Fisher Cats stubbornly maintain top spot in EL East

The Eastern League All-Star break is here and the New Hampshire Fisher Cats cling to a tenuous lead atop the EL East. Emphasis on tenuous. Here’s a look back at the past few days from Manchester and beyond.

Erratic offense

So far this season, the Fisher Cats’ fate has rested largely on their offense, but that offense became inconsistent over the last few games before the break. New Hampshire’s final June contest marked the first time they failed to score any runs this season, with things slipping from there.

The Fisher Cats bounced back on July 1 with a shutout of their own, marking the last time New Hampshire outhit an opponent for seven days. They mustered only one win in that stretch thanks to timely home runs from Harold Ramirez and Cavan Biggio on July 3.

Despite that recent overall offensive inconsistency, exacerbated by the loss of Jonathan Davis for several days from an undisclosed injury, there were still bright spots.

Biggio and Ramirez each had two more home runs over the week following the July 3 game, while Connor Panas hit safely eight straight games against Trenton and Reading. Indeed, New Hampshire’s struggling offense might have been moot on July 2 if not for four unearned runs off a pair of errors

in the seventh.

Faltering bullpen

But the diminished offense and flashes of poor fielding paled in comparison a total implosion recently from the bullpen.

Every New Hampshire reliever gave up at least one run during past two series, allowing a walk-off extra-innings win to open the Trenton series and blowing leads in four of the five games against Reading.

Things got so bad for the relief corps that during the 13-3 loss on July 5, infielder Nash Knight pitched the ninth. He gave up a run too. It’s Always Darkest Before the Dawn

The Fisher Cats’ nadir came on July 7, an 8-7 loss to Reading that easily could have been a win.

New Hampshire regained the lead in the seventh and building it into a three-run lead an inning later.

With two outs in the ninth and two men on, Andrew Case entered what seemed to be a seventh save in eight opportunities this year. Instead, he immediately allowed an Austin Listi blast toward left centerfield.

Listi’s ball wedged itself atop the outfield wall padding, just a few feet short of a home run. One run scored, and Zach Green provided a three-run homer for Reading in the next at-bat, erasing New Hampshire’s lead.

However, the ‘Cats seemed poised for a stunning comeback half an inning later. A Ramirez two-out single putting the speedy Davis on third. That gave Biggio a chance to mirror Green’s heroics, a chance he took.

On the first pitch of his at-bat, Biggio lined a shot to right. Davis scored, and Fisher Cats manager John Schneider waved Ramirez home. Although it appeared Ramirez dodged Deivi Grullon’s tag at the plate, umpire Chris Scott called him out. Schneider, incensed, stormed into Scott’s face, refusing to let Scott off the field for several minutes despite an almost immediate ejection.

One day later, New Hampshire came back with a vengeance with a 14-2 win that included scoreless relief from three separate Fisher Cats and a nine-run eighth that saw 14 men come up to the plate.

That July 8 win, along with a 3-2 Trenton loss in Altoona, put New Hampshire back into first place by half a game. Fisher Cat fans will have to wait and see if that momentum holds when the squad heads to Portland on Thursday.