By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
With a 5 1/2-game lead in the New York-Penn League Wild-Card race, the Brooklyn Cyclones are currently in position to take on the team with the league's best record come playoff time.
That's actually the bad news.
Stedler Division-leading Tri-City (41-14), which would face the Baby Bums in a best-of-three first-round playoff series should Brooklyn fail to overtake first-place Hudson Valley for the McNamara Division crown, took the first of a three-game set from Brooklyn, 6-2, Wednesday night before 5,115 fans at Joseph L. Bruno Stadium.
The Cyclones (34-21), who had a three-game winning streak snapped and fell two games behind the division-leading Renegades with Wednesday's defeat, will play the league leaders five more times over the next eight days in what may ultimately serve as a postseason preview.
Judging from the results in the first meeting of the summer between the two squads, the Cyclones will have their work cut out for them over the next week or so, and maybe again come September.
Tri-City starter Juri Perez (1-0) tossed five scoreless innings, reigning NY-Penn Player of the Week Preston Tucker drove in three runs and ValleyCats shortstop Joe Sclafani had three of his team's 13 hits against Brooklyn's league-best pitching staff, which just sent four of its hurlers to Tuesday's All-Star Game in Mahoning Valley, Ohio.
The 'Cats, who have ripped off five straight wins and are 9-1 in their last 10 contests, hold a comfortable 14-game cushion over Lowell in the Stedler, while leading the race for home-field advantage throughout next month's playoffs by five games over Hudson Valley.
Cyclones fans will remember, albeit sadly, that it was the ValleyCats who derailed their hopes of capturing their first NY-Penn Championship since 2001 two summers ago as the Wally Backman-led Baby Bums posted the league's best record only to fall to heavy underdog Tri-City in the league's best-of-three title series. Last year, the Cyclones had to win nine of their last 10 games to qualify for the wild card, but lost a heartbreaking Game 3 to eventual NY-Penn champion Staten Island in the opening round of the playoffs.
Brooklyn's second-year manager, Rich Donnelly, who skipped attending Tuesday night's NY-Penn All-Star Game to prepare for the big series with Tri-City, watched his offensively challenged squad squnder numerous scoring opportunities Wednesday. The Cyclones went 2-for-13 with runners in scoring position and left 13 men on base, providing less-than-ample support for starter Luis Cessa (3-4), who yielded one earned run on six hits over four innings with five strikeouts and no walks.
First baseman Jayce Boyd went 2-for-5 with an RBI for Brooklyn, which remains at the bottom of the league's offensive rankings with a .233 team batting average and only 230 runs scored through 55 games.
The Cyclones would doubtlessly like to improve upon their sparkling 17-8 road record before leaving Troy on Friday night, not only to boost their chances of catching the Renegades but also to send a message to the best team in the league that they won't be easy prey come playoff time. Tri-City, which is an astounding 23-5 away from home this season, will visit Coney Island for a three-game set beginning Aug. 21.
According the Brooklyn center fielder Brandon Nimmo, the Mets' first-round pick in the 2011 MLB Draft, the Cyclones remain focused on the same goals they began the season with, regardless of where they currently sit in the league's hierarchy.
"We want to compete, win our division and win a championship," he told the Albany Times-Union prior to Wednesday's game.
Winning the division would give Brooklyn a chance to avoid meeting Tri-City in the opening round, placing even more emphasis on the Cyclones' home-and-home two-game showdown with Hudson Valley from Aug. 29-30.
But with Donnelly in charge and the youngest team in Cyclones history en route to the franchise's third consecutive playoff appearance, it's hard to imagine the Baby Bums looking to duck any opponent.
That's not the Brooklyn way.
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This, That and the Other Thing: Despite their lack of run production, the Cyclones rank second in the league -- behind Tri-City, of course -- in home runs with 30. The ValleyCats, who lead the NY-Penn with a .280 team average and 320 runs this summer, have launched 34 long balls to pace the circuit. ... This is Brooklyn's third six-game road trip of the season, which will be capped with a three-game visit to Vermont over the weekend. On their previous two extended trips, the Cyclones went a combined 8-4. ... With his three walks in Wednesday's series opener, CF Nimmo moved just one behind league leader Taylor Dugas (34) of Staten Island. ... SS Phillip Evans and C Kevin Plawecki, the Mets' supplemental first-round pick in the June draft, love Coney Island, and their numbers certainly say so. Evans, who is hitting just .157 in away games this summer, boasts a strong .311 average at MCU Park. Plawecki is hitting .167 on the road and .322 at home.
August 16, 2012 - 3:11pm