Omaha Strikes First

September 10, 2014

The Omaha Storm Chasers won the opening game of the best-of-five PCL Championship Series on Tuesday night, picking up a 6-2 road win at Reno.

The way the game started was ominous for Reno: Omaha scored three runs in the top of the first inning, knocking out Reno starting pitcher Clayton Richard in the process. Reno used four pitchers to cover the remainder of the game, with former starter Bo Schultz picking up 4.1 innings to save the rest of the bullpen.

Omaha was ahead 6-0 in the second inning and coasted to the win behind Aaron Brooks, who lasted seven innings. Brooks had a streak of 25 consecutive scoreless inning end when Andy Marte connected for a two-run homer in the sixth.

Offensively, Omaha drilled 11 hits although they were mostly singles. They hit nine singles and two doubles, but were able to string together the hits over the first two innings to amass the six runs.

Game Two of the series is tonight at 7:05.

The Mariners stretch run continues tonight with the final game of a three-game series against the suddenly-pretty-good Houston Astros (they have won 8-of-their-last-11 and are playing above .500 ball for roughly the last two months).

Tonight Houston starts RHP Nick Tropeano, who will be making his Major League debut.

Tacoma faced Tropeano at Cheney Stadium on June 22, scoring three runs against him in 5.2 innings. Michael Saunders was on rehab with the Rainiers at the time, and his RBI triple keyed a two-run rally in the third inning.

The 23-year-old ended up going 9-5 with a 3.03 ERA in his first Triple-A season. He closed the season on a real roll, allowing just three runs over his final 23 innings pitched.

The late surge enabled Tropeano to lead the PCL in earned run average, as he dropped below the 3.38 ERA of Fresno’s Chris Heston to win the title.

One thing was very clear in the PCL: Tropeano has a reverse platoon split, due to his outstanding change-up. Left-handed batters hit just .156 against him, while right-handers batted .241. This was over 124 innings pitched, so “small sample size” does not apply here. The Mariners may not be able to take advantage of this split, due to the heavily left-handed roster composition.

At any rate, I think this will be an interesting match-up to watch.

The popular food truck festival – The Moveable Feast – is this Saturday at Cheney Stadium. The lunch session is free entry and the dinner session is paid admission, 21+, live bands, beers, etc. TNT Diner has a post which includes descriptions of many of the food trucks that will be present.

Links:

  • The Reno newspaper has a detailed report on the opening game of the series. In the story, Reno manager Phil Nevin explains his quick hook of Clayton Richard.
  • The MiLB.com game story has reaction from Omaha starter Aaron Brooks.
  • In the International League Finals, Pawtucket won the opener against Durham, 3-2. For blurbs on all of the minor league championships, check out this Baseball America round-up.
  • The Mariners offense was shut down by Astros mystery man Collin McHugh, who has quietly been one of the better starters in baseball for the last two months.
  • James Jones discussing base stealing is the leadoff item in Bob Dutton’s Mariners notebook. The story also includes a Dustin Ackley injury update.
  • Oakland A’s beat writer Susan Slusser got some interesting player quotes regarding the rumored A’s affiliation change from Sacramento to Nashville.
  • Speaking of the A’s, Jonah Keri writes about their fall, and Bruce Jenkins writes that Billy Beane made a bad trade.

PCL Championship Series Opens Tonight

September 9, 2014

The best-of-five series for the PCL title starts tonight in Reno, where Omaha looks to win back-to-back championships.

No matter which team wins, these two teams have had the PCL trophy on lockdown for four years. Omaha (Kansas City Royals) won it all in 2011 and 2013, and Reno (Arizona Diamondbacks) took the title in 2012.

