Courtesy of an impressive second-half winning stretch, the Myrtle Beach Pelicans are heading back to the Carolina League playoffs. The Birds enter the postseason for the sixth-consecutive year after clinching a berth last week in an extra-innings win.
Now, with the roster intact and prepared to defend 2015’s Mills Cup Championship, the Pelicans are faced with one big conundrum — what needs to happen to bring yet another trophy back to the beach?
To start, they can look to the following three keys.
Rely on the infield duo of Flete and Bote
Infielders Bryant Flete and David Bote provide two key focus points in the nightly Pelicans lineup for the rest of the season. Where they go, overall team results will follow.
Flete, the 23-year-old left-handed hitter, has been in the Cubs organization since 2011 and is compiling some of his best career numbers during his stint with Myrtle Beach. Since being promoted from South Bend at the end of July, Flete has regularly provided fireworks.
Despite playing in just a fraction of the team’s total games, Flete is leading the team in on-base percentage with an impressive .420 mark. Add in his run-producing potential and Myrtle Beach has a legitimate thick-of-the-order threat for the rest of the way.
Bote’s consistency puts him atop the list of “Most Valuable Pelicans” for the 2016 season. His knack for finding scrappy ways to get on base has been invaluable for the Pelicans throughout the year.
If he continues to hit above .330 for his season total (he reached his peak, .346 last Friday), the threat for opposing pitchers will continue to be substantial.
Continue to dominate on the hill
Throughout the season, the backbone of the entire Myrtle Beach process has been the pitching performance on the mound.
The Pelicans have been steadily topping the Carolina League charts when it comes to pitching stats; there’s been consistency, even though plenty of roster shifts.
With the season coming to a close, it appears Myrtle Beach will end up leading the Carolina League in regards to both ERA and WHIP (walks/hits per inning pitched).
Even more impressive, it’s not just the starting arms who have contributed to the dominance.
The bullpen totaled 47 saves as of Tuesday, most in the league by a wide margin.
Pair that number with the fact that the Pelicans are allowing home runs at a league-low rate, and the late-season prospects appear favorable. If continued trends follow along during the beginning of the playoffs, another championship might not be too far away.
Keep feeding off of Bailey’s experience
When it was announced that manager Buddy Bailey would be at the helm for the 2016 season, few around the Myrtle Beach team considered this managerial switch a negative situation.
Taking the reins from Mark Johnson over the offseason, Bailey has instituted his baseball-first mentality to perfection. The players are focused, well-prepared and balanced. There’s a level of “fun” that is critical to any baseball clubhouse, especially in the minor-leagues.
Staying loose is critical for any player to succeed in the low-level pro baseball climate. And being the baseball lifer that he is, Bailey knows how to keep his players steady and confident.
Many would say his ability to run a player-friendly clubhouse is a reason to the team’s sustained 2016 success.
With that atmosphere in there’s no reason to believe the Pelicans aren’t in the best of hands to make yet another championship run.