Mariners Finish (Almost) Successful Season

September 29, 2014

The Mariners continued their playoff push to the final day of the season before getting eliminated by an Oakland A’s victory on Sunday afternoon.

Seattle finished the year with a record of 87-75 – a huge improvement of 16 wins from last year’s 71-91 mark, and a substantially better record than anyone in the local media predicted. They missed the playoffs by one game (or two games, depending on how you look at it. One game out of a tiebreaker).

They get extra credit for keeping the pressure on Oakland all weekend. In Friday’s post (scroll down) I was linking to Mariners season wrap-ups since the national media thought they were toast. It turns out that they had one last push in ‘em.

So what comes next for Seattle? A break of sorts, to watch the MLB playoffs. But the front office will immediately start working to try to improve key spots and build on the strong 2014 season. Obviously, they need to improve the offense – designated hitter is a glaring hole; you can bet that we’ll be hearing all winter about how the Mariners are looking for a right-handed bat. There isn’t much on the free agent market so they may have to try the trade route instead (here is a preliminary list of expected free agents; Victor Martinez is the big fish but I keep hearing Detroit will make every effort to keep him).

The MLB playoffs start on Tuesday, with the one-game American League wild card at 5:00 (Pacific). That will be Oakland at Kansas City – the match-up is Jon Lester vs. James Shields.

On Wednesday the National League wild card game (also at 5:00 Pacific) will be San Francisco at Pittsburgh, with Madison Bumgarner facing Edinson Volquez.

The AL Division Series starts on Thursday, and the NL on Friday. These are best-of-five: Detroit vs. Baltimore, LA Angels vs. AL wild card winner, St. Louis vs. LA Dodgers, Washington vs NL wild card winner.

Links:

We’ll be back with a new post on Wednesday. On Thursday – after the wild card games are done – we’ll have the annual and always fun Ex-Rainiers In The Playoffs post.


Rainiers 2015 Schedule Released

September 26, 2014

Today the Tacoma Rainiers released their 2015 schedule.

You can see the schedule in calendar form right here. There is also a press release.

A few notes on the 2015 schedule:

  • The season starts late next year, with the opener (on the road) falling on April 9.
  • Labor Day is also late next year: the season ends on the road in Las Vegas on September 7.
  • Tacoma’s home opener will be April 17 against the little doggies from El Paso.
  • The late home opener – and a weather-friendly home slate with many home dates during the summer months of June, July, and August – is a nice turnabout after the team played 16 of the first 20 at home in 2014 (resulting in a whopping eight rainouts).
  • As expected, the Rainiers are on the road during the Chamber’s Bay US Open, June 15-21. The Rainiers requested these dates as away games to the league office for obvious reasons, and the request was granted.
  • Team travel seems to be dramatically improved from 2014. Opening in El Paso helps (that’s the toughest Pacific Conference spot for Tacoma to get to – opening there means we can fly in the day before), hitting El Paso and Albuquerque on the same road trip (that’s a four-hour bus ride), another bus trip from Fresno to Reno, a day off before the difficult trip to Iowa so we’ll fly on the off-day, road trips that actually make geographic sense – none of these things happened in 2014.
  • Tacoma comes out of the all-star break with a 12-game homestand. Including the break, that’s 15 straight days at home in the middle of the season.
  • For the first time in all of my years doing this, the Rainiers close the season in Las Vegas. That means a happy finish for me personally no matter what: either the Rainiers will make the playoffs, or I’ll start my post-season vacation right away. I call that a win-win!

On the whole, this looks like a very Tacoma-friendly schedule for 2015.

The Mariners aren’t done yet. They gained a game on Oakland and now trail the A’s by two games with three remaining.

The A’s are playing at Texas, which you would think is awful, except… the Rangers – using mostly players from the 2014 Round Rock Express – have won 11 of their last 12 games,  including a walk-off 2-1 victory over Oakland last night. Maybe Texas will stay hot.

