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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Analysis: Lack of doing the little things hurting Silver Knights

Nashua Silver Knights manager Ted Currle loves to sort baseball into “stats that matter,” and conversely, “stats that don’t.”

Of course the biggest stat Currle cares about is wins. The Silver Knights, with two FCBL titles and three straight championship series appearances, are nearing the halfway point of their fourth season, and going into the holiday weekend they won only 11 of 23 games. They have 12 losses. Last summer in the regular season they lost a total of 19 games. ...

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Nashua Silver Knights manager Ted Currle loves to sort baseball into “stats that matter,” and conversely, “stats that don’t.”

Of course the biggest stat Currle cares about is wins. The Silver Knights, with two FCBL titles and three straight championship series appearances, are nearing the halfway point of their fourth season, and going into the holiday weekend they won only 11 of 23 games. They have 12 losses. Last summer in the regular season they lost a total of 19 games.

Stats that matter to Currle: on base percentage, walks by pitchers, and hits with runners in scoring position.

“Early on it was walks, pitching staff wise, and offensively,” Currle said. “We only have two or three guys that have a glaring on base percentage that are getting on base on a consistent basis.”

Those would be Matt Sanchez, Mike Pierson and Carson Helms. Going into the holiday weekend, Helms, who missed the start of the season with a hip/groin injury, was leading the team in hitting at .360, while Pierson was at .330 and Sanchez, he of a season-long on-base streak at leadoff, was .321.

The Silver Knights are hitting around .260, nearly 20 points better than a year ago. They’ve already surpassed last year’s 15 home run total.

Still, a long winning streak, the kind that separates them from the pack, has been elusive. Why?

They haven’t been good defensively, don’t hit well with runners in scoring position, and don’t do the smart, little things that need to be done.

“I wish there was a stat for two-out hits, just little things like getting bunts down, moving runners up, getting a sac fly with less than two outs and a runner on third,” Currle said. “Those are the things that matter to me. Stolen bases, on-base percentage, RBIs, walks.

“The nights we win, we do it. The nights we don’t, we lose.”

The ultimate in offensive frustration came back on June 28, when the team lost 12-4 in 11 innings to an inferior North Shore team at Holman Stadium. The Silver Knights left 13 runners on – 11 in scoring position – including second and third in both the first and ninth innings. The team at last look was hitting just .243 with runners in scoring position. Sanchez was at .455, Pierson .371, Helms .313 and pitcher but sometimes DH Mike Geannelis .300.

After that, the drop off, as one might imagine, is huge.

What about the pitching, you ask? It’s been spotty in some instances. Currle is going with a six-man rotation, and the move of Lucas Olen in from the bullpen may help, although the injured pitcher he’s replacing, lefty Tim Viehoff, was holding his own (2-0, 2.25).

Sam Nepiarsky, Shawn Heide and Geannelis all have ERA’s in the mid two’s and three’s. But the back end of the rotation, locals Tom Hudon and Jake Mellin, had struggled mightily, until Hudon snapped out of his funk with superb effort on July 3.

Even after that the pair were heading into the holiday weekend, still a combined 0-5 with Mellin an ERA over 6.00, although Hudon lowered his two runs to 4.43. But bad starts are where winning streaks can stall. Hudon’s one earned run effort over seven-plus innings the other night give the Knights hope.

Last year, they were lights out, a combined 8-1 with a 1.49 ERA (Hudon) and 2.01 (Mellin). That’s a huge difference.

“I didn’t see them enough last year on a constent basis,” said Currle, who was a Brockton coach then. “We need to get better starts from them. ... Hudon was phenomenal (in his last start).”

The team ERA is around 3.60, which is very respectable, but last year pitching was the order of the day at 2.79. The bullpen seems to be chugging along in an efficient manner, with Loudon’s Travis Landry virtually unhittable (five saves, 0.00 going into the holiday).

“We have four or five guys that we’re really comfortable going to in any situation, and a few guys out there need to earn that trust from the coaching staff,” Currle said. “Obviously Landry’s been great all summer.”

Defensively, the team has struggled, with a low point of five physical errors against Seacoast on July 3. It seems to be an issue all over the league, and the team going into the holiday had given up 29 unearned runs, slightly worse than last year’s pace where it gave up 51.

But one play is an example of Currle’s plea to do the little things right: In the fateful eighth inning on July 3, with a man on second for Seacoast and no one out, Knights third baseman Joe Napolitano, Hudon, and catcher Matt MacDowell all converged on a foul pop bunt.

MacDowell caught it, but shortstop Guy Davidson didn’t move over to cover third, and the runner advanced with no fielder there.

But it’s a multitude of things that has prevented the team from being as dominant as the previous three seasons.

“The chemistry’s there,” Hudon said recently. “Maybe the timely hitting, the timely pitching. We can’t put a full game together. When one’s on, the other’s off.

“There’s three aspects of the game – hitting, fielding, pitching. We haven’t had all three click, but we’ve had two of the three click. When we put all three of those aspects together, we’ll be hard to stop.”

Hudson’s most recent start is a perfect example of the team not firing on all cylinders. He pitched, but Nashua couldn’t hit or field.

That long winning streak is what the Silver Knights are waiting for in a league that’s improved again but is highly competitive.

“That’s all it is,” Hudon said, “because anyone can beat anyone here. The league is definitely getting better. We’re getting better hitters from different schools, the pitching’s definitely getting better. Everything. Just the league itself is getting much stronger. But we’ve got to keep up.”

Currle said better fundamental baseball will do that.

“I’ve seen us late in games make mistakes that we normally don’t make, which has cost us a few games,” Currle said. “I’ve seen us give up leads on multiple occasions, or just not get the big hit when we needed it.”

This is the month to make a move.

“July’s going to be different,” Currle said. “We’re going to get hot here and get back to where we’re supposed to be.”