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The Full Count: The final week of the regular season, Hueston Morrill's emergence and more

by Anthony Dabbundo, 07-29-2019

The Full Count: The final week of the regular season, Hueston Morrill's emergence and more

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

For the second-straight season under manager Tom Holliday, the Chatham Anglers are going to the playoffs. The A’s won eight of nine games in the midst of one of their wildest weeks of the season that featured a tornado and multiple ejections. It concluded with the A’s clinging to a one-point edge over Yarmouth-Dennis in the East Division standings.

The A’s have five games left, and need a combination of three wins and Y-D losses to clinch the top seed. Starting with Harwich on Monday, Chatham will try to find the delicate balance of winning games and playing good baseball, all while preserving health and pitching before the playoffs kick off on Friday night.

1. Most Chatham players enjoyed two consecutive off days on Sunday and Monday due to the All-Star break. Then, they received an unexpected third day. A tornado and severe thunderstorms rocked the Cape on Tuesday afternoon. Lefty pitcher Mason Hazelwood (Kentucky) said he was woken up by a tree being uprooted from his host family’s house as it leaned against the house and his bedroom. 

Holliday’s back windshield cracked and shattered in the high winds, but that didn’t stop him from working with the Anglers media team, head groundskeeper Robbie Grenier and bullpen catcher Jeff Korte to clean up Veterans Field. One passerby said it was just the fourth tornado on Cape Cod in 70 years. 

“The storm that came through, I’ve seen worse storms, but not up here for sure,” Holliday said. “When you think about how it affects us, we got another day off.”

While a tree did fall on the batting cage beyond the left field fence, the Chatham Fire Department arrived and cut up the tree, allowing Grenier and Holliday to remove the debris and get the batting cage back to normal again. As for the frozen goodies that were going to melt without power at the field, Holliday and the A’s two broadcasters — Josh Schaefer and Cooper Boardman — passed out ice cream to the elementary school children playing at the playground down the first base line.

Most of Chatham, including Veterans Field, received power back on Wednesday, and Thursday night’s home game with Yarmouth-Dennis — a 4-3 Anglers win — played as scheduled.  As stunning as it sounds, the Anglers have now had games cancelled or called early due to: fog, rain, lightning, hail, darkness and a tornado.

2. Saturday night’s game against Cotuit was one of the most heavily contested games of the summer, and not on the scoreboard. The Kettleers jumped on the Anglers early for three runs in both the third and fourth innings and cruised to a 10-3 victory to snap Chatham’s four-game winning streak. But aside from the scoreline, Holliday and pitching coach Dennis Cook were both ejected from a game for the first time in their two years on the Cape.

The arguing about the home plate umpire’s inconsistent and “floating” strike zone began in the first inning when Cotuit manager Mike Roberts received a warning from umpire David Viveiros for arguing balls and strikes. 

In the third inning, though, Holliday and Cook questioned a ball on a 2-1 pitch from starter Daniel Federman (Miami), and Holliday was ejected. Later in the fourth, Cook was stunned to be thrown out after a mound visit to replace Federman when Holliday said he didn’t question the umpire or use any foul language.

Federman said it was one of the worst strike zones he’d ever seen. His catcher Charlie Welch agreed.

“We sit over there ask him about one pitch, he gets all huffy puffy about it,” Holliday said. “The game kind of shifted at that moment.”

As Cook and Holliday sat out in left field and watched the rest of the game, Hazelwood and Cole Ayers (State College of Florida) took over the pitch charting duties. Randy Whistler became the acting manager and handled lineup card changes and mound visits for the final four innings. 

Chatham had built too much of a deficit to rally but the increased energy was notable. Every A’s hitter was on the edge of the dugout, reacting to every pitch. The loudest roar of the night came on Welch’s two-run double in the fourth.

3. If Chatham is going to make a deep playoff run, its bullpen will be a key reason why. During the A’s eight wins in nine — their best run of the season that propelled them into first place — the bullpen has led the way. 

Chatham’s relief pitchers threw 37.2 innings and posted a 1.45 ERA with 39 strikeouts and 17 walks. The A’s main crop of secondary pitchers, typically throwing three-to-four innings behind the starter, is a product of Holliday’s pitching management plan.

“We’ve stuck to our plan,” Holliday said. “We haven’t made starters think they have to go seven or eight innings. We trust them. We’ve scored enough runs to cover that up. We’ve got a small bullpen and they’ve been really good.”

Austin Vernon (NC Central) threw two of the most dominant innings of the season on July 20 against Harwich, striking out four to get the win. Jeremy Wu-Yelland (Hawaii) slammed the door on Y-D on Thursday with 4.2 shutout innings one day after Hazelwood and Dawson Merryman (Texas) combined for four hitless and scoreless innings on Wednesday.

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

As Holliday shortens the depth of his rotation, the success of the Anglers bullpen will be critical to holding leads and preserving deficits for the A’s classic seventh inning rally that has defined their season.

4. Hueston Morrill’s (Oklahoma State) breakout emergence in the last few weeks provides an important option for Holliday in the middle of the infield. He now has two reliable second basemen including Tyler Doanes (West Virginia) and a good relief for usual starting shortstop Ben Ramirez (USC). Morrill has flashed the glove across the entire middle of the infield. Despite a few errors in his first few games at short, he hasn’t made an error in three weeks and he’s become a mainstay in the Chatham lineup. 

“He loves to play,” Holliday said. “When he shows up at the ballpark, this is what he wants to do for a living.”

In the last five games, Morrill is 8-for-19 with four runs and an RBI. After a two-hit day Wednesday against Y-D, Morrill started in the leadoff spot on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. He’s in a role he played at Oklahoma State in the spring, developing into an everyday player for the Cowboys.

“I’ve always told myself if I’m in the leadoff spot and I can get on, something good is going to happen,” Morrill said. “It’s worked out a few more times this year, you have to trust the guys behind you too.”

5. Holliday has stressed the entire season that the East Division is his top priority. Chatham’s three most-likely playoff foes — Y-D, Orleans and Harwich — has been shut down by its pitching. The Red Sox are one of the league’s top offenses, except when they play the A’s. Y-D is 25-for-177 this season in six games, scoring 10 total runs and slashing .141/.235/.164. 

The Anglers most likely first round opponent is Harwich, who Chatham is 3-2 against this season, but has allowed just 13 runs in five games against. Harwich has found more success than Y-D, but not much. The Mariners have a .201/.305/.242 slash line with one home run. 

For the Red Sox and Mariners, who hit .269 and .231, respectively, the Anglers pitching has been the reason they are a combined 8-2-1, and 5-0 at Veterans FIeld against both. Kolby Kubichek (Texas) will start game one of the playoffs, he said. With Kubichek and the other starters, it won’t take much for a currently stagnant A’s offense to propel them into their second-consecutive Championship Series.

If Chatham wins the East Division playoffs, its best chance to win will come from its pitching and defense. Holliday has said that five-to-six runs needs to be enough to win in the Cape League, and the Anglers pitching has shown it can make that number hold against its three most likely playoff foes.