Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Cats maul Gems in wild one at RAP

The Klamath side of the scorecard of Tuesday night's Gems-'Cats game looked something like that of a little-league game. Eight wild pitches, 3 passed balls, 3 errors, 11 runs on the board. Six of those runs scoring on all those wild pitches and passed balls. Even the HarbourCats were a sure bet on this night.

It was a game played in three distinct parts. The first act saw Victoria jump all over Klamath starting pitcher Angelo Lingos, roughing him up for three runs over the first three innings. The lead was nice to have, but it felt like it was being taken a bit for granted. The 'Cats left men in scoring position, got doubled off, and you could sense the game was far from over.

The second act began with a mammoth home run hit off the bat of Gems 3B LJ Brewster in the 4th, and ended with an error induced pair of runs in the 6th to tie the game at 4. The optimism of the first 5 innings was quickly replaced around the park with sighs familiar ground and tough endings to good ball games.

Then the TSN turning point... Just as it seemed like the 'Cats had given it up, 3B John Schuknecht strode to the plate in the bottom of 6 and launched one deep over the left field wall to put Victoria back on top. The rest of the act was an uplifting sight for sore eyes. 3 more in the 7th, 3 more in the 8th, and for the first time this home stand, there was no need for a bottom of the 9th inning.

Logan Lombana: complete game win
Victoria got a solid complete game pitching effort from Logan Lombana in one of his best starts of the season. Lombana started strong, going 2 2/3 innings before giving up a hit. He recovered from the errors made behind him and righted the ship after allowing the 2 runs in the sixth to retire the last 11 batters of the game.

As reported in the series preview, Klamath is really suffering on the mound, and carried only 6 pitchers into the game. I would think with a bigger staff, Lingos would have gotten the hook much earlier than her did. The 'Cats did well to exploit this weakness and kept pounding away.

Lombana was duly awarded the Player of the Game for his outstanding night on the mound, but my pick would have been for Alex DeGoti who was dangerous all night and approached each at bat like a man with a job to do. Twice driving in runs with 2 outs, forcing an error at first with a hustle down the line, and playing a solid game at short. He finished 2-4 with 2 runs scored and 2 RBI.

The mood seemed upbeat and cocky on the Victoria side of the field, and they seemed to be pretty loose for a team riding a 5-game losing streak. It will be interesting to see if they can build on this solid hitting and pitching performance the rest of the series.

Klamath Falls Gems - series preview

"Tater", the Gem's Mascot
The Klamath Falls Gems come to town for the first and only time the season for a three-game set starting Tuesday at RAP.
The Gems season so far has been a mix of high and low spots – eerily similar to that of the HarbourCats. Like Victoria, Klamath Falls burst out of the gate with a hot home stand, going 6-1 to start the season (remember way back, Victoria started 9-1). Since that point however, the team has been up and down - at one point losing 6 in a row, and more recently coming off the All-Star break, putting together a 4 wins in a row before losing last night in Kitsap.
Coming into tonight’s game, the Gems find themselves at .500 on the season with a 21-21 record. After being swept by Corvallis, the HarbourCats sit at 18-23. Both teams are now long shots to gain a post-season berth, both sitting in 4th place in their respective divisions, the Gems 6 games back, the ‘Cats 4.5.
With similar records, you would assume similar stats, but each team has it’s own unique profile at this point in the season:
The Gems have surprisingly good power and offence, and suffer from a lack of decent pitching at times. Not all the time though – Gems pitchers have more strike outs than anyone but Bellingham, but have a team WHIP (Walks + Hits / Innings Pitched) over 1.5 – close to the bottom of the league. All Star pitcher Brandon Horth is no longer with the team, or so Pointstreak seems to indicate. Nick Sabo, also an All Star is now the one remaining ace on the staff, boasting a 5-2 record with an impressive 1.12 WHIP. It seems there has been  some significant turnover on the pitching staff, with several other early-season starters leaving the team. In fact, they are down to 7 pitchers on the roster at this point.
On the offensive side, the Gems score more runs per game than anyone in the league. It’s a real example of how stats can be misconstrued to show anything you want them to. While they lead in runs scored, they do not have a player in the top ten in RBI leaders. In fact, the only Gems hitter near the top of any offensive categories is Home Run Derby King Cody Hough, who is leading the league with 7. Free swinger Nick Fisher was also here for All Star week, and he sits with Dempsey Grover and Dylan Rogers all with 4 big flies.
So who knows really what to expect this week... The Gems have been involved in some crazy blow-out games on both sides of the outcome, and routinely give up 6+ runs a game, while equally as often putting up the same.
I see Victoria being able to put the bat on ball against the weakened pitching staff. It would seem that if you can get into the bullpen, you’re golden.
Victoria’s biggest issue is on the mound. I’m wondering if this is the point in the season where a more traditional rotation needs to be established. Most of these boys aren’t starters on their college teams, so why not build a rotation around strengths and weaknesses. Something like this?

