Sunday, June 29, 2014

Kitsap series preview

The Victoria HarbourCats are trying to stop the bleeding this afternoon and prevent being swept for a third consecutive series as they wrap up a three game set with Cowlitz before returning to the RAP for another three game series against West division foe Kitsap BlueJackets. In fact, they will play the BlueJackets in six consecutive games, heading to Kitsap after their Canada week finale on Wednesday.

The BlueJackets are having some struggles of their own as they try and snap a four game skid this evening against the surprising Yakima Valley Pippins. It is possible that tomorrow night may see two teams meet with a combined fifteen losses without a win. The good news for one of them is that somebody has to rack up a few wins and both are probably looking at the other hungrily as a ladder out of the baseball doldrums.

Tale of the Tape (prior to Sunday's games)

Victoria: 5-12 (.294), 4th in West Division
Kitsap: 8-8 (.500), 3rd in West Division

Hitting

Victoria: .231 ave. (12th in WCL), .317 SLG (11th), .322 OBP (12th)
Kitsap: .275 ave. (5th in WCL), .379 SLG (4th), .374 OBP (4th)

Pitching

Victoria: 4.61 ERA (8th), WHIP 1.48 (8th)
Kitsap: 5.55 (9th), 1.68 WHIP (9th)

Who to Watch - Victoria
Oregon State’s Gabe Clark has lived up to promise and sports a .368 average in his first five games with the 'Cats. Clark also has two homers which is second on the team to Alex DeGoti. I'm sensing at least one Pembroke Poke from "the Gabe" this series.

Nathan Lukes and Hunter Mercado-Hood continue to climb the average ladder with both lads now hitting above .300 (.317 and .310 respectively). Prior to last night's nailbiting loss to Cowlitz, HMH had three multi-hit games in a row which Lukes has matched in his last three games while riding a four game hitting streak. Hopefully their bats stay hot for the Canada Day weekend (and beyond!) and it becomes contagious to the lower order hitters.

Pitching-wise, the 'Cats starters have actually been doing OK with two Alex's - Rogers and Garcia - both having good outings their last two starts and been unlucky not to have a couple of wins under their belts. Both have identical 1-1 records with very good ERA's of 1.96 and 0.81 and Rogers leading the team with a stellar 0.89 WHIP. Right behind him is another unlucky starter in Mikey Wright with a .96 WHIP in his three starts. The key to this series on the bump will be the relief pitching. Victoria needs a couple of relievers to step up with some solid performances to preserve leads, stop the bleeding, close games or all of the above. Sixteen different 'Cats have seen action so far this year so hopefully this experience will begin to show.

All that said, the fielding needs to stabilize and help out the pitching staff too. Same old story, but if Victoria can keep the errors down I really believe they can turn it around and start winning some games.

Who to Watch - Kitsap

While Victoria languishes near the bottom of most team offensive categories, the Kitsap bats have some pop. Centre fielder Daniel Woodrow sits second in the league with a .389 batting average and looks to be a solid singles hitter who gets on (.459 OBP) and can also swipe a base or two. Joining him in the top 10 (8th) with a .354 average is first baseman Austin Bush who also sports a lofty .458 OBP. Four other regulars have batting averages of .295 of above so 'Cats pitchers will need to be sharp or they'll be looking at a few double digit games here.

On the mound, big Josh Moss leads the Kitsap starters with a very respectable 2.45 ERA and 1.17 WHIP in three starts and 18 1/3 innings of work this year but the 'Cats may avoid him - at least in Victoria. The BlueJackets are trying out some new starters as they try and reduce opponents runs against. Reliever Tanner Howell has a pretty decent 0.93 ERA and seven K's in his nine and two thirds innings of work, but also has nine walks. After that, there are a lot of high ERA's so it may be just the tonic that Victoria needs to get their sticks going again.

Prediction

The numbers show a matchup of good Kitsap hitting against (statistically) weaker Victoria pitching and some inconsistent 'Cat bats similar B-Jacket arms. This is a tough one to call, but I'm going against the numbers and with the hometown team riding the Canada Day patriotism and taking two of three, regardless of what happens later today. I think the HarbourCat bats will heat up deeper in the order with a clutch hit here or there, and as long as the starting pitching holds true, they just need the bullpen to start mopping up. I'm thinking we'll see lots of base runners, high scores and a bit of chaos on the base paths and in the field.

Look for a highly entertaining series with games that may be a bit longer than usual but with the weather looking summer-Victoria-Awesome, whatever happens fans will not be disappointed. So put on the maple leaf face tattoos and come on out. This series is particularly loaded with promotions like fireworks, skydivers, free hot dogs and even a dash of Elvis - how can it NOT be a blast??

Editor's Note:

Former Victoria HarbourCat third baseman Dylan LaVelle will make his return to Royal Athletic Park in the Kitsap series. LaVelle, who hit .201 in 42 games with the 'Cats last summer, is playing both shortstop and third base for the BlueJackets this season. Fans may remember LaVelle's difficulty catching foul pop-ups last year, so it will be interesting to see what happens if LaVelle has to range into foul territory to make a play at RAP this week.

Friday, June 27, 2014

No love in the apple state

The Black Bears flexed their muscles on Friday
The HarbourCats sent Alex Garcia to the hill tonight to try and snap a seven game losing streak against their West Division rival, the Cowlitz Black Bears. Garcia went into the game with a 1-0 record, a flawless 0.00 ERA and a 0.86 WHIP in seven innings of work so the HarbourCat fans had reason for optimism entering this clash at Story Field in Longview, Washington.

Then someone yelled "Play Ball". OK, it wasn't actually that bad, but the homeside Black Bears spanked (no, I will never use "mauled" again!) Victoria 9-5 to hang another loss on our boys, making it eight bad ones in a row. Garcia and the 'Cats went through the first two innings all knotted up at 0-0 before Garcia gave up a solo blast in the third to the Bears' number three hitter, Brennan Salgado. Still, down 1-0 after three...not bad.

The 'Cats were their own worst enemy after that. A two-out error in the fourth let two unearned runs score and then in the fifth, Victoria had the bases loaded with one out and starting pitcher Zebastian "Fernando" Valenzuela struggling to find the strike zone. Enter reliever Reze Aleaziz (where do they get these awesome names?!) who gets Alex DeGoti to ground into a fielders choice and strikes out Aaron Barnett, diffusing the potential 'Cats rally.

Tim Peabody replaced Garcia to start off the fifth and gave up four more runs on five hits and two walks in his two innings of relief. The final line on Garcia was three runs (only one earned) on six hits while walking three and striking out five. Certainly not as flattering as his first outing, but keep in mind this is essentially a high school senior who will be going to UCSB next year. He obviously has some stuff as he did get five of his outs on K's. I'm looking forward to seeing him pitch here in Victoria as he hones his game to NCAA level to ready himself for next year.

The 'Cats put up a bit of whimper by scoring in the sixth and seventh to cut the lead to 7-3 and woke up the Bears again in the ninth with two more runs, but basically Cowlitz put it on cruise control after the sixth and coasted home from there. On the bright side, DH Sean Watkins had a nice night at the plate, going two for three and driving in two runs while "Babe" Clark continues to wield a hot bat going two for three himself. Centre fielder Nathan Lukes also went two for five and gunned down another runner at the plate with what sounded like a rocket from the outfield - this kid got game!

This is the second series of the season against Cowlitz with the 'Cats winning the first one here in Victown by a tally of two games to one. Tomorrow the HarbourCats with send Alex "A-Rog" Rogers at the Bears to try and even up the series and get rid of this awful losing streak.

In the words of Crash Davis, "What we need is a rain-out". Hey...it worked for the Bulls!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

How do you like us so far?

So fellow 'Cats fans, what do you think? Are we where you thought we would be at this point in the year? What does the first quarter report card look like to you?

With another disappointing 4-1 loss in the books, there aren't many happy fans leaving the park these days. And while the team certainly needs to pick up their game, maybe we as fans need a little perspective...

We here at the blog - and most sports fans in general - tend to be optimists for "their team". Every year your team looks better than it did last year, has the right pieces to go all the way, seems better thought out and stronger than the other guys. Ask anyone with a Canuck's sweater buried at the bottom of their drawer how many times that sounds right vs. how often it actually comes true. Unless your team is the Harlem Globetrotters, you very quickly learn to deal with reality.

