Scrappers fall, but manager looks at silver lining

NILES – Fifteen games remain for the Mahoning Valley Scrappers, and by the looks of their record, it would be easy to say that the season has been a disappointment.

After Friday night’s 4-1 loss to Williamsport, the Scrappers now sit 10 games under .500 at 25-35 and are all but mathematically eliminated from the playoff race.

Earlier in the season as the Scrappers were struggling, manager Ted Kubiak said he wasn’t very concerned about how they were or would perform in June or July. Like every season, the team comes in raw and he knows the adjustment to professional baseball, especially playing everyday, is a difficult task.

Kubiak said what interests him most is how the team plays in the last two weeks of the season. By this point of the year, players should be acclimated to the wooden bats, but the grind of playing 74 games in two-and-a-half months can be wearing. Kubiak believes that even though the team’s record doesn’t show it, they’ve adjusted nicely to the professional level.

“They’re better prepared as professionals,” he said. “I think they’re handling things in (the clubhouse). The things on the field, you know we’d like to see more runs, more hits, and all that stuff, but as far as scheduling, doing the things they need to do, and handling themselves as baseball players, they’ve been great. They’ve been battling, they haven’t given up, they’re playing as hard as they can… you can’t ask for anything else.”

The Scrappers’ struggle to win games this season is not surprising when compared to the stats around the league. They have the third-worst batting average in the NY-PL at .237, just four points higher than the league’s worst. Mahoning Valley’s pitching has been better than its hitting, but not by much as they hold it holds the worst ERA in the league.

When comparing the first 17 games of the season – the entire month of June when they went 6-11 – to the last 17 games, their line scores have declined offensively. They’ve tallied the exact same number of hits with 137, but have scored 16 less runs. Defensively, they’ve actually given up four less runs, but have allowed 24 more hits and committed two more errors. Although the team has had its share of struggles, Kubiak acknowledges the team’s professional attitude and demeanor.

“We’ve actually played better the last week or so,” he said. “I don’t like where we are from the stand point of the standings but I think overall, from what I’m looking at from them, this may have been the best group I’ve had at these younger levels with regard to (being professional). I’ve had other clubs that may have played a little better, but from that standpoint they’ve been doing a good job.”

One reason for the decline in play, when one would think the team should be improved, can be attributed to the fatigue players experience playing every day for the first time in their lives. NY-PL all-star Taylor Murphy has had his fair share of slumps this season, but has turned it back on the last week. He is batting .400 in the last six games, but hit only .151 in the 13 games prior.

“It takes its toll playing everyday,” Murphy said. “Your body gets beat down a little bit. Even if you’re strong up top, you don’t think you’re tired it starts to show that you are. You feel a little fatigued. We just finished our college season and now we’re out here playing another 60 games or so. You don’t feel tired, but all of a sudden your swing lags a little bit, or your arms hang a little bit and it starts to show.”

After the final two weeks conclude, the Indians organization decides where the Scrappers will be headed next. Murphy said his hopes are to get sent to the instructional league in Arizona where players receive more individual training and attention, but as the season wraps up, his focus is still on the season at hand.

“(My expectations are to) finish strong, play well as a team, stick with the approach, not always get result oriented (and) come out everyday with the same idea … stay consistent,” Murphy said.