SPProvencher, T61.1502694743.820.966
SPConant, B45.23411113542.170.996
SPRussell, C43.03616233313.351.372
SP?Rowe, T6.0411101.500.833

RPNavilhon, J42.04018213533.861.452
RPLombana, L28.0352281207.071.536
RPKuzminsky, S32.1431792724.731.620

CKeller, R20.2174101801.741.337

XBallowe, W15.0138151314.801.867
XCuneo, C6.291044013.502.097
XRecord, J4.1732106.232.195
Go with a 4-man rotation (SP). I realize Rowe - who’s only appearance was last night – wasn’t overpowering for sure, but maybe that 4th spot becomes a rotation spot. Manage the starters to keep them fresh. No 120 pitch games,  max them out at 5 innings, 80 pitches or so.  Keep some live arms in the middle relief core (RP) who can bring some heat while keeping runs at a premium, and dedicate a closer (C) with a 1-inning mentality. The rest of the crew gets mop-up duty only.
Given the WHIP to date on this squad, you should be able to parlay some low-scoring starts into some W’s on the scoreboard. It would be great to be able to see a Hold or two down the stretch.
Then again, maybe this is a development league, and setting a rotation just isn’t something you do? At this point in the season, there may be a move to get some players more experience and innings than they have been getting, while others may begin shutting down in preparation for the college season to begin. It will be interesting to see what happens as Victoria’s chances at the post season continue to drop... As it is, Victoria is scheduled to send Lobana, Navilhon, and Russel to the mount this series.
Prediction, for what it’s worth... As Yogi Berra said, “Pitching always beats hitting – and vice versa”. I tend to agree, leaning a bit more on pitching. With focus, I’d suggest Victoria could take all three games this week without much trouble. I won’t be at all surprised though, if they struggle to hang on to a single win...

Monday, July 29, 2013

Horrible call stops 'Cats rally cold

Coach Bob Miller's teaching moment after "the call"
In the 8th inning I had this post written. It was all about missed opportunities, and the baseball butterfly effect that occurs when a team commits an error and can't recover. But shelf that for a moment...

One of the worst calls I've ever seen in a game. Ever. After clawing back against ace Knights closer Brandon Choate - something that hasn't been done since the first game of the season - the game was taken out of the player's hands by first base ump Fabian Poulin. Chris Lewis legged out an infield single that was thrown wide of first by shortstop Michael Lucarelli. The throw pulled 1B Kevin Kline's foot off the bag - well off the bag, as Alex Real crossed the plate with the tying run. And then Poulin's arm went up. Lewis was out. No. Freakin. Way.

The rest of the crew stood stone still, home plate ump Joseph Penna seemed stunned at the call and unsure what to do next, except walk off the field. The Corvalis players stood behind the railing of the dugout waiting for an overturned call, or an appeal, then realizing one wasn't coming, they sheepishly came out of the dugout to congratulate Choate. As what was left of the 1000+ fan base realized what had happened, to a person they voiced their displeasure with colourful language and finger gestures.

But it was over.

As a HarbourCat fan, the call was a travesty of justice. Watching the home squad come back in the 9th, against seemingly insurmountable pitching. Watching the team have a pre-inning huddle led by coach Bob Miller that made a difference - a huge difference in the focus and determination of the team. Seeing the Alex & Alex show fight off tough pitches to mussel singles into the outfield to keep the rally alive. All that snuffed out by a bad call.

As a baseball fan - while you have to understand that bang-bang plays happen in the field and nobody is perfect - you expect so much more. With the game on the line and a close play at first, you expect the umpire to be in the right position, not blocking himself out by standing still. You expect that calls that horrific never get called at any time, let alone when the game is on the line.

As a fan of baseball in Victoria, you realize that what you just saw lowers the product on the field. What the Cats try so hard to market as a top-quality league full of rising talent is tainted, if only for a moment. And at the worst possible moment, leaving a bad taste in everyone's mouth.

I'll save the rest for a future post. The Cats need to get a better handle on pitcher management. Middle relief has been non existent the entire season, with starters going well into the late innings. Now that arms are getting tired and the summer is dragging on, there's a hole that needs to be filled with nobody to plug it.

But that's for another day. Right now, I feel the need to brush my teeth...

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Knights slay the 'Cats

Bryan Conant had another strong outing
The Victoria HarbourCats - and specifically starter Bryan Conant - deserved a better fate than what was handed to them today, losing a close one 4-2 to the storming Corvallis Knights. For the most part, it was an excellent baseball game with some small ball manufacturing early runs for both teams, followed by solid pitching by both starters. The weather could not have been better either. Sunny, a little breeze, not too hot and the home team was ahead for most of the afternoon...until it mattered, that is.

Hats off to yet another solid pitching performance by "the Barbarian" as he was mowing them down today, pitching eight big innings and allowing only four hits and one earned run while striking out nine. Conant was the poster child for "all business" as he confidently walked off after each inning with a determined glare that was backed up by his arm. The dugout was upbeat as well with lots of chatter and a good amount of energy. The 'Cats got on the board early, putting up a run in the first and matching the Knights run in the third to stay one run ahead. Things looked good.

