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.

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.

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