And that's what makes baseball such a unique game. Baseball fans are always among the most optimistic fans in sport. While hockey teams and basketball teams will see attendance figures drop, and teams up and move cities, baseball fans hold on to their teams, win or lose. For example, the Red Sox are 8.5 games back, and 8 games under .500 this year, but you still can't buy a seat for a game at Fenway. The Cubs haven't won anything for over 100 years - and are already out of the playoffs this year yet they continue to pack em into Wrigley - and the whole town still eats, sleeps, and breathes The Cubbies. Yes baseball fans are sports true eternal optimist group.

And so we are for our HarbourCats, and so we should be.

There's no denying that our record is not where we would like it to be. At 5-10 and on a seven-game losing streak, the numbers are pretty grim to this point:
  • 57 runs scored (12th in league)
  • 119 hits (12th in league)
  • 166 Total bases (12th in league)
  • .231 team batting average (12th in league)
The only offensive category on the rise thanks to this week's surge, is home runs - we now have 8, good for middle of the pack 7th.

On the defensive side:
  • 87 runs given up, 69 earned (7th in league)
  • 138 hits given (4th in league)
  • 56 walks (3rd in league)
  • 93 Strikeouts (10th in the league)
  • 4.63 ERA (8th in league)
  • 21 errors committed
  • -30 run differential

In the stands, we are seeing an average of 1295 fans at each game, good for 3rd in the league. Down a bit from last year mainly due to the way the schedule worked out - not a single Friday night / weekend game until July 11, where we had 4 to this point last year.

And speaking of last year, by comparison, on this exact day last year, the cats sat at 10-4, in first place in the North division. Without digging too far into box scores, some key differences in numbers:
  • 80 runs scored
  • 62 runs given up
  • 19 errors committed 
  • +18 run differential

So what does that all mean? Well, not much at this point really. If you're a stats person and do some projections, Victoria is on pace for a 19-35 season, a .351 winning percentage. Last year we ended up 22-32, a .407 percentage. Based on league history it should take about 30 wins to make the post-season out of the Northern Division. That means from this point, the Cats need to go 25-14 the rest of the way, a .641 clip.

Anything is possible, but in the same way the Canucks will win the cup next year, it's not very probable.

So I suggest then, that you become a true baseball fan from this point on. It's not about wins, those are a bonus. It's about being at the ball park enjoying the night. It's about watching Nathan Lukes gun down a man at home with a rocket from the outfield. It's about watching Gabe Clark launch another towering shot onto Pembroke Street. It's about having a burger and a beer, and catching up with friends at the park. It's about jeering on the K batter ("He can't hit, he can't hit, he can't hit, saaaawing batta"). It's about understanding that the events that happen in the game are bigger than the game itself. Watching a Danny Collier 11 pitch at-bat in the ninth, or watching local-ish boy Griffin Andreychuk (who's from Nanaimo BTW, even though he's always announced as a Seattle U guy) score four runs in a game. The list is endless.

It's amazing what you'll see at the park on any given night. Baseball is a learning sport, and you do so with every game you go to. RAP is always full of oddities from balks, to batter interference calls, to sun-assisted doubles. Come learn something new. Pick a favourite player out of the group and cheer louder than anyone else around you. In the process, you'll add some excitement to the game, and become part of something very special - the game of baseball!

If we all bring that attitude to the park, we might just get those 25 wins we need this year...

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Cats trampled by Elks en route to 6th consecutive loss

Gabe Clark launches his 2nd homer of the year
13 runs, 18 hits, 2 errors for Bend. 7 runs, 11 hits, 2 errors for Victoria. Need we say more? Well, perhaps a little more... I wish I could suggest that Tuesday's 13-7 loss to the Elks was an aberration, but to be quite honest it's exactly the kind of game I was expecting to see every now and then at RAP this summer. Lots of offense from the Cats, but not much pitching.

On the offensive side, the new guys, Gabe Clark and Aaron Barnett, continue to impress. Along with Griffin Andreychuk, they are turning into the engine of the HarbourCats offense. The night started off well, especially when Andreychuk and Alex DeGoti hit back-to-back solo shots in the bottom of the second. Andreychuk reached base five times on the night and scored on four occasions. Clark homered for the second consecutive night -- a towering drive high into the screen in left to lead off the bottom of the third -- and he finished the night with three hits and a pair of RBI. Meanwhile, Barnett also had three hits and knocked in a pair of runs. Hunter Mercado-Hood chipped in with a pair of singles and an RBI.

Unfortunately, the bottom of the order continues to be a major problem for the HarbourCats. The last four spots in the order went a combined 0-for-18 on Tuesday night. On Monday night, the bottom three spots in the order went 0-for-11. Needless to say, it's time for some of the underachieving hitters to step it up.

Clark is congratulated by Bob Miller
Logan Lombana got the start for Victoria and he was fortunate to only give up three earned runs in his five innings of work. It took him 104 pitches to stagger through those five innings, so the 'Cats coaching staff was wise to get him out of there with a 6-4 lead. Unfortunately, the HarbourCats bullpen imploded in spectacular fashion after Lombana was removed. Relievers Alex Fagalde, Carson Schneider, Ryan Keller and Mark Marinch combined to give up 9 earned runs, 10 hits and 3 walks over 2 1/3 innings (!!). Those 2 1/3 innings seemed to stretch out for an eternity. Mercifully, Don Sullivan was able to stop the bleeding by pitching an effective 1 2/3 innings to close out the debacle.

On a night when we should be celebrating the performances of guys like Clark and Barnett, we're instead left shaking our heads. Let's hope that the HarbourCats can put this behind them as quickly as possible. The losses are starting to mount and the season will start slipping away if the team doesn't turn things around soon. Mikey Wright (2-1, 3.50) takes on Jake Thompson (0-1 , 12.27 ERA) on Wednesday night at RAP. Let's hope that Wright can pitch a gem tomorrow night, but my gut tells me that we might be in for more of the same.

Monday, June 23, 2014

New power added to lineup, same result for HarbourCats

I half-expected this game to be a real turning point for the Victoria HarbourCats. Coming off a relaxed week, a couple days off, and a couple exhibition games - combined with the arrival of two top-level quality hitters in Pepperdine's Aaron Brown and Oregon's Gabe Clark, it had all the makings of a turn-around game for the Cats.

With the additions to the lineup available, the order had a complete shakeup. 2B Griffin Andrechuck led off, followed by Nathan Lukes, before Barnett and Clark. Hunter Mercado-Hood dropped to fifth in the order, followed by Alex Degoti and Devin Carter to round out the top 7. The eight spot was the DH, tonight filled by Jake Lesinski. Ted Boeke batted in the 9 spot.

Rain started to come down just as the anthems began, and continued at a light pace through to the eighth inning. Most of the 882 fans in attendance crammed into the covered area behind home plate, but some with umbrellas and Gortex braved the seated areas. I must say, as one of the wimps who opted for the dry seats, that the new plastic bucket seats are much more comfortable than the stiff-backed wood ones!

The big question on the night though, was how many times can you put two men on with one out before that comes back to haunt you. Tonight, the answer seemed to be three.

Victoria Starter Andrew Nelson actually pitched quite well, but seemed to be in trouble most of the night. He went six innings giving up three earned runs on six hits and three walks. Quintin Torres-Costa gave up a run in two innings of relief, and Tim Peabody pitched a scoreless ninth. 

Gabe Clark launches his first HR as a HarbourCat in the 6th
It could have been much worse for the home team, if not for a couple of unconventional double plays to save runs. In the second, with runners on first and second, 1B Gabe Clark snagged a tough one-hopper and threw to second for the first out. Alex Degoti threw back to Nelson who missed the bag and the out at first, but was then alert enough to fire a strike to Barnett at home who made a diving tag to get Bend's Grant Newton who tried to slide around the catcher. Great play by all three players on the play. Another trouble spot in the third, but with 2 on and nobody out, Nelson struck out Bend lead-off man Nick Osuna, and 1 pitch later, Degoti snagged a hot liner going up the middle and stepped on second for the double play. 

Another fabulous defensive play ended the top of the 9th inning, when Nathan Lukes in CF picked up a one-bounce line drive and threw an absolute bomb to Barnett at the plate to cut down Bend's potential 5th run. It was Barnett's third acrobatic out at home of the game. Lukes continues to display one of the best outfield arms ever seen at this level of ball. There were also no errors tonight, making it one of the best fielding performances of the year. 

But as has been the case, the offence just wasn't there - apart from the new Barnett-Clark combo. In the first inning, Barnett put a single into left field before Clark just barely missed a home run to the wall in left to end the inning. In the sixth inning the duo paired up again. With Barnett on first after his second hit of the game, Clark launched another ball to left, this one well onto Pembroke for his first home run of the year.