The Mariners will need a minimum of two wins over the Angels, and even if the M’s win all three they still will need help from the Rangers.

Should Seattle and Oakland tie for the final wild card spot, there will be a one-game tiebreaker held on Monday at Safeco Field.

Links:

Our next post will be on Monday. Maybe we’ll be previewing a Mariners-A’s one-game tiebreaker?


It’s Time For The PCL To Not Step Out Of The Box

September 24, 2014

In the major leagues, speeding up the pace of play has been in the news lately. MLB formed a committee to look into ways to speed up the major league game, which has taken longer and longer to complete.

This committee isn’t going to need to meet for very long. The independent Atlantic League put in some new measures midway through the 2014 season to speed up play, and they worked. After one month of play with the new pace of play rules in effect, Atlantic League games were completed an average of nine minutes faster.

Copied from Tom Verducci’s article from Sports Illustrated, here are the five rules the Atlantic League established:

  1. Pitchers must deliver a pitch within 12 seconds with nobody on base (actually, that’s simply enforcement of an ignored rule already on the books) and batters must keep one foot in the batter’s box in between pitches.
  2. Defensive teams get three 45-second timeouts per nine innings — that includes conferences between the catcher and pitcher or infielders and pitcher. Pitching changes do not count as a timeout.
  3. Relief pitchers get six warmup pitches, not eight, upon entering the game, and must complete those pitches within one minute.
  4. Intentional walks are automatic, with no need to throw four pitches out of the strike zone.
  5. The rulebook strike zone will be enforced, allowing for the high strike.

The first rule is key – in fact, if MLB enforced just the first one, it would speed things up dramatically.

A writer in Pittsburgh monitored a single mid-season game and saw the batter step out of the box 190 times, clocking in at a total of 39 minutes, 51 seconds.

Stepping out of the box is a relatively new phenomenon. If you have ever watched any of those old MLB Network games like Don Larsen‘s perfect game (1956) or the Bill Mazeroski game (1961) you will notice that the batter never steps out of the box, and the game moves much quicker.

What I am hoping is that the MLB committee will adopt one or two of these ideas – the first one is the perfect place to start – and then enforce them in the minor leagues in 2015. We could be “guinea pigs” in the PCL. If the new measures work, they could be implemented in the majors.

Well that Mariners playoff run was fun while it lasted, wasn’t it?

No they are not mathematically eliminated, but things took a deep turn for the worse over the last four days. Not only are the Mariners not winning, they are getting blown out every day.

From the couch, the Mariners look as if they have caved under the pressure of playing must-win games in late September. I suppose this isn’t unexpected, since the Mariners are mostly a young team that has never played important late-September games before. Only Robinson Cano and Fernando Rodney have a lot of experience in this situation.

We can still root for a miracle. But don’t get too down if it doesn’t happen: this has been a very good season for Seattle. Remember where we were at this time last year.

Links:

Our next update will be on Friday.


M’s Update: Wild Card, Bakersfield, Hultzen

September 22, 2014

There was some baseball news to pass along from the weekend, but first a word about the blog: we are in off-season mode now that the minor league season is over, so that means no more posts on Saturday and Sunday anymore. I’ll have new content two or three times a week during the business days. I’ve got a list of off-season topics to write about, and some of them are going to be pretty fun.

As for the weekend that was, well… it was a rough one for our Seattle Mariners, who dropped two-of-three games at Houston. It is now crunch time in the push for the playoffs: the Mariners are two games behind Oakland and 1.5 games behind Kansas City, and they need to pass one of those teams to make the playoffs. The final week starts tonight – here are the schedules:

  • SEATTLE: (7) four games at Toronto, three vs. Los Angeles Angels.
  • OAKLAND: (7) three games vs. LA Angels, four at Texas.
  • KANSAS CITY: (8) four games at Cleveland*, four at Chicago White Sox

* one of KC’s four games at Cleveland is the completion of a suspended game which KC trails 4-2 in the tenth inning. This game will be completed today.

