Bridgewater, New Jersey – Friday afternoon brought forth rain showers to most of the northeast region, but the Patriots capped off a misty night at TD Bank Ballpark by celebrating in champagne showers after a 12-1 thrashing of New Hampshire to clinch the Eastern League’s Northeast division crown for a
Bridgewater, New Jersey – Friday afternoon brought forth rain showers to most of the northeast region, but the Patriots capped off a misty night at TD Bank Ballpark by celebrating in champagne showers after a 12-1 thrashing of New Hampshire to clinch the Eastern League’s Northeast division crown for a second consecutive season.
Somerset trailed Portland in the division by as many as 5.5 games as recently as May 17, but the reigning EL champions have since won 20 of their last 32 ball games and earned a playoff berth to defend their crown once the playoffs roll around in September.
“Since we started spring training, they told me that I was going to have a good team to compete,” said first year manager Raul Dominguez. “There were a lot of questions about whether we would go to the playoffs again and it is going to be a new challenge for you as a first-year manager. It’s not just me, it’s all of the staff; everybody just put the pieces together to win the first half.”
Many things have changed from a year ago – new talented prospects, a new manager, but the story feels very much the same. It was a few of the faces that got a brief taste of glory late last season that fueled the Patriots clinching victory. A leadoff homer from shortstop Trey Sweeney, his fifth in his last sixth games, and a two-run blast from outfielder Everson Pereira in his first at-bat since May 30, set the tone in the first inning and they never looked back from there. Right-hander Matt Sauer was activated off the IL to make his season debut with the Patriots and he fired 4.1 innings of one run ball with five punch outs in the victory.
“This has been such a great experience,” admitted Sweeney. “We’re playing to win every day and we just sealed a spot in the playoffs, so that was our main goal.”
Sweeney added,” I’ve been feeling good all year and I think I cleaned my swing up a little bit that has helped me have success of late. I’m really feeling good and seeing the ball well.”
The Yankees player development staff has a long track record of producing dominant pitching and powerful offenses and that has very much been the recipe for success in the first half for Raul Dominguez’s club.
After action on Friday night, Patriots pitchers under the tutelage of Grayson Crawford, led the league in ERA (3.73), strikeouts (664), runs allowed (273), home runs allowed (50), and WHIP (1.31). The Yankees Double-A affiliates have led the Eastern League in ERA in five of the last six seasons.
Offensively Jake Hirst’s unit blasted a league best 100 homers while drawing an EL high 333 walks. Getting on base and hitting the ball over the wall is the strategy and it has paid off immensely. The Patriots have been league leaders in long balls since they became a Yankees affiliate in 2021.
The playoff format in Minor League Baseball has shifted radically in recent years, going from a full-season slate to splitting the schedule into halves and having the winners of both ends meet in the postseason. By the time Somerset actually took the field to open the playoffs a year ago, many of the key contributors that helped punch their ticket there had already earned promotions to Triple-A and this season is sure to be no different.
Right-hander Will Warren went 3-0 in six starts with a then team-best 2.45 ERA to go with 39 punch outs over 29.1 innings of work. At the time of his promotion in May, Warren was fourth in the EL in strikeouts and his ERA was good for fifth overall amongst qualified pitchers. Right-hander Clayton Beeter missed partaking in the bubbly popping’ by a few hours after being promoted to the RailRiders on Friday. The righty proved to be the ace of the Patriots staff after going 6-2 over 12 starts with a league leading 2.08 ERA and his 76 strikeouts rank third in the EL. While those two huge pieces have vacated the rotation, Somerset has added highly touted hurlers Chase Hampton and Sauer in recent days to go along with ascending righty Richard Fitts, to anchor the staff in the second half.
The Patriots lineup has homered in 22 consecutive games and can parade a lineup that has five players with double-digit home run totals. Infielder Tyler Hardman (14), TJ Rumfield (13), Austin Wells (10), Trey Sweeney (10) and Jasson Dominguez (10) are all on pace for career years offensively and are a huge reason why Somerset has had the amount of success that they have, but that unit too has lost a few key contributors in recent weeks.
After grinding nearly two full years at Double-A, outfielder Brandon Lockridge deservedly received his first promotion to Triple-A Scranton after a strong first half showing for the Patriots. The 26-year-old Lockridge was slashing .313/.395/.510 and was the team leader in stolen bases with 17. Infield Max Burt, like Lockridge, was viewed as a veteran presence and spent much of his last two years in Bridgewater. The 26-year-old versatile infielder earned a well-deserved promotion to Triple-A earlier this week after posting an .817 OPS with seven homers in 39 games.
Somerset will play out the first half slate with two more games against the Fisher Cats this weekend before opening up the second half slate on the road in Bowie next week. The rigors of summer baseball are sure to bring some ups and downs, but one thing is for certain after Friday night--the Patriots will have a chance to run it back.
Matt Kardos | SomersetPatriots.com Beat Writer
Matt Kardos has covered the Yankees minor league system for over a decade and will spend his 11th season on the beat covering the Patriots for SomersetPatriots.com. Throughout his career, Matt has contributed to MLB.com, YES Network and Pinstriped Prospects. When he’s not at the ballpark, Matt enjoys traveling with his wife Kimberly, watching Jets football and collecting sports cards.