Royals Streak Ends

October 22, 2014

After eight consecutive postseason wins, the Kansas City Royals finally took a loss in the opening game of the World Series on Tuesday night. San Francisco beat ‘em, 7-1.

The game was lacking in the drama department. The Giants scored three runs in the top of the first inning against James Shields, with Hunter Pence connecting on a long two-run homer.

Former Rainiers star Mike Morse started as the Giants designated hitter, and he produced an RBI single in fourth inning that made it 4-0. He finished the game 1-for-5.

Kansas City was down 3-0 in the bottom of the third when they put runners at second & third with nobody out, but Madison Bumgarner escaped the jam and cruised from that point forward.

Bumgarner is a former PCL player who never pitched against Tacoma. Bumgarner made 14 starts for Fresno in 2010, going 7-1, 3.16. Fresno and Tacoma play each other a lot: 16 times each season. Yet in 2010, they played 12 of the 16 games late in the season, after Bumgarner had been called up. The one time they faced each other while Bumgarner was on the club (at Cheney Stadium in June), he was the lone member of Fresno’s five-man rotation who did not start in the four-game series. He spent four days in Tacoma and didn’t pitch – I’m sure he threw a bullpen, and he probably ran some laps. I hope he enjoyed his time in our fair city.

Anyway, I digress. Game Two of the World Series is tonight at 5, and the Royals desperately need a win or else they face the prospect of going on the road to San Francisco down 2-0.

Links:

  • Bob Dutton has some notes on Mariners in the Winter Leagues.
  • Mariners pitcher Chris Young was named the American League Comeback Player of the Year. This award is voted on by the players.
  • Former Tacoma Rainiers manager Steve Smith was let go from his job as third base coach for the Cincinnati Reds.
  • Yesterday Hall of Famer Old Hoss Radbourn – who died in 1897 – returned from the grave to preview the World Series. Or as he calls it, the World’s Series.
  • This is fun: Baseball America unearthed a Q&A with Hunter Pence from when he was in Double-A in 2006.

Baseball Returns Tuesday

October 20, 2014

We survived a baseball-free weekend (and for most of us a bad football weekend) and now we look forward to the World Series, which gets underway in Kansas City on Tuesday night (5:00 Pacific on Fox – all games will start at 5 and are on basic Fox).

The main story of the series is that both teams qualified as wild cards. Kansas City finished behind Detroit in the AL Central, and the San Francisco Giants were runners-up to the Dodgers in the NL West. Each team had to survive a one-game wild card play-in game, and then win two full series to advance to the title round.

This is exactly the opposite of what MLB was shooting for when they switched to the one-game wild card playoff last year. The goal was to create an easier path to the World Series for the division winners, and make it tougher for the wild card teams to advance.

They succeeded in the goal – it is definitely tougher for wild card teams to advance now – but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen. This year’s World Series is Exhibit A.

Both teams have played exciting ball throughout the postseason, and I think we can count on that to continue in the Series. What I am hoping for is something that has not yet happened in the 2014 MLB postseason: a series stretched out to full length.

No losing team has won more than one game in a series yet in this postseason. It’s time for that to change: I’m hoping we get to at least six games. And if we can get to a Game Seven, well, that’s the best our sport has to offer.

Quick refresher, your ex-Rainiers and other locals:

KANSAS CITY: pitcher Jason Vargas is scheduled to start Game Four on Friday night. Raul Ibanez is with the team but is probably not going to be on the active roster.

SAN FRANCISCO: infielder/outfielder Mike Morse is probably going to get starts as the DH in the games played at Kansas City. Yusmeiro Petit is the long man in the bullpen. The Giants also have state of Washington natives Tim Lincecum and Travis Ishikawa, though neither of them played for Tacoma.

Mariners pitcher Taijuan Walker has left the Arizona Fall League after just two starts, rather than the four or five that the team was hoping he would make.

Fortunately this is not injury related. Walker reportedly feels great and is 100% healthy; he just had a need to go home to California according to the report linked below.

I’m hearing that this is no big deal and Walker will be ready to go for spring training.

Links:

If I could time travel to see a World Series, I would go to 1926. Cardinals – Yankees. Sportsman’s Park, Yankee Stadium. St. Louis wins in seven. The Grover Alexander vs. Tony Lazzeri battle in the 7th inning of Game Seven remains one of the most famous moments in World Series history. Rogers Hornsby. Babe Ruth. Lou Gehrig. Miller Huggins. Waite Hoyt. Herb Pennock. Urban Shocker. Branch Rickey. And the whole thing ends when Ruth gets caught stealing second while representing the tying run.

I would convince Graham McNamee to hire me as help in the broadcast booth during the games. I would spend all of the money I made on cigarettes – not to smoke, just to try to get mint condition Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Rogers Hornsby baseball cards. I’ll smuggle the cards back to the current day, sell them, and buy an island to spend my winters on. Pretty good plan, eh?


