One Step Closer To Clinching

August 31, 2010

Excellent relief pitching led the way as Tacoma defeated Colorado Springs on Monday night, 6-3. The Rainiers cut their magic number to clinch the division down to four.

Tacoma has a 3.5-game lead with seven games remaining. The Rainiers truly control their own fate right now: win a few games, and it should be all over. Check this out:

  • If the Rainiers go 3-4 in the final seven games, Salt Lake only wins if they go 7-0.
  • If the Rainiers go 2-5, Salt Lake has to go 6-1.
  • If Tacoma struggles to a 1-6 down the stretch, Salt Lake still must go 5-2.

And of course, four Tacoma victories clinch it no matter what Salt Lake does.

Last night it was the bullpen that secured the win. Steven Shell pitched three scoreless innings, and Josh Lueke pitched a shutout ninth. Greg Halman and Rob Johnson each had two hits and two RBIs, with Halman launching his 31st home run.

Tonight’s game is at 7:00, and as I type this there is an April-like drizzle going on outside. The game is set to be played – it would take a lot to get a rainout at this time of year. Tacoma will start RHP Yusmeiro Petit (3-2, 5.72) against Sky Sox RHP Ching Lung Lo (0-0, 0.00), who will be making his Triple-A debut. Lo was a reliever in Class-AA so he’ll probably only pitch a couple of innings. The broadcast will air in the usual spots: 850 AM, and streaming via www.tacomarainiers.com.

Some links:

  • The News Tribune sent Ryan Divish to Cheney to write the Rainiers game story. He focused on Mauricio Robles.
  • Mariners manager Daren Brown is working on fundamentals with the major league squad. Also in this notebook, Larry LaRue gives his opinion on who will be called up. The Mariners had some baserunning issues yesterday.
  • There is lots of news in the PCL today. First and foremost, Salt Lake outfielder Peter Bourjos won the PCL Rookie of the Year award, garnering 10 of 32 possible votes. The release says that Greg Halman received votes. I actually voted for Bourjos’ teammate, Mark Trumbo.
  • Speaking of Trumbo, he launched two home runs yesterday to claim the league-lead with 33. Salt Lake beat Fresno, 15-11, but the Bees chances of catching the Rainiers are slim. Fresno’s Eric Hacker got lit up.
  • Sacramento took a two-game lead over Fresno in the South by beating Las Vegas in the bottom of the ninth inning in a classic minor league fashion: a walk-off wild pitch. Sacramento pitcher Bobby Cramer has an interesting background.
  • In the American-North, Iowa held onto its half-game lead by hanging 20 runs on Albuquerque. Bryan LaHair homered twice, but only one should count – he hit his second one off infielder Travis Denker. LaHair is batting .318-23-77. Memphis won it’s seventh straight game to stay in the race.
  • Twenty runs is nothing – Mike Moustakas can do that by himself. Moustakas went 4-for-6 with three home runs and 11 RBI in Omaha’s 23-5 home win over Round Rock last night. An epic game for one of the sport’s top hitting prospects.
  • Oklahoma City responded to the pressure from Albuquerque by beating Nashville and opening up a three-game lead in the American-South. Brandon McCarthy tossed a gem, and the RedHawks are happy to be home.
  • Here is the latest update on the ownership situation in Memphis.

Rain, rain, go away, come again some other day – like next weekend, when we’re playing in Safeco.


A Warm Welcome To Our New Best Friends

August 30, 2010

Our new pals are coming to town. Please open your arms and welcome the Colorado Springs Sky Sox, who just buried Salt Lake in the standings, allowing Tacoma to open up the biggest lead of any of the four division leaders in the PCL.

The Sky Sox just defeated Salt Lake four times in a five-game series, and the Rainiers now have a 3.5-game lead with eight to play. Tacoma’s magic number to clinch the division title is down to five.

The Rainiers helped themselves yesterday, blasting Portland 17-8. It was the second time in four days – and also the second time in at least 15 years – that the Rainiers hit seven home runs in one game. Tacoma leads the PCL with 172 home runs; Las Vegas is second with 164.

