NEW BRITAIN - Just weeks after appearing to be buried in the depths of the Liberty Division standings, the New Britain Bees are suddenly right in the mix to claim first place and a first-ever playoff berth.
Does this sound familiar? It should. The Bees didn’t win a game through their first week of the season in 2018, yet stormed back to finish only two games back of the Somerset Patriots for first place. This season, New Britain labored through a similarly sluggish beginning before rattling off a 10-game winning streak that sent the team surging toward the top of the division, only to fade out down the stretch and put itself in danger of missing the postseason once again.
This can’t become a trend for the Bees, who are entering a critical part of the season where it will face teams with losing records over the next two weeks. It’s been tough for the team to watch the first-place Long Island Ducks catch fire at the same time as New Britain, but that’s out of the Bees’ control. Right now, the Ducks are only 3 ½ games ahead of New Britain, with less than a month to play. Can New Britain sustain its hot streak and make a legitimate playoff push without stumbling down the stretch? If it does, a few critical aspects of its game will have to go its way.
What got the Bees off to such a poor start in the second half of the season was their starting pitching. Cory Riordan, fresh off a lengthy arm injury, needed time to rebuild his arm strength and settle back into a healthy routine. All-Star Devin Burke had suddenly lost his way, and Rainy Lara had been struggling. Recently, those names have all turned it around, and new acquisition Akeel Morris has become a valuable starter as well. The Bees have a strong bullpen to handle the late innings in Jose Rosario and Jim Fuller, but those arms were obsolete when the starting pitching struggled to escape the fourth inning. If it can continue this recent uptick in length and production, New Britain could finish off this comeback.
The Bees have also suddenly begun to thrive in close ballgames, winning six of their last eight contests decided by two runs or less. What was once a crippling issue for New Britain has quickly turned into a strength, as the Bees have been one or two big pitches away from being out of reach for the division crown. Instead, they’re still alive, and they’ll have to continue to generate timely hitting and strong relief performances in high leverage situations if they want to stay that way.
The Bees have hope, but it’s fragile given the remaining schedule. There are no games remaining against the Ducks, leaving no direct way to make up ground quickly. But of the team’s remaining 24 games, 16 of them are against teams below .500, with the exception being the Sugar Land Skeeters and High Point Rockers, each of whom the Bees handled last time they faced them. The potential for a big win streak is there, and they might need some help from the Ducks’ remaining opponents, but the Bees aren’t finished yet in the playoff race, despite appearing to be just a couple short weeks ago.
Ryan Chichester can be reached at (860) 801-8094 or firstname.lastname@example.org