one earned run on six hits and one walk.

It was a night to forget for Victoria third baseman Ted Boeke, however. Not only was he the lone starter who failed to reach base safely, but he also committed a pair of costly errors that allowed the Bells to tie the game in both the seventh and eighth innings.

Tater, Klamath Fall's mascot
Now let’s take off the rose-coloured glasses for a minute: The HarbourCats are, for all intents and purposes, out of the playoff race. Don’t even bother thinking about the wildcard spot -- there are too many good teams between us and the Bend Elks (and we don’t have any head-to-head games remaining to help make up the five-game deficit). But the weather will be warm and the beverages will still be cold in the dying days of the season, so coming out to the ol’ ballyard remains an excellent option for your entertainment dollar. Besides, watching Nathan Lukes gun out a runner from the base of the right-field wall is worth the price of admission alone.

The Klamath Falls Gems are on their way to Victoria for a three-game series that starts on Thursday night at the STD at RAP, and it will be the only series between the two teams this season. Here’s our look ahead to what you can expect to see this weekend.

Tale of the Tape

Victoria: 14-19 (.424), 3rd in West Division
Klamath Falls: 9-24 (.273), 4th in South Division

Hitting 

Victoria: .265 BA. (7th in WCL), .354 SLG (7th), .356 OBP (9th)
Klamath Falls: .262 BA (9th in WCL), .352 SLG (8th), .343 OBP (10th)

Pitching

Victoria: 4.10 ERA (6th), WHIP 1.45 (8th)
Klamath Falls: 6.76 (12th), 1.87 WHIP (12th)

Who to Watch - Klamath Falls

Steven Packard
Photo by Eric Evans
First baseman Steven Packard (.478 BA, 0 HR, 12 RBI) didn't make his season debut until June 23rd, but he has at least one hit in each and every one of his 17 games played. Packard’s hit streak is the longest in the WCL so far this year, so the HarbourCats will have to pitch the junior from the University of Oregon very carefully this weekend.

Cleanup hitter Dennis Morton (3B/SS) has put up excellent offensive numbers (.392 BA, 3 HR, 14 RBI), but his defense has been shaky. He’ll be the only member of the Gems who will suit up in next week’s All-Star Game.

Klamath Falls’ pitching is the worst in the league, which is great news for HarbourCats hitters. Reliever Kody Kuhlman is the only pitcher on their staff (with more than one inning pitched) with an ERA under 4.00. 

Who to Watch - Victoria

Everyone. There are no shortage of interesting plot lines to monitor. Given the recent playing time controversy, can head coach Bob Miller find a way of getting at-bats for most/all of his position players? Can outfielder Danny Collier bust out of his summer-long slump? Will Kelly Norris-Jones get a start in front of the home-town fans? Given the constant bullpen struggles this season, which HarbourCats reliever (not named Sean Watkins) will step forward to help preserve a victory?

Prediction

You can expect a pile of runs in this series -- if offense is your thing then you’ll be in seventh heaven. The Gems come into the series with only 9 wins on the season. However, Klamath Falls is a team that can’t be taken lightly, as shown by their three victories in six games against the pesky Medford Rogues (who took two of three from Victoria at RAP last week). It is also worth noting that Klamath Falls is in the strongest division in the league, so the Gems are better than their 9-24 record indicates. I’m going to be a homer and say that the 'Cats will take two of three from the Gems.

HarbourCatNip
  • I’m not convinced that Bellingham is the class of the WCL, because they have benefited from an extremely easy schedule so far. In fact, the Bells have only played THREE games all season against teams with a record that is more than one game over .500. Bellingham still hasn't played Corvallis, Yakima or Medford this season and they went 1-2 in their only three games against stiff competition (the Bend Elks). We’ll know more about Bellingham in a week, because their next six games are against top teams -- the Corvallis Knights and the expansion Yakima Valley Pippins.
  • Victoria only used five pitchers in the entire Bellingham series (Wright, Ryan, Schneider, Rogers and Watkins).
  • Alex DeGoti was tagged with the dreaded Golden Sombrero on Wednesday night when he struck out four times in the game. It was his second Golden Sombrero of the year.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The song remains the same


How the Bells threw tonight!
New day, same story as yesterday...'Cats drop a close one 3-1 to the league leading Bellingham Bells. The only offense Victoria could manage was a solo blast by "all rounder" Sean Watkins in the seventh after they were already down 3-0, which was a Bellingham three-run shot of their own. Up until the Watkins blast, the Bells had a perfect game going. So once again, the Bells' pitching shut down Victoria, limiting them to just three hits.