The Mariners need to take care of their own business and start winning games again. Something like a 5-2 finish could do the trick.

The Mariners changed affiliates in the Advanced-A California League, switching from High Desert to Bakersfield.

By moving to Bakersfield, the Mariners will no longer have prospects playing 70 home games in the notorious launching pad of High Desert. Instead, they’ll play 70 home games in the not-quite-as-notorious launching pad of Bakersfield’s Sam Lynn Ballpark.

Locals have been trying (and failing) to replace Bakersfield’s ballpark for decades. It’s an ancient mistake: they built it facing the wrong way, so the sun sets in straight-away center field. There is (or used to be – I worked in the California League from 1996-1998) a tall sun screen behind the center field fence. Often, 7:05 games would start ten or 15 minutes late – the umpires would wait until the sun was low enough to no longer shine directly into the batter’s eyes.

Why would the Mariners move their affiliate to this place?

It appears that the M’s are gambling on the future.

Plans are afoot to build a new ballpark in Salinas, California and move the Bakersfield franchise there. This could happen as soon as 2016 if everything falls in place – there is a key city council meeting on Tuesday.

By signing on with Bakersfield now, the Mariners could find their affiliate playing in a shiny new park in two years.

I received some encouraging news about Rainiers pitcher Danny Hultzen over the weekend.

Hultzen – who missed the entire 2014 season with shoulder surgery – is recovering nicely. He faced live hitters for his first time on Friday down at the Mariners instructional league in Peoria, Arizona. Reports are that Hultzen looked good – and also happy, as he was finally pitching again after a long and grueling rehabilitation process.

I don’t know what the Mariners plan to have Hultzen do next, but for now this is great news. Hopefully he can be ready to compete for a rotation spot in Tacoma next spring.

Links:

  • The postseason outlook is included in this Mariners game story covering Sunday’s loss. The Mariners rotation is struggling, including yesterday’s starter Hisashi Iwakuma.
  • There is big pressure on rookie James Paxton to deliver a strong outing tonight in Toronto. He’ll be pitching on his native soil for the first time in seven years, according to Bob Dutton’s Mariners notebook.
  • Here’s the press release on the Mariners switch from High Desert to Bakersfield.
  • If you haven’t seen this yet, PCL MVP Joc Pederson – now a lowly rookie with the Dodgers – was asked to go on a pregame Starbucks run for the veterans. In full uniform. The photo was shot outside Wrigley Field.
  • Omaha has won three of the last four PCL titles, and the wave of talent isn’t done yet.
  • I wrote on Friday about how the PCL affiliation changes (nearly) wiped out the Triple-A version of the Mariners-A’s rivalry. Turns out the PCL version of the Giants-Dodgers rivalry suffered the same fate.
  • Fresno’s Chris Dominguez is enjoying his first big league call-up, and he hit his first Major League home run on Sunday. The story of what happened to the baseball is a new one.
  • John McGrath ranked and commented on the 30 MLB teams in Sunday’s News Tribune.
  • In his Sunday column for the Seattle Times, Ryan Divish picked his MLB award winners. He also has his power rankings.
  • Baseball history alert: it’s the 50th anniversary of one of the biggest collapses in MLB history. Chico Ruiz helped doom the 1964 Phillies, and his story is a unique one.
  • If you don’t enjoy this Vine of a fan catching a home run with his popcorn bucket, we just can’t be friends anymore.

Our next blog update will come on Wednesday.


PCL Has Six New Affiliations

September 19, 2014

We’ve got a major shake-up in the PCL, as six of the 16 teams will have different major league affiliates for 2015.

