WOODSTOCK – After a sluggish start to the 2018 Valley Baseball League season, New Market appears to be coming alive at the plate now that teams are in the heart of their summer schedules.
Little more than two weeks ago the Rebels were 6-7 and had one of the worst team batting averages in the VBL (they were batting .243 as a team through their first 13 games, ninth out of 11 teams). Heading into Sunday’s all-star game, New Market had raised their collective average to .281, the league’s third-best mark.
The solution to the Rebels’ early season offensive woes, third-year manager Zac Cole said following a loss to Woodstock on Thursday, was an acclimation to the new challenges the Valley League presents to players.
“It takes a little bit for guys to get more comfortable swinging wood, new surroundings,” Cole said, “but also we had some guys that we were missing that were in postseason play that made our lineup a little deeper. So it’s a combination of things. I think at this point they’re more comfortable swinging wood, they’re more comfortable with each other, so they’re starting to take better at-bats. And I think early on we had a few guys that were trying to do too much, so just calming them down and trying to stay within themselves, and you start to see the results get a little bit better.”
Led by a power surge from outfielder Andrew Eyster – who experienced a three-game stretch last week during which he went 11-for-15 (.733) with three home runs, two doubles and 10 RBIs – New Market boasted the third-best team slugging percentage (.414) in the league heading into Monday.
Cole expressed confidence that his team will continue to swing the bats well over the final month of the season, but added that the Rebels must find consistency on the mound and in the field in order to become more than a .500 ball club.
As solid as New Market’s offense has been of late, the pitching continues to be erratic. Though the Rebels boast one of the highest strikeout totals in the VBL (251 total, second-most in the league), they rank in the bottom half in team ERA (5.11), opposing batting average (.284), walks and hits allowed per inning (1.68) and total hits allowed (266).
“Our staff has good stuff,” said Cole, whose team has lost four straight and is now12-14 overall, “and at times we haven’t pitched great to match that stuff.
“It’s just a battle just trying to put it all together and trying to do it consistently every night and get the same effort,” he added. “I think if we do that, we’ll be fine.”
That battle with consistency has been a summer-long struggle for the Rebels. Cole said New Market has played only four games in a row once all season, and during the team’s off days the players aren’t asked to do much in the way of baseball activities in order to avoid “wearing them out.”
That’s made it difficult to get into a rhythm and a routine, Cole added, echoing a complaint that’s been commonplace during a VBL season that experienced a steady number of rainouts through the first month.
“We’re gonna keep battling,” Cole said. “We’ve gotta try to find some consistency but I like our team, we like our team. We’ve just gotta quit riding that roller coaster.”
New Market enters Monday – an off day after the team’s originally scheduled game against Charlottesville was postponed to July 23 – in fourth place in the North Division and 5 ½ games back of first-place Front Royal.
The Rebels have been more fortunate than most in regard to rain-outs this summer, and Cole said he’s hoping his team can benefit from not having to cram makeup games into the latter half of its schedule.
“We’ve gotta use our freshness to our advantage and be able to try to gain some ground, maybe catch Front Royal,” Cole said. “… And then it’s just a matter of staying healthy. At this point in the summer, these guys have been playing since January, so it’s just a matter of staying healthy and managing that side, making sure we’re taking care of them, not asking them to do too much, (that) we’re getting the right amount of work in and making sure we’re getting good performance out of them.”