Pitching was pretty good for the 'Cats though, with new starter Preston Ryan going four innings and giving up the three runs, while reliever Carson Schneider had a good night in his four innings of work giving up only two hits, no runs, no walks and striking out three.

So tonight the 'Cats solved the starter/reliever thing but their bats went to sleep. Bellingham one to five hitters went a combined six for nineteen (.316) and Victoria's one through five batters went one for eighteen (.056). Tonight also shows you how solid the 25-6 Bells' pitching staff is this year...it's not just the HarbourCats, these guys are doing it to everyone.

It was an error-free game that lasted just a few minutes over two hours so the hometown fans must have been loving it. Let's hope we rain on their parade tomorrow in the series finale and prevent the dreaded sweep! Go A-Rog!

All-Star snub a puzzler


Hunter Mercado-Hood - All-Star snubbed
Let's talk about the WCL All-Star selections that were named today. There is no doubt that our representatives are very deserving candidates. Gabe Clark and Alex DeGoti are both hitting well above .300 and at the top of most significant offensive categories. Alex Rogers is an unbelievable story himself, working his way up from a 10-day contract into being a key starter who sits near the top of the league in ERA and second in the league in WHIP with an incredible 0.94 (for hurlers who with a minimum amount of innings). Congratulations to all three!

But to leave out Hunter Mercado-Hood and Mikey Wright? Are you kidding me? Wright is a stud. Pure and simple. In fact, he is the only pitcher in the league with a WHIP lower than Rogers, coming in at an eye-popping 0.85 in his 46 innings of work this year. He also holds opponents to a .176 batting average which is good enough for fourth in league regardless how many innings pitchers have pitched. He has a 2.74 ERA and is third in the league in strikeouts with 37 against only nine walks. And he's not an All-Star? Is it because he goes by Mikey instead of Michael...that's the only explanation that I can fathom.

That aside, what an AWESOME 1-2 punch we are blessed with this year on the mound. And these are guys who are first (Wright) and tenth (Rogers) in the entire league in innings pitched - Logan Lombana (another pitcher worthy of at least some consideration) is eighth. See previous blog posts on that topic.

Now on to HMH. Hunter Mercado-Hood is currently second in the entire league in RBI's and as far as his value to the HarbourCats, he is first on the team in batting average (.339 - good enough for 11th in the league), RBI's, at bats, runs, hits and doubles. He also has the second most walks on the team so has a good eye up there too. HMH is near the top of all other major offensive categories so is basically the best hitter on the team and certainly in the discussion as one of the elite hitters of the league. What does he need to do, sell Bin 4 burgers in between innings? Maybe don the Harvey costume?

And if you are going to pick Clark and DeGoti, what about Nathan Lukes? He is right there as far as numbers go and also worthy of some serious consideration. In terms of hitters, I would have taken HMH (no brainer) and Lukes or Clark - Lukes takes more walks, strikes out less and is a better fielder, but "the Babe" has more pop so it depends if you value power over on-base percentage. That is a reasonable debate to have, but to leave off HMH is a travesty of justice. The voters' baseball IQ's must be questioned on this one.

As for pitchers, both Rogers and Wright should be there - no doubt in my mind. Anyone who thinks differently has obviously been to Seattle recently and is still wallowing in the haze of one of the newly erected head shops.

Hopefully this will be rectified if players need to be added for injury reasons but if not, I'd deem the "All-Star" game either a random player festival or a popularity pageant. On this blog, both Mr. Wright and HMH are first ballot All-Stars with no room for debate.

Monday, July 14, 2014

HarbourCats waste stellar outing from Mikey Wright

Mikey Wright
The powerful Bellingham Bells defeated the HarbourCats 2-1 on Monday night in spite of a masterful outing from Mikey Wright, giving the Bells their fourth win in four games against Victoria this season. The loss leaves the struggling ‘Cats a whopping 11.5 games behind the first-place Bells in the West Division and five games behind the Bend Elks in the wild card race. Unless something dramatic and unexpected happens, the 13-18 HarbourCats are done for the season. You can go ahead and stick a fork in ‘em. On the plus side, the sun will still be shining and the beer will still be cold when the team returns to RAP on Thursday.

