BRISTOL - Tonight in Nashua, N.H., the Bristol Blues will take on the Nashua Silver Knights in a doubleheader that could very well be a preview of one of the first-round playoff matchups.
The Blues currently sit in sixth place in the FCBL playoff standings, which, if they remain there, would set them up for a one-game playoff with the third-place team in the first round. At this point, it appears that that team will be the Silver Knights.
Now, with two days remaining in the regular season, the Blues will play two of their remaining three games against the Silver Knights after playing them on Tuesday. Bristol emerged with a 6-0 win on Tuesday but it was a 1-0 game until the bottom of the eighth inning.
“[I’m] very impressed by them,” Blues manager Pat Riley said. “Their arms they threw were very, very good-quality arms. Those are guys with high velocity. Their lineup, they’ve got some league-leaders in there, guys who can swing it. They’ve got older guys, guys who have played in the league.”
With so many matchups and potential matchups against Nashua on the schedule, a decisive win like Tuesday’s provided the Blues with some much-needed confidence and momentum.
“It should be exciting, this next [few days],” Blues infielder Austin Chauvin said. “I’m really excited for what we can do. They’re a really good team. They’ve got a lot of good hitters. It’s just going to really come down to who’s hitting [and] who’s throwing strikes.”
As it was on Tuesday, the key for the Blues, as Chauvin said, will be pitching. Ben Brown was the Blues’ starter in the last game against Nashua and he went six and one-third innings, giving up no hits and just two hits.
“Our guy on the mound did a really good job so I think it just comes down to that,” Chauvin said. “He was throwing strikes and keeping us in the game. That’ll be the person that gets on top.”
As a manager, you enter games with a plan but, according to Riley, having a pitcher pitch as well as Brown did on Tuesday throws off that plan but Riley is alright with that.
“You predict things, you have a plan for things, you have your middle relief guys, your long relief guys but you never really know sometimes,” he said. “When he did that, it was like, ‘Whoa.’ The game plan switched a little bit and we could get to some of our strengths, which have been [relievers] Adam Goss [and] Mike Munson. We’re going to have to do things like that.”
Tuesday’s win is going to have to drive the Blues tonight, as they could use a little more of a cushion between them and the seventh-place Torrington Titans, who they will play on the last night of the regular season. The Silver Knights will undoubtedly be looking for a bounce-back win or two tonight but the Blues need the wins just as much.
“We’re going to see them again and they’re going to be just as tough,” Riley said. “That’s a tough team and that was a really good win for us. Hopefully we can build some momentum moving forward into the rest of the [season] and, hopefully, beyond that.”
Nashua is statistically the best hitting team in the FCBL with a team batting average of .278. That number is aided by the fact that catcher Mickey Gasper has the highest average in the league at .421. But now, the Blues have seen the Silver Knights and have been able to study how they hit and what works against them, which could give them an advantage.
“Honestly, it’s huge because we get to see them play,” Blues pitcher Izzy Fuentes said. “We know how they play now [and] we know how they hit so now it’s time to, next time around, just see who has it that day, who has the fire.”
Making the playoffs will not be a cakewalk for the Blues and, if they get there, advancing will not be either. But the team is confident and a pair of solid showings tonight in Nashua could go a long way toward the Blues playing at Muzzy Field again this summer.
“I think if we get hot at the right time, which we’ve shown we can do, then I don’t think anyone can beat us, to be honest with you,” Chauvin said.
Josh Kestenbaum can be reached at 860-973-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org