At this point in the season, there are going to be more questions than answers. But for the Trenton Thunder, there haven’t been this many questions until now.
Is this just a rough patch? Or is this — with apologies to Dennis Green – who we thought they were? Have the Thunder finally been handed one too many injuries, one too many call-ups to deal with? Is this team out of gas from 115 games of overachieving or will they be resilient late in the season just as they’ve been in at the end of so many games this year?
Surely, Tony Franklin’s never say die squad won’t just roll over and, well…die. But it’s also hard to be optimistic given, as Franklin himself put it, the team’s “downward spiral.” Is it an overreaction to a seven-game losing streak by a team that has so spoiled those who follow it to the point where a seven-game losing streak is both a season high or even newsworthy? Probably. It probably is.
Trenton has done more than just get by with a patchwork lineup for most of the season, they’ve excelled. With a roster largely devoid of the so-called top prospects, the Thunder still have 70 wins with 20 games left to play. No matter how this all ends, that’s genuinely impressive. But has that caught up to them too? Is this a bunch of guys having career years that have run out of magic?
The team, as a whole, has struggled lately. What’s left of it, anyway. Star center fielder? Gone. Shutdown middle reliever? Gone. And that’s just in the past week. The bullpen is now heavy on innings-eater converted starter types and while Montgomery is as shut down as it gets, he’s also only available every two or three days.
Adonis Garcia has surprisingly fit in nicely in Mesa’s stead — he wasn’t an obvious candidate for a promotion from High-A Tampa — but doesn’t possess the range in center, the power or the arm that Mesa does. Not many do. That’s why Mesa’s gone.
The rotation — once perhaps the team’s greatest strength – may be the best microcosm of a newfound lack of consistency, not to mention that starters are now starting to be limited at this point in the season. Brett Marshall, the team’s most consistent starter and candidate for Eastern League Pitcher of the Year, is approaching his innings limit and is being cut back for the rest of the season. Mikey O’Brien already got shut down for a start, as did Shaeffer Hall, and each has one iffy start to his name after having done so. Vidal Nuno has come back to Earth a bit over the past few weeks, and Dellin Betances has shown only flashes of the gobs of talent he’s still got.
With Reading stocking up with a seemingly endless supply of talent whether it be via trade (Joseph, Martin) or promotions (Morgan), they appear to be the team that the Thunder need to be most worried about. Not to look past the New Britain Rock Cats, of course…Trenton can’t afford to look past anyone right now, but considering that the Thunder have largely feasted on the teams it should beat and struggled against better competition, perhaps the slow start to the Reading series shouldn’t be a big surprise.
But, even given each team’s placement in the standings, it would be very hard to envision the Thunder getting out of the first round were they to face the Phillies.
But the most important question still remains — Will this team even make the playoffs? For a while, it seemed like a foregone conclusion. Now? The last 20 games will dictate the answer.
Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com