CRYSTAL COAST CONUNDRUM: Mired in a week-long slump, Marlins now searching for the key to unlock winning equation

CRYSTAL COAST CONUNDRUM: Mired in a week-long slump, Marlins now searching for the key to unlock winning equation

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

When you're a struggling team in the Coastal Plain League, a respite (however brief) from the daily grind can do wonders for both morale and performance.

But what if you're a ball club winning games and surging with momentum?

In those instances, a break in the action can sometimes have the opposite effect as a once-proven routine is suddenly disturbed.

Take for instance the Morehead City Marlins who entered the All-Star Game break on July 9th sitting at a mark of 17-14 overall (a record that largely came to be after victories in four of five between 7/2 and 7/9).

Flash forward over a week and a half later and the Marlins (18-19) now find themselves staggering under the weight that five losses in six games will add to a team's conscience.

If you throw out a 10-9 victory outing against the Florence Redwolves on July 17th at Puck O'Neal Field, the triumphs have been all but absent for MHC since they resumed play on July 14th (two separate one-run, 3-4 losses on 7/15 at Petersburg and 7/18 at Fayetteville have otherwise been the only instances in which the Marlins were close to a win).

The big question(s) now, of course, is what happened to all of Morehead City's offense and most importantly when will it make a return? 

The only problem when you attempt to answer that query is that a glance at the recent stats doesn't necessarily paint as bleak of a picture for the Marlins as what only looking at wins in relation to losses does.

For starters, MHC has a pair of nine plus runs scored outings since 7/14 and in three of the previous six games the team has posted 10+ base knocks (for the sake of comparison, the Marlins had just two games of double-digit run/hit outings between June 18th and the start of the AS break).

Pitching can't be blamed for the recent lapse in wins, either, as the Marlins have seen three hurlers throw five or more strikeouts in half of the games played since July 14th (RHP Sean Mason fired seven K's vs. Peninsula on 7/14, RHP Luke Watts notched nine strikeouts @ Peninsula on 7/15, LHP John Luke Curtis rang up five vs. Florence on 7/17).

Because of the mostly strong mound work for the Marlins' bullpen, defense has been its usual strong self with just one team scoring 10 or more runs against Morehead City in the recent span (Peninsula Pilots with 12 runs on July 14th).

As for the errors (something MHC committed at least one of in 18 of 20 contests between June 20th and July 17th)?

The miscue problem hasn't reared its unpleasant head in the last two (7/18 @ Fayetteville, 7/20 @ Wilmington) as the Marlins have kept the error category zeroed since bumbling three times in the win over Florence last Sunday.

With all that being said, let's take stock of Morehead City both at the plate and on the hill:

Offense?

Toss aside two games in which MHC scored only one run (7/16 @ Petersburg, 7/20 @ Wilmington) and you have a team that's plated three or more in four of five.

Defense?

Righty Luke Watts and southpaw John Luke Curtis keep racking up the strikeouts as the oppositely-handed twin pillars of the Marlins' pen have 95 combined whiffs as of press time. Plus, the unit as a whole sits smack dab in the middle of the CPL's ERA charts at a mark of 4.27 (in other words, no harm and no foul).

If anything could be critiqued about the latter category, it's that the Marlins aren't throwing as many team-wide strikeouts as they did earlier in the season (on 7/1, MHC had 239 K's to their credit which at the time put them just one off the 240 hurled by the Wilmington Sharks; in the nearly three weeks since, the Marlins have bumped their punch out total up to 324 but now lag behind FIVE teams, led again by the Sharks with 365, on the strikeout leaderboard).

16 games over the next two and a half weeks remain in the regular season for Morehead City, nine at home and eight on the road.

While it's just one game of difference, showing up at Puck O'Neal Field (Big Rock Stadium) in the final nine and earning wins in front of their faithful throng is more important now than at any other point this summer for the Marlins if they hope to grab a playoff berth.

It'll be six years next month since Morehead City last punched their postseason ticket (2010, lost in opening round to Edenton Steamers), an altogether different kind of respite that no team wants to endure.

Like the CPL Western Division Asheboro Copperheads, who share the current plight of the Marlins in that they've lost eight of nine (7/7-7/20) to fall from 21-9 to 22-17, there's only one way to go from here: up.

With important home games on Thursday ("Austin Sherron Night", 7/21) vs. Fayetteville (12-26) and 7/23 against Petersburg (14-21), now's the time for the fish to start their own climb back.

Follow the Morehead City Marlins on Twitter/Instagram (@mhcmarlins) and Facebook (Facebook.com/MHCMarlins) for the latest updates on game day.

Give the author a follow on Twitter, too! @The_CoreyHodges