The Local Angle

October 17, 2014

The Kansas City Royals and the San Francisco Giants advanced to the World Series, and each team was spurred by a player with local ties.

Kansas City completed a four-game sweep of Baltimore on Wednesday, with former Rainiers and Mariners pitcher Jason Vargas earning the win in the deciding game. Vargas pitched 5.1 innings and allowed just two hits and one run in the Royals 2-1 victory.

Later on Wednesday, San Francisco reliever and 2010 Rainiers pitcher Yusmeiro Petit tossed three scoreless innings and earned the win in a Game Four victory over St. Louis.

The Giants polished off the Cardinals on Thursday night, 6-3. Former Rainiers and Mariners infielder/outfielder Mike Morse hit a pinch-hit, game-tying home run in the bottom of the eighth inning to make it 3-3.

Then in the bottom of the ninth inning, Federal Way High School (Class of 2002) product Travis Ishikawa hit a walk-off three-run homer to give the Giants a 6-3 victory.

Ishikawa played at Cheney Stadium this year, as a visitor for the Fresno Grizzlies in a series July 11-13. A longtime off-the-bench player in the majors, he opened the season with the Pirates, was released in late April, signed by the Giants to a Triple-A deal, and then promoted to San Francisco in August. He’s played all or parts of seven years in the majors, and 11 years in the minors.

Today Ishikawa’s name is on an impressive list (source: Lee Sinins ATM Reports):

WALKOFF HOMERUN TO CLINCH A POSTSEASON SERIES

Bill Mazeroski      World Series  1960  Pirates
Chris Chambliss     ALCS          1976  Yankees
Joe Carter          World Series  1993  Blue Jays
Todd Pratt            NLDS          1999  Mets
Aaron Boone        ALCS          2003  Yankees
David Ortiz           ALDS          2004  Red Sox
Chris Burke          NLDS          2005  Astros
Magglio Ordonez   ALCS         2006  Tigers
Travis Ishikawa     NLCS          2014  Giants

I must admit, I forgot about Todd Pratt.

Now we have a long wait for the World Series. Game One is on Tuesday in Kansas City. We’ll have some sort of preview for you on Monday.

Links:

  • The folks at MiLB.com have their Mariners minor league all-stars, with lots of commentary from Director of Player Development Chris Gwynn. There is some good stuff in here.
  • Bob Dutton has an overview of where Mariners landed on the various Baseball America league top prospect lists.
  • Here’s how Mike Morse prepared for the biggest hit of his career.
  • Former Rainiers pitcher Yusmeiro Petit is gaining a lot of respect in San Francisco.
  • 2005 Pacific Coast League MVP Andy Green (who was with the Tucson Sidewinders) was named third base coach of the Arizona Diamondbacks. New Diamondbacks manager Chip Hale was the Tucson manager when Green won the MVP.
  • John McGrath recalls his experience covering the 1989 Earthquake Series.
  • The Rainiers Team Store received a brand new shipment of those retro hats you guys love so much – including a new Tacoma Cubs model. Here’s the direct link.

A Few Rainiers In Winter Leagues

October 15, 2014

One of the biggest and most competitive off-season leagues opened up play this past weekend, when the Venezuelan Winter League started.

Usually the Rainiers have quite a few players appear in this league, but this year only two have thus far:

Gabriel Noriega – Tacoma’s all-star infielder is with Cardenales de Lara, where he has already appeared in five games and collected five hits (including a triple). Right now he is the only Mariners player active with Lara, but Seattle has had a long relationship with this team and more players could join as the season progresses.

Ji-Man Choi – after a disappointing 2014 season for Tacoma, Choi looks to have continue his development while playing for Tigres de Aragua in Venezuela. Choi is 5-for-18 with a homer so far, and it is worth noting that he has played all five games in the outfield.

The Mexican League has also started, and one player has appeared so far. Another – Forrest Snow – said in late August that he plans to play in Mexico this winter, too.

James Gillheeney – the left-handed starter is playing for Naranjeros de Hermosillo in the Mexican Pacific League, and he made his first start for them on Saturday. Interestingly, Gillheeney has already played in Mexican League games held in the USA: his team participated in Mexican Baseball Fiestas held at the new ballpark in El Paso and the old one in Tucson. One-time Rainiers outfielder Jerry Owens - now 33 years old and out of affiliated ball – is one of Gillheeney’s teammates. Owens had a super-rare six-hit game for Tacoma in 2009.

The Arizona Fall League has been going on for a little more than a week, and both Taijuan Walker and John Hicks from the 2014 Rainiers are playing there – along with potential 2015 Tacoma players Patrick Kivlehan, D.J. Peterson, Stephen Landazuri, Matt Brazis, and Matt Anderson.