Cue the ninth inning, which deserves some discussion. Conant was cruising, after facing the minimum three batters in each of the sixth, seventh and eighth innings. His pitch count was only 107 - which is low by Victoria starter standards - and he had the Knights continuously off balance with a good mix of fastballs and breaking stuff. In the pen was Ryan Keller, who has not allowed an earned run in his last nine appearances and was ready to shut the door. So what do you do?

I think the coaching staff made the right decision in going with Keller, but it was not an opinion shared by all the fans around me going. As it turned out (remembering folks that hindsight is 20-20), I couldn't have been more wrong. WHAM - A first pitch single to leadoff man Blake "the Fake Snake" Drake. BAM - two batters later, All Star Cody Lenahan rips a double. THANK YOU MAM - next batter, Kevin Kline (no...not THAT Kevin Kline) smacks a double. Just like that the one run lead is a one run deficit. And the cherry on top was the routine liner to right field for the third out was nonchalanted by Brett Urabe, allowing an insurance run to cross the plate. This error book-ended the 'Cats other error in the third inning when left fielder Nick Rutckyj (the "j" is silent) played a routine single like a bag of toys, allowing the first Corvallis run to score.

So should Conant have been yanked? I can't say for sure. It's easy to make calls from the stands. What I do know, is that the 'Cats did not get the key pitch or hit or catch when they needed it. Against good teams, sometimes you just have to "make the play" and this is exactly what Victoria did NOT do on the mound, at the plate or in the field.

In fact, despite giving up those three runs in the ninth, Victoria actually made some noise in the ninth. Alex DeGoti smacked a lead-off double to make him four for four on the day and before you know it, Alex Real was pinch hitting with runners on first and third and two out. This was the end for Knights starter Jacob Schroeder, who also pitched a great game, scattering seven hits and giving up only the two early runs. Enter "lights out" closer Brandon Choate who starts off with a walk to Real to load the bases for local boy Austin Russell. Every kid dreams of this - two out, bottom of the ninth, down by two runs, but alas, it was not to be, as Russell grounded out to end the game.

As an aside, in what I'd like to call the "Mary Kay Makeup Call of the Game", a field umpire (I'm not sure which one) called a balk on what should have been a Chris Lewis groundout in the sixth inning with two out and a man on first, only to punch him out with a VERY dubious check swing just a couple of pitches later. Come on blue, that's as transparent as a Jersey Shore come-on line.

In any case, it was a great ball game with it's good share of drama, but if the 'Cats are to make a serious playoff charge, they really need to start making plays at key moments in the game. They are still only four games out of a playoff spot, but Wenatchee is also above them fighting for that prize, and there are only fourteen games to go. Seems unlikely, but it all has to start with a win tomorrow in the series wrapup with the Knights. More great weather is in the forecast, so get out there and give the lads a push!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Night of Knights

If you watch enough baseball games, you see more than a few where the numbers on the scoreboard are not indicative of the play on the field. Saturday night at RAP was one of those nights.
Chris Lewis fights off the evil Sun Monster to record an early out

Through eight innings, the cats were held off the scoreboard, and trailed by 2. Starter Ty Provencher had pitched another gem - one in a long line of tremendous starts recently by Cats starters - only giving up small-ball manufactured runs in the 3rd and 8th. At one point, he had retired a record 13 in a row...

On the HarbourCats line, the numbers weren't good at that point (no runs on 4 hits), but they seemed in this game. Corvalis defence seemed to be making the difference.

Case in point... The Cats best chance to score was in the fifth inning. Brandon Smith legged out a dropped third strike, and Jordan Ellis moved him to second with a sharp single. Alex DeGoti was called upon to bunt and move them over, but just couldn't drop one down. So instead, with two strikes, he lined one to the gap in left center, a sure hit that would plate at least one, maybe two... but it never hit the grass. Knight CF Blake Drake laid flat out in the air to make a spectacular catch to steal the base hit, and scramble the runners back. Alex Real then him into an uncharacteristic double play, and the threat was done.

Defense continued to help the Knights, with Drake making at least one more all-out running catch, while All-Star 3B Cody Lenahan made a couple of fabulous grabs at third base to end threats. 

The Cats had at least one base runner in 7 of the 9 innings tonight, but it wasn't until the 9th when they strung together enough offence to score a run - and that would have made the game really interesting, if Scott Kuzminski wouldn't have come in and given up 3 runs in the top of the inning to put it out of reach. What's that - a starter puller "early"? Yes, Ty-Pro hardly threw at all, sending only 105 pitches hurtling toward the plate before leaving after 8.

Like I say, until the 9th, it seemed the Cats were just a hit away from coming back. A failed bunt attempt here, a caught stealing there, and a couple key double plays ended rallies, and kept the Knights ahead. The team looked tired tonight after a long day of travel.

Still, a few good signs this night, and plenty of opportunity. If the Cats can perfect the small-ball game at some point this weekend, they stand a good chance of besting the Knights at least once...