Here’s the schedule with the anticipated starting pitchers:

  • Game One tonight at Reno, 7:05 (all times Pacific). Omaha RHP Aaron Brooks (12-3, 3.88) vs. Reno LHP Clayton Richard (1-0, 4.26)
  • Game Two Wednesday at Reno, 7:05. Omaha LHP John Lamb (8-10, 3.97) vs. Reno RHP Bradin Hagens (1-1, 2.55)
  • Game Three Friday at Omaha, 5:05. Reno LHP Andrew Chafin (5-6, 5.34) vs. Omaha RHP Sugar Ray Marimon (5-4, 3.56)
  • Game Four (if necessary) Saturday at Omaha, 12:05. Reno RHP Charles Brewer (8-10, 4.99) vs. Omaha RHP Andy Ferguson (1-1, 6.00)
  • Game Five (if necessary) Sunday at Omaha, 12:05. Both starters TBD.

The series is a rematch of the 2012 series, which Reno won 3-1. According to research by the PCL office, four players appeared in that series and are likely to play in this one as well: Reno’s Mike Jacobs, Charles Brewer, and Joe Paterson, and Omaha’s Paulo Orlando.

Whoever wins the series will play the International League champion in the Triple-A National Championship Game next Tuesday in Charlotte, North Carolina. The IL is down to Durham (Tampa Bay) and Pawtucket (Boston), and their championship series also starts tonight.

My PCL pick:

First, I should definitely mention that I picked both of these teams to lose in the opening round. Obviously I’m not very good at this.

I’m changing my tune on Reno, and I am picking Reno to win the series.

The Aces were the hottest team down the stretch – including the playoffs, Reno has won 14 of its last 17 games. Reno was not hit hard by call-ups, due to the Diamondbacks lost season. Omaha’s roster was already hit by the contending Royals. Omaha has a better pitching staff, but Reno has the cagey veterans.

Reno takes the series in four games.

Links:

  • For the local angle, here are the PCL Championship Series previews from the Reno newspaper and the Omaha newspaper.
  • MiLB.com has an article up previewing both the PCL and the IL championships. Former Rainiers infielder Nick Franklin gets some love in this story.
  • Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year Award went to Kris Bryant of the Iowa Cubs. Bryant played four games at Cheney Stadium in August and went just 3-for-18, but he did hit a homer and a triple. The triple hit near the top of the giant wall in center field.
  • The Mariners won the opening game against the red-hot Houston Astros last night, 4-1. Houston had won seven of its last nine games prior to last night. I went to the game and it was nice to see Brad Miller contribute with some big hits.
  • As always, Bob Dutton’s Mariners notebook is packed with all of the latest news and notes. The Mariners 2015 schedule was released, and the Mariners open at home while the Rainiers will open on the road. Hey, the team with the roof opened at home. That’s the way it is supposed to be!

Blog schedule for this week: we’ll have PCL recaps and links on Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday (unless there is a sweep in the finals – if that happens, I’m taking Sunday off).


Reno And Omaha Advance

September 7, 2014

It’s going to be a repeat of 2012 in the PCL Championship Series, as Reno and Omaha have advanced to the finals.

These two teams – the Arizona Diamondbacks and Kansas City Royals affiliates – faced off in the championship just two years ago. Reno won that time, three games to one.

Omaha’s success is remarkable: they have won the American Conference and reached the finals four years in a row. They are just the third team in the PCL’s 111-year history to reach the finals four straight seasons. The last team to do it was the Albuquerque Dukes, from 1980 to 1983.

The 2014 PCL Championship Series is a best-of-five. It opens Tuesday night in Reno.

We’ll have a preview of the championship series in our next blog update, on Tuesday. In the meantime, here’s how they got there:

PACIFIC CONFERENCE

Reno 7, Las Vegas 3. Reno wins the series, three games to one.

Defense cost the 51s, as they made two errors and allowed three unearned run in the loss. Danny Dorn hit a two-run homer as Reno built a 5-0 lead in the fifth inning. Charles Brewer pitched into the seventh inning to earn the victory for Reno. Allen Dyskstra‘s three-run homer was the entire Las Vegas offense.

AMERICAN CONFERENCE

Omaha 6, Memphis 2. Omaha wins the series, three games to one.

