By: Nick Galle
After finishing the regular season with single-digit losses (24-9-3) for the first time in franchise history, the Braves are set to take on the Cotuit Kettleers this weekend in the first round of the playoffs.
Bourne won the season series, winning three of five games against Cotuit. Over those five games, the Bravos outscored the Ketts 27-19 and won 13-1 in the teams’ most recent meeting on Aug. 2.
In what looks to be an eventful best-of-three series, here are seven things you should be on the lookout for in this West Division battle:
1) The revamped Bourne bullpen
After losing Cade Smith, Dylan Bowers and Trystan Vrieling over the past week and a half, field manager Harvey Shapiro had to scramble to find arms for the playoff push, and he did just that.
Hector Alejandro, Trystan Levesque and Garrett Coe were all signed and activated Aug. 4, and Matt Jachec was signed and activated on July 31 before making his debut just two days later against Cotuit as the starter.
Smith only threw 6 1/3 innings for the Bravos, but Vrieling was valuable as a starter and out of the bullpen, while Bowers was getting increasingly better with each and every relief appearance. Asking Alejandro, Levesque and Coe to give Bourne quality innings right out of the gate is a tall task, but one the triad of newcomers is going to have to be up for if the Braves want to make it to the championship series.
2) Mike Roberts’ aggressive tactics on the base paths
It’s no secret that Cotuit head coach Mike Roberts will do whatever it takes to baffle defenses on the base paths.
From situational bunting to the explosive jump lead at second base to the controlled jump lead at first base, chances are Roberts is often going to reach into his bag of tricks this weekend.
Those chances increase when you take a look at Bourne’s roster, which now only has one primary catcher in Peter Burns. John Garcia was released on Tuesday night, leaving Burns and Dalton Rushing, who has spent most of his time at first base this season, to assume behind-the-plate duties.
Assuming Rushing spends most of the series at first, Burns is going to be carrying the majority of the workload behind the dish. If the Boston College product finds himself fatigued by a potential Game 3, look for the base paths to open up for the Kettleers.
3) Hunter Jump finding his stride
Hunter Jump is one of the newest additions to this Bourne team, and through his first five games, the soon-to-be Kentucky Wildcat has gone just 1-for-18 (.056).
Although he has struggled at the plate, Shapiro has often put him right near the heart of the lineup at the five or six spot, showing that he still has faith in the 5-foot-11 outfielder.
The average might not show it, but Jump has made a lot of solid contact since he’s been on the Cape, but the balls he puts in play are simply just finding opposing fielders. He hit .289 with two home runs and 30 RBIs this past season at Arizona State, so it’s not really a matter of if he’s going to find it’s groove, it’s a matter of when.
With nearly 20 at-bats under his belt and a couple days of rest, look for Jump to peak at just the right time for the Bravos.
4) Quinn Matthews getting the nod in Game 1
There are some questions as to who starts Game 1 of the series for the Ketts, but Quinn Matthews is a fairly safe bet.
Jake Brooks’ name has been tossed around, but the right-hander gave up three runs in 4 2/3 innings last time he faced Bourne, and Dalton Rogers, who posted a 2.76 ERA and made four starts, was released Wednesday.
In four starts this summer, Matthews has given up just three earned runs in 17 1/3 innings, good for an ERA of 1.55. He’s also given up 10 hits, walked 11 and struck out 22 batters here in 2021, so look for the 6-foot-4 lefty to take the hill to open the series.
5) Michael Sansone’s effectiveness in first game against an opponent
Michael Sansone has been great all year, but he’s arguably been at his best the first time he sees an opposing lineup.
The Fairfield Stag has really only been roughed up once this year, and it was in his second outing against the Gatemen. In games where teams are seeing him for the first time, Sansone has gone 13 innings, given up six hits, two runs (1.38 ERA), walked just one and struck out 14.
The Kettleers have yet to see the crafty left-hander this summer, so look for Sansone to fall back on his changeup while casually mixing in the fastball. While he might not be one of the harder-throwing arms on Bourne’s pitching staff, his high usage rate of the changeup makes it seem like the velocity on his fastball is higher than it actually is, a strategy that resulted in an All-Star selection for the Cheshire, Connecticut, native.
6) Zach Agnos becoming a playoff form of Shohei Ohtani
We saw Zach Agnos pitch for the first time this season on Tuesday in Hyannis, and it might not be the last time the East Carolina Pirate takes the mound in a Bourne Braves uniform.
Agnos went 8-3 with a 1.78 ERA during his prep career, so he’s no stranger to the bump. His fastball was sitting at 92-94 mph after a limited warm-up session, and there’s been some chatter that he could be coming out of the bullpen in the playoffs.
It’s also important to note that Agnos’ glove has been extremely reliable over at third base, so he won’t exclusively be coming out of the pen. Look for him to continue to spend the majority of his time in the lineup, but do not be surprised at all to see the Haymarket, Virginia, native serve as a two-way player for a couple of innings in this series, and here in the postseason.
7) Starting pitchers to go deeper in games
Shapiro has often let his starters go four to five innings at the very most, with Jachec recording the first six-inning start earlier this week.
But expect that to change here in the playoffs, especially in this series.
If a starter is in the zone, expect Shapiro to let him keep working. Pitch counts might get thrown out the window as the Braves look to earn a title for the first time since 2009.
With a lot of new faces in the bullpen, the starting pitchers for this series are going to be the guys that have been on the Cape since the beginning, or at least for a significant period of time. Those are the guys that are going to be expected to eat innings, so keep an eye out for some outings that last into the seventh, or ideally the eighth inning with an eager Cotuit team looking to top the No. 1 Seed in the West.
Galle’s Ideal Game 1 Lineup
- 1) CF – Joe Lampe (.269)
- 2) 3B – Max Anderson (.283)
- 3) 1B – Dalton Rushing (.314)
- 4) SS – Tanner Schobel (.302)
- 5) DH – Ben Huber (.375)
- 6) 2B – Christian Knapczyk (.321)
- 7) RF – Colby Thomas (.228)
- 8) LF – Hunter Jump (.056)
- 9) C – Peter Burns (.182)
- P: Michael Sansone (4-0, 2.07 ERA)
Cover photo via: Joe Sullivan