Nelson Prada would love to see his Williamsport Crosscutters finish at .500 when the New York-Penn League season ends in just over a week. It won't happen, though.
You see, the Crosscutters had a game against Lowell canceled earlier in the year because of rain, so they'll play just 75 games. With an off number of games, the Cutters can either be over or under .500, but not right on the magic line.
Prada said with a team as young as Williamsport put on the field this year, either one would be a positive finish. Williamsport would have to finish 8-3 over its final 11 games to finish above .500 with 38 wins.
"That's one of the points we've been sharing with the guys, it's not how you start, it's how you finish," the Williamsport manager said following batting practice at Bowman Field on Monday. "That's why I think it's important for us to try and finish on a positive note. If we can go 7-3 over the last 10 games and even finished one less than .500, that'd be great. We want to finish the season strong and we want to end the season with a positive note."
Williamsport was 1-5 in its last six games entering Monday night's series opener with State College. And all six of those games had come against playoff contenders State College and Jamestown. Five of the Cutters' final 11 games come against the Spikes and the Jammers, teams which they are a combined 4-13 against this year.
Both Jamestown and State College are significantly older teams than the one Williamsport has put together. The Cutters started seven players Monday night under the age of 20. Only Andrew Knapp, Justin Parr and Logan Pierce - all three college draftees in the June draft - were over the age of 20 for Williamsport. State College started eight players age 20 or older.
In a league which has become increasingly more of a college-aged league, Williamsport has found a way to hover around .500 despite its youth. When 20-year old Gabriel Lino and 19-year Jiandido Tromp were both promoted to Lakewood, they were replaced by 19-year old Herlis Rodriguez and 23-year old Chad Carman. But Carman is the team's second catcher, getting a start every couple days behind Knapp, the team's second-round draft pick in June.
"We're facing college pitchers with 50 or 60 innings under their belt and they're starting to do better against our high school kids," Prada said. "Sometimes our kids are making good adjustments. I think (Dylan) Cozens has been better. I think (Andrew) Pullin has been better. They're 19-year old kids playing against pitchers who are 22 or 23 years old."
Williamsport was 7-6 in June, 15-14 in July, and were just 8-14 in August entering Monday's game. Prada has spent much of the season saying he felt like he had a team which was capable of finishing at .500. Considering last year's team, loaded with more raw, young talent, won just 30 games for the year, this year's Crosscutters team has been significantly better.
"Our chances for the playoffs are very slim now. But at this level, I just want them to improve and get better," Prada said. "We want to finish strong and that's what I expect from the guys."