Whit Merrifield doubled and homers to lead Omaha to the win. Merrifield hit three homers in the four-game series – a rather surprising outburst, seeing how he hit three homers in 76 regular season games for Omaha. The star on the mound was polished pitching prospect Christian Binford, who delivered four scoreless innings from the bullpen.

Astute readers will notice that I went 0-for-2 on my predictions for this round of playoffs. To paraphrase former Rainiers manager Dan Rohn after a blowout loss, “What can I say? I stunk.”

Links:

No blog Monday because there are no PCL games today – we’ll be back on Tuesday!


Reno & Omaha In Command

September 6, 2014

Results from Friday night’s PCL playoffs:

PACIFIC CONFERENCE

Reno 7, Las Vegas 5. Reno leads the series, 2-1.

Las Vegas took a 5-2 lead into the bottom of the fifth inning, when Reno rallied to score five runs and knock Noah Syndergaard out of the game. Mike Jacobs hit a three-run homer during this rally.

Reno has the series lead and the home field advantage.

Game Four: Las Vegas RHP Logan Verrett (11-5, 4.33) at Reno RHP Charles Brewer (8-10, 4.99), 7:05.

AMERICAN CONFERENCE

Omaha 2, Memphis 0. Omaha leads the series, 2-1.

Sugar Ray Marimon, Kyle Zimmer, Tim Collins, and Andrew Triggs combined on a five-hit shutout on the road. Omaha’s Paulo Orlando hit a two-run homer in the first nning and that was all of the scoring.

Game Four: Omaha LHP Buddy Baumann (2-4, 3.19) at Memphis RHP Mike Mayers (0-0, 7.20), 5:05.

Links:

  • There is video of the go-ahead three-run homer by Mike Jacobs in the Reno-Las Vegas game story from the Reno newspaper.
  • Nice quote from Omaha manager Brian Poldberg on Paulo Orlando‘s first inning home run: “It was a nice start. I didn’t know we were good.”
  • The Mariners topped Texas 7-5 as Kendrys Morales homered twice last night.
  • Bob Dutton’s Mariners notebook includes the upcoming starting rotation plans, and information on Rainiers reliever Todd Coffey.
  • Nashville Sounds General Manager Brad Tammen resigned from his post.
  • Nick Franklin hit the game-winning homer and his Durham Bulls are still alive in the International League playoffs.
  • A good read if you like the nuts-and-bolts behind the MLB awards: Dave Cameron is having trouble with his Manager Of The Year ballot.

Both Playoff Series Tied

September 5, 2014

Here’s an update on the PCL playoffs:

PACIFIC CONFERENCE

Reno 6, Las Vegas 0. Series tied, 1-1.

Andrew Chafin pitched a four-hit shutout and Mike Jacobs hit a grand slam in the first inning as Reno coasted to a win. The series moves to Reno tonight.

Game Three is tonight at 7:05. Las Vegas starts RHP Noah Syndergard (9-7, 4.60) at Reno RHP Bradin Hagens (1-1, 2.55).

AMERICAN CONFERENCE

Memphis 4, Omaha 3. Series tied, 1-1.

This game was tied 3-3 until Memphis scored an unearned run in the top of the ninth. Greg Garcia singled, stole second and went to third when the throw sailed into center field, and scored on a wild pitch. For Omaha, that’s a yucky way to lose.

Game Three: Omaha RHP Sugar Ray Marimon (5-4, 3.56) at Memphis LHP Justin Wright (4-0, 6.65), 5:05.

Links:

If you’re curious about the PCL playoffs, check back over the weekend – I’ll post the results.


Las Vegas, Omaha Winners On Opening Day Of PCL Playoffs

September 4, 2014

The Pacific Coast League playoffs started last night. Here’s what happened:

PACIFIC CONFERENCE

Las Vegas 5, Reno 4. Las Vegas leads the best-of-five series, 1-0.

