HOMESTAND PREVIEW: After back-to-back close losses, Marlins set for three-game July 4th weekend slate

HOMESTAND PREVIEW: After back-to-back close losses, Marlins set for three-game July 4th weekend slate

By Corey Hodges (Media Relations Director/Play-By-Play Voice, Morehead City Marlins)

Just one day remains in the first half of the 2016 Coastal Plain League regular season and already the Morehead City Marlins (13-13) have experienced their fair share of down-to-the-wire decisions.

In 10 one-run margin games played so far, the Marlins have won five and lost five (MHC went the same 5-5 mark in one-run wins/losses during the entirety of the 2015 campaign).

The last two narrow clippings for Morehead City have been discouraging not in a defensive sense (Marlins have limited last two teams faced to just four combined runs) but more so on the offensive side of the diamond, a recent rough patch that has caused MHC to drop to fourth from last in the CPL Eastern Division in batting average (.251 as of press time).

Before both Edenton (2-3 loss on June 29th) and Wilson (1-2 defeat in a rain-shortened bout on June 30th) held Morehead City to just five hits in successive games, the previous low-water mark for the Marlins in the base knocks category was a two hit outing against Edenton at home on June 23rd when MHC mustered just one run but gave up nine to the Steamers.

Streaky to start (Marlins won seven of nine, made up of both a three-game and four-game win streak, between June 2nd and June 11th), Morehead City has recently fallen back to earth with losses coming in five of their last seven dating back to eight days ago against the Steamers.

Also missing from the recent offensive equation for the Marlins are double-digit base hits (MHC hasn't had a 10+ knock game since a road meeting in Wilmington against the Sharks on June 16th).

While the bullpen performance as of late has cured some of the cold bat ailments (Marlins righty Luke Watts and LHP John Luke Curtis own 30+ strikeouts each thus far, just two of nine total CPL hurlers who have reached that territory), Morehead City knows they can't continue to rest on their laurels at the plate if they hope to break back above .500 and head into the season's second half (begins July 3rd) with momentum and an eye turned towards a debut postseason appearance.

While the offensive average may have slipped, the Marlins can find solace in one morale-boosting stat: just one strikeout separates CPL-leading Wilmington (240 K's) and nearby neighbor MHC (239) from the league-lead in total ring ups.

Eye-popping defensive performances like the recent one turned in on the mound by John Luke Curtis (nine strikeouts, eight of which were consecutive, for Morehead City in one of those five one-run wins against Fayetteville on June 25th) give cause for optimism but the Marlins' two most recent failings clearly state the obvious need for a return of the early-season hot bats.

In a series that continues to favor the visiting team as opposed to home, MHC fell to Edenton on Wednesday (June 29th) night at Puck O'Neal Field to drop behind the Steamers two wins to three in a season series that is still scheduled for five more meetings to make up 10 for 2016.

While not as stinging as a Thursday (June 30th) defeat due more to Mother Nature than the opposing team, Wednesday's one-run falling at the hands of Edenton still uncovered an alarming trend for the Marlins that has witnessed them slipping behind early in eight of 10 home games contested through 6/29 (for the record, MHC has overcome the early deficit at home four out of eight instances with two of those four coming in walk-off style).

The Marlins couldn't dig back out of their home hole against Edenton on Wednesday despite the star-studded pitching duo of starter Luke Watts (six K's vs. Steamers in 7.2 IP) and reliever John Luke Curtis (1.1 inning of work with two punch outs) each occupying the hill in stages that night.

A top ninth solo homer for Edenton off the bat of pinch-hitter Andrew Hinckley made the difference for the Steamers (10-16) as they grabbed a 3-2 lead and never looked back.

Instead of having another opportunity to mount a rally like they had (but failed to capitalize on) one night prior, Thursday's (June 30th) one-run nipping by Wilson over Morehead City rubbed extra salt into the wound as the Marlins faced a uno-sized deficit but never got the chance to challenge as rain in the away half of the ninth forced an early exit and handed the Tobs (14-11) their second straight W.

Chase Chambers (Tennessee Tech) scored the lone run for MHC on Thursday against Wilson in a shortened evening that also saw a promising performance turned in by the Marlins' pitching trio consisting of starting RHP Troy Nelson (five K's in 4.2 IP), who fell to 0-3 on the season with loss, and relieving right-handers Robert Hayes/Kyle Ramsey (pair combined for six strikeouts in 3.1 frames of bump duty).

Morehead City will try and dust themselves off in preparation of a busy Independence Day weekend homestand that begins Friday (July 1st) and rolls through Sunday, July 3rd.

Play in front of the hometown fans at Big Rock Stadium kicks off on "First Flight Friday" as Holly Springs (Salamanders: 10-15) visit for the first of two meetings in three nights with the Marlins as they'll return to help MHC wrap up the stand on Sunday ("American Pride Night" on the eve of July 4th).

In between two bouts with Holly Springs, Morehead City will tangle with their closest foe in matters of geographical distance as the Wilmington Sharks (15-10, four wins in last five) return to the Crystal Coast to take on the Marlins for the fifth time this season (Sharks lead 10-game series 3-1 with victories in last two matchups).

Weekend-long play-by-play coverage of the Marlins' homestand at Puck O'Neal Field (Big Rock Stadium) can be heard via CPL WebPass (coverage begins each night shortly after 7 PM).

Additionally, fans can follow along with the Marlins on Twitter (@mchmarlins) for inning-by-inning updates.

Follow the author on Twitter, too! @The_CoreyHodges