Random Thoughts on the game tonight...

I wonder what the psyche of a team is after being on the losing end of a perfect game? If you didn't catch it - the 'Cats were dominated by Kitsap's Spenser Watkins Friday night. Watkins threw the first perfect game in WCL history, striking out 10 HarbourCats in the process... It Didn't seem to have much of an impact early, as Jordan Ellis hit the 4th pitch of the game into center field...

The Cats roster has changed a bit in the past week. Gone are OF Mike Darr and P Tanner Kiest. Darr was actually hitting a respectable .265 over 35 AB. The crowd will miss the Daarrrrrrrr! chant when he came to the plate. Kiest was one of those guys we were waiting for to show up after the draft, but really struggled in two starts with a horrible ERA over 11. Taking Darr's place in the lineup is local boy Daryl Blaskovich, who started the season on a 10-day contract. Tyler Rowe joins the pitching staff to take Kiest's place.

Tonight's game saw a return of the WCL speed game - a lack of hits will do that. The game clocked in at 2 hrs, 14 minutes.

Someone in the Cats clubhouse should figure out how to iron a pair of ball pants. I haven't seen that many wrinkles since grandma passed...

Good giveaways tonight for Steve Nash foundation night (um, where was he? Steve?), but a couple of times the mid-inning events had pitchers standing on the mound waiting for the schtick to end. Tough to do on-field promos in this league the way these guys hustle on and off the field...

Glad to have Pig for dinner, but I gotta say after trying it at the All-Star game, I was missing the Dead Beet's Steak sandwich tonight. Also when the Beet's aren't there, the only veggie choice in the park is the Veggie burger at Ambrosia. While it's good, it's not something you can eat game, after game, after game. Can someone not bring in some more variety for the herbivores in the crowd? If the city won't do a veggie-dog, why not let someone else do one??

Friday, July 26, 2013

Good Knight

The 2013 WCL season is now more than half over, the All Star break is behind us, and the Victoria HarbourCats are returning to open a critical homestand with one of the model franchises of the league, the Corvallis Knights. Heading into tonight's action, the 'Cats are only three games out of a playoff spot while the Knights sit tied for first atop the South division ladder. If you had told me that at the start of the year, I would have taken it, but that darn 7-2 start got me all excited-like!

Corvallis is a formidable foe, and since being swept by Kitsap in late June, they have been on a sizzling hot streak, winning eleven of their past fourteen games. This is a team that knows how to win. They have two WCL titles - the last one coming in 2011 - and have been in the finals three other times in the short eight year history of the league. The success of this year's team is very evident when you break it down - they have excellent pitching and they are an absolute menace on the base-paths. Check out these quick hitters:

  • The WCL single season stolen base record is 105, and heading into tonight's game the Knights
    have swiped 94 so are on track to smash that record, potentially in this homestand
  • To put it in perspective, the next closest team is Medford with 59 while Victoria weighs in with 33. Corvallis have been caught only 23 times to Victoria's 19
  • Hard hitting fireplug Dane Lund leads the league with 18, closely followed by Grant Melker with 16 and the flake Blake "the Snake" Drake (who likes cake) with 14
  • They lead the league in ERA at 2.89 with the next closest being Medford at 3.46. Victoria's team ERA is 4.46
  • They also lead the league in WHIP (1.20), opponent's BA (.227), home runs given up (8), hits given up, runs, earned runs, shutouts, opponent slugging percentage and are second in walks surrendered
  • Other than that, they suck
 At the plate, their batting (.266) average is only slightly better than Victoria's (.257) but they are not a power hitting team at all. They will get on base and run, run, run. The HarbourCats have the edge in slugging, homers while on base percentage is dead even.

With the All Star game just behind us, here is a quick look at the Knight's selections:
  • Dane Lund - steals bases and hits for average with a .357 average and no round trippers but has struck out only six times in 115 at bats
  • Cody Lenahan - hits about .300 but leads the team in K's with 23
  • Blake Drake - lead-off hitter who also hits just under .300 with a .401 on base percentage
  • Devon Parker - a statistically "quiet" pitcher with a 4.05 ERA who just gets the job done as a starter and now reliever (probably because of his climbing ERA)
  • Brandon Choate - a stud reliever/closer who has not given up an earned run since his first appearance on June 5
  • Also keep an eye on starting pitcher Chris Bishop with his sub 2.00 ERA
As for your 'Cats, Alex Real continues to carry the offensive load with help from Alex DeGoti and Austin Russell. That said, after being shut out last night and facing such a deadly pitching staff this weekend, this could be the perfect storm - and not in the good sense. Putting on my optimist's hat, it could also be a great challenge to help wake up these bats for good.

On the mound, Conant "the Barbarian" continues to roll and Connor Russell  seems to be back in favour as a starter, having a decent outing just a couple of nights ago. It's doubtful we will see him in this series though other than in relief. Ryan Keller seems to be doing a nice job out of the bullpen lately, and his arm will be needed in the late innings to keep the starter's pitch counts out of the stratosphere. In general, the 'Cats recent pitching performances (in Kitsap) have been pretty good. As well, team errors are down with only one error in the two games down there so far. Both of these things will be key in keeping the Knights off the scoreboard. Against such a good running team, extra bases will sting you very badly.