Brad Nelson homered twice and had five RBI, but nobody on this team is hotter than Matt Mangini right now. Mangini went 4-for-5 with two homers yesterday, and over his last nine games he is batting .523 with 23 hits in 44 at-bats. He’s had multiple hits in seven of the nine games, with three 4-hit performances. Mangini has raised his season batting average from .286 to .313 in just nine days.

As for all of these home runs, it’s a product of a few things. First, we have had a very strong wind blowing out to right-center. Second, the Rainiers are stocked with left-handed power hitters. Third, they were facing a lot of bad pitching in the two seven-homer games. It was a harmonic convergence.

OK, now that we’ve laid out the welcome mat for the Sky Sox, let’s see if we can beat them a couple of times and clinch the division at home. Tonight’s game is at 7:00, and it’s radio only (as are all remaining games) on 850 AM and streaming via www.tacomarainiers.com. The Rainiers start LHP Mauricio Robles (1-1, 4.50) against Colorado Springs LHP Josh Muecke (7-6, 5.24).

On the broadcast front, yesterday marked our final Comcast Sportsnet TV game of the season. I want to thank everyone who made those telecasts possible, from producer Ross Miller and his crew, to the camera men and women, and to my partners Jeff Heaverlo, Doug Sisk, Bucky Jacobsen, and Brooke Olzendam. Hopefully 2011 will bring more Rainiers telecasts, and the new stadium should mean improved camera locations allowing for better angles and more stable shots.

Now for some links:

  • The Rainiers game story from The News Tribune was inked by Grant Clark.
  • Luke French pitched in Seattle like he did in Tacoma. I voted for French for PCL Pitcher of the Year, but it’s going to be tough for him to beat out Eric Hacker and Michael Kirkman. I had one of 32 ballots.
  • The Sky Sox beat Salt Lake in the bottom of the ninth yesterday on Jay Payton’s hit. You know it’s almost over when the Salt Lake Tribune is calling them the “Bumbling Bees.”
  • Sacramento took over first place in the South, beating Fresno, 2-1. The RiverCats won four of five during that series, and will win the tie-breaker if needed. Fresno goes to Salt Lake City tonight.
  • In the American-North, Memphis has won six straight and trails Iowa by just a half-game. The I-Cubs scored four in the top of the ninth to stun Omaha, 8-7, and remain in first place.
  • In the American-South, Albuquerque won four out of five against first-place Oklahoma City, pulling within two games with eight to play.
  • They’re not in a pennant race, but Las Vegas won its final home game as dramatically as possible: a walk-off grand slam in the bottom of the ninth.
  • Las Vegas catcher J.P. Arencibia went 4-for-4 in that game. He’s a lock for the MVP award*, and it may be close to unanimous. I could see Mark Trumbo getting a vote or two out of Salt Lake, and possibly one of the Iowa sluggers getting a little support – that’s about it.
  • Nashville outfielder Brendan Katin had seven RBIs yesterday.
  • Former Rainiers pitcher R.A. Dickey explains how he does it.
  • Here is the weekly Mariners minor league wrap from USS Mariner.

The final home series at “Original” Cheney Stadium gets underway tonight – make sure you come out to the park this week!

* Caveat: I’m a bad MVP predictor, and an against-the-grain voter. Last year Daren Brown and I both voted for Eric Young Jr., and those were the only two votes he got – the Colorado Springs people didn’t even vote for him! Several years ago when Scott McClain won the award for Sacramento I was stunned – I didn’t even have him on my short list, and I made an inquiry to the league office to release the voting totals – I simply didn’t believe it.


One Day Closer To Clinching

August 29, 2010

Weird pennant race we’ve got here – neither Tacoma nor Salt Lake seems to want to put it away.

The Rainiers lost to Portland on Saturday night, 5-3. Second-place Salt Lake lost in Colorado Springs on Saturday, 7-2.

Tacoma has lost 6 of its last 8 games.

Salt Lake has lost 9 of its last 11 games, steadfastly refusing to take advantage of the Rainiers struggles.