Walker’s two starts have gone well. Hicks has caught three games and is 3-for-11 at the plate.

The Dominican Winter League has not started yet. That league is typically loaded with Triple-A players so there will probably be a few more Rainiers reporting to duty soon.

Links:

  • Taijuan Walker had an excellent start in the Arizona Fall League on Monday.
  • In his Mariners Notebook from Tuesday, Bob Dutton notes that Rainiers infielder Gabriel Noriega is eligible to be selected in the Rule 5 Draft if he is not added to the 40-man roster this month.
  • Baseball America released it’s list of the PCL’s Top-20 Prospects of 2014. Only one Tacoma player made the cut: Taijuan Walker at No. 9. This link is a to a free grid of all of their league prospect lists – there is more content on their site, but it is subscriber-only.

 


Playoffs Continue With Former Tacoma Players

October 13, 2014

Former Tacoma Rainiers players continue to make an impact in the MLB playoffs, which have been particularly exciting so far.

In the American League Championship Series, Baltimore’s Adam Jones has finally come alive at the plate. Jones had two hits in Game Two on Saturday, including a game-tying two-run homer. However, his Orioles have lost the first two games of the series to Kansas City (who looks like they may never lose again).

The former Rainiers player on the Royals – Jason Vargas – has not pitched yet, but his day is coming. Vargas gets the start in Game Four on Tuesday night. The way the Royals are playing, Vargas could be trying to finish off a sweep on Tuesday.

The NLCS between St. Louis and San Francisco is tied 1-1, with Game Three set for Tuesday night. The Giants activated former Tacoma infielder/outfielder Mike Morse from the disabled list prior to the series, and he came off the bench for a pinch-hit single last night.

Former Rainiers pitcher Yusmeiro Petit has not worked yet for the Giants in this series. He’s serving as a long reliever because teams don’t need five starters in the playoffs.

The NLCS had a real thriller on Sunday night, with the Cardinals getting huge home runs – including a walk-off shot – from rookies Oscar Taveras and Kolten Wong. St. Louis also suffered a crucial injury, losing star catcher Yadier Molina.

Links:

  • In order to get ready for the NLCS, Mike Morse went back to where it all started.
  • As baseball looks to pick up the pace of play, many purists are opposed to the idea of a pitch clock because baseball has no clocks. John McGrath has a good idea: use a traffic light system.
  • What does a recently retired major league star who made over $100 million in the game do with himself? Lance Berkman went back to school.

 


The Remarkable Season Of Jordan Pries

October 10, 2014

Very quietly while the team was in the thick of a pennant chase over the final weekend of the season, the Seattle Mariners announced their minor league awards.

While most of the awards went to prospects who played at lower levels of the farm system, there was one 2014 Tacoma Rainiers stalwart who gained recognition. Starting pitcher Jordan Pries shared the Mariners Minor League Pitcher of the Year award with Class-A Clinton starter Edwin Diaz.

The honor capped of a remarkable season for Pries, who in just six months improved his stock from “utterly anonymous” to “viable candidate to appear in the Major Leagues.”

With that in mind, let’s take a look at what happened to Pries in 2014.

The first time I heard of Pries was when I saw him in pitching in a Triple-A spring training game on March 26. Here’s what I wrote on this blog:

Palmer was replaced by 24-year-old right-hander Jordan Pries, who I had to look up. Turns out he is a Stanford product who was a starter for Class-A High Desert last year. I’d be surprised to see him in Tacoma next Thursday, but maybe later this year or next.

I had never heard of him, and he wasn’t on my radar as a potential Triple-A player in 2014. Whoops!

The thing is, I was kind of right. I don’t think that the Mariners player development people had any plan to have Pries pitch in Triple-A in 2014. But the organization was waylaid by early season injuries to starting pitchers, and Pries got his chance.

Come spring time, both Taijuan Walker and Hisashi Iwakuma were injured. They were expected to be Mariners starters. Instead, Roenis Elias (who was slated for Tacoma) and Chris Young (a March acquisition) took their spots in the big leagues.

Blake Beavan was Tacoma’s opening day starter. He made two starts for the Rainiers, then was called up to Seattle when James Paxton was injured. Beavan made one start for Seattle and then he also landed on the disabled list.

Meanwhile, anticipated Rainiers starter Matt Palmer was held back in extended spring training due to injury.

So let’s count the starting pitcher injuries: Walker, Paxton, Beavan, Palmer, Iwakuma… that’s five MLB/AAA starting pitchers who were down at the same time.

Somebody had to pitch in Triple-A. A glance down at Double-A Jackson’s stats showed some guy named Pries, who had made two starts and allowed only three hits and two runs in 12 innings.

Pries got the call to Triple-A out of necessity, and he really took advantage of the opportunity.