So all that said, what can we expect at RAP this weekend? I think we'll see quick, low scoring games and the arms of our catchers being tested as the Knights try to run wild at every opportunity. Lots of sacrifices, lots of hit and runs, lots of small ball. I would like to think that this is the TSN turning point for Victoria; the point in the season where they have a good series against a solid team, and build momentum for the final chase to the playoffs. So with my heart, I say 'Cats take two of three but with my head, Corvallis leaves here winning two games. I've been told I have no heart, so let's hope the pundits are wrong.

In any case, it will be excellent weather for baseball and the boys need support, go grab your tickets and get out there, Victoria!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Stars shine bright at WCL All-Star Game

Victoria's Fab Five All Stars
General Manager Holly Jones took a big risk putting her hand up to host the All Star game this year. Knowing the headaches that are naturally occurring with an expansion team, in a new market, in a relatively unknown country for the WCL, the thought of adding on hosting the 2013 All Star game seemed insane.

Would anyone come? Would the infrastructure be able to support the event? Would the marketing and operations teams be able to step up?

The answer Tuesday night at RAP was a resounding Yes! The HarbourCat did Victoria proud by hosting the baseball event of the summer. The crowds came in droves. They were all at once dazzled by the on-field talent, surprised by the off-field product, and amazed by the evening's extras.

A Fan Fest started off at 4:00 with live music, games for the kids, a dunk tank, and plenty to see and do. Crowds queued outside the stadium well before the park opened, hoping to get in on the fun early. The non-All Star HarbourCats wandered the concourse, talking with fans, laughing with the kids, and even agreeing to be dunked in the tank!

Lineups for food and drink were manageable. Even when the crowd peaked at game time, you could still get back to your seat in minutes with a fresh beverage or food item.

And peak they did! The crowd grew steadily from 4:00 through the home run derby, right up to game time - which started right on time, despite the potential for a long-running derby. Records were broken and set - the most people ever at a WCL All Star game, the most people ever to attend any WCL game. A total of 4,210 people crammed the park, cheered on the All Stars all night, and had a great time doing it.

The night ended with a spectacular fire works display that seemed even longer than the Canada Day exhibition down town. Most of the crowd stayed right to the end, walking out with smiles and a vow to return for another game. Mission accomplished Ms. Jones.

There were so many things to wonder at this night...

  • Like listening to a group of major league scouts in the beer lineup talk about the importance of the Summer leagues in the recent development of Canadian baseball prospects.
  • Like watching the players, at first huddled with their own team mates, branch out to sit with others during the home run derby, and become life-long friends by the end of the game.
  • Like watching Medford 1B Kevin Davidson's huge smile as he listened to the cheers made for home-town hero Alex Real's first at-bat.
  • Like seeing Victoria boy Darren Kolk sitting in the stands watching BP, and hearing him talk about how amazing it was to return to Victoria as an All Star and be in the park.
  • Like watching new teammates bonding over great plays in the field, and tough at-bats.
  • Like watching Alex Real go all "Pete Rose" on Corvallis catcher Dane Lund, bowling him over before stretching back to touch the plate and score a run for the North.
  • Like watching Alex DeGoti, at the end of the 8th inning, after being on the field for hours, sprint full-speed off the field like it was the first inning of the first game of the season.
  • Like watching Bend's Derek Dixon, who couldn't find a ball to give to the kids down the first base line, take his batting gloves out of his pocket and sign them to give.
  • Like seeing the Victoria baseball faithful out in force. Those people who still wear the Seals hats from 3 or 4 years ago. Still Loyal to the last team they cheered, while out supporting the new breed.
  • Like hearing the anthem sung beautifully by a 9 year old, and then in the 8th inning, hearing stories of Babe Ruth told by a gentleman turning 102 in September.

And in there somewhere, there was a home run derby, and a baseball game. The South won the game, despite the best efforts of four of our five seals (Ty Pro did not pitch, as expected given his pitch count on Sunday). The home run derby was short by derby standards, but featured some mammoth home runs hit over the fence, off the scoreboard, and onto Pembroke Street.

Once again, Victoria proved that it can be a sports town. That we can get behind a significant sporting event, and support the local team. Encouraging that barely 2 months into our relationship with the HarbourCats and the WCL, that Victorians choose to make an event like this a special night for everyone involved. From where I was sitting, it seemed like it couldn't have been a better night.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Alex Real named VHCBB's First-Half MVP

The bloggers at the Victoria HarbourCats Baseball Blog (VHCBB) are pleased to announce that Alex Real has been selected as VHCBB’s First-Half MVP.

