PREVIEW: Manistee Saints still in league title hunt

Manistee pitcher Cam Fewless (32) delivers against Oil City earlier this season. Fewless will start the first game in the Saints’ four-game weekend series at Rietz Park on Saturday. (News Advocate file photo)

Manistee pitcher Cam Fewless (32) delivers against Oil City earlier this season. Fewless will start the first game in the Saints’ four-game weekend series at Rietz Park on Saturday. (News Advocate file photo)

MANISTEE — After taking a week off, the Manistee Saints find themselves in the thick of the Great Lakes United Baseball League title race.

The Saints are two games behind the two teams tied for the league lead, Oil City and South Central.

Those two teams play each other this weekend, which makes Manistee’s home series against the Midland Tribe at Rietz Park this weekend a potentially huge one.

A Saints sweep of the 3-11 Tribe is not only very doable, it’s essential to Manistee’s league title hopes.

“It’s a big weekend,” Saints manager Tyrone Collins said. “We’re right there where we want to be, and we control our destiny. We had a week off, so we’ll come in well rested.”

Collins said that the week off was most welcome, to allow the players time to heal and recharge.

“We had probably four of five guys who were nursing this issue or that issue,” he said. “Having that time off, they should come back ready to go.”

Saints fans will hope that the time off did not cool the teams torrid bats. The Saints are batting .273 as a team this season, and have five players batting .300 or above, with two regulars still above the .400 mark.

Alex Strickland leads the team with a .458 batting average, a team-high 19 RBI and an OPS (on-base percentage + slugging average) of 1.335. In comparison, only Babe Ruth and Barry Bonds have had a season with an OPS above 1.300 in the history of major league baseball.

Nick Brzezinski is tearing it up at the leadoff spot, with a .408 batting average, an OPS of 1.060 and 22 runs scored in 80 plate appearances.

Roddy MacNeil (.364), Lucas Richardson (.333) and Preston Shazri (.304) are the other Saints hitting .300 or better with at least 6 games played.

Strickland and Shazri each lead the team with three home runs.

“We have a really good group of ballplayers who take pride in what they do,” Collins said. “Those top five or six guys work very hard at their craft. I can guarantee you they’ve been to the batting cage six or seven times in the last ten days, so they’ll come in ready to go.”

On the mound, Manistee will start Cam Fewless (0-2) and Levi Irish (1-1) on Saturday and Robin Van Orden (4-1) and Tyler Waslawski (3-0) on Sunday.

Fewless gave up four runs on two doubles and five walks in his first inning as a Manistee Saint, but since then he’s been rock-solid, giving up just one hit and one earned run while striking out 10 batters in the 10 innings pitched since.

Irish has notched 11 strikeouts and has an ERA of 4.74 in 10 1/3 innings pitched.

Van Orden is the workhorse of the staff, with an ERA of 1.02 in a team-high 34 1/3 innings pitched, having struck out 36, and Waslawski has a nearly as gaudy 1.62 ERA and 10 strikeouts in 13 innings pitched.

Collins said that winning a league title is foremost in the minds of his squad.

“It’s been a long time since that’s happened,” he said. “It’s certainly within our grasp, but we’ll need some help along the way, too. We’ve got to take care of our business, we’ve got to win the rest of the games in our league, and we’re certainly capable of doing that.”

First pitch for both days at Rietz Park is scheduled for 1 p.m.

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Posted by Scott Yoshonis

Scott is the sports editor of the Manistee News Advocate. You can reach him at (231) 398-3112 or syoshonis@pioneergroup.com.

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