WAREHAM - The midway point of the Cape League season has come and gone and the Wareham Gatemen still sit atop the standings.
To preview the second half of the summer, Henrique DaMour, J.D. Raucci, and Cam Stuart participated in the second broadcasters’ round table. In case you missed it, here’s the first round table from earlier this season.
Now, here are their current thoughts on your first place Gatemen:
The most surprising thing of this season has been...
Henrique DaMour (HDM): Offensive inconsistency has been a thorn in Wareham's side all summer. For a team that has blown out good teams like Hyannis (17-3 and 9-0), YD (10-4), Bourne (13-1), and Chatham (+22 run differential in four wins), as well as mediocre teams like Cotuit (8-1), all while holding by far the best run differential in the league (+44 entering July 12, YD in 2nd with +18), the fact that the two worst teams in the league in Orleans and Brewster have held the Gatemen to just 18 combined runs in six games is baffling. The Gatemen live and die by early offensive production, and the offense has shown that it can be one of the best in the Cape, if not the best.
J.D. Raucci (JDR): For the Gatemen to still be at the top of the west division after all the roster turnover they’ve experienced this season is definitely the most surprising part of the year so far for me. We knew that the likes of Andrew Vaughn, Mason Feole, Bryson Stott and Bryant Packard were going to fuel a very strong team in the early part of the season, but even after those four left for Team USA, the Gatemen have still gotten along well. It hasn’t been quite on the level of the 7-3 start that Wareham got off to in its first ten games, but to still maintain its spot atop the division is impressive considering that the Gatemen have probably been the team most harshly hit by departures while other teams continue to add talent.
Cam Stuart (CS): I have been most surprised by the Gatemen’s resiliency this season. They knew right off the bat they probably weren’t going to have three superstars because of the College World Series and Team USA. After that, they lost three more superstars to Team USA. Then, when it seemed like the dust had settled, they lost their best remaining hitter to the same collegiate national team and their ace signed with the Brewers. Yet, through it all, the Gatemen have showed some incredible resolve in keeping up a first place pace and having a “next man up” mentality.
Who has been the first half MVP?
HDM: I did go back-and-forth on this for a while, but I couldn't convince myself to not put down Austin Shenton. He has hit in all parts of the middle of the lineup, and for a guy who has been tasked with being a run producer without a single day off so far this summer, the fact that he is hitting safely in roughly 40% of his at-bats is unbelievable. Hitless games happen to everyone now and again, no matter how good you are at baseball. They are a rarity for Shenton. Especially in baseball, and doubly so in the pressure cooker that is the Cape League, there is immense value in consistency, and the consistency that Shenton has shown at the plate makes him my first-half MVP.
Austin Shenton was the unanimous first half MVP as chosen by our Gatemen broadcasters (via Caroline O'Connor).
JDR: I wavered between Shenton and Joey Matulovich here, but I’m going to give the edge to the Shenton because he gets to play and make an impact every day. Game in and game out, the Gatemen can rely on Shenton to not only reach base a couple of time, but to also drive in his teammates. He is second in the league in average (.386), plus he boasts the second most RBIs in the league with 18 on the season. Shenton has been the most consistent and effective hitter and player on the Gatemen team all season long, so it’s hard to argue that a guy that is just as likely to get on base than not (.495 OBP) isn’t the Gatemen’s first half MVP.
CS: This might not exactly be a hot take but my first half MVP is Austin Shenton. For a guy to still be hitting near .400 as we approach mid-July is nothing short of astounding. With all that turnover in the lineup, it is so crucial to have someone like Shenton just produce day in and day out and be an anchor in the middle of the order. Joey Matulovich’s contribution is not to be scoffed at, but Shenton is still the straw that stirs the Gatemen drink.
