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534 Main Street
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Mahi Gold Outfitters

465 Main Street
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The Full Count: Players to watch in the final 10 regular season games

by Anthony Dabbundo, 07-22-2019

The Full Count: Players to watch in the final 10 regular season games

The Full Count is five weekly observations and analysis about the Chatham Anglers, published each Monday.

Sunday’s All-Star game and Monday’s scheduled rest day provided a much needed reprieve for a Chatham team that hadn’t had a true day off since June 27. And even on that day, all of the A’s hitters and some of the pitchers traveled to Fenway Park for a workout. 

The Anglers have no scheduled off days remaining. They’ll play 10 straight regular season games starting with Brewster on Tuesday. Following the end of the regular season, the Cape League’s East Divisional Series begins. Sitting in first place, Chatham is in prime position to secure home field advantage, rest its pitching staff in the final days and tinker with the lineup in preparation for the playoffs.

1. Alex Toral’s (Miami) season has completely turned around in the last few weeks. At one point this summer, the lefty slugger was slashing .130/.259/.261 and struggling to find base knocks. He’s since provided an important bump to the middle of the A’s order and kept their offense afloat with crucial two-out hits. Toral points to a seventh inning single against Hyannis on July 14 as a key turning point. 

The Harbor Hawks walked Ben Ramirez (USC) in front of Toral, and Toral hit a two-run single that gave Chatham the lead. He’s been arriving early to work with hitting coach Mickey Tettleton in the cage and try to improve some swing mechanics.

“I’m trying to stay flat through the zone,” Toral said. “I had a tendency to try to lift some balls when I first got up here. If I stay flat, good things will happen.”

Since July 11, Toral is 9-for-19 with nine RBIs, the most RBIs of any A’s player in that stretch. His most recent hit was perhaps the most consequential because it came off a southpaw. Toral is just 2-for-17 against lefties in Chatham, but he’s hoping to see more at-bats against left-handers. After all, Toral actually had better splits in the spring at Miami off lefties than he did off right-handers.

“Playing time off lefties has been so small here,” Toral said. “But hopefully with tonight’s hit I get a couple more starts off them and can keep going from there.”

2. Jamal O’Guinn’s (USC) return to the lineup one game before the All-Star game provides a much needed boost for Anglers’ manager Tom Holliday. O’Guinn was the A’s best hitter for the first half of the season, but started to slump prior to a minor injury during Tuesday’s batting practice against Brewster. O’Guinn said he felt a tweak in his oblique and was scratched from the game. 

“It’s tough not playing baseball,” O’Guinn said. “It’s what you come here for. And when you can’t do it, it’s not fun.”

Because of rainouts, O’Guinn missed four days in total, but just two games. He returned to the lineup as a late addition on Saturday and mashed three hits in four at-bats, raising his batting average 20 points to .292.

“Honestly, not playing, there’s nothing to think about when you’re hitting,” O’Guinn said. “There’s no yesterday, the day before, or what I want to do.”

3. Colin Hall (Georgia Tech), like Anglers All-Stars Jorge Arenas (Stetson) and Ben Ramirez (USC), has improved his numbers across the board in his second season on the Cape. Hall spent his part of his 2018 summer with Hyannis after his freshman season at Georgia Tech. In 30 at-bats, Hall hit .167. 

“I think a few weeks ago, I’ve started feeling good with the wood bat and it’s translated to my game,” Hall said. “You come up here expecting to do well and sometimes baseball will kick you in the butt.”

Now with Chatham in 2019, Hall has been a consistent fixture in the A’s lineup and one of the most important players over the last three weeks. He’s raised his average from .167 to .243. When O’Guinn missed Tuesday’s game against Brewster as a late scratch, Hall stepped up and bunted for a hit.

“It’s about being able to trust my work routine with Mickey,” Hall said. “We’ve been working a lot on standing up taller in my stance. A lot of big leaguers stand up straight and then go down into it.”

Holliday said on Saturday that the A’s offense has a “Jekyll and Hyde thing” going on, and Hall’s ability to get on-base at the bottom of the Anglers lineup has sparked two different rallies in the last week. The A’s outfield isn’t nearly as deep as the infield, and Hall should be an important piece in Holliday’s rotation going forward.

4. Austin Vernon (NC Central) had his most impressive outing of the season on Saturday as he got the win against Harwich. Pregame, pitching coach Dennis Cook informed Vernon that he would serve as the closer for the final two innings. With two outs in the seventh, Vernon began tossing in the bullpen.

He entered the eighth with the game tied, and induced two weak ground balls and a strikeout. Vernon fielded his position well on both grounders, throwing the runner out for one and taking it to first himself for the other. 

His fastball hit 96 on the radar gun on the Veterans Field scoreboard and his curveball baffled the Mariners hitters. Vernon said he thought he did a better job of establishing and locating his fastball, after he had his worst outing of the season in the prior appearance against Hyannis. 

“I love having the ball in those situations,” Vernon said. “It’s a straight adrenaline rush, I want to go win the game.”

When he came out for the ninth inning now with a two-run lead, Vernon was untouchable. He struck out the side and secured the A’s win.

“I haven’t seen him go get the last out like he did right there,” Holliday said postgame. “They had no shot. His stuff was electric and it got us a big win.”

A’s closer Dawson Merryman (Texas) has established himself as the Anglers closer, but Vernon could be an important piece to getting late outs. It’s a role he’s used to after he served exclusively as a late-inning and high-leverage reliever at North Carolina Central.

5. Saul Garza (LSU) couldn’t have expected much more from his Cape League start. The recently added A’s catcher arrived late to the Cape following a broken toe and the Tigers’ run to the NCAA Super Regional. Chatham now has four catchers, and two of them are hitting .290-plus. Brady Smith (Florida), Garza and Keaton Rice (Bradley) have established themselves as three go-to catchers as Holliday tries to keep all of them fresh and healthy heading into the playoffs.

Garza is slashing .333/.412/600 through 15 at-bats in five games. The LSU catcher spent his freshman year at Howard Junior College, hitting 23 home runs. But after a knee injury early in his first season in Baton Rouge, his power numbers with the Tigers were down significantly upon return.

Since the midway point of the season, his power has surged again, hitting five home runs with the Tigers. His slugging has followed him up to the Cape and adds another big bat to a lineup that has struggled for power in recent weeks.