BRISTOL - The Bristol Blues need to step it up soon.
Half of the 2016 FCBL season is behind us and the Blues are sporting a 13-15 record through the first 28 games and sit 6½ games back of the Worcester Bravehearts in first place in the West Division. After dropping their July 4 doubleheader against the Bravehearts, the Blues were 3-7 in their previous 10 games.
With the season’s first half now in the books, the trajectory of the Blues’ numbers can be more easily calculated and then compared to last season’s, when the team made a run to the league championship series.
Last season, the Blues were 18-10 at this same point in the season and were on their way to a 33-23 finish. This season’s Blues are five games behind that pace and will need to go 20-8 in the second half to match their record from a season ago.
So far this summer, the Blues have scored 108 runs, which projects out to five fewer runs in a full season than last year’s mark. Bristol has given up 135 runs against in the first half compared to last summer’s full-season total of 197.
The good news for the Blues is that, despite the drop in numbers, there is one stat that they compare quite closely with last year’s team. Last year, through the first half, the Blues were involved in nine games that were decided by one run. This year, Bristol has had seven games decided by the same margin.
The biggest difference is how the Blues did in those games. Last season’s Blues went 7-2 in their first nine one-run games, while this season, the Blues are 3-4 in their seven.
What the Blues have lacked so far this season is consistent, well-balanced play. Almost every game, the Blues are either working well on offense or defense but rarely both.
“I think we’re a strong team,” Blues pitcher Michael Nocera said. “I think we’ve just got to put it all together. I think we have the pitching [and] we have the hitting. I think that on days we hit, we don’t pitch and on days we pitch, we don’t hit so I think we’ve just got to put it all together. We have it. It’s just we’ve got to do it. I think we can do it for the rest of the season.”
While some numbers do not bode well for the Blues, some do. This season’s Blues are on track to surpass last year’s team’s marks in RBI (176) and hits (441) and are batting just one point lower as a team than last season’s Blues. The Bristol offense is not nearly running on all cylinders and many well-hit balls are going straight to fielders so the potential is there for an offensive breakout.
“You hope those translate to hits sooner or later,” Blues manager Pat Riley said.
Pitching has been a rock for the Blues this season and it shows on the stat sheet. Last season’s pitching staff combined for 392 strikeouts. This year, the Blues are on pace for 468. The cumulative ERA for the Blues last season was 2.78 and, while this season’s is 3.63, if only current players are taken into account, the ERA drops to 1.68.
The pitching staff has been giving the Blues chances to win but the offensive struggles have put more pressure on the players on the mound.
“It’s hard because you’ve just got to keep throwing outs and try to hold the game as best as you can,” Nocera said. “Just holding them off and then giving our guys a chance up at bat is really what’s hard. But sometimes it doesn’t always work out that way.
Bristol’s biggest roadblock this season has been the Bravehearts. The Blues are 1-7 against the defending champs and have been outscored 26-46. Last season, the Blues took on the Bravehearts 10 times in the regular season, posting 4-6 record against Worcester and were outscored 36-45.
While last year’s performance versus the Bravehearts was not great, it was better than what the Blues have put together this year. The road out of the West Division appears to run through Worcester right now so if the Blues want to compete for a title again, they will need to play better against the Bravehearts in the season’s two remaining matchups.
“We were neck-and-neck [last season] and then, this year, it’s just been really tough staying with them because they’re such a good team and they have a lot of good pitching and hitting,” Nocera said. “It’s just been tough all year.”
The first half has not been kind to the Blues after they started the summer 4-0 but the season is far from over. All the pieces seem to be in place for the Blues to make a second-half run and the players and managers are not ready to hit the panic button yet.
“We’re not in panic mode,” Riley said. “Guys have gotten their reps in. We’ve got a pretty good sample of what guys can do. Guys are getting opportunities and we’re, hopefully, going to make a push here in the second half and make the adjustments that we need to.”
Josh Kestenbaum can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org