So, Tacoma still has a 2.5-game lead in the division, with just nine games to play. The Rainiers “magic number” to clinch the division is down to seven – that number keeps dropping by one, with Salt Lake’s daily loss.

The Rainiers lost yesterday when Wily Mo Pena hit a two-out, two-run homer off Ryan Rowland-Smith in the top of the eighth inning, snapping a 3-3 tie. It was a curious decision to leave the lefty in to face Pena late in a tie game – Pena is batting .474 against LHP, with 6 home runs in 38 at-bats. He is, in a word, annihilating lefties. The Rainiers had right-hander Andy Baldwin ready in the bullpen – he came in one pitch too late.

Today’s game is at 1:30, and it’s the final TV game of the season. Comcast Sportsnet will televise it, and the simulcast will be picked up on 850 AM and stream via www.tacomarainiers.com. This is also the last ever game between Tacoma and Portland – well, the last game until Portland builds a new stadium and gets Triple-A baseball back, or the last game until the current soccer fad fades away. My prediction, based on nothing but intuition: Portland gets baseball back and rejoins the PCL by 2018 at the latest.

Tacoma will start RHP Blake Beavan (2-2, 6.10) against Portland RHP Cesar Carrillo (5-13, 5.15). The Beavers have already clinched a series win – and it’s the first series win for Portland at Cheney Stadium since the 2007 season. This is also our final home day game of the regular season.

A few Sunday links for you – not the usual boatload; I’m short on time this morning:

Off to the park!

* I can think of something for them to spend their increased revenue on…


Back On Track

August 28, 2010

Ryan Feierabend had his best game of the 2010 season and the Rainiers ended a four-game losing streak by defeating Portland last night, 3-1.

Feierabend lasted seven innings, giving up just five hits and one run. He was rarely in trouble and was able to induce a lot of soft contact. Scott Patterson followed Feierabend on the mound and he retired all six batters he faced, striking out four while earning his fifth save.

The Rainiers took the lead in the bottom of the fifth when Justin Smoak doubled in the go-ahead run, and David Winfree followed with a sacrifice fly to make it 3-1.

Tacoma has two red-hot hitters right now: Matt Mangini has batted .514 over his last seven games, going 18-for-35 with six multiple-hit performances. And Tug Hulett is batting .471 in his first ten games since re-joining the Rainiers, with 16 hits in 34 at-bats.

The Rainiers still lead the Salt Lake Bees by 2.5 games, but time is running out on Salt Lake – there are only 10 games remaining. Tacoma’s “magic number” to clinch the division is eight – the Rainiers could theoretically clinch the division in four days. Salt Lake did win yesterday, but they have lost eight of ten overall, and they have two games remaining at Colorado Springs. To Salt Lake’s advantage, they close the season with an eight-game homestand – but the first four are against a very tough Fresno team.

Yes, the Rainiers also have to play Fresno – but Tacoma doesn’t play them until the final four games, on the road. The Rainiers have a very real opportunity to clinch the division before even going to Fresno, which would be ideal.

Tonight’s game is at 7:05, and it will be televised on Comcast Sportsnet and simulcast on 850 AM and www.tacomarainiers.com. Jeff Heaverlo will be joining me in the booth. Tacoma starts LHP Ryan Rowland-Smith (2-2, 6.04) against Portland RHP Radhames Liz (8-8, 4.99).

Links!