This game was a managerial chess match between Wally Backman and Phil Nevin. Each team cleared its bench with pinch-hitters and double-switches, trying to create advantageous match-ups. Reno used 15 players and Las Vegas used 18.

New Las Vegas infielder L.J.Mazzilli (Lee‘s kid) snapped a 4-4 tie with a go-ahead RBI single in the bottom of the eighth inning. Mazzilli didn’t even play until the seventh inning, when he entered the game in a double-switch, and he ended up with the game-winning hit. Mazzilli was just promoted from Advanced-A to fill the roster spot of Josh Satin, who was called up by the Mets.

Game Two tonight: Reno LHP Andrew Chafin (5-6, 5.34)  at Las Vegas RHP Matthew Bowman (3-2, 3.47), 7:05.

AMERICAN CONFERENCE

Omaha 7, Memphis 0. Omaha leads the series, 1-0.

Omaha starter Aaron Brooks struck out a career-high ten batters over eight shutout innings to earn the win. This continued a strong stretch of pitching for Brooks, which includes a complete-game six-hitter at Cheney Stadium on August 23rd.

Omaha hit three home runs. Whit Merrifield, Cheslor Cuthbert, and Matt Fields each went deep.

Memphis starter Tim Cooney led the PCL with 14 wins, but he got knocked around last night. Cooney allowed four runs on six hits in 4.1 innings.

Game Two tonight: Memphis RHP Zach Petrick (7-6, 4.62) at Omaha LHP John Lamb (8-10, 3.97), 5:05.

The Mariners picked up a crucial win at Oakland last night and won that series two games to one. Now the road trip moves on to Texas for a four-game series.

Despite have by far the worst record in the American League, the Rangers have been a problem for the Mariners. Seattle is just 6-9 against Texas this season.

This is the Mariners last chance to load up on wins against a truly bad team. It’s important for them to turn the tide against the Rangers and win the series.

The Mariners are a half-game behind Detroit in the race for the final wild card spot in the AL.

Links:


Rainiers Roller Coaster Ends; PCL Playoffs Begin

September 3, 2014

The 2014 Tacoma Rainiers season ended with a 9-5 loss in Fresno on Monday afternoon. The Rainiers finished the season with a final record of 74-70 – it marked the fifth time in the last seven years that the Rainiers have finished with a winning record.

Tacoma had nine players called up by the Mariners on Monday. Seven had already been in the majors this year (Corey Hart, Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, Erasmo Ramirez, Lucas Luetge, Justin Smoak and Stefen Romero). Veteran catcher Humberto Quintero received the big league call for the first time this season, but he’s been up there for years previously.

The one new major leaguer is reliever Carson Smith. He retired the only batter he faced – Oakland’s Josh Reddick – on Monday afternoon in his big league debut.

All told, 23 different players played for both the Seattle Mariners and the Tacoma Rainiers this season.

The shuffling on the roster is part of the Triple-A experience, and the 2014 Rainiers really rode that roller coaster this year.

The team started out pretty well, logging a six-game win streak in April and then winning the first two games of an away series at Reno in early May. That gave Tacoma a 17-13 record, and a good chance to win their first-ever series at Aces Ballpark.

It didn’t happen. The Rainiers not only lost the final two games in Reno, it pancaked into a stretch where the team lost 21 out of 26 games.

The season reached its nadir on June 11, when a loss in Memphis dropped the club’s record 13 games under .500 to 26-39.

The reason the team struggled so much over this stretch was due to a combination of injuries on the pitching staff and woeful defense. Injuries to Walker, Paxton and Beavan left the Tacoma rotation in shambles, there were veterans in the bullpen who weren’t getting many outs, and the team’s defense easily ranked last in the PCL.

Things turned around in Tennessee. They won the final game of the series in Memphis, then went to Nashville and swept the first-place Sounds. That started an 11-2 stretch over two weeks, and it continued on and on: Tacoma went 48-31 over the final 79 games. They cleared the .500 mark on the last day of July and played there way into contention in the tough Pacific-North division before finally getting knocked out of the race in the season’s last week.