Early Monday morning the team announced that both Alex Garcia and Devin Carter have been released. Garcia has returned home due to family reasons and apparently Devin Carter is returning home for “academic reasons”. Given the recent turmoil in the HarbourCats’ clubhouse, one has to wonder if he requested his release at least in part due to lack of playing time. Carter hit .121 in 33 at-bats this season, but only six of those at-bats came in his last nine games with the team. The loss of Carter still leaves the team with six outfielders and at least four others (Fagalde, Torres-Costa, Barnett and Clark) who can play some outfield in a pinch. It's safe to say that we're covered.

In the same Monday morning press release, it was revealed that Noah Cummings was left behind for the Bellingham trip due to a “hand injury.” Cummings has hit .175 in 40 at-bats this summer, but he has only had three at-bats in the seven games prior to the Bellingham trip.

Monday night’s loss wasted an incredible effort from Wright, who limited the Bells to only three hits and two walks over eight innings. Wright struck out eight, but he threw a total of 106 pitches on the night. That high pitch count is yet another example of a HarbourCats pitcher being overused this summer. In fact, it's the seventh time in 2014 that a ‘Cats pitcher has thrown more than 100 pitches in a game -- a number that a pitcher under the age of 25 should never exceed in order to protect the long-term health of his arm. The seven instances are:
  • July 14 - Mikey Wright, 106 pitches
  • July 9 - Tim Peabody, 112 pitches
  • July 7 - Mikey Wright, 104 pitches
  • July 7 - Preston Ryan, 109 pitches (relief)
  • June 24 - Logan Lombana, 104 pitches
  • June 17 - Andrew Nelson, 104 pitches
  • June 13 - Alex Garcia, 102 pitches
By contrast, Corvallis, the model franchise in the West Coast League, has only allowed a hurler to throw 100 or more pitches in a game on one occasion (June 24th). Let’s hope that the HarbourCats can avoid any more of these extended outings this summer, because not only can the team ill-afford any injuries, but the long-term health of our pitchers must always be paramount.

HarbourCatNip
  • The roster for next Monday’s WCL All-Star Game will be announced tomorrow morning. I would expect Hunter Mercado-Hood, Nathan Lukes, Alex Rogers and Mikey Wright to make the team from the HarbourCats. However, considering what I saw with last year’s team, don’t be surprised if there are some major snubs and a few guys on the team whose performance doesn't merit their selection.
  • Preston Ryan gets the start on Tuesday night in the middle game of the Bellingham series. It will be his first start of the summer and his first appearance since his marathon 109-pitch relief outing on July 7th. Alex Rogers gets the ball on Wednesday night for the HarbourCats.
  • Wyler Smith batted ninth in Monday's game. Was this a coincidence given Bubba's blog post on Sunday? Just sayin'.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Sunny Saturday loss leaves questions unanswered

A great day for ball at RAP on Saturday. Sunshine was plentiful, temperature was near perfect, and fans were out in good numbers. Victoria is a funny town - it's always either too cold, or too hot. This afternoon, it was well towards the latter, but that didn't seem to bother the almost 1,300 fans who flocked to see if the HarbourCats could win the rubber match against the Medford Rogues.

Gabe Clark demonstrates the "unexpected curve-ball" swing
They could not, losing 4-1 to what became a fabulous pitching outing by Cypress College freshman Nathan Kuchta. Kutcha pitched 8.1 innings Saturday, giving up only 5 hits and the single earned run thanks in part to a nasty curve ball that had Victoria hitters guessing wrong all afternoon. He struck out 8, including at least 1 on all but two 'Cats batters - only Aaron Barnett and Alan Baldwin escaped the Kutcha whiff. Ex-HarbourCat Joe Record recorded the last 2 outs for the save - and ironically got Baldwin to strike out to end the game.

Victoria starter Logan Lombana pitched eight strong innings, giving up 3 runs on 8 hits with 4 strikeouts. Fans got a look at Alex Garcia in relief for the first time (not counting the Langley exhibition), and finished the game with the mysterious return of Quintin Torres-Costa.