  • Here is the Rainiers very Tug-centric game story from The News Tribune.
  • The Mariners have decided it is time to shut down Michael Pineda – he will not pitch again this season. Yusmerio Petit will take his spot in the Rainiers rotation. Here’s Ryan Divish with more on the reasoning behind it.
  • Larry Stone has some notes on Pineda, Dustin Ackley, and Daren Brown in this pre-game blog post.
  • USS Mariner runs down the seven players the Mariners are sending to the Arizona Fall League – which includes four current Rainiers.
  • The Mariners are playing their third straight series against a team that is a whole lot better than them. The Twins got even stronger, adding former Rainiers lefty Brian Fuentes.
  • Salt Lake won for just the second time in ten games, beating Colorado Springs, 9-4. Jay Payton impressed for the Sky Sox.
  • Sacramento had one big inning and pulled within a game of first-place Fresno in the South. Here’s the notebook from the Fresno Bee.
  • Here’s some information on the next SF Giants hitting stud, Brandon Belt, who the Rainiers will have to deal with next weekend in Fresno – and potentially in the playoffs, too.
  • Iowa is pushing Omaha out of the race in the American-North, but pesky Memphis is still only 1.5 games out.
  • The Las Vegas 51s are stumbling to the finish line. Even J.P. Arencibia is struggling – he’s 4-for-24 since being optioned.
  • This is a great story – a Nashville lefty might be having more success in the city’s music scene then on the diamond. Nashville manager Don Money may have the quote of the year at the end of this story.
  • Louisville’s Aroldis Chapman hit 105 on the radar gun.
  • Former Rainiers outfielder Adam Jones is ready to return to the lineup.

Should be a fun one tonight at Cheney – a sellout is expected. Let’s see if the Rainiers can make it two in a row.


Rainiers Lose Epic Slugfest

August 27, 2010

Last night’s game was the sort of PCL game you might see in one of the league’s great hitter’s ballparks: Las Vegas, or Sale Lake, or Reno, or Colorado Springs.

But you just don’t expect to see a 40-hit, 11-homer, 17-12 slugfest at Tacoma’s Cheney Stadium.

There was a very strong wind blowing out to right-center all night long, and that wind certainly was a big factor. But many of the homers were crushed, and this would have been a high-scoring game under normal conditions, too.

With so much to talk about in Portland’s victory, we’ll do bullet points:

  • First of all, here is the box score.
  • The 7 homers is the most Tacoma has hit in one game as far back as our records go – through the 1995 season.
  • The PCL record for most HRs in a game is 10, set by Phoenix at Sacramento in 1974.*
  • We do not know Tacoma’s franchise record for most HRs in a game going back to 1960, but we do know that the Tacoma Twins hit seven at Sacramento on August 6, 1974.
  • There is no official PCL record listed for Most Home Runs In A Loss – but the major league record is seven, done just two times in history, both by the Detroit Tigers.
  • Tacoma currently leads the PCL with 163 home runs – four more than Las Vegas.
  • Greg Halman became the fifth player in Tacoma franchise history to hit 30 homers in a season, and the first since Dan Rohrmeier hit 33 in 1997. Adrian Garrett’s 1971 Tacoma record of 43 home runs in a season is safe.
  • Mike Carp’s second home run hit the front fence of the tennis courts at Foss High School**
  • Tug Hulett went 5-for-6, becoming the first Rainiers player to have five hits in a game this season. Jerry Owens went 6-for-7 in a 12-inning game on August 25 last year; he was the last Tacoma player to get five hits in a game.
  • Portland’s Cedric Hunter went 5-for-6 with two homers and eight RBI. Both of his homers were three-run shots. He had hit one home run in his previous 215 at-bats.
  • Portland starter Josh Geer allowed five home runs, raising his season total to 28 homers allowed – second-highest in the PCL. Former Rainiers pitcher Gaby Hernandez – now with Omaha – has served up 31 dingers.
  • Michael Pineda was hit hard for the second straight start. His velocity was there – I’m not sure what’s wrong with him. He may make one more start, or he might be shut down now – it’s up to Jaime Navarro, Carl Willis, and Pedro Grifol to decide.
  • Levale Speigner pitched 2.1 shutout innings. To my knowledge, the Hall of Fame has not contacted him to get his uniform or glove from that performance, but they should.

Obviously, it was a crazy game. What is in store for us tonight? Gametime is set for 7:05, and it will be televised live on Comcast Sportsnet, with the simulcast airing on 850 AM and streaming via www.tacomarainiers.com. Jeff Heaverlo will join me in the booth. Tacoma starts LHP Ryan Feierabend (3-6, 5.47) against Portland LHP Cesar Ramos (5-6, 3.26).

