CHATHAM — A glass-is-half-full Chatham A’s fan will look at the team and smile at its hit-happy offense that boasts efficient if not overpowering batters, and its lockdown defense, which has committed the second fewest errors among the 10 Cape League teams this season.
A glass-is-half-empty Chatham A’s fan will look at the team and wince at its sometimes shaky starting pitching, a bullpen that’s melted down on more than one occasion, and the fact the non-felonious team ranks dead last in stolen bases.
Whitecap Whited-Out. Brewster’s Michael Maseco tried to loop around the back of Alan Dykstra to get back to the bag, but the A’s All-Star first baseman applied the tag in time in Friday’s 2-2 tie between the East Division rivals. ERIC ADLER PHOTO.
Let it be said then that the jury is still out on the A’s, and while the team’s lack of a true identity may be troubling to some, their 18-12-3 record (as of Tuesday) and current position as the wild-card holder in the East Division is not.
Then again, it all depends on who you ask.
“This season has been a little disappointing, because I think we’re better than what we’re showing,” Chatham Field Manager John Schiffner said at the tail end of last week. “We’re a pretty good team, but the problem is we tend to take some nights off. Some nights the pitching has not done well at all, and some nights the hitting has not done well at all, and sometimes it’s happened in the same game.”
The A’s consistently inconsistent ways have been easy to spot throughout this relatively rainless summer.
Take, for instance, the team’s five-game winning streak in late June. What followed were two ties, in which the A’s blew a sizeable lead heading into the final frame of both games, and two losses, in which they allowed a head-shaking 22 runs.
Chatham appeared poised to snap its erratic win-one, lose-one streak, and simultaneously separate itself from playoff contenders Brewster and Orleans, two weeks ago after sweeping a two-game set against East Division leader Y-D.
The A’s stormed back from an 11-1, sixth-inning deficit in the first of those two games against the Red Sox, then hammered the reigning CCBL champs, 11-5, on their home turf the next night.
There were many, like leadoff hitter Addison Johnson, who thought the 23-run explosion over the Red Sox would not only be a turning point, but exactly the one the A’s could use to launch them into the East Division stratosphere. But the momentum gained from those feel-good wins faded in Falmouth the next night following a 4-1 loss to the Commodores, triggering a familiar streak of alternating wins and losses.
“Falmouth didn’t care that we won two straight over Y-D,” Schiffner said. “They didn’t roll over because of that, and this team needs to understand that you’re facing an all-star team every night. You can’t take a night off in this league. The teams are too good.”
With only 10 home runs to show for all season (compared to Y-D’s league-leading 27 moon shots), the A’s are not a team known for their power. But having recorded seven games of seven or more runs, they’ve proven they’re more than capable of keeping the score board operator busy.
Third baseman Jermaine Curtis, a .333 hitter with 18 RBIs, and first baseman Alan Dykstra, who has a .327 batting average and a team-leading 21 RBIs, have been the sparkplugs of the A’s offense, which ranks third in terms of team batting (.253), and total hits (270).
Also swinging the stick well is Johnson, the team’s leadoff hitter who’s carrying a .276 average with a team-best 34 hits, along with Kyle Seager (.302), Andrew Crisp (.291), Sean O’Brien (.248) and Kevin McAvoy (.241).
From a defensive standpoint, Scott Lyons has been a wall at shortstop, while catcher Tim Federowicz, who made his mark by throwing out two base runners against Cotuit, has been “a quiet leader,” according to Schiffner.
No one’s had a better season on the hill than Tom Milone (4-1), who sports a 3.12 ERA with a team-best 36 K’s. The A’s other capable arms include starters Charles Brewer (1-1, 2.51 ERA), Cliff Springston (1-2, 2.88 ERA), Kevin Couture (1.09 ERA), and Zach Putnam, who has not given up an earned run in two relief appearances and one start.
Still, the pitching staff, which sports a team ERA of 3.81 and failed to produce a single Cape League All-Star, hasn’t been as good as advertised, according to Schiffner.
The veteran coach said he tallied up the record of his pitchers following their college season, which “was something like 250 games over .500. We’ve got kids from winning programs, so it’s disappointing when they’re not meeting the expectations we had for them.”
Of a much larger concern is trying to get a collection of college players to buy into the idea of a team-first philosophy in a scout-obsessed league where individual success often outweighs anything else.
“Some kids have the mindset that they’re just going to work on themselves,” said
Schiffner. “They’re here to get their share of ABs and innings in, and the word team is not mentioned. Talking to the other managers in the league, I think a lot of teams are experiencing the same thing, that kids aren’t as hungry as they once were to embrace the team concept and that their motivations and priorities are different than they once were.”
To combat that, Schiffner has tried to reinforce the message to his team that hoisting the Arnold Mycock trophy does hold weight.
“Wouldn’t you like to go back to your college and say we won a Cape Cod League championship, we were the best of the best?” said Schiffner, noting it takes a lot more than super-sized home runs to achieve that kind of success.
“One of the biggest things in the Cape League is to establish team chemistry and get everybody on the same page,” he said, “and I think that might be one of the things we’re lacking.”
Y-D does not, which is why they’re sitting in the penthouse of the East Division and ripe to repeat as CCBL champs.
“Those kids are playing well together as a team, and they pick each other up on the field itself and in the dugout,” said Schiffner. “I give [head coach] Scott Pickler credit, because he’s created what appears to be great chemistry.
“We’re pressing the buttons and one of these days we’re going to find the right combination on our team. The only question is will we find it in the next couple of days or will it show up the last three games of the season when it’s too late.”
With a quarter of the season to go, we’ll soon know the answer.