Thunder Relish Being “The Hunted” In Tightening Playoff Race
Added by Matt Kardos on August 23, 2013.
The reeling Thunder, coming off of a disappointing 2-5 road trip, dropped the opener of an extremely vital four-game series to the Portland Sea Dogs last night by a score of 4-2 at Arm & Hammer Park. The loss not only put the Sea Dogs within four games of Trenton for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Division, it also put the surging New Hampshire Fisher Cats to within 2.5 games after their 12-4 trouncing of Reading.
Trenton has struggled immensely all season long with runners in scoring position, hitting just .255 in those situations; not much better than their team batting average, which is second from the bottom in the Eastern League at .246. That fatal trend proved to be costly once again last night as Trenton drew ten walks off of Portland pitching but went 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position. Manager Tony Franklin acknowledged that his teams struggles in key RBI situations have proved to be costly to his teams success.
Yankees top prospect, Mason Williams will need to have a big impact in the Thunder’s final 12 games to catapult them into the postseason. Photo By: Matt Kardos
“As a matter of fact, we’re awful with runners in scoring position and we have been all year,” admitted Franklin. “We miss opportunities and this is the time of the year where you cannot afford to miss opportunities the way that we have all year.We have been very anemic and we have to be a little bit better.”
If the Thunder are going to secure a playoff berth, they are going to have to solve their offensive woes quickly. Just twelve games remain on the regular season schedule, all of which are against the three teams chasing them for the wild-card spot in New Hampshire, Portland and New Britan. Franklin acknowledges that although his team is aware of their slim margin for error at this juncture of the season, his team cannot afford to get away from themselves and begin to press.
“It’s not pressure, but maybe they’re thinking about it a little too much rather than just going out and playing their regular game and having a regular thought process about it,” Franklin explained. “It means a lot more right now. When you’re coming down the stretch in a pennant race and you have got the teams that you need to play and beat right in front of you, there is a little bit of added motivation to play. Everybody knows how important it is; I’d be stupid to say that they don’t realize what is at stake.”
Franklin added,” We cannot forget that we are the team being chased. I’m hoping that they realize that everybody else has to catch us. We just need to slow it down, collect our thoughts and go out there to be as good as we can possibly be without any added pressure of thinking about what could happen if we don’t win.”
Last season when the Thunder won the Eastern Division title, Franklin got to get a look at some very young and raw players like Tyler Austin and Ramon Flores for a short time leading up to a heated playoff race. Much like those guys, Franklin will rely on young core pieces like Gary Sanchez and Mason Williams to learn on the fly in their first taste of Double-A action to boost his team into the postseason.
“They are both very, very young. They’ve only been here for about a week or two; this is all new to them,” explained Franklin. “It’s new to them; how well you can adjust and how quickly you can adjust and figure out what these pitchers are trying to do to you can make all of the difference in the world. I think Sanchez is a good baseball player, I think Mason is a good baseball player and I think they’re going to be able to handle it just as well.”
Thunder Manager Tony Franklin has told his team to not allow the high postseason stakes take them off of their game. Photo By: MiLB
Franklin added, “It’s part of their development. It’s about learning how to do this at this point in the year because if you’re at the Major League level and you’re going to play for a championship-level club; this is what you’re going to be asked to do. You’re going to be asked to perform at this point in the year and you’re going to have to do it well. That is the message that I have brought to them.”
With important offensive cogs like Austin, Slade Heathcott and Andrew Clark on the DL and likely all lost for the season to injuries, the key offensive piece that has remained constant in the heart of the Thunder lineup all season long has been their home run(15) and RBI (61) leader, Kyle Roller. In his first season at Double-A, Roller feels as though the team has worked too hard all season long to lose grasp of their ultimate goal at this late stage in the season.
“This is the end of the year and we have been playing for five months to get this opportunity,” said Roller. ‘This is a grind and we just have to buckle down and play to the best of our ability and leave it all out there on that field for these next ten, or so, games and hopefully we come out on top.”