The Cats could get no closer though, giving up a fourth run before getting one back to make it 4-3. The hopes of a last-inning rally were quickly removed when Bend closer Kevin Sheets sat the Cats down in order to end the game. 

Baseball took a back seat during a scary moment in the stands in the eighth inning, after one spectator passed out and was attended to by several on-site medical staff before ambulance personnel arrived. The stands stayed quiet for the inning and a half before the fan was led out, with assistance, but under her own weight. We hope she is doing well.

Bend Elks series preview

After a pair of off days and a split in a couple of exhibition games against the Langley Blaze, the Victoria HarbourCats are set to take on the Bend Elks at Royal Athletic Park on Monday night in the first of a three-game set. The ‘Cats are currently on a four-game (regular season) losing streak, but they looked a bit better against a much more experienced Langley Sr. Blaze squad on Saturday and Sunday.

The Elks took two out of three games from the Bells this past weekend following an impressive Bellingham sweep over the HarbourCats last week, so we can’t take a Victoria series win for granted. The HarbourCats took two of three from the Elks in Bend on June 13th to 15th, so the upcoming series looks like a pretty competitive match-up that should produce some quality baseball.
Homer, the scariest mascot in the WCL

Tale of the Tape

Victoria: 5-7 (.417), 4th in West Division
Bend: 6-10 (.375), 3rd in South Division

Hitting 

Victoria: .222 ave. (12th in WCL), .303 SLG (11th), .322 OBP (11th)
Bend: .225 ave. (11th in WCL), .286 SLG (12th), .331 OBP (10th)

Pitching

Victoria: 4.12 ERA (6th), WHIP 1.37 (5th)
Bend: 4.40 (8th), 1.38 WHIP (7th)

Fielding

Victoria: .950 fielding percentage (7th)
Bend: .956 fielding percentage (6th)

Who to Watch - Victoria

Oregon State’s Gabe Clark and Pepperdine’s Aaron Barnett will likely see their first (regular season) action in a HarbourCats uniform and both will likely make an immediate impact on the team’s offense. Clark, a first baseman, should be a major run producer and fit in nicely in the heart of the order. Barnett is a line-drive hitter who should hit for a high average and finally give the team some offense from the catcher’s position (H-Cats catchers are a combined 1-for-37 at the plate this season).

Nanaimo’s Griffin Andreychuk (two-for-four with two walks) has looked solid both at the plate and in the field since joining the HarbourCats last week. The double-play combination of Alex DeGoti and Andreychuk has completely transformed the team's inner diamond defense.

Logan Lombana
Pitcher Alex Garcia dominated the Elks in his first start with Victoria, but can the recent high school graduate turn the trick twice in a row? Garcia only gave up two hits and four walks in seven innings on the hill in that Friday the 13th start, so it will be a tough act to follow.

Logan Lombana has an 0-1 record in his two starts so far, but there’s a reason why we at the blog feel that won-loss record for pitchers is one of the most useless stats in baseball. Lombana has a stellar 1.63 ERA and 1.00 WHIP in his 11 innings on the mound, so we expect his luck to take a turn for the better very soon.

Preston Ryan has been solid out of the pen for the ‘Cats this summer. He has a sparkling 0.67 WHIP and a pair of saves in four appearances / six innings pitched.

Who to Watch - Bend

Victoria will likely get a break and avoid staff ace Patrick McGuff, who held the powerful Bellingham Bells to only one hit in six innings pitched in his start on Saturday. The HarbourCats probably won’t be so lucky with Austin Guzzon (2-1, 1.97 ERA), who may pitch in the series finale on Wednesday. Guzzon has struck out an astonishing 14.3 batters per nine innings so far this year.

Reliever Kevin Sheets has been nearly unhittable in his four appearances. Opponents are hitting .103 against him and he has an out-of-this-world 0.33 WHIP to go along with a 0.00 ERA in 9 innings pitched. Sheets has struck out a whopping 10 batters without walking anyone. Closer Louis Cohen has three saves and has struck out 11 batters in eight innings pitched; reliever Jesse Pratt has a 1.42 ERA and 0.67 WHIP in 6 ⅓ innings pitched.

On the the offensive side, outfielder Jake Peeveyhouse, a junior from Arizona State, is hitting .348 in his first week with the Elks. First baseman Johnathan Brooks is hitting .327 with a homer and five RBI, while catcher Curtis Wildung is hitting .292 with a homer and four RBI.

Prediction

Making short-term predictions is risky at the best of times. After Darth nailed the Cowlitz series, we completely missed the mark in the Bellingham series (Bubba, two minutes in the box for excessive optimism). As much as I'd like to make some generic prediction that avoids any future embarrassment, here goes nothing…

Given that we are likely to miss Bend’s staff ace (Patrick McGuff), I’m predicting that the Cats will take two out of three from Bend. Just don’t ask me to put any money on it...

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Bells sweep faltering Cats

Griffin Andreychuk
And that, my friends, was a good ol’ fashioned ass kicking. The Bellingham Bells defeated the ‘Cats 7-2 on Wednesday night at RAP to sweep the three-game series between the two clubs. The Bells outscored Victoria 23-5 in the series and outplayed them in every way imaginable -- hitting, fielding, pitching -- you name it.

Mikey Wright got the start for Victoria and his performance was less than outstanding. After surprising us with two exceptional outings to begin the season, Wright came back down to earth on Wednesday night. He pitched six innings, giving up four earned runs on six hits and three walks, while striking out three batters. He didn't receive much help from his defense, although to be fair he was responsible for two of the four HarbourCats errors himself.

On the positive side, Hunter Mercado-Hood and Griffin Andreychuk had two hits apiece for Victoria and Alex DeGoti hit a solo home run. Andreychuk also reached base safely a third time by earning the team’s only walk of the night. Aside from that (and Alan Baldwin’s RBI triple), it wasn't easy to find silver linings in the series finale against Bellingham.

Let's get straight to the point: There are a bunch of spots in the batting order that seem like easy outs right now. The bottom five slots in the order went a combined 1-for-13 on Wednesday. Victoria catchers are hitting a combined 1-for-37 (.027) on the season. The team is hitting .222 on the year -- not only the worst team batting average in the league, but a whopping 16 points behind the 11th-best team in the league (Klamath Falls). In short, we’re in a serious batting funk.

Bubba's favourite urinal still awaits repairs
While the pitching is a surprising 5th best in the league, the HarbourCats are headed in the wrong direction here too. Saturday marked the end of a stunning 29 consecutive scoreless innings streak, but the pitching staff has now given up 32 runs in the last 31 innings.

The news isn't all bad, however. First and foremost, Bellingham is finally leaving town. Good riddance. The Bells look like a team that is destined to make the playoffs and I highly doubt that Victoria will be the last team that they completely dominate this season. Second, the HarbourCats get two much-needed days off on Thursday and Friday. The team has played nine games in the last nine days, so the mental break should do them a world of good. Third -- and perhaps most importantly -- help is on the way. Both first baseman Gabe Clark and catcher Aaron Barnett are set to join the team on the weekend and their offensive contributions are in dire need right now. Clark will provide needed punch in the heart of the order and Barnett is a line-drive machine.

The HarbourCats will play exhibition games against the Langley Sr. Blaze on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon before opening a three-game series at RAP on Monday night against the Bend Elks. The Elks are a team that the HarbourCats can handle. Let’s hope the momentum shifts in the ‘Cats favour when they get back at it for real on Monday night.

HarbourCatNip
  • Hunter Mercado-Hood leads all HarbourCats regulars with a .289 batting average. Yes that’s right, not a single regular is hitting .300.
  • Wednesday’s game was the team’s 4th consecutive loss.
  • Victoria’s record is now 5-7, good for fourth place in the four-team West Division. The team is 3 ½ games behind the first place Bellingham Bells.
  • The Cowlitz Black Bears currently hold the wild card playoff spot. Victoria is 2 ½ games behind Cowlitz, but there are four other clubs between Victoria and the Black Bears.
  • The powerful Bells face the HarbourCats six more times this season, including another three-game set at RAP from August 1st to the 3rd.

Another pitching gem leaves HarbourCats cold

Andrew Nelson shows us the arm-torque on a fastball. 
Well so much for the series prediction. I much prefer when someone else does the predicting around here, I always seem to overestimate our chances! Back on Monday, I predicted that Victoria's pitching would best the mighty bats of Bellingham in this series, agreeing to tow the company line that solid pitching always beats a good offence. Problem was, I hadn't considered the possibility that Bells pitching was capable of throwing two fabulous outings in a row here in our yard...

