By Jason Upton // Bells Beat Writer
The Bellingham Bells team that started the season 4-4 is not the same squad that rode a 10 game win streak en route to a 13-1 stretch. As a reward for their strong play, the Bells clinched the number one seed in the North Division before June even ended, and will have home field advantage come the playoffs in mid-August. There have been several factors that propelled the club to owning the best record in the WCL, so let’s take a look at a few of the key components.
The Bells’ road to success has started, and ended, with their stellar pitching. Their league-wide domination is clear from watching them play, as any die-hard Bells fan will tell you, but it’s even more evident on the stats sheet. Through July 10, the Bells lead the WCL in nearly every significant team pitching statistic.
They have the lowest ERA (2.47), the least hits allowed (204), the least home runs allowed (6), the most shutouts (4), the most strikeouts adjusted per-game (9.3), rank second in saves (10) and hold opponents to a jaw-dropping .203 batting average, lowest in the league.
“You’ve got to give them credit, because they really buy-in to what we preach and they have a lot of confidence,” pitching coach Carlos Arroyo said of his staff.
Christopher Campos, whose main duty has been manning third base and shortstop, even leads the league in saves (4) at his secondary position as the team’s closer. Campos has yet to allow an earned run this season.
Diving further in, they have two of the three pitchers tied for most wins in the WCL (Ryan Beitel and Nate Clow each have four) and Trevin Hope has the lowest ERA in the league, which sits at a ridiculous 0.59 through five starts.
Staying on the topic of Hope, the Bells’ ace is making a real bid for Pitcher of the Year. The award, won last year by former Bells star Eric Chavarria, is still a month away from being awarded, but Hope is the clear front-runner. Besides his absurd ERA, he’s tied for sixth in K’s (30), sits undefeated at 3-0 and has walked just three batters in his 30 innings pitched.
Hope also holds opponents to a .190 batting average against (BAA), which is third in the league behind teammate Austyn Coleman, who ranks first in the league at .172 BAA.
The Bells’ hitting has been solid, though inconsistent, but their pitching has been the real anchor of the team’s success through the first half of the season.
New Bats Producing Early
The Bells have had the luxury of adding some big bats to their lineup as the season has progressed. Their opening day lineup when they lost to the Springfield Drifters is a far cry from their current one, and a big reason for that was the college baseball playoffs running through mid-June.
A major factor that contributed to the team’s 10 game win streak was the additions of Jack Van Remortel, Christopher Campos and Cole Hage during the first series against Wenatchee. From their initial sweep of the AppleSox, they went 13-1 over their next 14 games.
“When you have quality individuals like that, that not only make a difference on the field, but in the clubhouse, their impact is felt immediately,” coach Adam Geaslen said of the various mid-season additions to the team.
Hage and Van Remortel have added some significant power at the plate for the Bells, with both combining for 8 of their 17 home runs thus far. Van Remortel leads the team in RBI’s with 22, 10 more than the next closest Bell, and Hage leads the team in batting average at .388.
Campos has been a dependable starter from day one, with positional flexibility that would make any coach green with envy. As stated before, he’s able to play third base or shortstop, and can take the mound in the ninth inning with a screaming fastball that regularly reaches 93-94 miles per hour. He also made himself into a fan favorite with his walk-off RBI single in the Bells’ 2-1 home win against the Lefties on June 21.
Back to the topic of pitching, the Bells were also able to add a trusty starter in Randy Abshier from the University of Arizona, who has yet to give up an earned run after four starts and 14 innings pitched, through July 10. He’s been excellent in filling Cooper Barnum’s slot in the rotation, who has been dealing with some forearm tightness, according to Geaslen.
Barnum has been out for nearly a month now with no return date set, though Geaslen believes there’s a solid chance of him returning for the playoffs. He was superb to start the season, at 1-0 through three starts with a 0.96 ERA to his name.
Wins in Key Series
The Bells have proved their worth against some of the premier teams in the league. The turning point in their season was the first series against Wenatchee, where they outscored the AppleSox 16-1 in three games at Joe Martin Field.
This wasn’t against any sort of slouch offense either; the AppleSox rank first in the WCL in batting average, second in runs and third in RBI. They also have three of the top seven league leaders in batting average, headed by shortstop Joichiro Oyama who leads the league in hits, runs and stolen bases. Oyama was limited to 2-11 batting with no runs scored in that initial series.
Another key series that the Bells won was on the road against the Corvallis Knights. The Knights won the South Division in the first half of the season to clinch a postseason spot, and kicked off the season on a nine game win streak. Against the Bells, they lost two of three in a competitive series that may have been a potential finals preview. Over the course of the series, the Bells drew over twice the walks that the Knights did (18-8), putting their control from the batter’s box on display.
Quality at-bats like these have been key to the team’s success, Coach Geaslen noted.
“Whether it be early in the count, in their two-strike approach, they commit to being tough outs,” Geaslen said. “And that’s vital, it led to winning close games, continuing the streak, that sort of stuff.”
The Bells have taken a massive weight off their back by clinching a spot in the playoffs, but they still have half the season to go. The team is gearing up for the postseason, tasked with balancing their attempt to carry this momentum into the playoffs and giving ample rest to their key players, specifically on the pitching staff.
“Now, it’s about lining things up for the playoff run,” Geaslen said. “The schedule that we play is grueling on these guys, it’s so many games in so few days, that it really takes a toll on them physically and mentally as well.”
Make no mistake, Geaslen and the Bells will give it their all for the remainder of the season, with an incredible amount of talent on this year’s team that should make for an electric July and August in Bellingham.