Tacoma still leads the division by 2.5 games over Salt Lake, which got mauled in Colorado Springs last night. The Bees have lost 8 of their last 9 games and fallen under the .500 mark. Tacoma’s “magic number” to clinch the division is nine – with 11 games to play.

Now for the links:

  • Here is the Rainiers game story from Ryan Divish, who made a rare appearance at Cheney Stadium only to catch a 3 hour, 43-minute game.
  • Salt Lake is struggling.
  • Fresno beat Sacramento last night, 3-2, and now leads the South by two games. Sacramento manager Tony DeFrancesco is not used to being in second place this late in the season. That link on Tony D is a good story – hey, he likes Neil Young, who knew?
  • Iowa held off Omaha last night, they are in a tight division race.
  • I am saddened about the passing of Cal McLish, who worked as a Mariners minor league pitching instructor in recent years. McLish was a joy to be around, and he was always willing to share stories about baseball in the 1940s and 1950s. McLish was also a big influence on younger pitching coaches – former Rainiers pitching coaches Jim Slaton and Dwight Bernard both told me that McLish helped shape their post-playing careers. Even in his early 80s, McLish would stay awake deep into the night talking baseball with Rainiers players, coaches, and radio guys.
  • The big news of the day: Stephen Strasburg needs ‘Tommy John’ surgery and is out for 12-to-18 months.
  • With Cliff Lee struggling in Texas, Larry Stone wrote an interesting piece on the pitchers who were traded at the deadline.
  • Colorado Springs trainer Heath Townsend won the PCL Trainer of the Year award (yes, that exists). In related news Tacoma’s Jeremy Clipperton won the PCL Assistant Trainer of the Year award.***
  • Here is this week’s Baseball America Prospect Hot Sheet, which includes Mariners prospects Nick Franklin (Hot!) and Michael Pineda (Not Hot!).
  • Rainiers reliever Steven Shell was featured in the Tacoma Weekly.

Off to the ballpark – will it be another slugfest? Or are we due for a 1-0 game? Hopefully it won’t be as windy.

* this is an asterisked record in the PCL book, as are all HR records set at Sacramento in the mid-1970s, because the ballpark had very short dimensions.

** Bryan LaHair homered onto the tennis court last season, the only time that has happened in my 12 years here.

*** Clipperton is the only Assistant Trainer in the PCL; he’s got a lock-down on the award for years to come.


Shut Down at Home

August 26, 2010

The Rainiers are hoping to right the ship on this long homestand, but that plan failed in the opening game against Portland on Wednesday night.

San Diego Padres pitching prospect Cory Luebke was very impressive in his first game against the Rainiers, tossing eight scoreless inning. Luebke had great command, needing just 91 pitches to cruise through eight walk-free innings. Luebke is now 5-0 since being promoted to Portland, with a 2.97 ERA.

Tacoma starter Maurcio Robles allowed just two runs over six innings, but it wasn’t pretty: he walked six batters, but allowed just three hits. Robles struck out eight and looked overpowering at times.

Is there a Wily Mo Pena resurgence? The former Reds slugger – only 28 years old – is attempting a comeback with the Padres. Pena homered and doubled off Robles, driving in the game’s only runs.

Tonight the Rainiers send Michael Pineda (3-3, 4.14) to the mound in his next-to-last start of the year. He’ll be opposed by Portland RHP Josh Geer (10-10, 5.46) in a game that will be televised on Comcast Sportsnet NW at 7:00. The simulcast will air on South Sound Sports 850 AM, and stream via www.tacomarainiers.com.

Links!