Tuesday night was just such a performance from B'Ham starter Seth Martinez. The freshman from Arizona State held Victoria bats at bay for eight solid innings, giving up only 1 walk, 2 hits and 2 runs in the bottom of the second inning, before cruising through the next 19 batters. Martinez fanned an impressive 10 batters in his eight innings of work.

Bellingham was led offensively by Gonzaga junior Jimmy Sinatro. Despite having to listen to walk up music from Ol' Blue Eyes himself (I'm sure he's never heard that before), he went 2-2 with 2 RBI, a triple, and two HBP. At .421, he now leads the Bells Bombers in batting average.

Bobble-head night was a huge success though. Almost 1400 fans made it out (although I think only the first 1000 were to get bobble-heads), and despite the lopsided 7-2 score and a biting wind blowing out to right field, most stayed to the bitter end. Personally, I was frozen to my seat and couldn't move, which could have assisted with that.

Kelly Norris Jones was a good sport throughout the night as the model for the first bobble-head in WCL history (I have no facts to the contrary, so that's probably true). The mini-KNJ was featured in most of the on-field antics and seemed to be everywhere. I expected some good-natured ribbing from the rest of his teammates, but they seemed fairly oblivious to the whole thing. Kelly went 0-2 under the pressure of it all.

With only 2 hits in the game, there weren't a lot of positives at the plates for Victoria. It was nice to see Devin Carter get the start in right field, and he made the most of it early, singling to lead off the 2nd inning and coming around to score the first Victoria run on a Nathan Lukes double. Carter was 2-2 in his HarbourCat career at that point, having done the same thing in his pinch-hit debut Monday night. That was it for him and the rest of the Cats on the night however, as we never saw another hit.

Victoria starter Andrew Nelson actually had a pretty good game, despite getting tagged with the loss. He pitched 6 solid innings, giving up only 2 earned runs on 5 hits and a walk. His defence committed another 3 errors though, leading to the go-ahead run in the fifth that generated the L.

In what could have been a memorable moment early in the second inning of the game, White Chocolate (WC) leaned over to me and pointed to center field... "Check it out - they fixed the clock!" he said. Yes right there on top of the scoreboard, the old-style big-and-little-hands pointed to 7:28. A check of the phone confirmed it - she was right on time! We rejoiced at what has plagued the park for three years now - a clock that didn't keep time. Now if only the city could fix the urinal that was sealed up with a black garbage bag mid-last season, we would be living the dream...

But alas, 15 minutes later as the inning came to a close, the clock still showed 7:28. We had fallen for it. Like my grand-pappy used to say, "Even a broken watch is right twice a day"... Sadly, it showed only 7:50 as the game ended - which by the time it actually did end and I hobbled my frozen carcass to the solace of my car's seat warmers, would have probably been a better time to leave anyway.

Still, I'm holding out hope for one win in this series tomorrow night as the 'Cats send 2-0 Mikey Wright to the mound. If any of the HarbourCat pitchers can stem the bleeding and tame the Bells, it's probably Mikey! Just remember to bring an extra fleece...

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Bells make some noise at RAP

Monday's promotion at RAP backfired on the HarbourCats in a big way. What was billed as "Kick 'em in the bells night", was turned into a "Get kicked by the Bells night", thanks to some excellent starting pitching, some clutch hitting, and more offence than HarbourCat relievers could handle.

Gunner Pollman, after hitting the dirt on a play at 3B
Bellingham Starter Grant Goodman had his best outing of the season by far, giving up only a single hit while walking 5 through six complete innings. Victoria Starter Logan Lombana didn't have a great first inning giving up 4 hits including a Scott Heath blast over Danny Collier (and the wall) in left field to make it 2-0. After that, he settled down to no-hit the Bells until the 5th inning. The bullpen took away all hope of a comeback,as reliever Don Sullivan made his Victoria debut, giving up 3 earned runs on four hits to make it 5-0. Mark Marinch then had an interesting outing, looking dominant in a hit-less eighth inning, before giving up 5 hits and 4 runs (only 2 earned thanks to an Alex Degoti error).

Victoria's bright spot on the night was new guy in town Devin Carter, getting his first plate appearance, hit, and RBI in the seventh inning. The Pepperdine Wave hasn't played a game in over three weeks, but that didn't seem to matter as he lined into left-center. Welcome to Victoria Devin!

The Bells offence lived up to it's early-season billing. Only one starter, shortstop Colby Woodmansee, was held hit-less, while all eight other starters had at least one hit. Heath led Bell batters going 3-5 with 3 RBI.

Just over 1000 fans filled the fancy blue seats , but the crowd was subdued and quiet - even with the cowbell giveaway. The game began with a tribute to the late Tony Gwynn, an MLB legend who passed away Monday morning. Tony serves as a reminder of the dangers of chewing tobacco, as he succumbed to cancer at age 54 after a life of using chew. One fan was seen wearing a retro Gwynn jersey in the crowd.

The 'Cats will look to rebound Tuesday night on KNJ bobblehead giveaway night. Be one of the first 1000 fans in the door to get yours!

HarbourCatNip

Are you using the Pointstreak app at the park? Pointstreak is the official statistical service of the WCL and the Victoria HarbourCats. Each game is updated in real-time and can be viewed on the app - also in real-time. The app is available for both iOS and Android. The iOS app seems a bit nicer, but both are quite functional - and free! Visit the app store from your mobile device and downlaod the app, then search for the WCL. Add the league and the HarbourCats to your favourites, and start tracking every pitch from your seat!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Bellingham Bells - Series preview

Ah Bellingham. Who hasn't spent many a weekend in that fair city combing through back-to-school deals at Bellis Fair Mall, buying cheap gas and Tillimook cheese... The city-by-the-bay of the same name (which was named after Sir William Bellingham, the Royal Navy's accountant), sports many a destination for Canadian visitors, and has for many years. This week however, a few of Washington's newest citizens are venturing this side of the border, as the team's WCL franchise comes to town on the first of two trips this season.

The B'Ham Bells land at RAP for three games this week starting Monday night. Currently sporting a respectable 5-3 record, they were most recently rained out of Sunday's game in Kitsap after splitting the first two games of that series. Our home-town Cats from V'ria sit at 5-4, having lost one more game after going 2-1 on their trip to Bend OR.

Victoria is scheduled to send Logan Lombana to the mound against Bells Freshman Grant Goodman. Goodman had a decent first start of the season, picking up a win while giving up three earned runs on two hits and five walks over 4 innings. Lucky for him, the Bells picked him up with 5 runs in the top of the fourth to get him the win. Lombana on the other hand, was lights-out in his first start - a no decision in the 'Cats 6-5 11 inning marathon home opener last week. Lombana pitched 5 strong innings, scattering 4 hits and 2 walks while giving up only two unearned runs.

Tuesday's scheduled starters are Seth Martinez (1-0, 3.00 ERA) for Bellingham up against Andrew Nelson (0-1, 9.81 ERA), while Wednesday should see Enir Erives (0-0, 12.00 ERA) take on the 'Cats Mikey Wright (2-0, 2.25 ERA). Look for Nelson to bounce back from his unimpressive first start, and for Wright to show his early season dominance is for real. Weather is expected to be on the chilly side, so that should help keep balls in the park - which plays into Wrights hand - as reader Eric pointed out after his last start, he gets a ton of fly ball outs)...

At the plate, the Bells are led by the best hitting outfield in the WCL - Danny Miller, Walker Olis, and Aaron Stroosma. The three have accumulated 32 hits and 17 RBI between them so far this season. As a collective group, the Bells have 8 regulars hitting over .300 at this early point the season and are dominating most of the leagues offensive categories. By contrast, Victoria has four starters hitting over .300, led by Nathan Lukes, Danny Collier, Cole Kreuter, and Hunter Mercado-Hood.

In a team vs. team compare, it's impossible to use last year's head-to-head results to draw any kind of conclusion on what to expect in this series - as the key players have (mostly) all changed. On paper, it's a classic offense vs. pitching match-up for the most part. Baseball purists always favour the pitching side of that equation, and given the disparity in mound-talent, I will this time as well. I think the Bells are too good a team to drop all three though, so I'll give Victoria a slight 2-1 edge in this one.

Now most importantly, which Bin4 burger will end at the top of my list tonight...

HarbourCatNip


  • Devin Carter has arrived in town, fresh from his trip to the Super Regionals with the Pepperdine Wave. Look for him to perhaps get some time in the outfield this series.
  • That leaves C Aaron Barnett and 1B Gabe Clark as the only two missing 'Cats. Both have returned to school to complete some year-end activities, and are still scheduled to arrive. Both of them will add substantially to Victoria's offensive prowess once they arrive.



