Two weeks ago they headed into Akron just three games out of first place. With the Wolves having the upperhand over Akron all season long, everyone was beginning to think that they would make a strong move for first place during the three game series. Instead, they dropped three straight, then the first three of a four game set against Reading.
With Connecticut (66-48) and New Britain (56-58), the top two teams in the Northern Dvision, in Erie this week, no one expected them to fair much better than they had against Akron and Reading.
This is a club that remains ravished by injuries and promotions. Most observers figured that everything had finally caught up with Erie and that we would witness their slow, inevitable demise over the next six weeks of the season.
Expect the unexpected.
The week wasn't a complete loss. They took two out of three from New Britain, then dropped two of three to Connecticut. However, while they failed to take matters in their own hands by going .500 for the week, they didn't lose any ground either.
Reading also went 3-3 for the week in series against the lowly Binghamton Mets (44-68) and Trenton Thunder (56-58), leaving Erie one game out of the wild card spot in the Northern Division.
Erie will have to fare better this week on the road, as they head to Connecticut and New Britain to get a second chance against each club, if they want to keep their playoff aspirations alive.
"I don't want to say that we are in a must win situation, but this is the time of year where you can't really afford to give away anything. The teams that can grind it out down the stretch are the ones that are going to make the playoffs," manager Tom Brookens said.
"Both of those guys are progressing real well. Strieby took batting practice with the team and said that he felt great," Brookens said. "He actually asked to come back on Thursday, but we have a schedule we like to follow."
Again, who would have thought this was possible?
When Strieby was placed on the disabled list for the second time in three weeks on July 23, most people expected that he would be lost for the season. Now, here he is, ready to make his triumphant return and lift Erie into the playoffs.
For an offense that has hit .196 over the last ten days, getting a guy back that is batting .305/.421/.561 with 17 homers, 14 doubles, and 53 RBI despite missing 27 games due to soreness in his surgically repaired wrist is a huge shot in the arm.
"Getting a guy back like that is always huge. Just having him in the line-up affects the way that a pitcher attacks each hitter. When he's in there everyone sees more strikes," Brennan Boesch, who leads the Eastern League with 24 home runs, said earlier this week.
If either Strieby or Satterwhite are able to return this week, it will be the first that Erie has had a full 24-man roster after the recently retired Josh Kite went on the disable list on July 20.
Reading will also have the opportunity get a second chance at last week's foes, Trenton and Binghamton.
A lot is going to have break right for them to get there. Here's a couple key factors to keep an eye on:
1. September call-ups
As horrible as this may sound, Erie's roster can't afford any more pilfering. At the end of the day, going to the big club is more important than getting in the Eastern League playoffs, but there are a few guys that should be considered for a spot when the rosters expand on September 1, such as: Brennan Boesch, Casper Wells, Cody Satterwhite, Brett Jensen, Ryan Strieby, Zach Simons, and Robbie Weinhardt. Some of those are longer shots than others, but all should at least be considered. Losing any one of those players would seriously hamper their chances, losing two would destroy them.
2. Cale Iorg must get on-base
For whatever reason Iorg has been hitting second in the order. Having a guy with a .270 OBP hitting in the top third of the order is a discussion in itself, but I'm not here to second guess Brookens. He's gotten everything and more out this roster. However, if Iorg remains as the number two hitter down the stretch, he needs to get some hits because we already know that he isn't getting on by taking walks.
3. Brett Jensen needs to find his arm
Jensen was pretty automatic during June and July, posting ERA's of 0.82 and 2.92, respectively, but he's been absolutely awful as of late, getting lit up for seven runs in 3 1/3 innings. This can't last, especially not with a bullpen that is a man short. They need everyone to go out there and do their job.
4. Brendan Wise needs to find his arm
See above, just substitute the automatic statement to the four appearances he made in April and May. His last ten outings: 5.64 ERA, six strike outs, seven walks. Actually, let's scratch the title and make it: Brendan Wise needs to find his seat in the bullpen and stay there no matter what.
5. Weinhardt, Bertram need more playing time
Go with the hot hand. Weinhardt has been absolutely and utterly stellar since coming up to Erie. There's no reason that he shouldn't be getting in there more often. He pitched on July 31 and then not again until August 6. Why? There isn't a better option in that bullpen this side of Zach Simons. He has a 2.65 ERA since coming to Erie. What other options are there? There's Wise, Jensen, Gayhart, Regas, and maybe Garcia, but he's starting right now in the absence of Luis Marte. Those guys have ERA's of 4.73, 2.95, 7.56, 9.00, and 5.98. I know that Glenn Ezell probably has some guidelines laid out for the 23 year-old's arm, but he needs to be getting more consistent appearances.
Bertram has only seen limited time (31 at-bats, nine games), so the sample size is small, but he's absolutely crushing the ball in Erie. So far he has compiled a .323/.382/.677 batting line with two homers, three doubles, and seven RBI. Why is Ronnie Bourquin (.228/.313/.417) getting a longer look?
Brookens says that they are 'pretty much the same player'. Well, I have news for you, they aren't. At least not judging off the early returns. Bertram doesn't seem to mind that he's getting passed over on a regular basis, stating that, "I'm just happy to be here. I come to the park ready to play, if I get in, I get in. If I don't, I don't." He should probably start making some more noise, because I have a funny feeling that he's going to be the odd man out when Strieby gets back.