  • Here’s the Rainiers game story from The News Tribune. Manager Jose Castro notes that the Beavers are much improved.
  • Tacoma sill has a 2.5-game lead over Salt Lake, with 12 to play. The Rainiers “magic number” is 10. Salt Lake lost in Colorado Springs last night, due to a defensive meltdown.
  • In the South, Sacramento pulled within one game of first-place Fresno by winning the tense opening game of the five-game series. The beat Fresno ace Eric Hacker, who fell to 16-6. Fresno added red-hot Giants prospect Brandon Belt, and he homered in his Triple-A debut.
  • In the American-North, Omaha beat Iowa to pull within 1.5-games of the Cubs. Scott Thorman ended a scoreless battle by launching a two-run homer in the 11th inning.
  • The Mariners split a doubleheader in Boston, and finished that massive road trip with a 6-6 record – very respectable, especially considering it went through Boston and New York. Daren Brown is 8-7 as skipper.
  • Felix Hernandez recorded his 1,000th strikeout, and he’s gaining Cy Young Award support.
  • This requires a Baseball America system, but here’s another story on M’s shortstop prospect Nick Franklin.
  • The Las Vegas paper ran a feature on Josh Roenicke, who is one of the top relievers in the PCL.
  • Salt Lake RG Steve Klauke posted his latest update on eating his way through the PCL.
  • Former Rainiers infielder Willie Bloomquist batted third and hit a game-winning homer for Kansas City. I did not make that up.

Big game tonight – the Rainiers need to win one; they are getting little pressure from Salt Lake and can bury them during this homestand.


Home At Last

August 25, 2010

The Rainiers completed the four-game series in Reno on Tuesday night, dropping the final game, 7-6.

It was the toughest loss for the team in a while. Tacoma built a 6-0 lead in the second inning, getting home runs from Justin Smoak and Rob Johnson. But the Rainiers only put one baserunner in scoring position the rest of the game – and meanwhile, Reno kept chipping away at the lead.

Brandon Allen eventually put Reno ahead with a three-run homer in the fifth inning off Tacoma starter Blake Beavan, and the Aces bullpen made the one-run lead stand up.

Tacoma has lost 14 of its last 15 road games – but now the team comes home to Cheney Stadium for a nine-game homestand. It’s the final homestand in “original” Cheney Stadium as the renovation project begins next Friday.

Tacoma still leads the division by 2.5 games over Salt Lake. Given the Rainiers recent struggles on the road, it would probably be a wise idea for the team to clinch the division title at the end of the homestand, rather than be forced to do it on the road in the final four-game series at Fresno.

Tonight’s homestand opener is at 7:05, and it will be televised on Comcast SportsNet and simulcast on 850 AM and www.tacomarainiers.com. Bucky Jacobsen will be joining me in the booth. Tacoma is slated to start LHP Mauricio Robles (1-0, 5.40) while Portland will pitch LHP Cory Luebke (4-0, 3.44). Both are highly regarded pitching prospects in their own organizations.

A few links for you:

  • I wrote the Rainiers game story for The News Tribune, which has more detail on the Aces comeback.
  • Make sure you vote for Michael Pineda for USA Today Minor League Player of the Year. Pineda starts Thursday, and will start one more game after that before being shut down for the season (protecting his young arm for next year).
  • The Mariners were rained out in Boston; they play a day-night split doubleheader today. So Daren Brown will finally experience something in the majors that is worse than Triple-A – day-night doubleheaders are a nightmare.
  • Here is Larry Larue’s Mariners notebook from Boston.
  • Jason Churchill wrote a scouting-centric piece on Mariners shortstop prospect Nick Franklin.
  • Portland just completed a four-game sweep on the road in Vegas. This is… troubling.
  • Sounds like Salt Lake is dealing with some frustration. The Bees go to Colorado Springs for a five-game series starting tonight.
  • Sky Sox outfielder Matt Miller is about to break a 19-year-old singles record.
  • Looks like everything – PDC, manager, coaches – will be the same in Reno next year.
  • The Central Valley Showdown starts tonight – Fresno, with a two-game lead, travels to perennial champion Sacramento for a five-game series. Fresno is starting Eric Hacker tonight – the first 16-game winner in the PCL since Donne Wall in 1995.
  • Las Vegas is a struggling Triple-A market because of stadium issues, but they still have good fans.
  • Iowa manager Ryne Sandberg worked on getting ejected last night (with photo).
  • Here’s a piece on former Rainiers infielder Kevin Howard, who is struggling with Memphis this season.

Off to the ballpark! We’re getting down to the nitty-gritty.


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