Real, not surprisingly, was the unanimous choice amongst our bloggers. Not only does Real lead the team in just about every offensive category -- batting average (.392), hits (47), homers (4), RBI (22), slugging percentage (.583) and OPS (1.027) -- but he is also tied for the team lead in runs (18), doubles (9) and triples (1). Although he is a long shot to win the WCL Triple Crown, Real still has an excellent chance of winning the batting title, as he currently sits tied for second place with British Columbia native Alex Calbick of the Bellingham Bells. Numbers aside, Real has also impressed with his base running, consistent hustle and overall approach to the game.

Bryan Conant finished second in the voting. Conant “The Barbarian” has emerged of late as the ace of the ‘Cats pitching staff, leading the team's starters with a 2.38 ERA – the eighth-best mark in the WCL. Conant’s four wins ties him with Ty Provencher (and six others) for the second-highest number of victories in the league. He has also posted an outstanding 1.08 WHIP and has held opponents to a paltry .208 batting average.

Alex DeGoti finished in third spot. DeGoti has been an offensive sparkplug all season long in the HarbourCats batting order and his .879 OPS is second on the team, trailing only Alex Real. Austin Russell finished fourth in the voting due to his solid .320 batting average. Chris Lewis, a key run producer on the squad, finished fifth. He's currently second on the team in RBI with 17.

Here are the details on the voting (first-place votes in parentheses):
  • Alex Real – 12 points (4) 
  • Bryan Conant – 6 points (0) 
  • Alex DeGoti – 3 points (0) 
  • Austin Russell – 2 points (0)
  • Chris Lewis – 1 point (0)
  • The HarbourCats announced last week that they are attempting to break the West Coast League’s single-game attendance at tomorrow’s All-Star Game. The record (4,156) was set by the Klamath Falls Gems on July 22, 2011.
  • Victoria will easily smash the league record for attendance at an All-Star Game – 2,517. The current mark was set in 2011 in Corvallis.
  • Those who don’t already have tickets to the All-Star Game will very likely be sitting in the football grandstand, and I’d advise getting to the ballpark as early as possible to minimize any long lineups to purchase those tickets. Gates open at 4 PM and the All-Star Fan Fest runs from 4 to 7 PM. You won’t want to miss the Home Run Derby either – it starts at 5 PM and will feature Alex Real going up against representatives from the ten other teams in the WCL.
  • For full details on the All-Star game, check out the HarbourCats’ official site.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Early jump powers Cats to matinee victory

For the first time in their last five games, the Victoria HarbourCats got some first inning production. The Cats put up 4 runs in the first - the most runs they have ever put up to start a game - and then held on for a tight 6-5 victory over the visiting Wenatchee AppleSox.

LaVelle (32), welcomed home by Lewis (6), Real (14), and DeGoti (24)
Cats starter Ty Provencher sat down the Sox in order in the first before giving way to the quick-start offence that included a 3-run home run down the left field line by newly minted power hitter Dylan LaVelle. Lavelle picked up his third extra-base hit of the series with the blast. Two errors in the inning helped the Victoria cause, including a wild throw into center field that scored Chris Lewis to make it 4-0.

Lewis also scored in the 3rd inning after driving a double to the wall, and scoring on an Austin Russell single. Jordan Ellis scored Mike Darr on a sacrifice fly for the only other Victoria run.

Provencher was rolling along into the fifth, only giving up a single hit, a sun-aided sky-high pop up that 3B LaVelle lost in the sun before it dropped just out of the reach of covering SS Alex DeGoti. Ruled a hit (because the sun cannot cause an error), it was the only base runner Wenachee had in the first 4 innings.

The fifth inning started well for Wenachee, as Andre Real belted his team-leading 5th home run of the season to get the Sox on the board. Three straight singles, a fielder's choice, a another single netted 2 more runs. This was obviously Provencher's storm to weather, with the bullpen remaining empty through it all.

Ty-Pro righted the ship in the 6th and 7th before running into more trouble in the 8th, giving up a mammoth home run to AppleSox All-Star Connor Spencer. With the bullpen ready, he completed the inning with the lead intact at 6-5. He faced one more batter in the 9th until finally, after throwing 121 pitches on the night, he left to a standing ovation from many of the 1200+ fans in attendance, and hugs and fist bumps from his teammates. Cameron Cuneo finished off the next two batters to record his first save of the season.

From my observation, Saturday's win seemed to elevate the mood around the park. Lots of chatter was heard from the Victoria dugout, and for the first time in a few games the boys seemed looser and more involved in the game. Lots of high fives, guys jumping out of the dugout to welcome back returning players after productive at-bats, lots of cheering pitches taken for balls, etc. It's amazing what a win can do to set the mood.

With the first half officially over, the HarbourCats come into the all-star break one game below .500 at 17-18. These two wins against the AppleSox have been key, keeping them only 3 games behind Wenachee for the division lead. Still, they will need to play better ball in the second half to make the post-season as they find themselves in fourth place in the division.


