BRISTOL - The 2016 FCBL regular season is drawing to a close but the season is just ramping up for the Bristol Blues, who currently occupy the sixth and final playoff spot and are attempting to hold onto a playoff berth.
“We’re right there but we’ve got to finish strong,” Blues manager Pat Riley said. “We’ve just got to continue to battle and compete every day and try to catch a streak here at the end. That’s been the goal and that hasn’t changed.”
With a 22-26 record, the Blues are less than three games ahead of the seventh place team, which was the Torrington Titans at the time this was written. Now, every one of the remaining games for the Blues has much more riding on it.
“The feeling is good,” Riley said about the mood of the team. “Every game is a playoff game. That’s the way we’ve got to treat it. That’s the way our coaching staff is treating it.”
The Blues have six games in the season’s final five games, in addition to finishing a suspended 17-inning game from last week. Three of the six games will be against the East Division’s Nashua Silver Knights, Bristol’s likely first-round matchup. The Silver Knights are 30-19 this summer and are the second in the East Division standings.
The East Division has been the stronger division on paper this season, with four of the five teams posting better records than the Blues so far this summer.
“It’s very tough. It’s very competitive,” Riley said of the East. “They’ve been playing each other all the time and you see how competitive it is. It was the same thing last year and two teams from our division ended up getting to the championship. You just never know.”
As the last team to get into the postseason, the deck would be stacked against the Blues, who would have to go through a higher seed for the entire playoffs. Building momentum in the final week of the season could help them in the postseason.
“It’s huge,” Riley said. “Baseball’s a crazy sport. It works in ways that you don’t know. We want to catch a streak but we need to catch a streak if we want to get in there and put ourselves in the best situation. We want to finish up strong. [We’ll] see what happens.”
Offense has been lacking throughout the season for the Blues but they will need to snap out of it and put up some runs if they want to win the majority of their final games.
“[It’s] definitely really important heading into the playoffs,” Blues infielder Austin Chauvin said. “It’s just going to give us more momentum. It’ll just keep adding [up], game after game, and hopefully we can just keep it going.”
With the Blues’ standing in the playoff race so precarious, the players feel the pressure but have been able to put it somewhat out of their minds and focus on the games one at a time.
“There’s definitely some pressure there but I think we’re going to perform the best that we can and I think that we can get that last spot if we keep working and everything keeps going our way,” Blues shortstop and third baseman Jimmy Titus said. “We’ve just got to keep hitting the ball the way that we have and pitching has to come through. It’s a game of chance and sometimes the ball doesn’t bounce our way but we’re feeling pretty good right now and I think we’re going to be in a good spot come next week.”
The Blues’ chances to host a home playoff game in any round took a hit on Sunday night, as the team lost 4-1 to the fifth-place Brockton Rox, after being tied 1-1 entering the bottom of the seventh inning. This came on the tail of a 7-2 win two nights before against the Torrington Titans, which gave the team hope that the bats could wake up and get hot for the final week.
“Playoffs are obviously a fun time and we want to be around for it so we’re going to compete to get in there,” riley said. “We’ve got a good team here. It’s just figuring out ways to win and hitting our stride at the right time. We’re going to have to bring the same intensity.”
The Blues players know that momentum is important for any team in this situation and they feel that they are capable of getting hot at the right time.
“It could be anyone right now so, once the playoffs start, I think it’ll be the hottest team,” Chauvin said. “I think it could be us if we keep playing like [we did on Friday]. I think we can make a push here and it’ll be really fun.”
Josh Kestenbaum can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org