This was the biggest affiliation shuffle in the Pacific Coast League in many years – and it all went down in just three days. Here are the teams that changed affiliates:

  • SACRAMENTO – was Oakland A’s, now San Francisco Giants
  • FRESNO – was San Francisco Giants, now Houston Astros
  • OKLAHOMA CITY – was Houston Astros, now Los Angeles Dodgers
  • ALBUQUERQUE – was Los Angeles Dodgers, now Colorado Rockies
  • COLORADO SPRINGS – was Colorado Rockies, now Milwaukee Brewers
  • NASHVILLE – was Milwaukee Brewers, now Oakland A’s

I have received enough questions to clarify this: the Triple-A players are all employees of the major league teams. That means that a player who has been with Sacramento seemingly forever – for example, Daric Barton – will now suit up for the Nashville Sounds (assuming the A’s re-sign him for 2015). The guys who were in Fresno this year like Gary Brown and Adam Duvall and Chris Heston will be Sacramento River Cats next year. The coaching staffs move, too: if Dwight Bernard remains the SF Giants Triple-A pitching coach next year, he’ll be stationed in Sacramento instead of Fresno.

Radio broadcasters, clubhouse managers, PCL general managers, sales reps, ushers, ticket takers… they all stay in the same minor league city, because they work for the minor league team.

It doesn’t appear that any PCL teams need to re-brand themselves with their new affiliate, so we probably won’t have any team name changes.* If the Iowa Cubs had changed this would have been an issue, but they stayed with Chicago.

So, how does all of this affect the Tacoma Rainiers in 2015?

First off, the Rainiers will remain with the Seattle Mariners. The four-year Tacoma-Seattle agreement from Fall 2010 expired two weeks ago, but before it expired the sides agreed to extend for a currently unknown number of years which will be announced soon.

The big change will be on the field for 2015 and beyond: the Rainiers will no longer regularly play against Oakland A’s affiliates.

This is both good and bad.

Oakland always puts a winner on the field in Triple-A, and that winner will be in the American-South division now. This theoretically makes it a lot easier for Tacoma to win the Pacific-North.

On the other hand, Mariners prospects will not face Oakland prospects in Triple-A all of the time anymore. Now when Oakland brings in a rookie reliever to face a young Mariners batter, the two will not have faced each other multiple times in Triple-A. With Oakland in Nashville, the Mariners and A’s Triple-A players will square off in just one four-game series each PCL season.

Here’s a look at Tacoma’s division, the Pac-North:

  • Tacoma (Seattle Mariners)
  • Reno (Arizona Diamondbacks)
  • Sacramento (San Francisco Giants)
  • Fresno (Houston Astros)

It should be noted that the Houston Astros farm system is currently very strong, so the Fresno Grizzlies will no longer be the pushover they have been for the past 15 years. Meanwhile the SF Giants have a long history of fielding bad Triple-A teams, so Sacramento fans may have to get accustomed to that.

It’s going to take a while for all of us to get used to these new affiliations. Memorizing all of these gives me something to work on during the off-season!

Links:

I just went out to the mailbox and found an issue of ESPN The Magazine in there… with former Rainiers outfielder Adam Jones on the cover. Nice!

* feel free to go for it anyway, Sacramento.


Omaha Wins Triple-A Title; PCL Affiliations Changing

September 17, 2014

The Omaha Storm Chasers won their second straight Triple-A National Championship Game, defeating Pawtucket on Tuesday night 4-2.

The annual meeting between the PCL and International League champs is played at a revolving neutral site. This year’s game was held at the new ballpark in Charlotte, NC.

The game was tied 2-2 in the top of the seventh inning when Omaha catcher Brett Hayes launched a two-run homer. That proved to be the game-winner, as the Omaha bullpen nailed it down.

Kansas City Royals pitching prospects Christian Binford and Kyle Zimmer both shined in the contest, which was marred by a 1 hour, 46 minute rain delay in the fifth inning.

Congratulations to the Omaha Storm Chasers on winning the whole ball of wax. They had a tremendous season.

The affiliation shuffle in the PCL is underway.

