NEW BRITAIN - Thereâ€™s still time left in the Atlantic League season, just not a lot to waste.
With 33 games left in the season, the New Britain Bees are still trying to make a run at a second-half playoff spot. But the Bees have been up and down since the all-star break, going into Friday nightâ€™s game with a 14-14 record (5-5 in their last 10 games), 4Â˝ games behind the Liberty Division Ducks and five games out of the wild card spot.
At the same time, the team does have some pieces that it didnâ€™t have in the past to at least attempt to make a final push. With five weeks left in the season, here are some things to watch:
VAN HEKK YEAH
Even as one of the oldest players on the Beesâ€™ roster this season, Andy Van Hekken continues to be one of the teamâ€™s most reliable starters, if not one of the most effective in the Atlantic League.
Since the all-star break, the 39-year-old has made five starts, all of which have gone 5 1/3 innings or longer. And while his hits allowed might be high on a few occasions - giving up 10 hits to the Ducks on July 18, seven to the Sugar Land Skeeters July 24 and eight to the Lancaster Barnstormers July 29 - the runs heâ€™s given up havenâ€™t been.
Over those five starts, which Van Hekken went 2-1, the left-hander has only given up more than two runs once - four on the July 24 game - and has allowed none over his last two to bring his ERA down to 3.45 and 2.39 since the break.
But perhaps just as important has been his ability not to walk opposing hitters. Over his last five outings, Van Hekken has given up just three free passes to 21 strikeouts, meaning hitters have to work to get on base against him.
As crucial as Van Hekken will be to any success the Bees have over the remaining five weeks, heâ€™ll still need to be provided some offense to give him a little bit of breathing room. And as he has throughout most of the season, thatâ€™s where Deibinson Romero comes in.
Romero has been one of New Britainâ€™s main offensive threats this season - his first in the Atlantic League - leading the team and ranking fourth in the league entering Friday in RBI with 56. He is also the Beesâ€™ leading home run hitter with 12 to go along with a .272 average.
The third baseman has cooled down a little bit over the past month, hitting just .244 with three home runs with 18 RBI. But he has been able to keep his walks (18) higher than his strikeouts (16) during that stretch, meaning Romero is getting on base one way or another.
As the schedule does get closer to September, though, the Bees will need their leading RBI man to contribute what made him an all-star this season and thatâ€™s driving in the runs.
BROCKING AND ROLLING
One of New Britainâ€™s best acquisitions this season might have come two and a half months into the year in Brock Stassi.
The infielder/outfielder began the season with the Minnesota Twins Triple-A affiliate and played in 38 games with the Rochester Red Wings before being released and joining the Bees. Itâ€™s worked out pretty well since.
Over the last month, Stassi has been one of the hottest hitters in the league, hitting .348 - good for sixth among all players - with five home runs, 23 RBI and 31 hits in 24 games played.
But Stassi has done well at the plate since coming to New Britain. Heâ€™s hitting .361 overall in 40 games with 36 RBI and 53 hits in 147 at-bats. And more importantly, heâ€™s giving the Bees a legitimate offensive threat from the left side of the plate.
It will more than likely to be difficult to keep up the pace Stassi has been playing at, considering the ebbs and flows of the season and heâ€™s hitting just .222 in the last week, but if New Britain can get a consistent Stassi, which he has shown to be capable of doing, the team will be in good shape.
David Glovach can be reached at (860) 801-5085 or email@example.com