Former Rainiers Dot Playoff Rosters

October 2, 2014

Now that the one-game Wild Cards are over, we are ready for the real Major League Baseball playoffs to begin. And as always, there are several former Tacoma Rainiers players who hope to factor into a World Series run for their teams. Let’s take a look:

AMERICAN LEAGUE DIVISION SERIES (best-of-five)

Detroit vs. Baltimore (Game One starts at 2:30 Pacific on Thursday)

Detroit Tigers: when the Tigers traded Austin Jackson to Seattle at the deadline, they needed a center fielder. At that point they called up former Rainiers outfielder Ezequiel Carrera from Triple-A Toledo, and he has gone on to make the Tigers postseason roster. Carrera opened the 2010 season with Tacoma before being traded to the Cleveland Indians in late June for Russell Branyan.

Baltimore Orioles: the Orioles have one former Tacoma player, but he is arguably the most popular ex-Rainiers star who is not a current Mariner. That would be center fielder Adam Jones, who has found a real home in Baltimore and has been a key cog in the turnaround of the organization. Jones played for the Rainiers in 2006 and 2007, and he represented Tacoma in the Triple-A All-Star Game in 2007.

Kansas City vs. Los Angeles Angels (Game One at 6:00 Thursday)

Kansas City Royals: the Royals will not be represented by a former Rainiers player in the division series. In a move made earlier today, they announced that ex-Rainiers star Raul Ibanez will not be active for the opening series against the Angels. Ibanez will be with the team and they could activate him for the next series if they advance. Kansas City also has starting pitcher Jason Vargas, who opened the 2009 season with the Rainiers.

Los Angeles Angels: the Angels have no former Rainiers on their roster. This makes it really easy for us to root against them.

NATIONAL LEAGUE DIVISION SERIES (best-of-five)

San Francisco vs. Washington (Game One at noon Friday)

San Francisco Giants: the NLDS final 25-man rosters aren’t set yet, but the Giants are likely to carry two former Rainiers: pitcher Yusmeiro Petit won a PCL title with Tacoma in 2010, and catcher Guillermo Quiroz played parts of four seasons with Tacoma (2006, 2009-2010, 2012). While not former Rainiers, the Giants also have Washingtonians Tim Lincecum and Travis Ishikawa.

Washington Nationals: the Nats are loaded with former Tacoma Rainiers. Doug Fister (2009-2010) is a key cog in their rotation, and Rafael Soriano (2003-2005) is an important component in the bullpen (although he was removed from the closer role mid-season). They added Matt Thornton (2003-2004) on a waiver claim in August and he’ll be used against left-handed hitters. Another mid-season acquisition was infielder Asdrubal Cabrera (2005-2006), who has been playing second base.

St. Louis vs. Los Angeles Dodgers (Game One at 3:30 Friday)

This series doesn’t exist, as far as Tacoma is concerned. Both teams are completely void of ex-Rainiers.

OK, so who are we rooting for here?

I’m pulling for Adam Jones and the Orioles, Kansas City and the spirit of Raul Ibanez, the Nationals Tacoma quartet, and who cares. One thing we definitely don’t want is a Freeway World Series – that is the only possible zero-Rainiers outcome.

Links:

  • Bob Dutton goes over several off-season issues facing the Mariners in today’s installment of the Mariners notebook.
  • Ryan Divish listed the contract status of every Mariners player.
  • Larry Stone writes that the Mariners could solve a big problem by signing the No. 1 free agent of the winter, Detroit’s Victor Martinez. I agree, but there is going to be a lot of competition for him. Martinez turns 36 this winter so it will be a short but expensive contract.
  • Baseball America actually had a reporter at a Mariners-Indians instructional league game the other day, and it makes for an interesting read.
  • Maybe the M’s will take a shot on the latest Cuban defector, outfielder Yasmany Tomas. The video makes him look like a Cuban Kirby Puckett.
  • Lookout Landing suggests that Justin Smoak‘s time with the Mariners is over. I must reluctantly agree – if you know Justin a little bit, you can’t help but root for him.
  • Fangraphs has an extraordinarily detailed look at the American League Cy Young Award competition.
  • John McGrath has a column on the criticism of Royals manager Ned Yost after their wild 9-8 victory over Oakland.
  • If you are interested in how an affiliation change affects a Triple-A broadcaster, or how Triple-A broadcasters have little connection to their major league affiliate, read this story by Albuquerque Isotopes broadcaster Josh Suchon.
  • Must watch: the Library of Congress has released a four-minute newsreel of Game Seven of the 1924 World Series between the Washington Senators and New York Giants. It includes footage of Walter Johnson, a home run by Bucky Harris, Goose Goslin diving into first base, and of course the walk-off hit.

Two games today, and then Friday… uh, you might want to call in sick. We have playoff baseball on TV from 9:00 AM until 10:00 PM on Friday. It’s like March Madness in October.


Royals Win Literally Wild Card Playoff

October 1, 2014

The major league playoffs got off to a rousing start last night, when Kansas City scored a dramatic 9-8 victory on 12 innings.

The Royals had two comebacks: they were trailing 7-3 going to the bottom of the eighth inning, and 8-7 going to the bottom of the 12th.

As I sat there watching this wild back-and-forth game, I kept thinking about how excruciating it would be if I was a fan of one of the two teams. What a wild ride.

Now the Royals will now face the LA Angels in the best-of-five American League Division Series (Detroit and Baltimore square off in the other one).

Tonight we have the National League wild card game, with San Francisco at Pittsburgh starting at 5:07 (Pacific).

Once that game is settled, we’ll be down to eight playoff teams and the series format takes over. On this blog tomorrow, we’ll look at all of the former Tacoma players on the eight remaining teams.

Links:

  • Mariners General Manager Jack Zduriencik met with the media yesterday, and he said the team’s payroll will go up in 2015 – among other things. Also, the story has positive news on Danny Hultzen.
  • Jack Z’s tenure is defined by a lack of offense, Jerry Brewer writes.
  • Nice year, John McGrath writes, but the Mariners honeymoon period is over.
  • The Mariners made a roster move on Monday afternoon, activating Jesus Montero from the suspended list and releasing Corey Hart. Hart was going to be a free agent, anyway.
  • We have some interesting news regarding pace of play from MLB. They are going to try some ideas out in the Arizona Fall League, including the no-stepping-out-of-the-box rule I wrote about a while back. They also basically eliminated mound conferences – just three per game, including catcher-and-pitcher.

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.


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