BRISTOL - Sitting at 19-18 and 2½ games back of first place at the Futures League All-Star break, the Bristol Blues are now setting their sights on the playoff hunt and their first FCBL championship in the organization’s history.
“I think if you ask any FCBL coaching staff, their biggest goal every year is to win a championship,” Blues manager Ronnie Palmer said. “If that’s not the goal then you shouldn’t be coaching.”
As they jockey for postseason position, the Blues will have a favorable schedule to start the regular season’s final three-week sprint. Their schedule is back-loaded with home games, with three straight being played in Bristol out of the break, and 11 of their final 16 games will come at Muzzy Field. It’s a welcome reprieve after a June schedule littered with road contests.
It hasn’t mattered, however, where Bristol has played its games. The formula for winning has stayed the same all summer.
“Everything goes back to pitching and defense. That’s how you win championships,” Palmer said. “The offense and scoring gives you an opportunity to do that, but it comes down to pitching and defense. If our pitching can hold up, stay stable and throw strikes, and if we can make plays defensively, I think we’ll give ourselves an opportunity.”
Whether it’s professional, Division I, high school or little league, at any level of baseball, Palmer says, winning comes down to those two simple things.
“Obviously, there are big boppers and guys that can stroke the baseball, but at the end of the day, it’s the guys who have the depth on the mound and are making plays,” Palmer said.
Palmer and pitching coach Jordie Scheiner know who they can rely on for the majority of the week, as starters Mark Faello, Ryan Lauk, James Judenis and Cam Van Hoorebeke have all been mainstays in the rotation. But the coaching staff will be looking to fill the final two starting slots, and the plan for now looks like it will be lefty Matt Shane and righty Wesley Lahey in those spots.
The bullpen is the other concern for the Blues.
In the first two weeks of the season, many of Bristol’s disappointing losses could be attributed to its relief pitchers blowing leads, big or small.
Palmer, however, remained confident that once his relievers started getting more comfortable in their roles - many of them had not been called on in those similar spots during their college or high school seasons - that they would eventually find success. For the most part, that proved to be accurate as they began to find their stride.
“That’s the game of baseball,” Palmer said. “When you put guys into positions they’ve never been in before, you have to give them the opportunity to get their feet under them so they can be successful in those situations.”
Now, Palmer and his staff might be faced with a similar predicament over the next 16 games and the postseason. The Blues signed five new pitchers just prior to the All-Star break, and the organization may now have to once again display some patience to allow them to grow and adjust.
Andrew Marrero (UConn), Garrett Coe (UConn), Tyler Boisvert (Post University), Miles Michaud (Bates College) and Sam Beadle (Keystone College) will each see innings the rest of the summer.
“Anybody that comes to the roster this late in the summer, there’s always a slight adjustment period,” Palmer said. “These are the guys we’re gonna roll with the rest of the summer, and I’m happy to go into battle with them, give them the baseball, and see what happens.”
Those five, grouped with an offense that has tallied the second-most runs (231) and hits (361) in the league and has the third-most RBI (184) in the FCBL, will be helping a talented roster attempt to win a title.
“We’re certainly always striving for [a championship],” Palmer said. “We’re always trying to make adjustments to try and accomplish that goal, and hopefully if we keep pushing forward, it gives us an opportunity to compete for an FCBL championship when the postseason comes.”
Zack Carpenter can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org