Sunday, June 15, 2014

Cats pitchers are mere mortals after all

Thud. That was the sound of the HarbourCats pitching falling back to earth. After reeling off an incredible string of 29 consecutive scoreless innings, Victoria pitchers acted like mere mortals Sunday night as they couldn't hold a 5-0 lead and the H-Cats eventually lost 7-6 to the Bend Elks.

Tim Peabody got the start for Victoria. The book on Peabody coming into the summer was that he is nearly unhittable but has trouble finding the strike zone; this spring with LMU, Peabody held opponents to a .202 batting average, but issued a generous 5.9 walks per nine innings. Although he had only given up one walk in 8 ⅓ innings as a HarbourCat coming into tonight, his control problems resurfaced against the Elks. Peabody only gave up one hit in 4+ innings on the mound, but he walked a grand total of seven batters and surrendered a pair of runs. He could have escaped without giving up any runs, but Quintin Torres-Costa allowed a pair of inherited runners to score in his second straight relief appearance.

Hunter Mercado-Hood, on-base and
RBI machine (photo by Brian Hayes)
Ryan Keller took the loss in a less-than-stellar return to the HarbourCats lineup, as last year’s closer gave up a pair of runs in 2 ⅓ innings on the hill. Keller also surrendered three hits and a pair of walks. Victoria pitchers walked 11 batters on the night after only walking 26 batters in the first eight games of the season.

The offense was once again led by Hunter Mercado-Hood and Nathan Lukes. Mercado-Hood had three RBI on the night, giving him 11 on the season and putting him in a tie for most RBI in the league with Cowlitz’s Austin Baker. He also reached base safely in four of his five plate appearances. Lukes scored a pair of runs and had two hits and an RBI. Bryce Greager and Sean Watkins knocked in the other runs.

The loss drops the HarbourCats into fourth place in the tight West Division with a 5-4 record. However, the team is only one game back of the first-place Cowlitz Black Bears. Victoria opens a three-game series against the Bellingham Bells on Monday night at the STD at RAP. We’ll see you there!

HarbourCatNip
  • Even after giving up six earned runs on Sunday, the Victoria pitching staff still sports the fourth-best ERA in the league (3.49).
  • After smashing the all-time WCL record for most homers allowed last season, Victoria pitchers have surrendered only one home run in their first 9 games. Medford leads the league in fewest homers allowed this summer (0).
  • Victoria is second in WCL attendance with an average of 1,663 fans per game. The expansion Yakima Valley Pippins lead the league with an average attendance of 1,778. The rest of the league is fairly close in attendance numbers, except for the struggling Kelowna (625), Klamath Falls (422) and Kitsap (354).
  • The HarbourCats have scored three or more runs in eight of their nine games.
  • Check back on our blog for Bubba’s Bellingham series preview!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

'Cats make it three in a row

Starter Alex Rogers
Going for three on the trot, the HarbourCats sent Nanaimo product Alex "A-Rog" Rogers to the hill tonight, and he did not disappoint. In fact, he pitched a gem as Victoria brought down the Elks 4-1, way down Oregon way. Rogers went seven innings giving up no runs on only five hits, while striking out three and walking two. And what an amazing streak the 'Cats have put together. Over the past 4 games, they had gone 29 innings without a run being scored against them before letting one across in the eighth tonight! A combination of great pitching and great fielding seems to be the ticket as they had their second error-free night in a row...who woulda' thunk it? Reliever Mark Manrich came in and made things a bit interesting, giving up three consecutive singles and one run in the eighth before retiring the side in order in the ninth.

The 'Cats got off to a good start and had a 3-0 lead by the end of the third. After putting another one up in the fifth they pretty much coasted home, even through the irate antics of the Bend coach who was tossed in the seventh after trying to get his team going...I mean...arguing a close call at first. Alex DeGoti continues to hold the hot bat, notching another couple of hits and scoring two runs in his five at bats. Victoria was actually out-hit by the Elks nine to seven, but the four Bend errors in the field certainly didn't help the cause of the home side.

Really though this win was about Rogers, who brings his record to 1-1 after an early loss in Kelowna where he was a bit unlucky in giving up two earned runs in four innings of work on only one hit and two walks, while striking out one. He now has an Pedro-like WHIP of .900. Rogers had a pretty decent rookie season for Trinidad State (Colorado) Junior College where he went 5-4 with a 4.33 ERA in 14 appearances. Prior to that, A-Rog was the star pitcher for the Nanaimo Pirates in the BC Premier League where he played with his fraternal twin brother, Brady. Both boys were coached there by the legendary Doug Rogers - aka Dad - who is now in his 30th year coaching. Brady was separated from his brother for the first time this year, heading to Colby Community College in Kansas while Alex went on to Trinidad State.

The story of the past few games for Victoria really is pitching. Maybe they are throwing a bit above their heads right now but I sense confidence beginning to grow. With the 'Cats win and the Bells losing 10-5 as I write this, the Victoria goes to 5-3 in this young season and have a shot at a share of the West Division lead should the Bellingham/Kitsap score hold up. In fact, if Cowlitz wins, all four teams in the West will have identical 5-3 records. Holy coincidence, Batman.


The 'Cats wrap up the three game series with the Elks tomorrow before heading back to the friendly confines of the RAP for a three game set with the Bellingham Bells. With a win tomorrow, they will give their dad's the ultimate Father's Day present - a series sweep ...and maybe a bad tie or a macaroni self-portrait, just for good measure. Me? I'm asking for the sweep!

So boys...do it for the Dad!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Alex Garcia dominates in HarbourCats debut

Alex Garcia
It has been quite a week for Alex Garcia. Seven days after pitching at Dodger Stadium in the CIF-SS Division 3 championship game, Garcia turned in the best outing by a high school pitcher in the (brief) history of the Victoria HarbourCats by pitching seven shutout innings en route to a 3-0 victory over the Bend Elks. The 6’3, 190 lb. right-hander, who will be a freshman at UC Santa Barbara in the fall, held the Elks to only two hits, while striking out four and walking four.

Nathan Lukes was the offensive star of the game with a pair of RBI singles that plated Kelly Norris-Jones on both occasions. Lukes' two hits matched the entire output of the rest of the HarbourCats batting order. Garcia earned the victory, while Alex Fagalde earned the save with 1 ⅓ scoreless innings. The win pulls the HarbourCats (4-3) into a tie for second place in the West Division with the Kitsap BlueJackets and keeps them one game behind the first-place Bellingham Bells.

The HarbourCats made a slew of roster changes early Friday morning before heading out on the brief road trip to Bend. The bad news is that starting pitchers Bryan Conant, Bret Helton, and Jacob Hill will not be coming to Victoria this summer for a variety of reasons. The trio would have anchored the top-end of the HarbourCats’ rotation, but their absence will open up opportunities for other members of the team’s pitching staff. While we have previously expressed concerns about the ‘Cats starting pitching, we also pointed out that there is “a lot of raw talent that could potentially produce a few nice surprises.” In addition to Alex Garcia, another very nice surprise has been Mikey Wright, who already has a pair of wins and has struck out 10 while walking only one batter in his team-leading 12 innings on the mound. While we aren’t quite convinced (yet) that the starting pitching is good enough to get the team into the playoffs, we are now cautiously optimistic.

The roster moves on the pitching side weren't all negative, however. After we wrote in a recent blog post that “there is no obvious candidate to be the key late-inning guy from the right side”, the organization went out and plugged that very hole by re-signing last year’s closer Ryan Keller of Cal State L.A. While Keller struggled as a starter this past spring (6.29 ERA), he should be more comfortable returning to his previous role coming out of Victoria’s pen in the late innings. He posted a 1.63 ERA with four saves in 15 relief appearances with the H-Cats last summer.

In other roster news, Nanaimo's Alex Rogers has earned himself a regular roster spot after a couple of solid outings with the team. The right-handed starter from Trinidad State Junior College was previously signed to a 10-day contract, but he should be spending the entire summer with the HarbourCats now. Rogers has only given up one hit in four innings on the hill so far; he’ll get the start in Game 2 of the Bend series on Saturday night. 

The news definitely wasn't good for 10-day players Brett Hull, Eric Hegadoren, Matt Bryan and Nick Kearley. All four were released on Friday morning. It was also announced that Port Coquitlam’s Darren Honeysett will miss the remainder of the summer with a broken left hand. The injury was suffered in a pre-game warm up on Wednesday. Honeysett only appeared in one game, but he reached base safely in all five of his plate appearances. It is expected that he will be back on the field in time for the start of his college season in the fall.

The full roster, which now stands at 35 players, can be found on the blog’s detailed roster page (we also indicate secondary positions for players who play more than one).