Here's a look at some interesting game stats over the first half of the season...
  • Sunday's four-run explosion marked only the 8th time the Cats have ended the first inning with a lead. They have been outscored 32-20 in the opening frame.
  • Victoria's 5 runs through 3 innings were the most they have scored in the first three innings of a game this season.
  • On average, Victoria outscores opponents in only 3 of 9 innings: The 2nd, 8th, and 9th. They are outscored in all others (except for the 13th, where they have the only 2 runs).
  • The cats most prolific inning is the 8th. They have scored 24 runs, or 15% of all runs in the 8th. Their worst offensive innings are the 2nd and 3rd, accounting for 8% and 7% of total runs.
  • Defensively, the Cats give up more runs in the first inning than in any other, a total of 32 runs or 17% of all runs. Amazingly, they have a stingy 2nd inning, giving up only 10 all season, 5% of total runs.
  • Victoria has had only 4 games this season without an error, while opponents have had 7.
  • Victoria has collected and given up exactly the same number of hits to this point - 307.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Conant gem gets the cats back in the win column

It seems like Victoria can now boast an Ace on their pitching staff. Yes Ty Provencher will be at the All Star game this Tuesday, but it's leftie Bryan Conant who's become king of the hill.

Saturday night Conant the Barbarian mastered the Wenatchee AppleSox through 7 innings, giving up only a single run on 6 hits on route to his 4th win of the Season. Ryan Keller threw the last 2 innings, also giving up a run in a shaky 9th inning, but recording his second save.

It didn't look good early though... There seems to be a mystique around the first inning in games at RAP this year, as the Cats consistently get jumped on and find themselves in a first inning hole. It looked like deja vu all over again after a leadoff single by Ryan Barr and Grant Palmer's double left Sox at 2nd and 3rd with no outs. Conant took matters into his own hands then, snagging a come-backer to the mound that froze Barr at third, striking out cleanup hitter Andre Real (no relation to Alex) on a 3-2 pitch, and then inducing a fly ball to right off the bat of Stockton Taylor. Crisis averted, Conant left with no runs on the board.

Wenatchee went up in the 4th with some good old fashioned small ball. The Sox put together a couple of singles and a walk to take a 1-0 lead - all with 2 outs, before Conant struck out Barr to keep the game close.

Mr. Clutch, David Schuknecht
At the dish, the Cats had nothing going early, as AppleSox starter C.J. Burdick lived up to his billing and was mowing them down, giving up only two of singles through  four. Dylan LaVelle led off the 5th with a double, and David Schuknecht smacked a clutch 2-out single to tie the game. Victoria scored again in the 6th on a walk to Alex Real, and a single by Chris Lewis - aided by an errant throw trying to gun Real out going to third went wide, allowing Real to score an unearned run.In a repeat of the fifth inning, LaVelle led off the 7th with his second double of the game, Austin Russell followed with a single that chased Burdick, before Schuknecht hit a sac fly to center to put the cats up 3-1.

Wenatchee sat their All-Star contingent Saturday - and that's probably a good thing. Pinch-hitting in the 9th, Connor Spencer was walked, before Brett Stephens delivered him home with a double. Keller gave up another walk before finally getting Brock Slavin to line out to Brett Urabe to win the game on a nice leaping catch. A bit of a cardiac-inducing save to say the least, but a save none the less!

Good baseball so far in this series. Victoria pitching is mastering the AppleSox so far, holding this very good offensive team to 10 hits over two games. Some clutch hitting has pulled them even in the series. Also impressive is the tightening up defensively, with only a single error being recorded this weekend. Sunday should be another excellent pitching duel as Victoria send All Star Ty Provencher up against the 4-1 Davis Engle. One thing is for sure, it will be a beautiful day for ball!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Sox add to 'Cats woes

Somebody wake these bats up!
On a beautiful summer evening in Victoria, the HarbourCats put in an excellent effort tonight but came up short, losing 2-0 to the Wenatchee AppleSox. The 1,515 fans at RAP were treated to an excellent ballgame in which Victoria did everything right except score runs.

The prophetic Bubba was asking, nay, beseeching for pitching, and he got it. Connor Russell had a great game, giving up only three hits and three walks in eight full innings of work. Ryan Keller finished things off in the ninth retiring the three batters that he faced. Unfortunately for the 'Cats, Wenatchee pitching was just as formidable as Beau Kerns upped his record to 3-2 with a nice seven inning stint in which he allowed five hits and three walks. The net is, Victoria actually outpitched the Sox on this night but still wound up with the L.

So...pitching (see above) - check. Fielding (no errors) - check. Outhitting opponent again - check. Clutch hitting...uhhh...big buzzer sound indicating NO! Really, that was all that was missing tonight and after generating only one run in the last three games, this is still an area of great concern. In the bottom of the fifth, Victoria loaded the based with one out but could just not get the hit that they needed. For a change, their fielding was excellent, even gunning out a runner at home in the top of the seventh on an attempted safety squeeze. There was a minor base running error in the 'Cats half of the seventh where a baserunner was hit by a batted ball but still that was inconsequential, it all comes down to the big base hit when needed.