  • The Sacramento River Cats have officially given the Oakland A’s the boot, and it seems likely that they will sign on with the San Francisco Giants. This decision by Sacramento is driven by ticket sales: the River Cats feel that the Giants have a larger fan base in Sacramento. However, the River Cats are getting a lot of backlash.
  • The long rumored Dodgers-to-Oklahoma City move is done. The Dodgers left Albuquerque for a more pitcher-friendly ballpark and conference. This makes sense from a player development standpoint, since the Dodgers play in one of the best pitcher’s parks in the majors and Albuquerque plays in a launching pad. The Dodgers also switched their Double-A affiliation to Tulsa – apparently LA is trying to annex Oklahoma.
  • Albuquerque quickly hooked up with the Colorado Rockies, which seems like a perfect match. The Rockies still get the developmental advantage of having their pitching prospects work at high elevation while taking a huge step up in quality of ballpark.
  • The Rockies leaving Colorado Springs is a big issue going forward for the Sky Sox. It appears they are likely to land either the Brewers, Astros, or A’s. None of those seem like good marketing/geographical matches. However, we do have eight fun facts about the Sky Sox.
  • Nashville is moving into a new downtown ballpark and their affiliation is up for grabs.
  • The Chicago Cubs and Iowa Cubs extended their affiliation through 2018.

Links:

  • The Omaha newspaper has reaction from Charlotte on the Storm Chasers winning the Triple-A title.
  • The Mariners got back on the horse and raced to a 13-2 win at Los Angeles Of Anaheim. It was a big day in the race for the wild card(s), as the Mariners closed the gap on all three teams they are chasing.
  • You can find some details about playoff tickets in Bob Dutton’s Mariners notebook.
  • Jim Caple has a story on the impact Robinson Cano has had on the Mariners.
  • John Sickels reviewed his preseason Mariners prospect list.
  • Former PCL slugger & Rainiers killer Chris Carter is having a breakout season with the Houston Astros, and Jonah Keri tried to figure out how.

Lots of stuff going on with the affiliations right now, as several PCL teams are still possible changing. Stay tuned for more…


Storm Chasers Repeat As PCL Champions

September 15, 2014

There is a new dynasty in the Pacific Coast League.

Omaha won its second straight PCL title on Sunday afternoon, when starter Aaron Brooks pitched a complete game two-hit shutout in a 4-0 victory over Reno. Omaha won the best-of-five series, three games to two.

It’s not just two straight for Omaha. The Storm Chasers also won the PCL championship in 2011, giving them three PCL titles in the last four years.

I think we can safely say that Omaha has surpassed Sacramento as the top dynasty in the league right now. Sacramento won the Pacific-North 11 times in 13 seasons from 2000 to 2012, taking four PCL titles during that time. But Sacramento hasn’t made the playoffs in two straight seasons.

Omaha won its first two championships under longtime manager Mike Jirschele, who he was bumped up to the big league coaching staff this season. New manager Brian Poldberg didn’t skip a beat, winning a league championship in his first season as a Triple-A manager.

Brooks was named Most Valuable Player of the series, winning a pair of starts while allowing just two runs in 16 innings. He retired 20 straight batters during his championship-clinching shutout.

Omaha is not done yet. They have one game remaining, the Triple-A National Championship Game on Tuesday night in Charlotte, NC.

It will pit Omaha against the International League champion Pawtucket Red Sox in the one-game cross-league battle.

The game feels kind of like an exhibition after the intensity of the league finals, although of course the players are trying to win it. Omaha will be trying to win it for the second year in a row.

Tuesday’s game will be nationally televised on the NBC Sports Network, with George Grande and Jim Kaat on the call. First pitch is set for 4:00 (Pacific).

The Mariners had a disappointing weekend, dropping games on Saturday and Sunday to Oakland after winning the series opener on Friday night.

The series loss to Oakland – the current leader for AL Wild Card #1 – at least provides some clarity in terms of who the Mariners are chasing. While it is still possible for Seattle to pass Oakland, it is much more reasonable for Seattle to surpass Kansas City and take the AL Wild Card #2 spot.

So it looks like we are anti-Royals for the final two weeks of the season.

Links:

Tuesday’s Triple-A National Championship Game is the final minor league game of 2014. We’ll start looking toward 2015 soon!


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