Torres-Costa is coming back from Tommy John surgery in May of last year, he hadn't pitched in a week after playing in back-to-back games in Kitsap, including a 46 pitch three-inning outing. We were speculating that outing may have been too much for a guy we are supposed to be gently bringing back.  Lets hope he can return to the relief rotation and provide some stability in the second half.

Similarly, reliever Preston Ryan wasn't seen all weekend after throwing 109 pitches in relief in the 14-inning loss to Yakima last Monday. Ryan's previous high-pitch count for the year was 33.

And speaking of returns to action, there were a few friends and family of Kelly Norris-Jones in attendance today after it was announced he would be returning to the lineup after suffering a hand injury the last week of June. KNJ has been cleared to play for a week or so now, but seems to be in coach Miller's dog house as he was removed in favour of Jake Lesinski.

And let me get fully on my soapbox for a minute here. Just what is going on down there in the HarbourCat dugout these days?

It seems pretty clear that Miller and pitching coach Ben Jackson have their go-to guys, and if you aren't one, you're riding the pine. There are players who don't belong in the daily rotation, while others sit and watch. Can someone explain to me why Div 1 All-American Freshman of the year Danny Collier isn't playing regularly in this offence? Does anyone notice #36 each game... he's the first guy off the bench to greet a pitcher after an important 3rd out, or to congratulate a teammate after a great play. He's got more potential to make an impact than just about anyone on the team, yet he sits, and sits. He's had 14 plate appearances since June 25, a span of 14 games.

Collier didn't leave the bench in the series against the Rogues, yet Wyler Smith (who seems to have inherited the lead-off spot now despite having the tenth best on-base-percentage on the team) gets regular duty in left field. Seriously? Nothing against Wyler at all, and he seems to have turned the corner from a slow start - but that's largely thanks to starting all six games against Kitsap where he went 14 for 23. Is he a .300 hitter? Take away the shooting gallery games against Kitsap and he's hitting .202 with one of the lowest OBP's on the team. I'll take my chances with the All-American Collier any day...

Or Griffin Andreychuk. Hard not to have him in the lineup every day, with his second best .423 OBP... While I realize you can't play 12 guys each game, you can certainly rotate the lineup to even up playing time between contenders.

Lets not forget these kids give up their summer to live in a town thousands of miles away from their own, with no friends and family nearby, all for the hope of playing summer baseball. Many of these young players get homesick, become worn out from the grind of the day-to-day schedule, and then are let down by team politics. Standing around watching the game doesn't help - they could stay home and watch someone else play. Where is the value of being here if you aren't going to be given the opportunity to play on a regular basis? Seems like a wasted summer to me if you aren't in the coaches good books and you don't get the chance.

I hope something is done to level the playing field. There has already been one HarbourCat leave the team due to lack of playing time in Cole Kreuter, let's hope that's not a sign of things to come. Not just for this group of players, but for next year's as well. I certainly hope that colleges don't start ignoring HarbourCats phone calls during recruiting season because players don't want to come to Victoria and run the risk of a lost summer.

This could an interesting week for this team - don't be surprised if the HarbourCats looks quite a bit different in the near future.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

An angelic relief outing saves the day

Sean Watkins
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

Chuck said it best, so I’ll try not to mangle his fine words. But in all seriousness, the HarbourCats’ season has been a roller coaster ride. The latest low was erased by Friday night’s exciting 9-8 win over the Medford Rogues.

The evening opened with a barrage of hits. Nathan Lukes, Gabe Clark and Sean Watkins all homered in the first two innings to stake the ‘Cats to an early 8-4 lead. While that kind of lead would seem insurmountable to most fans, those in the know were worried.

Thankfully, Angel Delgado was at his best. The newest member of the HarbourCats bullpen threw four solid shutout innings to turn the tide in the game. Ryan Keller did his best to make the game close, but DH/Superman Sean Watkins came out of the pen to nail down the save and preserve the HarbourCats’ victory.

Let’s hope that Watkins will continue to see time on hill and that Preston Ryan will recover from his 109-pitch relief outing and be given more late-inning save opportunities. Now if Quintin Torres-Costa could only get some chances in the late innings then the Victoria bullpen might actually turn the corner. If we are to have any chance of making the playoffs then we'll need everyone in the pen to pull up their socks, so let's hope that happens...