The positives out of this game were many - pitching was solid, fielding was great but clutch hitting will kill this team if they don't turn it around. My worry is that this is snowballing now and getting into the batters' heads. But there are still two more games before the All Star break and we know that these boys can play with the AppleSox of the league so here's to hoping they use these last two games to turn things around and put up a few more crooked numbers.

As an aside, did you hear the Darrrrrrrrrrrrr chants getting even louder. And can we have some more Pirates of the Caribbean walk up music maybe? Speaking of music, I don't see Trevor Hoffman, so can we move away from the Hells Bells at every pitching change? Let's pick something unique to welcome our 'Cats relievers - any suggestions out there? Runnin' with the Devil? Bawitdiba? Shoot to Thrill?

Anyway, two more games in the set. Let's turn it around tomorrow. With Conant "the Barbarian" on the bump, I'm guaranteeing a HarbourCats win! If not, drinks are on Bubba!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Wenatchee AppleSox - series preview

Wenatchee. That's where it all went sideways. The first time the HarbourCats met up with the AppleSox this season, down south of the border, the season was well in hand. Victoria was riding high after a profound first month of the season, going 11-6 on route to leading the North Division. Victoria strolled into the tree-fruit capital of Washington State with heads, winning percentages, and bats held high.

They were spanked. The Sox took all three games from the Cats by a combined score of 18-5. Scott Kuzminsky and Connor Russell had rough starts, and the Victoria bats fell suddenly silent.

Since then Victoria has gone 4-11 while Wenatchee has gone 9-5 to lead the North Division, 3.5 games ahead of the Cats.

Wenatchee comes to Victoria for the first time ever for a three-game swing at this, the official end of the first half of the season. The Sox will leave three players here for Tuesday's All Star game - 1B Connor Spencer, OF Brett Stephens, and SP Trevor Lubking will all suit up along side of the five HarbourCats selected. In perhaps the most interesting twist on the All Star game, AppleSox coach Ed Knaggs will also stay behind to coach the other side - the South Division All Stars.

Scheduled to go for Victoria are Connor Russell (1-2), Bryan Conant (3-1), and surprisingly, Ty Provencher (3-2). Given the pitch counts we have seen at RAP over the past several home stands, one would expect Ty-Pro's Sunday start will make him all but unavailable for work in Tuesday's All Star tilt.

Wenatchee has yet to announce starters for the series, but we are likely to see Beau Kerns (2-2, 3.05 ERA) on Friday, C.J. Burdick (2-1, 1.24 ERA) Saturday, and Davis Engle (4-1, 4.26 ERA) on the Matinee Sunday. Burdick has big-league stuff on the mound, striking out 24 in 21.1 innings this season, giving up only 1 extra-base hit.

At the dish, the Sox are led by All Star Connor Spencer, who leads the team in RBI while hitting a lofty .381. Leadoff man, SS Joe Mello leads the Sox batting .403 with 3 HR and 31 hits in 18 games this season, including going 4-5 in Tuesday's 22 run explosion in Kelowna.

Keys to the series? Pitching. Yes since the beginning of time it comes down to pitching, but it seems especially critical in this series. Wenatchee has been destroying starting pitching in their last 15 games, and are league leaders in hits and runs scored.

As good as they are, they are a station-to-station ball club that relies on timely hitting and base running. I would have said they won't beat you with the long ball, but with the way Victoria pitchers are serving them up... Cat's pitchers have given up an alarming 24 long balls this season, only 2 less than league-worst Walla Walla did the whole of last season. The Cats have now allowed the second-most home runs in league history, and this is only the midway point of the season.

Will the Cats be able to claw their way back into the North Division playoff race, or will they fall farther behind? I predict Wenatchee hitting will get the better of a shaky Victoria pitching, and will take 2 of 3 this weekend, leaving Victoria 4.5 games back. Still close enough to make a run, but steadily slipping further behind.

But while you're at the park, squinting from the evening sun that makes the right-field bleachers at RAP special, check out the new HarourCats hats on sale at the merch stand. The new "Third Jersey" style hat is sweet, and the kids will love the first ever Cat-Logo hat. An improvement over the originals for sure, the players will not wear these hats even when sporting the third jersey, these are fan-only merch items...

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Real raises his average to .402

Alex Real is now hitting .402
The silver lining in tonight's ugly 8-0 loss to Medford (the less said, the better) was the continued excellence of Alex Real. The "Big Cat" was single-handedly responsible for one half of the hits recorded by Victoria this evening, as he put three singles on the board in five at-bats.

The hits raised his average to .402 on the season, good enough for third place in the batting race. Unfortunately for the others near the top of the leader board, Cowlitz's Devyn Bolasky just crossed the minimum threshold for plate appearances to qualify for the batting title, and he now has a jaw-dropping .430 average. Of course with only 79 at-bats under his belt, it's easier for his batting average to slide quickly as well.

Here's a look at the Top 10 Hitters in the West Coast League after Wednesday night's games:

Devyn Bolasky
Kyle Knigge
Alex Real
Alex Calbick
Kevin Davidson
Connor Spencer
Ryan Aguilar
Grayson Porter
Seth Spivey
A.J. Balta