Cyclones - Fits and starts for Brooklyn

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This year has been a season of fits and starts for the Brooklyn Cyclones, who came into the year with high expectations after a division title but are now a mediocre 12-14.

They are five games behind the Staten Island Yankees, whom the ‘Clones narrowly edged out in the McNamara Division standings last year.

Those halcyon days of 2007 seem like a distant memory for Brooklyn fans, who were excited about a bumper crop of high picks from the June 2008 draft. But nearly a month into the season, this highly regarded collection of talent has yet to gel into a winning team.

The Cyclones came into last week having recently surpassed the .500 mark with a stretch of strong play. But they promptly dropped their next four games before salvaging a win on Sunday night.

During the 1-4 week, the Cyclones’ offense reverted to the quiet form it has displayed for most of the season. During those five games, Brooklyn scored just 8 runs.

For the season, the picture is only marginally brighter: Brooklyn is last in the league with 83 runs scored, averaging only 3.2 runs per game.

But as bad as the Cyclones have been at scoring runs, they have been just as good at preventing them: Cyclones pitchers (and the fielders behind them) have allowed a league-fewest 83 runs.

Brooklyn’s trip to Jamestown, NY, in which the ‘Clones endured a three-game sweep at the hands of the Jammers, a Florida Marlins chain, was typical of this season-long trend: good pitching wasted by poor hitting.

(First, an explanation of the nickname “Jammers” is necessary: Tucked in the far-western corner of New York State, Chautauqua County – of which Jamestown is part – has the highest concentration of concord grapes in the world, making the production of jams an enduring staple of the local economy.)

The series’ first game on Wednesday, July 9, featured another strong outing by Pedro P. Martinez, a tall, lanky Dominican who, until the recent Mets surge, has probably pitched better than his shorter, more famous namesake.

But despite compiling an excellent 2.39 ERA, Martinez has yet to earn a win, a consequence of poor Brooklyn hitting.

On Wednesday, Martinez left after six strong innings with a 3-2 lead. But from the third inning forward, the Cyclones’ offense was shut out for the rest of the game, giving Jamestown ample opportunity to come back.

And in the eighth inning, the Jammers patched together two runs off pitchers Jimmy Johnson and Yuri Santana, giving them the decisive 4-3 margin.

The offensive stupor that began Wednesday night continued on Thursday in a 2-0 Cyclones loss.

The paltry offensive effort wasted a strong performance by pitchers Tim Stronach (another of Brooklyn’s strong starting pitchers, whose 2-3 record belies his 2.19 ERA), Manuel Olivares, Ray Merritt, and Wendy Rosa.

Brooklyn did not score a run until the sixth inning of the third game of the series on Friday, making it 19 innings between runs.

But their 2-0 lead was short-lived: In the bottom of the seventh inning, the Jammers came back with 3 runs of their own, giving them a 3-2 lead they would not relinquish as they closed out the series sweep.

The poor hitting evidently made the trip back to Brooklyn with the rest of the team as the ‘Clones embarked on a series against the State College Spikes, a Pittsburg Pirates affiliate.

In the series’ first game on Saturday, July 12, the Spikes threw four pitchers, but the Cyclones couldn’t figure out a single one of them: For the second time in three games, they were shut out.

This time, the offense spoiled a standout performance by Scott Shaw, a recent 13th round pick out of the University of Illinois who has been masterful this year: his pedestrian 1-1 record hides a sparkling 1.42 ERA, sixth in the New York-Penn League.

Finally on Sunday night, a Cyclones pitcher did what he had to do to earn a win, or at least not to lose: he didn’t allow any runs at all.

Brad Holt, a 6-4 fireballer out of UNC-Wilmington who was the 33rd overall pick in June’s draft, continued his outstanding first professional season by twirling seven scoreless innings while striking out ten batters.

The Mets were praised in scouting circles for their selection of Holt, and the righty hasn’t disappointed: His 30 strikeouts are tied for second in the New York-Penn League, and his 1.96 ERA ranks tenth.

But all the strong pitching in the world will not single-handedly carry the Cyclones. Nearly a third of the way into the season, the time is now for Brooklyn’s hitters to start hitting.

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