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Pitching gem gives 'Cats the rubber match

In a masterful display of starting and relief pitching, the HarbourCats climbed back to .500 on the season with a 3-0 shutout of the Cowlitz Black Bears on Thursday.

Winning Pitcher Mikey Wright
The game was punctuated by a stellar starting pitching performance by San Jose State's Mikey Wright, who scattered a mere four hits over seven complete innings, striking out three. UMN Lobo Preston Ryan was also impressive, earning the save by retiring all five batters he faced. Both batters were aided by a clean sheet from the fielders behind them, as Victoria produced no errors for the first time this season.

The 'Cats got the only run they would need in the bottom of the first, after a wild pitch and a passed ball scored 2B Sean Watkins. Victoria would add a second run in the third after a Tim Boeke double and steal were cashed in on a Danny Collier infield hit. A fourth inning bomb to left center by 1B Bryce Greagor completed the scoring, leaving the rest up to Wright and Ryan.

With the win, the 'Cats improved to 3-3, finding their footing to complete a solid first week of the 2014 season.

It's shaping up to be a great year at the ballpark. first impressions of the team are good - there are a lot of solid contributors on the team, and they seem to be adjusting nicely to the cold weather and wind we have seen this week. Starting pitching may still be an issue, but there are some great young arms in the pen. The park itself is in fine form already. Food is fantastic, facility upgrades like the seats and a cleaned-up left side of the park make the place look more like a professional venue. (Now if they can only fix the urinal in the men's bathroom that's been under a black bag since last season...) The outfield fence is almost entirely full of sponsor banners as well, pointing to a fabulous job of integrating with the community done by Gm Jim Swanson so far.

The biggest change is in the "feel" of the park. Everything seems to be a step up from last year. I'm impressed by small things like the pre-game announcements, the music choices, even the sound-effects all seem upgraded and closer to what you would hear in a major-league stadium. Some new humor has been introduced with clips on the video board and new sounds, and new player and logo graphics on the screen are easier to read and seem to just fit better.

On the concourse, there is a wealth of HarbourCat merchandise that was not available last year - another indication that the 2014 management team is listening to fan requests and taking some action. On the field, there's a whole new set of activities and promos - while still working out some kinks, they are at least showing some initiative and not using the same set from last year.

Lineups for food and drink are a mixed bag. Opening day, there was a 30-45 minute wait for a Bin4, yet hardly any for a beer. A couple of extra sales points around the concourse helped with beer, and because each and every burger is made fresh to order, the Bin4 wait was understandable - and oh-so-worth-it! The rest of the home-stand, it was 5 minutes or less.

Not to dwell, but the HarbourCat Burger is my new favourite. Pulled Pork on a burger? Damn straight!

So after he three game opening home stand, I see nothing but optimism for the team, and nothing but enjoyment in store for Victoria fans. It's a great product on the field, and as close to a big-league experience as you can get off the field. If you didn't make it out this week, get yourself out next week when the Bells come to town - you won't regret it.


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Bears maul HarbourCats

Starter Andrew Nelson wheels and deals
This is one of those games you just put behind you. Yes, a good old-fashioned butt kicking. The visiting bruins from Cowlitz bested the HarbourCats by a score of 11-4, evening up the series at a game apiece.

Victoria starter Andrew Nelson struggled in his three and two thirds innings, giving up seven runs (four earned) on five hits while walking five and striking out one. Interestingly enough, he pitched the whole game from the stretch like a reliever, but he did start a number of games for his college team (Kentucky) this year. Almost like he wanted to work on it or something. Puzzling. He was replaced by Quintin Torres-Costa who gave up four more runs (only one earned) off three hits, walking one and whiffing two. Both pitchers threw a lot of pitches but also didn't get much help in the field, as the 'Cats fielders committed another three errors behind them. Still, it was one of those nights where the Bears just hit the ball well and at the right time.

And if you can scatter ten hits, Cowlitz starter Billy Sahlinger did just that, giving up three runs in his seven solid innings of work. Sahlinger improves to 2-0 in his two starts this year.

The lopsided score allowed both teams to make liberal substitutions and get some new blood into the game, which will certainly be beneficial in the longer run. The 'Cats inserted four pitchers besides Nelson and Torres-Costa - Preston Ryan, Jacob McAdams, Brandon Feldman and Dylan Stowell - who each got an inning of work and gave up no runs, one hit (off McAdams), one base on balls and two strikeouts. That in itself gives us reason to smile.

Hitting-wise, the news wasn't all bad either. A few 'Cats had a good night at the plate with Danny Collier going two for two before being pulled, Alex DeGoti and Bryce Greager led the home side with three hits each. I can't wait for Greager to hit a homer like DeGoti did tonight, just so I can call it a "Greager-bomb".

It was a statistically interesting game where Victoria outhit Cowlitz 12-9 but got thumped on the scoreboard 11-4. As earlier mentioned, three 'Cats errors contributed to that anomaly, especially in the fifth when two back to back potential double play balls were flubbed.

Another highlight was catcher Kelly Norris-Jones gunning out the two runners who tried to steal on him early. I think that sent the message loud and clear - do NOT run on this dude! Wyler Smith also stole another base taking his league leading tally to seven and establishing him a a true threat on the pads.

Off the field, things ran smoothly and did I see it right, that the scoreboard was showing some live video? can I ask for replays? I won't ask for anything else...I promise. Anyway, that was VERY cool to see! The cars in the mini-car race actually raced around the infield tonight (missing Christian's camera this time!) but I wonder how long before a disgruntled player stomps one, or one actually crashes into a player/ump. Whatever, it is good value to watch. Finally, the yoga deal seems to be sorted out now at the seventh inning stretch and gets my full stamp of approval.

And that was only game two...whew!

Let the games begin

The 'Cats packed in over 3,000 fans on Opening Night as the RAP
The 2014 HarbourCat season was christened with a see-saw affair in front of a sellout crowd 3,038 fans that finally saw the HarbourCats walking off with smiles on their faces in the eleventh inning. Both teams tried to give this one away with key miscues throughout the game, but in the end, a Nathan Lukes double drove in Kelly Norris-Jones in the bottom of the eleventh.

Victoria pitcher Logan Lombana has a pretty decent outing, going five innings and only giving up two runs on four hits. This was matched by Cowlitz hurler Trevor Lane who also went five and gave up one run on three hits. While both pitchers did well, it seemed that they threw a lot of pitches and rarely started off with a strike. Fittingly, the score was 2-1 for Cowlitz after five innings.

Middle relief on both sides was sketchy as 'Cats pitcher Carson Schneider gave up six hits in just one and two thirds of an inning while his Cowlitz counterpart, Henry Omana, gave up five in one and a third. The 'Cats clawed back into it in the sixth when Cole Kreuter laid down a beautiful sacrifice bunt to advance the runners and the next batter, Ted Boeke, smashed a game-tying two run triple.

Some sloppy baseball then saw Victoria first baseman Bryce Greager commit a couple of errors on back to back plays which resulted in two Black Bear runs. Being generous, Cowlitz returned the favour when shortstop Kyle Hunt dropped a tailor-made double play ball with one out in the seventh to load the bases. Cowlitz reliever Grant Gamble followed this up with eight straight balls to tie the game up once again, and give himself that not-so-coveted infinite ERA.

Things then tightened up as the 'Cats Tim Peabody and Cowlitz' Joe Reta settled down and pitched a solid four plus innings until the Lukes double in the eleventh sent the local crowd home smiling at about 11:15 PM - yes, it was a long game.

It's always great to walk into the ballpark for the first time each season. The grass seems greener than the year before, the air fresher and the gastronomic delights even more savoury than you can remember. Tonight's game started off with an amazing rendition of the two national anthems by a girl no more than about ten. Then it was "Go" time. We were reminded that these are still polite young men as the 'Cats catcher, Gunnar Pollman, opened the game by shaking hands and taking time to chat with the home plate umpire prior to the first pitch. It's like kittens before they turn into cats.

