Down the stretch they come: Cyclones try to reel in first-place Renegades

The Brooklyn Cyclones have plenty to brag about 50 games into the New York-Penn League season.

The Baby Bums own the best pitching staff on the 14-team circuit, have won all but eight of their first 25 road games, hold a comfortable five-game lead in the hunt for the league's lone wild-card spot and had reeled off five consecutive wins prior to Wednesday night's 4-1 loss at Lowell.

But in baseball, as in life, the past is simply prologue.

The 12th season in the thus-far proud history of Brooklyn's Class A short-season franchise by the sea might ultimately be defined by how the youngest Cyclones team ever responds to the blistering heat on Coney Island coupled with the pressure of a genuine McNamara Division race over the final 26 games, beginning with Thursday's rubber contest of a three-game series at Lowell.

Despite their recent resurgence, which features eight victories in their last 10 games, the Cyclones (31-19) can't seem to make up any ground on the red-hot first-place Hudson Valley Renegades, who have emerged victories in nine of their last 10.

Three games back with 26 to go hardly seems like an insurmountable deficit, but Brooklyn will only have two more opportunities, Aug. 29 at Hudson Valley and Aug. 30 at MCU Park, to test its mettle against the Renegades head-to-head.

Led by their four All-Star pitchers, the Cyclones have already taken six of their first eight encounters from Hudson Valley, but the teams haven't met since Brooklyn posted a 7-3 win at Dutchess Stadium on July 18. That victory gave the Cyclones what would prove to be a short-lived two-game lead over the Renegades, who have gone an incredible 17-3 since last stepping on the same field with the Baby Bums.

Fortunately for Brooklyn, second-year manager Rich Donnelly is no stranger to dealing with the pressure and excitement that accompanies a fantastic finish.

Last season, the Cyclones were seemingly out of contention for a NY-Penn playoff spot as late as the 24th of August. But steeled by its sage skipper, the owner of a World Series ring as the third-base coach for the 1997 Florida Marlins and a veteran of nearly three decades of major league experience, Brooklyn inexplicably caught fire.

The Cyclones won 10 of their final 11 games to grab the wild card and took eventual champion Staten Island to a third and decisive first-round playoff game before dropping a heartbreaking 1-0 decision to the archrival Baby Bombers. Donnelly probably won't have to worry about the Yankees for the rest of this summer as Staten Island has been relegated to playing spoiler down the stretch due to a league-worst 16-33 record.

But the Renegades and Stedler Division-leading Tri-City ValleyCats (36-14) may have something to say about how successful the Cyclones will be in their ongoing pursuit of the franchise's first championship since sharing the crown with Williamsport following their inaugural 2001 campaign in our fair borough.

As far as Donelly is concerned, his club still has miles to go to prove it can be the last team standing come September.

“I’m kind of a harsh judge," he noted. "I want them to be more consistent. I don’t want them to make mistakes, foolish mistakes. I’m always looking for a perfect game. I don’t know if I’m going to get it, but I’m looking for it."

“They’re young and they’re like stallions," added the 65-year-old manager. "They’re a little wild once in a while. They’re enthusiastic. It’s a good group, but they have a long way to go. We have a lot of freshmen here."

The Cyclones appeared poised to continue reeling in the Renegades after taking the series opener from the Spinners, 1-0, on Tuesday night behind the brilliant pitching of recently selected All-Star right-hander Gabriel Ynoa.

Fellow All-Star Luis Mateo (4-4) wasn't able to extend the Baby Bums' winning streak to six, however, surrendering four runs  only two earned  on seven hits over six innings, despite striking out nine without issuing a walk Wednesday.

The 22-year-old right-hander, just the second Cyclone ever to win two NY-Penn Pitcher of the Week awards in a single season, didn't get much support from Brooklyn's league-worst offense, which has produced only 190 runs through the first 50 games.

The Cyclones managed four hits off three Lowell pitchers, including only one against Francisco Taveras (4-1), who picked up the win in relief with 5 2/3 strong frames. Brooklyn's hitting woes in the clutch also continues as it went 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position and left seven men on base.

From now until Aug. 29, when the Bums will kick off their final home-and-home regular-season series with the Renegades at Dutchess Stadium, Brooklyn will just have to "keep punching" as Donnelly is fond of saying.

"As lousy as we're hitting, we're right there," he noted on the team's previous homestand.

In three short weeks, the Cyclones will be back in the ring with Hudson Valley, hoping to deliver the blows that will put them on top of the McNamara Division.


* * *

Enjoying his hottest stretch of the season, Brooklyn center fielder Brandon Nimmo hasn't played since Sunday after getting hit by a pitch.  Eagle photo by Bill KotsatosThis, That and the Other Thing: CF Brandon Nimmo, the Mets' first-round pick in the 2011 draft, was enjoying the best stretch of his first season as a professional before getting hit in the right shoulder with a pitch during Sunday's rain-shortened 8-0 win over Auburn. Nimmo, who was batting a sizzling .372 (16-for-43) with six doubles, a homer and five RBIs over his previous 10 games, was drilled in his first plate appearance by Doubledays starter Brett Mooneyham. Though he stayed in the game before the rains came in the eighth inning, Nimmo hasn't hit the field since and is listed as day-to-day, according to the Cyclones' media relations department. ... The Cyclones will be back in Brooklyn on Friday to kick off a three-game series with Vermont.