Jordan Pries made his Triple-A debut on April 20 – a damp Sunday afternoon at Cheney Stadium. He pitched six shutout innings of one-hit ball against the PCL powerhouse Sacramento River Cats. The Rainiers won the game 1-0 on a walk-off single by Leury Bonilla.

Time of game: two hours, 16 minutes.

I liked this guy.

Pries got knocked around in his second start – his first away from the friendly confines of Tacoma. He gave up five runs in 4.2 innings at Las Vegas.

But he bounced back in a big way, winning his next two starts with scoreless pitching at Sacramento and at Reno, not allowing a run over 11 total innings.

Next up was a return engagement at Las Vegas, and this time Pries conquered Cashman Field, giving up just one run over 5.1 no-hit innings.

He was off and running: in his first seven Triple-A starts, Pries allowed zero or one run in six of them. He had a 1.80 ERA in the PCL on May 26, and his spot in the Tacoma starting rotation was secured.

Pries couldn’t maintain that level of dominance for an entire season – and nobody expected him to. He had a few rough games in the usual locales – back-to-back seven-run outings in the thin air of Salt Lake City and Reno did some serious damage to his ERA in July.

Still, Pries carried a 3.69 ERA into the final day of the season. That ranked sixth-best in the PCL.

A miserable relief appearance (just his second since 2011) in a meaningless game on the final day of the season saw his final number bloat to 4.06, but that just put a light damper on an impressive season.

All told, he made 24 starts for Tacoma. Fifteen of them qualified as “Quality Starts” meaning he went six or more innings and allowed three or fewer runs. He was Tacoma’s most reliable starting pitcher.

Pries was the Mariners 30th round draft pick in 2011. The Mariners selected him after the completion of his junior year at Stanford University, and Pries elected to sign and start his pro career.

His numbers from Class-A High Desert in 2013 look bad on the surface, but once you factor in the ridiculous hitter-friendly ballpark he pitched in you realize they weren’t that bad. He went 8-6 with a 5.13 ERA in 23 starts, but the other numbers look good: 104 strikeouts and 40 walks in 124 innings pitched, only 14 home runs allowed in *that* league.

He managed to keep the ball in the park in the PCL, too. He gave up 14 homers in 142 innings for Tacoma, and he did not allow a homer in his first six starts (and just one over his first nine starts).

Pries does this by getting good sink on his fastball, which is generally in the 88-92 mph range and is not straight. In fact, everything Pries throws moves: he has good sinking movement on both his change-up and his slider/cutter thing. It’s not overpowering stuff, like a Walker or a Paxton, but it is stuff that could work in the Major Leagues as a back-of-the-rotation starter.

The Mariners need to make a decision next month about protecting Pries on the 40-man roster. If they don’t, they could possibly lose him in the Rule 5 Draft.

Barring another run of spring injuries, I expect Pries to open the 2015 season in Tacoma. Heck, he’s a good candidate to draw the opening day assignment.

None of these things were expected back in March. It was truly a great out-of-nowhere season for Jordan Pries.

Links:

  • What could have been: according to this story the Mariners front office worked out a deal to sign Nelson Cruz last winter, only to have it squashed by team ownership. This is one of those ‘hindsight is 20-20′ situations.
  • The agent for Michael Saunders was not pleased with the wording of some recent remarks about his client.
  • The Nashville Sounds unveiled a new guitar-pick logo.
  • The MILBYs are underway – vote for your favorites from the 2014 Minor League Baseball season. Make sure you vote for Ji-Man Choi & the T-Rex in the Best Photo category!
  • John Sickels looks back at the minor league career of Centralia’s Lyle Overbay, who (it seems) has retired.

Have a great weekend – enjoy the League Championship Series!


MLB Down To Four

October 8, 2014

The Major League Baseball playoffs are moving right along, with both National League Division Series coming to an end last night. The San Francisco Giants and the St. Louis Cardinals advanced, and will face each other in the NL Championship Series starting on Saturday.

So far the postseason has had terrific games but has not had a great series yet. The four best-of-five division series resulted in two 3-0 sweeps and a pair of 3-1 decisions. However, there were a ton of one-run games, extra inning affairs, and games decided late.

Now we have no baseball for two full days. Once we survive this dry spell, the ALCS between Baltimore and Kansas City opens on Friday night.

Links:

  • The Arizona Fall League opened yesterday, and Taijuan Walker pitched four strong innings. Likely 2015 Rainiers player Patrick Kivlehan hit a homer. Ryan Divish has the details.
  • Baseball America has all of the Arizona Fall League rosters with some notes on the teams.
  • Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager has a chance to win a Gold Glove Award, according to Bob Dutton’s Mariners notebook.
  • John Sickels took a look at Roenis Elias.
  • Fun story from Grantland: the media has been reporting that baseball is dying since 1868.

A brief post today, I know. I’m working on something solid for Friday.


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