Cyclones keep hope alive for final weekend
Hold wild card spot, close in on division race with Hudson Valley
Don’t bury these Brooklyn Cyclones just yet.
The Baby Bums, all but left for dead in the McNamara Division race, kept their flickering hopes alive Wednesday night with a 4-2 victory over the first-place Renegades in front of 7,367 fans at Coney Island’s MCU Park.
Anthony Dirocie belted a two-run homer, the Brooklyn bullpen put together a flawless performance and the playoff-hopeful Cyclones played error-free baseball en route to shaving their deficit in the division to three games with five to play.
More importantly, Brooklyn extended its lead in the ongoing, tightly packed New York-Penn League wild-card hunt to a full game over Auburn and two lengths in front of archrivals Staten Island and Aberdeen.
The Cyclones, who committed a ghastly 11 errors during their previous three-game series in Vermont, have won two straight since putting their postseason hopes in serious jeopardy by dropping seven of their previous 10 contests.
With two more wins over the visiting Renegades, Brooklyn can move within one game in the division race and grab the head-to-head tiebreaker against Hudson Valley in case the clubs finish in a first-place deadlock at season’s end.
Though the odds are still long and the schedule growing shorter by the day, the Cyclones (38-32) have their postseason destiny firmly in their own grasp.
If they manage to win all five of their remaining games, they will be no worse than the wild-card winner.
If, however, they win out while the Renegades stumble down the stretch, the Baby Bums could conceivably win their first McNamara crown since 2010, when former fan favorite Wally Backman was managing the team.
With the stakes higher than ever and the temperatures zooming even higher Wednesday night, the Cyclones broke out in front with a three-run second-inning outburst, highlighted by Dirocie’s shot over the left-field fence.
Wagner LaGrange doubled home Chase Chambers earlier in the frame and tripled and scored on Nick Meyer’s single in the seventh for Brooklyn, which went 2-for-5 with runners in scoring position and went deep for a season-high fourth time this summer.
Cyclones starter Briam Campusano lasted just 3 2/3 innings in the blistering heat, but the bullpen combination of Billy Oxford (7-1), Kevin Smith, Andrew Mitchell and Ezequiel Zabaleta held the Renegades to a single hit over the final 5 1/3 frames.
Zabaleta picked up his second save of the year with a perfect ninth inning as the Cyclones refused to go gently against the defending NY-Penn champions.
Right-hander Christian James (4-1, 1.76 ERA) was slated to toe the rubber Thursday night in yet another crucial game for Brooklyn, which has a strong opportunity to win at least 40 games for the first time since 2014.
That season ended with the Cyclones deadlocked for the wild-card spot, but ultimately losing out on the playoffs due to a head-to-head tiebreaker.
Brooklyn has a golden opportunity to reverse that outcome this summer, but first it must find a way to win two more games from Hudson Valley this week then take all three contests from the Yankees during the campaign’s final series.
Second-year manager Edgardo Alfonzo has to be elated that his team is still hanging tough this summer following a disastrous 24-52 campaign last season.
But without a strong run over these final five contests, MCU Park could be closed for the postseason for the sixth consecutive year.
This, That and the Other Thing: Oxford, a NY-Penn All-Star earlier this summer, leads the Cyclones’ staff with seven wins, all of which have come out of the Brooklyn bullpen. The Mets’ 27th-round pick out of Azusa-Pacific in the 2017 MLB Draft, Oxford boasts a 1.43 ERA in 24 appearances this season. His one weakness has been a propensity to walk batters as he has issued 13 walks over 37 2/3 innings against 23 strikeouts. Oxford has not yielded an earned run over his last nine outings, spanning 11 innings. … After hosting the Renegades on Thursday and Friday, the Cyclones will welcome Staten Island to MCU Park Saturday before heading over the Verrazano to meet the Yankees Sunday. The regular-season finale Monday will also be back on Coney Island. … James, who will be making his 13th start of the summer, has been brilliant in his last three outings, surrendering just one run over 21 innings while striking out 13 and walking four. The 20-year-old right-hander was Brooklyn’s Opening Night starter in Staten Island and has steadily progressed throughout the campaign.