Time for Cyclones to make their move
With 20 Games Left, Brooklyn in Position to End Playoff Drought
The Brooklyn Cyclones spent most of their first dozen seasons on Coney Island seriously competing for New York-Penn League titles, one of which they grabbed during their magical inaugural campaign on Coney Island back in 2001.
However, over the previous three years, the perennial McNamara Division contenders have fallen short of the postseason, leaving Brooklyn baseball fanatics hungry for a taste of playoff baseball.
Over the next 20 games, including Wednesday night’s critical series opener in Staten Island in their first game back from the All-Star break, the Cyclones (30-26) must resume their recent hot streak in order to make sure they play past their Sept. 5 regular-season finale against the arch rival Yankees.
While player development is always stressed above winning at the Class A short-season level, where many first-year professionals are just cutting their teeth in the minors, learning how to win may ultimately be just as important as improving one’s swing or discovering a new pitch.
After languishing near or at the bottom of the McNamara standings for most of this summer, the Cyclones have suddenly begun to fire on all cylinders over the past two weeks, winning six of their last seven games, including a season-high five in a row, before taking two days off for this week’s All-Star festivities in Hudson Valley.
Beginning with this three-game set in Staten Island, the Baby Bums will play straight through, 20 games in 20 days, to decide if they become the first Brooklyn squad to treat MCU Park fans to playoff games since 2012.
In order to accomplish their goal, the Cyclones must continue to dominate on the hill, where they boast a solid 3.40 team ERA, spearheaded by NY-Penn All-Star and bonafide ace Harol Gonzalez, who picked up the win in Tuesday night’s 9-5 victory for the South Team in the circuit’s All-Star Game at Dutchess Stadium.
They must also find a way to continue the torrid hitting that has helped lift them out of the league’s basement in batting average.
Despite a still-putrid .219 cumulative average at the plate, the Cyclones outscored their opponents by a whopping 43-18 score during their five-game winning streak, and rank near the middle of the pack with 221 runs scored this summer.
Manager Tom Gamboa, now in his third year at the helm, has stressed the importance of quality at-bats throughout the franchise’s 16th campaign along Surf Avenue after lamenting for months about missed opportunities at the plate.
And now that the bats, in a deep slumber for most of the first 50 games of the season, have stirred to life, Brooklyn has a genuine opportunity to leap in front of the wild card-leading Yankees (32-23) and first-place Hudson Valley (32-22) in the tightly packed McNamara race.
“Whatever it is, we’ve been playing very well of late,” noted the Cyclones’ skipper and baseball sage, who is in his fourth decade of Major League-affiliated ball. “[We’ve been getting] better hitting, better at-bats.”
Gonzalez, who enters the stretch run with a 5-1 record and minuscule 1.57 ERA in 10 starts, will likely get his next turn against the Yankees this week after retiring all three batters he faced in a one-inning relief stint to pick up the win at the All-Star Game Tuesday.
Rotation mates Gabriel Llanes (4-5, 2.92 ERA), Merandy Gonzalez (4-2, 3.40), slated to start Wednesday’s series opener, and Erik Manoah (5-2, 5.29) also figure to make huge contributions to Brooklyn’s stretch run.
All-Star shortstop Colby Woodmansee, who paces the team’s offense with a team-high 22 RBIs, went 1-for-3 with a double and a run scored in the South’s All-Star win.
Both he and standout center field prospect Desmond Lindsay give the Baby Bums a legitimate heart of the order for this crucial stretch of games.
Lindsay, who drove in a franchise record-tying seven runs last Friday night, is batting a team-best .347 in his first 15 games on Coney Island.
He is also emerging as the team’s potential offensive savior, as mid-season addition Michael Conforto was back in 2014, when he drove Brooklyn to the brink of a playoff spot with his hot hitting, only to see the Cyclones get denied a bid due to a tiebreaker.
“I’m just happy that we’re winning again. It’s pretty cool,” Linsday told MiLB.com as his production in the batter’s box has coincided with Brooklyn’s re-emergence in the playoff race.
Regardless of whether his team actually makes the playoffs or not, Gamboa has once again proven a fine developer of young talent, something the Mets’ organization obviously covets as he is just the second manager to make it through three seasons here, following Rich Donnelly in that role.
But a trip to the playoffs, and perhaps even a championship parade along Surf Avenue, is something the loyal Brooklyn fan base has been starving for since they were denied such a joyous day when the 2001 NY-Penn League Championship Series was cut short following one Cyclones win due to the tragic events of Sept. 11.
And with 20 games to go in 2016, that parade is still a very real possibility.
In other words, why “wait till next year” when the path to a championship is laid out in front of you?
This, That and the Other Thing: The Cyclones’ biggest defeat of the season thus far has to be the loss of slugging 1B prospect Peter Alonso, who is out for the remainder of the campaign due to a broken right pinky finger, reportedly suffered during an Aug. 9 victory over Vermont at MCU Park. Alonso, who still leads the team with five homers and ranks second with 21 RBIs despite playing in only 30 games after being singed as the Mets’ second-round pick this past June, apparently broke the digit while diving into the bag to beat a runner. He has been replaced by Darryl Knight, who actually began the season as the Cyclones’ first baseman, only to be displaced by Alonso. Knight is batting .202 with a homer and 11 RBIs in 31 games, but has picked up the pace since Alonso was shelved. Over his past five games, Knight is 7-for-17 with three RBIs and three runs scored … After visiting Staten Island for three games this week, the Cyclones will head to Lowell, Massachusetts for another three-game set.
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