NEW BRITAIN - What a difference a week can make.
Eight days ago, the New Britain Bees were hanging eight runs on the upstart High Point Rockers to secure their 10th win in a row, which at the time represented the longest active winning streak in professional baseball. After a slow start, the win streak had thrust New Britain right back into the Liberty Division race, with a pair of crucial series against the Long Island Ducks and the Rockers (both ahead of the Bees in the division) on deck.
Fast forward one week, and the Bees have dropped five of six entering Friday, slipping back closer to the .500 mark while still sitting 5½ games back of first, looking up at the three other teams in what has become a brutally tough Liberty Division.
What changed so quickly?
New Britain’s 10-game surge was hardly cheap or easily earned, considering four of those wins came against the Rockers, who currently boast a record of 24-15, which would put them a half game back of first in the Freedom Division. Rather, the Bees have gone cold as the bats have cooled down, once again struggling to put together rallies, an issue for the team earlier in the season, when manager Mauro Gozzo pleaded for more timely hitting from his group, which seemed to drop one or two-run games on a nightly basis before the sudden winning streak.
Prior to the Bees’ streak, the team had suffered 12 losses on the season, and eight of them had come by one or two runs. New Britain as a whole averaged 4.5 runs per game during that span, coming up short of bailing out a pitching staff that currently holds the second-highest team ERA (4.57) in the Atlantic League. Those pitching numbers were masked when the Bees started winning games on a nightly basis, largely because the team’s bats started to outhit its mean, putting up 7.6 runs per game during the streak.
Some of the games during that span included wins of 9-8, 13-9, 8-6 and 8-6, as the offense outslugged opponents that were trying to capitalize on a New Britain’s pitching staff that has allowed the third-most home runs (36) in the league despite throwing the second-fewest amount of innings (309 1/3). The pitching output hasn’t changed much in the past week, but the offense has, slipping back to its normal season mark by averaging 4.4 runs per game over the past six contests, almost exactly the same mark as the team had through the first 20 games of the season, and that includes an 11-run outburst against the Ducks on Tuesday night, before regressing for a 7-0 loss on Thursday.
Perhaps that presents part of the Bees’ problem this season, recent 10-game streak aside. The Bees rank second in the league in runs scored and OPS, yet their record doesn’t reflect that. As Gozzo has said before, the team isn’t getting timely hits on a consistent basis, instead dropping close games while occasionally breaking out for a long-awaited hit parade.
New Britain answered its manager’s call through a span of two weeks, but that hot streak has settled down to a simmer. The Bees managed just two runs in their loss to Long Island on Wednesday night, while starting pitcher Rainy Lara allowed four home runs to sink New Britain deeper into its recent skid.
Of course, the Bees can turn it back around as quickly as they did when their 10-game surge began. Given that the team is still within reasonable distance of the division lead, another streak would vastly help their chances of remaining in the race for the first half title. To do so, the bats as a whole will have to pick it back up.
Ryan Chichester can be reached at (860) 801-5094 or firstname.lastname@example.org