Some other random observations along the way:
  • Still on the field, there were a lot of bunts and steals which makes for exciting baseball
  • The Black Bears' Chris Iriart was ejected in the ninth inning for arguing a called third strike but my question is, where does he go? Maybe they made him sit in a corner in the dugout and promise not to look at the game!
  • Bin 4 Burgers had a steady stream of (well deserved) business, but the wait after you ordered was at least an inning long. The food is excellent though so I hope they can work out the throughput issue without pre-making the food
  • The GOOD news though, is that while you wait for your burger you can watch the game on the terrace and no usher shoos you away due to fire regulations like last year
  • All other lineups were very manageable
  • Harvey's off-season conditioning regime was a dismal failure as he once again was defeated by a duo of four year olds running the bases
  • While doing yoga in the seventh inning stretch is an admirable health move, I'm not sure how it was received by traditionalists. I'm thinking a scripted routine during Take Me Out to the Ballgame would be a nice compromise
  • The car race promotion didn't fare so well but it may have been for the best...were the cars REALLY going to drive around the infield during warmup?
  • Few other first-game kinks to work out but overall, I thought the HarbourCat staff did an outstanding job of hosting over 3,000 of their closest friends, rolling with it well when something didn't go their way

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

HarbourCats all done in Div 1 playoffs

Monday afternoon saw the end of this year's quest for the College World Series for our Pepperdine HarbourCats Aaron Barnett and Devin Carter. After dropping the first game of the series against Texas Christian University 3-2, they rode a stellar pitching performance to win the second game by the same score to force yesterday's tie breaker.

TCU's Kyle Bacak drops a perfect sacrifice bunt in front of Barnett in the 9th
In the rubber match, Pepperdine jumped out to an early 3-1 lead, only to have TCU claw back to tie the game at 4 in the top of the sixth. The Waves forged ahead in the bottom of the eight, scoring one run but squandering a huge opportunity for more when Barnett popped out to short with one out and a runner on third. A strikeout ended the inning, and the Waves went to the bullpen for closer Eric Karch. The 16-save man promptly gave up 3 hits to tie the game, and a perfectly executed suicide squeeze sacrifice bunt to put TCU up 6-5. Pepperdine got a runner to third base in the bottom half, but couldn't bring him home. Just like that, TCU's comeback win takes the Fort Worth Super-Regional, and the Horned Frogs advance to play Texas Tech.

As with the regionals, OF Devin Carter did not see action in the three games, while C Aaron Barnett started each one. Barnett had a tough time at the plate against TCU, going 1-11 with a strikeout. His only hit of the series came in the Waves 3-2 game 2 victory. Barnett hit .181 in six post-season starts, after leading the Waves at a .359 clip through the regular season.

On the glass-half-full side, Barnett and Carter are now free to make their way north to join the HarbourCats. As of now, all signed players should be available to join the team. One would expect we will see many of them start to show over the next couple of weeks.

Congratulations to Barnett and Carter on a great Div 1 season!

Monday, June 9, 2014

Opening Night - Cowlitz Series Preview

'Cats welcome the prowling Black Bears
Cue the Thin Lizzy as The Boys are Back in Town for an early West division clash with the Cowlitz Black Bears. It's been a long wait, but baseball is back in Vic-town for the summer, starting tomorrow (Tuesday) night.

Previewing a series this early in the year is a lot like going to the buffet with a blindfold on - not quite sure what you are going to get, so pretty much all guesswork. Being a full three games into this young WCL season, we'll be forced to go with what we have seen so far, as well as my finely tuned spidey-sense (I feel it tingling).

For what it is worth, the teams met only once in late June last year in Cowlitz with da' Bears getting the edge two games to one. Victoria ended up with a 22-32 record which was good enough for fourth in the South, while fourth in the North went to Cowlitz with a 28-26 mark. In this league, there is so much turnover from year to year that these are really just "gee whiz" observations when trying to apply them to this year's squads.

The 'Cats do have three returnees this year in IF Alex DeGoti, RHP (and series-opening starter) Logan Lombana and ace LHP Bryan Conant (hopefully!). On the Black Bears' side, they have four players coming back: OF Ryan Aguilar (see Players to Watch!), INF Corey VanDomelen (.246 last year with 9 stolen bases), C John Reece (only played 10 games and hit .207) and RHP closer Henry Omana (3.99 ERA last year with five saves). RHP Zane Bambush was slated to come back but is currently injured.

Tale of the Tape
Victoria is 1-2 after their series with Kelowna and the B-Bears are 2-1 after tangling with the Medford Rogues. Cowlitz has scored a total of nine runs and given up ten, while Victoria has trotted 15 runs across the plate while giving up 19. So right away the numbers say that Victoria scores runs but also gives up runs too, and their opponents do not score as much, but tend to be stingier on the hill. This is backed up by the relative team batting averages and ERA's - the HarbourCats come home with a .266 batting average and a 5.76 ERA while their opponents sport a .215 average and a 3.00 ERA.

In other notable numbers, the 'Cats have stolen twelve bases and been caught twice while Cowlitz has only attempted two steals and been caught once, so give the Speedy Gonzales edge to Victoria. In the field though, Victoria has made seven errors to the Bears' four, thus giving the home team the early "rubber glove" award.

Players to Watch
Cowlitz - Ryan Aguilar has a very hot bat right now and is hitting an unworldly .600, albeit after only three games. Last year he hit .329 so it is no fluke that he is lighting it up early this year. 'Cats pitching will be well served to pay notice when this bruin ambles up to the plate.

Cal State Fullerton product and formidable closer, Henry Omana, is another one to keep an eye on. Omana was perfect in his only outing so far this year, a one inning save against the Rogues. Billy Sahlinger had an excellent first outing as well, going six scoreless innings giving up only two hits while striking out seven and walking no one.

Victoria - Even though they had a rough go of it yesterday, the trio of Nathan Lukes, Cole Kreuter and Hunter Mercado-Hood are all hitting above .350 and look to anchor the top of the order. All three of these lads are very capable of having multiple-hit games and making life very miserable for opposing hurlers.

On the basepaths, beware the thievery of Wyler Smith (5 steals - including one of home) and Ted Boeke (4 steals) as they their best to distract the Cowlitz battery.


Prediction
Given it is the opening series at home for the 'Cats, I'm leaning to a two games to one series win for the hometown boys. The reinforcements should help (assuming they arrive) and even though the bats were a bit cold last night, I'm thinking that superior hitting and the team speed will be enough to tip the scales the HarbourCats' way. That said, errors are the other big factor and if Victoria cannot find a way to cut back on these, it could be a long few games.

Regardless of the outcome, I am looking forward to a number of things:
  • Seeing what the crowd will be like - in numbers (will it top 3,000 like it did last year) and in attitude
  • Experiencing the comfort and luxury of the new high-backed seats
  • Sipping a fine micro-brew (of yet undetermined flavour) and scanning my eating options like a starving rat who just stumbled into the banquet hall
  • Taking in the new overall "ball park experience" and answering the many questions swirling in my mind - will there be huge lines, what are the promotions going to be like, any new scoreboard antics, has Harvey lost his baby-weight, who invented liquid soap and why?
So join me, why don't you, and welcome back the boys of summer.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Victoria bats go silent in Kelowna

Alex Fagalde
After scoring runs with ease in their previous three games, the Victoria bats went awfully quiet on Sunday night in Kelowna. The first four spots in the order went a combined 1-for-16 and the entire squad could only manage five singles on the night, as the HarbourCats fell to the Falcons by a score of 4-1.

For a change, the bright spots were on the pitching side. Trinidad State Junior College's Alex Rogers got the start and he was excellent in three of his four innings on the hill. Unfortunately, the Falcons tallied three runs on the Nanaimo native in the fourth inning on two walks, a hit-by-pitch, an error and a single. Cuesta College's Alex Fagalde looked sharp once again, pitching three scoreless innings of relief and only giving up two singles.

The HarbourCats now sit in fourth place in the West Division with a 1-2 record, two games behind the first-place (?!?!) Kitsap BlueJackets. The team has an off day on Monday before returning to action on Tuesday in the Home Opener against the Cowlitz Black Bears.

HarbourCatNip
  • The three games in Kelowna drew a total of 2,727 fans. Last year's opening game in Victoria attracted 3,026 fans.
  • The expansion Yakima Valley Pippins had a successful start to their inaugural season, drawing an average of 1,778 fans in their three home games against the Wenatchee AppleSox.
  • The HarbourCats have committed six errors in their first three games -- five of those were charged to infielders Noah Cummings (3) and Cole Kreuter (2).
  • Check back on the blog tomorrow for our preview of the Cowlitz series.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

HarbourCats lose an ugly one to Kelowna

The HarbourCats let a 6-1 lead in the fifth inning go by the boards, as they lost a 9-7 stinker to the Kelowna Falcons on Saturday night at Elks Stadium. There were a lot of positives to take from this game, but a horrific bottom of the fifth inning saw the Falcons score seven runs on only two hits. The H-Cats fall to 1-1 this season.

In spite of the outcome, there was a lot to like in this game. Quintin Torres-Costa made only his second start since undergoing Tommy John surgery in May of 2013 and he looked very good in his three innings of work. Even though he had given up only one run on three hits, the coaching staff smartly pulled him out of the game with a five run lead to protect his arm.

