The Heat is On - Sussex County Miners
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The Heat is On

The Heat is On

 Nobody wants to hear another good news—bad news story, but sometimes there’s just no way around it. The Miners’ situation at this point in the season is just a textbook case.

     First, the negatives of the moment, beginning with the obvious that is found in the league standings. After owning the top spot in the Frontier League’s East Division for the first six weeks of the season, Sussex County enters today’s game against the New York Boulders in fifth place with a record of 33-25.

     And then there’s the Miners offense, currently ranked next to last in the East with a team batting average of .254. They’re also next to last in hits, runs and on-base percentage, and dead last in the East in slugging percentage and 40 home runs. (The 12-48 Empire State Greys travel team have 57 homers.)

     Since returning from the all-star break on July 15, the locals are 4-5 and, for the year, they’ve been the third-worst defensive team in the league with a .973 fielding percentage accounting for 40 unearned runs in 58 games.

     Sounds rather bleak when all those numbers are piled up, but there are plenty of positives, as well, and definite indicators that this team can still make a real run at the postseason playoffs and that means starting today.

     True, the Miners are in fifth place at the moment, but they’re just a half game behind the fourth-place Boulders after beating them, 5-0, on Tuesday night. A Miners win on Wednesday would cause the teams to flip-flop in the standings. In fact, the East is tightly packed at the top and Sussex starts today just one game behind the third-place Tri-City ValleyCats in the loss column, two games behind the second-place New Jersey Jackals and three games behind the first-place Quebec Capitales.

     More positives? The Miners have won four straight games heading into today, including a sweep of the Gateway Grizzlies, the first-place team in the West Division. And then there’s the Miners pitching staff, which continues to shine and continues to keep this team alive and in the heat of the pennant race.

     Miners pitchers rank No. 1 in the East and No. 2 in the entire league with a team ERA of 3.76. They’ve given up the fewest hits in the league and the second-fewest runs. In particular, the Sussex bullpen has been absolutely incredible all year long:

     Robbie Hitt is still sporting a 0.00 ERA after 17 appearances, notching 21 strikeouts vs. just 3 walks; Tyler Luneke has a 0.63 ERA in nine appearances, with 18 Ks and 2 walks; Billy Parsons has 19 Ks and 4 walks in 17 appearances and a 0.78 ERA; Jimmy Boyce has 14 Ks and 2 walks in 10 appearances and a 1.29 ERA; Ronnie Voacolo has an ERA of 1.45 in 17 appearances. Now those are all fantasy stats to be sure.

     These are the Dog Days of Summer. It’s time to dig in. It’s time to grind it out. It’s time to sweat. It’s time to produce… It’s time to win games, especially the games that “should” be won against weaker opponents.

     There are 37 games left in the 96-game regular season and these are the Dog Days… time to get things done, time to take care of business. Once they’re through with the current series against New York, the Miners will travel this weekend to scenic Trois-Rivieres to face a struggling Aigles squad that’s in seventh place with a record of 23-27. Of course, nothing in sports is guaranteed and no team ever wants to take any opponent for granted, but the Aigles are obviously a squad that the Jackals “should” beat, at least if they want to make that serious run at the playoffs.

     In fact, Sussex will play nine games against Trois-Rivieres in the coming weeks, first a three-game series this weekend, then another series back in Canada Aug.15-17 and a final series at Skylands Stadium Aug. 22-24.

     The Miners also have seven games remaining against the barnstorming Greys that must fall into the “should win” category for a team with playoff aspirations. The Greys will be back in Augusta Aug. 11-13 and again Sept. 1-3 in the final games of the schedule, after the Miners won two against them June 30 and July 1 before the July 2 game was postponed by rain and will now be made up on one of the Greys upcoming visits.

     That’s a total of 16 games against the Greys and Aigles over the final 37 games of season – “should wins” that become more like “must wins” as the days dwindle down to a precious few.

     DOG DAYS: According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, founded in 1792, the Dog Days of Summer run from July 3 to Aug. 11, when Sirius, known as the “dog star” displayed itself at sunrise. In ancient times, the almanac says, people theorized that the combined heat of Sirius and the sun caused these summer days to swelter.

By Carl Barbati, former sports editor of the New Jersey Herald, Daily Record and The Daily Trentonian.

Photo by Phil Hoops.