Trenton, New Jersey - If it all comes down to pitching, there are many who might say the advantage goes to the New Hampshire Fisher Cats when the Trenton Thunder face them in the playoffs.
But the players must play and they cannot lay down their desire and ability to win. Anyone can beat anyone. And while the Thunder have an uphill battle facing the Fisher Cats top three in their rotation, they remain a focused, tight unit.
The wall they must break (conjuring Rocky IV there?) is the Fisher Cats top pitcher and Eastern League Pitcher of the Year, Kyle Drabek. The Blue Jays top prospect has been tough for the Thunder to hit.
The Thunder will likely see a righty-heavy rotation of Dellin Betances (0-0, 2.61), Adam Warren (4-2, 2.88) (pictured second), and Andrew Brackman (4-7, 3.21) against the Fisher Cats. But the Fisher Cats are not indestructible: their 4.13 team ERA is fifth in the Eastern League, while the Thunder have a collective 3.61 ERA. Results are obviously reflective of the pitching the Thunder had in July and August, but while the Fisher Cats haven't lost anyone, they have their weaknesses. Trenton's hot offense has lately been highly successful taking full advantage of mistakes and seeing the ball well.
Ambidextrous pitcher Pat Venditte made a scoreless debut on Thursday in the Thunder's final home game. Any question you ask him about this very useful baseball gift, he's been asked a million times. But he's patient and generous, despite what must be a repetitive script for him.
"I've been doing it since I was three. My dad is the one who got me started with it," he said. "I don't have overpowering stuff on either side, so if he didn't do that, I wouldn't be here today."
As a sidenote: Venidete has a fan club you can check out at http://patvendittefanclub.com/
Also on Thursday, Thunder reliever Josh Schmidt was awarded the Ace Hardware Pitcher of the Year award. Schmidt has flown under the radar for a long time in the Yankees organization, but the two-time Eastern League All Star's efforts in 2010 have been plenty. You can pull out your Yankees top prospect list and he's likely not on it. But what he's able to do and could do in an opportunity with the Yankees, could be showcased in the playoffs. In 45 appearances he has a 2.86 ERA.
The bullpen will need Schmidt to keep coming through with the loss of George Kontos, who was transferred back to Triple-A Scranton on September 1st. In 17 games he had a 3.38 ERA for Trenton.
Manuel Banuelos (pictured above, right) made his second start for Trenton Thursday, but was lifted after 4 2/3 innings due to a high pitch count.
Speaking on Warren after he arrived in July from Class-A Tampa, Thunder manager Tony Franklin immediately liked what he saw.
"He's very composed on the mound. He has a very strong arm. He had a plan of attack and I liked that," Franklin said.
Hector Noesi and Lance Pendleton, Pendleton almost undoubtedly the ace of that staff, were promoted to Scranton as well, so the rotation, as it stands must pull together in the final stretch to get ready for a tough Fisher Cats rotation.