Darren Honeysett
The offense, as usual, was solid. Hunter Mercado-Hood hit a three-run homer to put the HarbourCats up 6-1 in the fourth inning and he had two hits and four RBI on the night. He now has seven of the team’s 11 RBI in the first two games of the season. Mercado-Hood’s performance to start the summer shouldn't really come as a big surprise, especially if you read our blog post on March 5th.

Port Coquitlam’s Darren Honeysett made a spectacular regular-season debut for the HarbourCats, reaching base in all five of his plate appearances. The Monterrey Peninsula College standout, who has excellent strike-zone judgement and knack for getting on base, notched a pair of singles and earned three walks on the night. It’s awfully early, but Honeysett could be the 2014 version of Ty Russell.

Wyler Smith also continued to amaze on the basepaths, stealing two more bases -- including a steal of home. He now has five steals in the first two games of the year (it was originally thought that he stole four bases in the season opener, but the Official Scorer only credited Smith with three steals). In case you are wondering, the league record for stolen bases is 27 by Ryan Lee of the Kelowna Falcons in 2007, so Smith is well ahead of that pace.

Now the bad news. The HarbourCats didn't make the Falcons earn the victory in the seven-run fifth inning. Jacob McAdams, making his first appearance at the collegiate level, walked four batters and threw a wild pitch in the fifth before exiting with one out and a 6-2 lead. Mark Marinch did his best to stop the bleeding, but errors by Cole Kreuter and Ted Boeke, along with a couple of hits sealed the HarbourCats’ fate. When all was said and done in the fifth, Victoria trailed by an 8-6 score.

It wasn't a great way to lose a ballgame, but if the ‘Cats can win the rubber game of the series tomorrow evening then all is good. Reinforcements are on the way, so the team just has to stay close to the division leader until they arrive. That division leader just happens to be the 2-0 Cowlitz Black Bears, Victoria’s opponent in Tuesday’s Home Opener. 

HarbourCatNip
  • Bryan Conant was not taken in the MLB draft this week. While that’s not the news that Conant was obviously hoping for, he would be a great addition to the HarbourCats’ pitching staff. We’re crossing our fingers that Conant the Barbarian returns to Victoria this summer.
  • Our two Long Beach State Dirtbags, Alex DeGoti and Logan Lombana, should be in uniform for the Home Opener. DeGoti’s experience will be a big help in the HarbourCats infield, although it will be interesting to see if he takes over his old position as the HarbourCats shortstop or if he slides over to his natural position at second. Lombana will be a big boost for the HarbourCats’ bullpen.
  • Ex-HarbourCat Alex Real was selected by the Minnesota Twins in the 24th round of the MLB draft. It will be interesting to see if he signs or returns for his senior year at the University of New Mexico. Real was an absolute joy to watch last summer at (as it was then called) Royal Athletic Park.

Friday, June 6, 2014

HarbourCats move into first place!

If you like offense, you’re going to love watching the Victoria HarbourCats this summer. The ‘Cats won their season opener on Friday night against the Kelowna Falcons by a score of 7-6, bringing their record in opening games to 2-0 in their short history. The win comes a day after Victoria won their only pre-season game by a score of 8-7.

We have said it before, but the strength of this team is clearly in the outfield. Nathan Lukes, Hunter Mercado-Hood and Wyler Smith all had outstanding games on Friday night. Lukes (pronounced “Lucas”) was the offensive star, going 4-for-5 with a double.  He posted an impressive .430 on-base percentage with Sacramento State this spring, and the centre fielder looks like an excellent fit as the team’s leadoff hitter. Right fielder Hunter Mercado-Hood had three hits on the night and doubled in a pair of runs in the sixth inning. Not to be outdone, left fielder Wyler Smith stole a pair of bases in the 8th and had a total of four swipes on the night. When the University of New Mexico’s Danny Collier arrives, the HarbourCats just might have the best outfield in the West Coast League.

"My name is Lukes, I live on the second floor..."
Tim Peabody got the Opening Day start for the HarbourCats in spite of the fact that he didn’t start a single game this past season for Loyola Marymount University. While it wasn’t the prettiest of outings, Peabody gave this offensive juggernaut a chance to win by giving up three runs in four innings of work. While bases on balls are usually Peabody’s Kryptonite, tonight it was the wild pitch that reared it’s ugly head on a number of occasions. There is a ton of potential in his arm, as witnessed by opponent’s .202 batting average against him in his 20 appearances with LMU in 2014. Now if he can only improve upon his control, he’ll really be a force.

Mikey Wright was the winning pitcher after throwing five gutsy innings of relief. While he was dominant in his first three innings on the hill, Wright gave up all three of his runs in a rocky eighth inning when he appeared to run out of gas. To the surprise of some, Wright emerged from the dugout to pitch the bottom of the ninth, but the scrappy freshman from San Jose State University nailed down the victory with a relatively uneventful ninth.

Bob Miller's HarbourCats appear to be much more aggressive on the base paths this summer. Not only did they steal eight bases on Thursday night against the PBL All-Stars, but they continually put pressure on the Kelowna defense with their speed in the season opener. Perhaps we are going to have to start calling them the Go-Go-Cats. No matter what we call them, they are going to be damn exciting.

HarbourCatNip
  • Wyler Smith had four steals on Friday night, but he only had five steals in 52 games with the University of Utah this past season. He obviously will have the green light more often this summer than he did in the spring.
  • Quintin Torres-Costa will be the starting pitcher on Saturday. Torres-Costa had Tommy John surgery in May 2013, so this will only be his second start of 2014. He’ll likely be on a very strict pitch count.
  • Nanaimo’s Alex Rogers gets the start on Sunday. The 10-day player will be looking to make a good impression to improve his chances of sticking with the club once the rest of the full-season players have reported.
  • There seems to be a perception in some quarters that the HarbourCats have fewer Division II players on their roster this year. In fact they have more -- there are two Division II players (Dylan Stowell and Mark Marinch) this year, but Brandon Smith was the only Division II player on the team in 2013.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

'Cats roll through preseason undefeated

Ok so it was only one game. Against a team of mostly high-school students. And half the HarbourCats have still not arrived in town. But it was baseball, man! The HarbourCats are back in town and ready to roll.

A good beginning to the 2014 year in front of 560 or so fans, many of them mothers, fathers, girlfriends and wanna-be girlfriends of the top baseball talent the city has to offer. Complete with an 8th inning prom-date proposal from a member of the Eagles/Mariners team, the game was a nice welcome back to the park for the fans, and an introduction for the fans to 22 or so of this season's HarbourCats.

Nathan Lukes - First hit at STD
The Eagles/Mariners squad fared better than I thought they would. Some clutch relief pitching and a couple of big RBI hits in the late innings made it a close 8-7 game - had it not have been for 5 errors in the game, a couple of them costly run producing errors but the squad, the 'Cats would have been on the losing end of this game. Eagle Brendan Turcott had a great game for the shared squad, reaching and scoring twice and showing hustle on the bases and in the field. His efforts got him a hearty congratulations from Cats Manager Bob Miller in the post-game handshake line.

For the Cats, lead-off man Nathan Lukes gets credit for the first HarbourCat hit, steal, and run scored at Sports Trader
Diamond, preseason or otherwise.

Lots of new things to see around the park, and lots of old puzzles as well, giving us bloggers plenty to talk about. I was about to start taking notes when I was scolded by Harvey for being on my phone. The big cat sat down next to me and took a load off and well-earned break from being chased around the park for a while. Even his considerable rear-end girth fit in one of the fabulous new seats installed over the summer, which I must say, will prove to be the best investment ever made to a city facility. Harvey and I talked of the game, the boys on the field, and the new season that is now upon us. Each time I brought up something I thought was odd, or something out of place that needed work, Harvey simply spread his paws wide as if to say "but look - baseball is back! it doesn't matter!" And right he is. Lets save the comments for a later date. For now, it was just nice to be back at the park, and to hear a young fan loudly yell "Play Ball" for the first time this season.

I will say (and I bet not for the last time), the Bin4 Burger folks are gods. Tonight's choice was the Mr. Bean - yes, a veggie burger was the first out of the gate for me. Just the right amount of cumin and curry spice, a soft, moist and flavourful burger topped with goat cheese, curry aioli and butter lettuce. A real treat at a fair ballpark price - and the chips are fantastic! Try the Chipoltle dip!

The real show starts tomorrow night in Kelowna against an improved Falcons team. Time to put on the big-boy pants and play some serious ball!