BRISTOL - All season long, the Bristol Blues have been getting into close games with any and all opponents.
Through the first 20 games of the season, the Blues were involved in games that were decided by one or two runs 10 times. Six games were decided by a single run, while the other four finished with a two-run lead.
In one-run games, the Blues are just 3-3, while they have a 3-1 record in games decided by two runs. In addition, they have gone to extra innings four times this season, winning two, and forced the Wareham Gatemen into a 6-6 tie in an exhibition game played earlier this month.
For the Blues, one cause of so many close games is the offense. The Blues have been on a skid recently and have not been able to string two wins together since June 15 and 16. That can, at least in part, be attributed to the offense’s inability to consistently manufacture runs.
“When you don’t score a lot of runs, [the games are] going to be pretty close,” Blues manager Pat Riley said. “We haven’t been scoring a whole heck of a lot of runs. We just always seem to play teams close. It’s not necessarily a bad thing but it’d be nice to put up some crooked numbers more.”
The saving grace for the Blues has been their pitching. As of Sunday afternoon, the Blues had the best team ERA in the FCBL and Bristol’s Izzy Fuentes sat atop the league in individual ERA with 0.53.
“Like any team, if you don’t get strong pitching, you’re putting yourself in a hole,” Riley said. “It’s just a huge, important area of the game. It’s crucial to have.”
The Blues’ bullpen has been especially important in keeping games close in losing situations and keeping the other team at bay while Bristol holds the lead. According to reliever Mike Kreiger, winning close games is about staying focused and that is something the Blues have done well this season.
“You’ve got to have a strong mindset all nine innings,” he said. “You’ve got to stay locked-in all nine innings and [I] feel like throughout the whole year we’ve doing a good job of that.”
This summer was the first time doing consistent bullpen work for Paul Versteeg but he has made the most of it, picking up an FCBL-leading three wins and earning a look in a starting position. For him, pitching in close games is a stressful experience because, as a pitcher, he can only try to hold the score and not add to his team’s total.
“It’s all about pressure,” Versteeg said. “It’s tough because it’s basically you’re putting the team on your back as a relief pitcher and holding the game where it is and relying on your teammates to put up a couple runs and hopefully win a ballgame. You can’t put up the runs, you just got to hold the runs.”
In five playoff games last season, the Blues were involved in two one-run games and two two-run games, including their 6-4 loss to the Worcester Bravehearts in the decisive Game 3 of the championship series. With so many close games happening already for the Blues this season, they should be more prepared for postseason-style play when August rolls around.
“It’s only going to make us stronger,” Kreiger said. “We’re just going to go out there and do our thing and hope for the best.”
Josh Kestenbaum can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org