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Brooklyn runs for wild card

Look out, New York-Penn League: Here come the Brooklyn Cyclones!

After a disappointing start to the season, the ‘Clones vaulted themselves back in the playoff race by ripping off 15 wins in their last 20 games as of Monday’s press time, improving their record to 33-26.

Though still five games behind the McNamara Division-leading Staten Island Yankees – who themselves have played superlative ball recently – the ‘Clones have positioned themselves to make a run at the playoffs via the Wild Card.

With 17 games remaining in the season, Brooklyn trails the Jamestown Jammers by two games and the Hudson Valley Renegades by one game in the race for a Wild Card playoff berth. It is a much better predicament for Brooklyn than three weeks ago when they were five games behind the Wild Card pace.

Pitching has carried the Cyclones all year. For the second straight year, Brooklyn boasts the league’s best staff, allowing 3.44 runs per game. The next best, Staten Island, has allowed 3.59.

Credit for the team’s knack for preventing runs also goes to the Cyclones fielders. The team’s fielding percentage of .981 is best in the league, while their Defensive Efficiency Rating – a statistic measuring the percentage of balls put in play that become outs – is second at .670.

But as good as the pitching and defense have been, Brooklyn’s hitting has been almost as bad. The ‘Clones are last in the league with 3.68 runs per game. The next worst are the Vermont Lake Monsters at 3.91.

***

The week began last Monday in Brooklyn, where the ‘Clones sought to take the rubber game of a three-game set against the Batavia Muckdogs, an upstate New York affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals.

Brooklyn jumped out to a first-inning lead, and pitchers Pedro P. Martinez, Jimmy Johnson, and Yuri Santana took it from there, combining to allow only one run in the series-clinching 2-1 victory.

It was pitching that carried Brooklyn the next night as well, as recent draftee Chris Schwinden continued his excellent start to his professional career by allowing 2 runs in 6 innings, pitching his team to a 6-2 win.

Next up for Brooklyn were the defending NYP League champion Auburn Doubledays, a Toronto Blue Jays affiliate named after Abner Doubleday, the Civil War general credited – many people believe erroneously – for inventing baseball.

But in the series’ first game, it appeared that the ‘Clones left their bats in Brooklyn as they mustered only one run in a 3-1 loss.

They made up for it the next night, however, by exploding for nine runs in a 9-1 win.

One of the many offensive heroes of the night was outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis, a 2008 3rd round draft pick who went 4-6 in the game to continue his run as the team’s hottest hitter.

Among Cyclones with over 100 at bats, Nieuwenhuis – who hits in the leadoff spot in the order – leads the team with a .300 average, and is tied for first with a .371 on-base percentage with fellow 2008 draftee Eric Campbell.

With another series victory in hand, the ‘Clones headed to back to Brooklyn for a three-game series against the Tri-City Valley Cats, a Troy, NY-based affiliate of the Houston Astros.

After rain postponed Friday night’s game, the teams split a double-header on Saturday, with Pedro P. Martinez coming through with his second strong outing in a row in Brooklyn’s game 2 win.

Sunday’s rubber game was sent into extra innings when Brooklyn’s Sean Ratliff hit a solo home run in the bottom of the ninth – his second homer of the game – to tie the game at 5.

Two Valley Cats errors in the 12th inning helped Brooklyn push across the game-winning run, allowing the hot Cyclones to take another game and another series.

***

Congratulations are in order for Brooklyn’s three NYP League All-Star selections, who appropriately are pitchers.

Starters Brad Holt and Chris Schwinden, along with closer Jury Santana, represented the ‘Clones at the All-Star game on August 19 in Troy, NY.

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