Again, the reason for the improvement comes down to pitching and defense. When you add Erasmo Ramirez and Taijuan Walker to a Triple-A rotation, it suddenly looks real good. Roster moves were made to improve the bullpen, with the addition of Todd Coffey making a big impact. Gabriel Noriega started playing a lot, and his smooth hands at third base helped get the defense back on track.

In all, it made for a satisfying season. The team played great baseball and was fun to watch for the final two-and-a-half months of the season. When you are buried in the standings in early June, that makes for a nice turnaround.

Some credit for the mid-season turnaround must go to first-year manager Roy Howell. He ran the team with a calm and steady hand, and he didn’t make too many mistakes in his first season as a manager in the upper minors. He is deserving of the winning record.

Howell could come back to Tacoma next year – he told me he’d like to return. It’s going to be awhile before we find out; these assignments usually aren’t made until the dead of the winter.

The PCL playoffs start tonight in Las Vegas and Omaha. These are best-of-five series between division winners, with two teams advancing to the PCL Championship Series next week.

Las Vegas and Omaha are each home for the first two games, and then these series move to Reno and Memphis for the last three games (as needed).

Here are some playoff previews from the local newspapers:

PACIFIC CONFERENCE

Reno LHP Clayton Richard (1-0, 4.26) at Las Vegas RHP Rafael Montero (6-4, 3.60), 7:05.

AMERICAN CONFERENCE

Memphis LHP Tim Cooney (14-6, 3.47) at Omaha RHP Aaron Brooks (12-3, 3.88), 5:05.

  • Series preview from the Omaha World-Herald.
  • The series preview from the Memphis Commercial-Appeal is subscriber-only and I can’t unlock it.

My picks are Las Vegas and Memphis.

Omaha is the defending PCL champion,  but they lost their 3-4-5 hitters to call-ups on Monday. Talk about having your lineup gutted! Memphis was 40-20 over the last 60 games and wasn’t totally ravaged by call-ups.

Las Vegas has been the best team in the Pacific Conference all year. They coasted into the playoffs and are rested and ready. Reno is coming off a wild run to the finish line and I think they might be out of gas. Due to poor seasons by the big league affiliates, neither team was ruined by call-ups.

Links:

  • The final Rainiers game story from The News Tribune serves as a sort of season recap.
  • At USS Mariner, marc w has a detailed Q&A with Rainiers pitcher Forrest Snow.
  • The Mariners tied up the series in Oakland and go for a win today at 12:35.
  • Bob Dutton’s Mariners notebook has an item on the improved focus of Taijuan Walker.
  • The Mariners ended their affiliation with Pulaski of the Appalachian League. I don’t know if they are going to switch to a new team or simply field one fewer affiliate. The M’s were one of just a handful of MLB teams to fill three short-season clubs; most MLB teams have two.
  • The official MiLB.com preview of the PCL playoffs can be found here. It includes links to the MiLB.TV feeds if you are a subscriber.
  • Salt Lake outfielder Brennan Boesch won the PCL batting title with a .332 mark. My one regret from 2014 was not seeing Chris Taylor get a chance to fight for it – he was 40 plate appearances away from qualifying when the Mariners called him up.
  • The Sacramento Bee had a full report on the 2-1 loss to Reno that determined the division title on the final day of the season.
  • On the field Colorado Springs had its worst record in franchise history.
  • The Round Rock Express faltered down the stretch.
  • El Paso completed a feel-good first season with a great stretch run, going 11-3 over the final two weeks to finish at an even .500.
  • They went there: the Des Moines Register compared Iowa Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant to Miguel Cabrera – they even have an all-Bryant photo gallery.  Bryant came close to clearing the center field wall at Cheney Stadium last week.
  • Sacramento begins a period of affiliation uncertainty.
  • Baseball America posted an end-of-season all-star team covering all of minor league baseball. Three PCL players made it.

Check back daily as we follow the PCL playoffs and the Mariners stretch run here on the blog!


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