The Gatemen will keep up their good play in the 2nd half if…
HDM: Ryan Garcia and Ken Waldichuk anchor down the 1-2 spots in a rotation that has given the Gatemen a fighting chance in every game this year. If the offense erupts early in ballgames, the Gatemen are almost indestructible, and usually roll to blowout wins. If not, they are kept in it by dominant stuff from Garcia and Waldichuk. Joey Matulovich, Mason Feole, and Connor Lunn all did this as well, and with those combined five as a rotation, the Gatemen would have bar-none the best starters in the Cape. But with the Brewers, Team USA, and an innings limit, respectively, taking them from Wareham too soon, Garcia and Waldichuk need to show the same consistency in the four-or-so innings of work they'll be tasked with every fifth game. And for the most part, they have absolutely been up to the task. Waldichuk is more of a power arm, but on any given day, either one will deliver a more than serviceable start. It's going to be up to Will Proctor, Cade Cavalli, and whoever Connor Lunn's replacement ends up being to round out the back half of the rotation that has been the unsung hero of this Gatemen team's success so far.
JDR: They have multiple contributors on offense
The deciding factor in a lot of the Gatemen’s games this season has been the consistency of its offense. It’s a team we’ve seen put up 17 runs against a top-three team in Hyannis and a team we’ve seen scratch just one across versus the league-worst Brewster Whitecaps. If they can figure out a way to be more consistent offensively then the Gatemen will continue to win games in the second half. Even after losing the likes of Vaughn, Stott and Packard from the lineup the consistency has been even a bit better of late, thanks in large part to the fact that the Gatemen are getting contributions from every part of the lineup. Isaac Collins has been red hot over the past week or so and Skyler Hunter has also started to turn it on over the last few games. If Wareham continues to diversify its offensive attack and can get contributions from 1-9 on a consistent basis, it should be just fine moving forward.
CS: Going forward, the Gatemen need a power surge. The big bats have been completely depleted from this team. Not only did they lose Andrew Vaughn and Bryant Packard to Team USA, but they have lost a promising slugger in Parker Phillips to injury and have gotten next to nothing from Lael Lockhart so far. So much of the run production pressure has fell on Shenton, who should not be shouldering that load as that is not his game. He’s been a pure hitter whose RBI numbers have benefitted greatly from Sahid Valenzuela’s outstanding play in the two hole in the lineup. It can not all fall on him. The Gatemen will need more production from guys like Lockhart and Pavin Parks, and they will need it fast.
What is one improvement this team needs to make?
HDM: Someone needs to step up and discover a power stroke. Now, I get that this is a big ask seeing as you don't just "become" a power hitter, especially over a couple of days in the Cape League. That being said, the extra-base power of Bryant Packard and Andrew Vaughn are missing, and the effects have been felt. Well the Gatemen have struggled all summer with leaving that in scoring position, they often were able to do so while scoring over five runs game. Recently, despite increased production from Isaac Collins and Skyler Hunter in the top and bottom of the lineup, the "power" bats in the middle of the lineup have struggled to drive them in on a consistent basis.
JDR: The back end of the bullpen has to better if the Gatemen want to continue their winning ways in the second half of the season. So many times this season, we’ve seen the Wareham pen really struggle in high-leverage situations and that has to stop happening. The Falmouth game last week was the perfect example of how a bullpen can either make or break a game for you. The Commodores’ relievers pitched well, and it ended up helping them win the game. On the other side, the Gatemen bullpen fell apart in the ninth and cost the team a win. With starters like Joey Matulovich and Connor Lunn gone for the Gatemen, the job of the bullpen becomes that much more important because you know longer have the aces of your staff. Look for guys like Tyler Keysor, Ryan Stoudemire and Zach Hart to step up and be the stoppers that the Gatemen need them to be in the latter half of the season.
CS: To keep up this pace, the Gatemen need guys in the starting rotation to step up. Losing the aforementioned Matulovich and Mason Feole would already be huge blows to any team, but add the loss of Connor Lunn who has been one of their most consistent starters and this season could take a turn for the worse. Guys like Cody Carroll, Easton Lucas, and Cade Cavalli will all experience bigger roles in the Gatemen rotation and it is up to them to bring the consistency this team needs to make a deep playoff run.