If ever there was a time for the Everett AquaSox to stay hot, that time is now.
Everett is on a roll, having won the final three games of its series against Spokane last week, and with six games at league-leading Eugene beginning Tuesday, the Sox need to keep that momentum going to have any chance of earning a postseason berth.
“It was a really good series,” Everett manager Eric Farris said about the home series against Spokane, which the Sox won 4-2. “It was nice coming off last week’s finish against Vancouver and then winning a series against Spokane, which we’ve had a lot of tough games against this year. We played some good baseball this week, so we’re very happy.”
With just two weeks remaining in the season, Everett sits at 25-29 in the second half (56-63 overall), which puts them in fourth place in the Northwest League’s second-half standings, 8.0 games behind the first-place Emeralds. So catching Eugene is a longshot at best.
However, Everett at least has a glimmer of hope — provided the Sox can stay hot in their upcoming head-to-head matchup against the Emeralds. It will require something special, probably a sweep, so every game counts.
“The messaging for us is to finish the season strong and try to keep winning series,” Farris said. “Eugene is a very tough matchup, obviously they’ve been rolling all season. But I think coming off the way we’ve been playing the last eight games, we have a chance to go and take some games from those guys.”
Everett doesn’t necessarily have to finish ahead of Eugene to snag a playoff berth. The Emeralds won the first half, so they already have a spot in the league championship series wrapped up. If Eugene wins the second half as well, then the team with the next-best overall record advances to the playoffs.
However, that may prove as difficult a task as passing Eugene. Everett is also fourth in the overall standings, 6.5 games behind second-place Vancouver and 5.0 games behind third-place Spokane. Vancouver and Spokane play seven games against one another starting Tuesday, so it’s going to be hard for both teams to lose enough games for Everett to slide by both. Vancouver ends the season against Eugene, Spokane ends against Tri-City, and Everett finishes with Hillsboro.
At least Everett has one of its top bats back for the push. Outfielder Spencer Packard returned to the lineup last week after missing more than two months because of a hamstring injury. Packard was leading the team in OPS at the time of the injury, and he picked up where he left off by batting .316 with a home run in four games against Spokane.
Players of the week
Hitter: James Parker. The 22-year-old infielder, who was selected by the Seattle Mariners in the eighth round of the 2021 draft, had his best week of the season as he batted .368 with five runs, two homers and five RBI in the five games he appeared in. The highlight came in Saturday’s 3-2 victory, in which he hit a tiebreaking solo homer in the bottom of the seventh inning which stood up as the winner.
Pitcher: Jorge Benitez. Jordan Jackson has a case after picking up two wins, but Benitez gets the nod for the work he did in tight situations. The 23-year-old left-handed reliever, who was drafted by Seattle in the ninth round in 2017, threw 2.1 hitless innings over the course of two appearances, walking one and striking out six. Those appearances came in the highest-leverage situations possible as he preserved one-run leads on both occasions to earn a pair of saves.
The week ahead
Everett hits the road for a six-game series against Eugene beginning Tuesday. The Emeralds, who are an affiliate of the San Francisco Giants, are 33-21 in the second half (71-46 overall), 1.5 games ahead of Vancouver. Eugene is coming off a 3-3 series split at Tri-City. Everett is 7-11 against the Emeralds this season.
Eugene, like all the teams in the Northwest League, has lost a substantial number of its top players to promotion. One player who remains, however, is highly-regarded shortstop prospect Marco Luciano. Luciano (.285 batting average, nine homers, 25 RBI), who’s considered the Giants’ top prospect by MLB.com and is ranked No. 17 in all of baseball, recently returned after missing two months because of a lower-back strain. The top remaining starting pitcher is left-hander Nick Swiney (4-4, 3.11 ERA, 101 strikeouts and 39 walks in 84.0 innings).