Slip-sliding away: Cyclones mired in first slump of summer

July 12, 2012 By John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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The McNamara Division-leading Brooklyn Cyclones’ first true slump of the summer continued Wednesday night with a frustrating 1-0 loss to the Connecticut Tigers before 1,301 fans at Dodd Stadium in Norwich, Conn.

The Baby Bums (14-9), who hold a two-game lead over second-place Hudson Valley, have dropped five of six overall since a season-high six-game winning streak that gave them the best record on the 14-team circuit at 13-4. 

Maddeningly enough, the Cyclones played error-free baseball for the third straight game and got a strong starting performance from Julian Hilario (0-1), but the team’s ongoing struggles to hit effectively with runners in scoring position denied them a shot at their first victory since a 7-6 triumph over Williamsport at MCU Park on July 6. 

Coming off a rare day off in respect of Tuesday’s MLB All-Star Game, Brooklyn appeared ready to burst out of the gate and move past its three-game sweep at the hands of Jamestown on Coney Island.

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With two runners on and one out in the top of the second, previoulsy hot-hitting first baseman Jayce Boyd stepped to the plate with an opportunity to give the Cyclones an early lead. But Boyd flied out harmlessly to right field and Nelfi Zapata struck out swinging to start an evening of near-misses for the Baby Bums, who finished 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position and left seven runners on.

“When you don’t execute [with runners in scoring position], then you have to pitch almost perfect,” Brooklyn manager Rich Donnelly lamented following his team’s 5-2 home loss to the Jammers on Monday night.

Hilario did his best to keep the Cyclones within striking distance, yielding one earned run on six hits without issuing a walk and striking our five over six innings to lower his ERA to 2.61. The 6-foot-1 right-hander from the Dominican Republic surrendered a run-scoring double to Jake Stewart in the bottom of the third before he and relievers Matthew Koch and Tyler Vanderheiden shut the Tigers down the rest of the way.

Unfortunately, Brooklyn’s bats never awoke from the slumber that has seen the Mets’ Class A short-season franchise by the sea manage only seven runs total during the slide.

Third baseman Alexander Sanchez had two of the Cyclones’ four hits, including a double, with shortstop Phillip Evans and catcher Kevin Plawecki providing the other two base knocks.

The hitting malaise has resulted in Brooklyn’s team batting average dropping to a paltry .230, ahead of only Staten Island and Lowell in the league rankings. Making matters worse, the Cyclones are a combined 5-for-32 with runners in scoring position during the skid.

“When you have to hold them scoreless every inning to win the game, it comes down to the offense too,” added Donnelly, who watched as leadoff man Richie Rodriguez, who is batting .098 for the season, center fielder Brandon Nimmo (back below the Mendoza line at .195), left fielder Stefan Sabol and Boyd went a combined 0-for-15 against Tigers pitching.

Connecticut starter Hua-Wei Lo (1-0), making his short-season debut, was the beneficiary of Brooklyn’s offensive deficency, allowing three hits and striking out five against three walks over six frames.

Plawecki, the Mets’ supplemental first-round pick out of Purdue in last month’s draft, provided some hope with a leadoff single off Matt Davenport in the ninth. But Sabol hit into a double play immediately thereafter and Boyd grounded back to the mound to extend Brooklyn’s July misery.

The Cyclones, in the midst of a six-game road trip with seven of their next eight contests away from home, were hoping to get off the schneid Thursday night in Connecticut at 7 p.m. in the middle game of their set with the Tigers. Brooklyn will head to State College, Pa., over the weekend for another three-game series before making a brief stopover at MCU Park for a July 17 meeting with the second-place Renegades.

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This, That and the Other Thing: The Cyclones can at least take pleasure in watching the struggling Yankees bringing up the rear in the McNamara at 9-14, a full five games behind Brooklyn for first place. However, the defending New York-Penn League champions will get their chance to climb back into contention during a four-game series with the Baby Bums, beginning July 19 at Richmond County Bank Ballpark. … 1B/DH Cole Frenzel, who paces Brooklyn with a .342 average despite some recent struggles at the plate, got the night off Wednesday. … RHP Vanderheiden retired one batter Wednesday, keeping his ERA perfect at 0.00 over eight appearances and 7 1/3 innings. The side-winder out of Samford University has struck out six, walked two and recorded a team-high four saves for the Cyclones, who boast one of the top bullpens in the league. “At first we gave up some runs late, but they’ve stepped it up,” Cyclones pitching coach Marc Valdes said of his relievers. … With his two hits Wednesday night, 3B Sanchez, boosted his average to .291.

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