Looking back at the Fisher Cats’ championship week

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400 Miles to Toronto: New Hampsire Fisher Cats ColumnThe New Hampshire Fisher Cats are 2018 Eastern League Champions. They easily dispatched the Trenton Thunder in the first round of the playoffs and eliminated the Akron Rubber Ducks almost as easily. If you missed the Eastern League Championship Series, here’s a recap of the past week from Northeast Delta Dental Stadium and beyond.

Around The Horn

Tuesday, Sept. 11 – New Hampshire 3, Akron 1

Wednesday, Sept. 12 – New Hampshire 6, Akron 1

Friday, Sept. 14 – New Hampshire 8, Akron 5

After sweeping Trenton, the Fisher Cats also swept Akron, the first sweep in ten Eastern League playoff series for the Ducks.

If there’s one secret to the Fisher Cats’ success this year, it comes from a Yogi Berra quote: “baseball is ninety percent mental, the other half is physical.” This team certainly had the talent for success, but perhaps more importantly, it had the mindset for success. All season long, the Fisher Cats established a culture of calm almost bordering on nonchalance toward bouncing back from adversity.

It’s hard to point out any down point during the ELCS, with probably the toughest moment coming in the third inning of Game 3, when Jordan Romano allowed two runs, letting Akron tied things up. New Hampshire regained their two-run lead in the bottom of the third and added two more runs in the fourth for good measure. Ho-hum.

New Hampshire came from behind in the first two games of the series. Heck, they either won or forced the other team into a save situation almost every single night for the first two months of the season. Whether it was the slump in early July that saw them fall out of first place, the slump in late August that saw them fall out of first place again, the record-setting 20-8 loss at home to Richmond, or any other number of bad moments this year, the Fisher Cats always seemed to brush it off.

“We all knew we were losing at times, like at the end of the year we were losing a lot, but nobody cared,” said Fisher Cats shortstop Bo Bichette. “Coach (John) Schneider didn’t care, none of the coaches gave off the impression that they were nervous.”

The Fisher Cats finished 2017 with the worst record in franchise history. Although 2018 didn’t hold the best regular season record in franchise history (that distinction still belongs to the 2004 inaugural squad), it’s an understatement to say that this year held a massive improvement.

For holdover players from 2017, the improvement was evident as well. Lourdes Gurriel Jr. came to Manchester late last season and he was in Toronto almost right out of the gate. Sean Reid-Foley also made it to the bigs after a disappointing campaign last year. Jonathan Davis made it to Toronto as well, leaving Manchester after posting the first cycle in Fisher Cats history.

One would assume that Jon Harris has a good shot for a long-term stay in Triple-A after his ERA went down over half a run this season. Patrick Cantwell posted the best numbers of his minor league career, proving that his injury-plagued 2016 campaign in the Rangers organization was not the end of the line for him. Gunnar Heidt actually had better numbers in Buffalo than he did in New Hampshire, scoring a run in four of New Hampshire’s six playoff games. Then there’s Harold Ramirez.

Ramirez saw his batting average jump from .266 to .320, enough to win him the Eastern League batting title, and he won the Eastern League Postseason MVP Award as well, largely on his 7-for-10 performance against Trenton.

On top of that, Fisher Cats manager John Schneider is developing quote a portfolio. Although he didn’t comment on what he sees in his professional future, the results speak for themselves.

After a six-year career as a player in the Blue Jays organization between 2002 and 2007, ending in New Hampshire, Schneider now has nine years under his belt as a minor league skipper for the Blue Jays.

In those nine years, he has more championships (2011 in Vancouver, 2017 in Dunedin, and now 2018 in New Hampshire) than losing seasons (2015 in Vancouver and a 2016 campaign in Lansing where his squad was only two games under .500).

Fisher Cats of the Week

Batting: Forrest Wall – While Ramirez was rightly the MVP of the Playoffs, the best player of the series was Wall. To be fair, Cavan Biggio, Bo Bichette and Jon Berti easily could have taken this award. Berti could have earned it on his Game 3 performance alone (3-for-4, a pair of runs, a pair of RBI).

Wall wasn’t as spectacular, but he was steady, grabbing two hits in each of the Akron games and two walks when he couldn’t get any hits in the final game. Add three runs and a stolen base and there you go. Not spectacular, but certainly consistent.

Starting Pitching: Jon Harris – T.J. Zeuch got the ball rolling with an exquisite performance in Game 1, but Harris put the Ducks on notice that they should abandon any hope of winning this series.

Harris nearly duplicated Zeuch’s gem, adding an additional seven strikeouts to boot.

Relief Pitching: Kirby Snead – Game One, Snead started off with a strikeout in the eighth and retired the side in the ninth. He retired four more batters in Game 2 and helped the Fisher Cats escape the seventh with minimal damage in Game 3.

On Deck

The Fisher Cats return next April, but Manchester Ink Link will have one last look back at this championship season over the next few days, including 2018’s Fisher Cats of the Year.