Rainiers Review, PCL Playoffs Predictions

September 4, 2013

The 2013 Tacoma Rainiers season came to an end with a 9-6 loss to Sacramento on Monday afternoon. Tacoma finished the season with a pretty strong record of 76-68.

It was a tumultuous year, to say the least. From the staff changes (manager in early May, pitching coach at the all-star break) to the player moves (140 total transactions before the final call-ups – 34 more than the 2012 team had), it seemed like there was never any continuity.

Yet the team won a lot. For a while there in May and June, it was the best Triple-A team we’ve had since the 2001 squad. But it all petered out mid-summer: on July 10, the club was a season-best 16 games over .500 and had a four-game lead in the division, but went 21-29 over the last 50 games.

You can point to the call-ups: Nick Franklin, Mike Zunino, and Brad Miller got called up roughly around the same time (and Danny Farquhar before them). But the real culprit was the DFAs. Those young call-ups weren’t on the Mariners 40-man roster, so they had to clear space. First it was Eric Thames, and then it was Alex Liddi.

I see the loss of Liddi on waivers (June 28) as the key moment in the season. He was Tacoma’s No. 3 hitter, and he was one of the leaders in the locker room. He was unlikely to get recalled by Seattle before September, so we were going to have him on the club all year. To make it worse, the Rainiers didn’t get anything back when he left (he was traded for “international signing bonus slot money”).

It would have been nice if the Mariners went out and signed a veteran from an independent league to fill the third base hole, but they haven’t been going that route in recent years. The Angels went indy-league crazy and signed a host of players for Salt Lake, including third baseman Andy Marte who the Rainiers could have really used.

The team competed well down the stretch and nearly got back in it at the end. They had to sweep that series from Salt Lake last week, and they won the first two games before falling in the final two. Tacoma ended up finishing two games behind the Bees.

It’s going to be an interesting off-season. Amazingly, it’s easier to guess who next year’s players might be than the coaches. We have no idea who the manager will be next year! John Stearns said he is going back to his previous job as minor league catching instructor – in fact, he’s getting right back into it with the instructional league starting in two weeks.

The Rainiers handed out their end-of-season awards on Monday.

The MVP went to outfielder Abraham Almonte, who appears to be getting a serious look as a potential starter for the Mariners next year (he’s started four of the last five games). Almonte finished tied for 7th in the PCL with a .314 batting average, and his .403 OBP ranked fifth in the league.

Pitcher of the Year went to closer Logan Bawcom. Bawcom ranked fifth in the league with 21 saves, while posting a 2.91 ERA. He had 64 strikeouts and 25 walks in 65 innings pitched. I was a little surprised he didn’t get a September call-up – I believe he needs to be protected this winter, or else he’ll be eligible for the Rule 5 draft.

The Gold Glove Award went to first baseman Rich Poythress. Poythress has really soft hands at first – he seems to catch everything, and is real good at scooping low throws and saving errors for his fellow infielders. As for himself, Poythress committed just one error all season for the rare .999 fielding percentage.

The Community Involvement Award went to Nate Tenbrink. Tenbrink was a willing and active participant in the Rainiers community events all season, representing the team with numerous appearances throughout the area.

The PCL Playoffs start tonight, so it’s time for my fearless predictions.

Las Vegas at Salt Lake

The series opens in Salt Lake for the first two games, then moves to Vegas for the final three (if necessary).

Salt Lake really stumbled into the playoffs, dropping 13 of the last 18 games. However, they only lost one player (reliever Ryan Brasier) to a call-up.

Wally Backman‘s 51s played extremely well down the stretch, fending off Sacramento to hold on to the title.

These should be some high-scoring games, played in good hitting conditions. However, I see Las Vegas as the club with the better starting pitching.

I’m taking Las Vegas in four games, 3-1.

Omaha at Oklahoma City

Omaha is the first PCL team to reach the playoffs with a below-.500 record since the current format was established in 1998. The beat out Memphis on the final day of the season to take the crown.

Oklahoma City was the best team in the American Conference all year – and it seems like the Astros are leaving the club intact for the postseason. Notably, superstar George Springer hasn’t been called up yet.

My gut says to take Omaha, because it feels like one of those “expect the unexpected” situations. However, logic is prevailing.

I’m taking Oklahoma City in a three-game sweep.

Links:

  • Here is the Rainiers wrap-up from Tuesday’s News Tribune.
  • I almost didn’t link to MiLB.com’s PCL playoffs preview article, because it says that Salt Lake lead the division “nearly wire to wire,” which is totally inaccurate. But there is some decent info in there, so here it is.
  • Ryan Divish has James Paxton‘s call-up story. Paxton makes his MLB debut on Saturday.
  • On that note, Taijuan Walker makes his second start tonight. I think I’ll (silently) watch some baseball this evening.
  • Larry Stone writes that the Mariners need to find relevance in September.
  • PCL playoff previews from local newspapers: Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, Omaha, Oklahoma City.
  • Interesting: the owners of the El Paso team extended their contract with the ballpark in Tucson one year just in case the new stadium isn’t complete by April. Seems like its simply insurance.
  • I enjoyed this display of 15 great baseball-related album covers.

It’s Awards Week

November 12, 2012

Major League Baseball announces its major awards this week, starting with the two Rookies Of The Year late this afternoon.

The drama will come on Thursday, when the MVP awards are announced. Regardless of who wins the AL MVP – either Mike Trout or Miguel Cabrera – there will be a huge reaction in the online circles. I think I’m not going to check Twitter all day on Thursday; it will be like avoiding Facebook on election day.

One thing that would be awesome, and I believe it is possible: Trout and Cabrera could tie for the MVP. It has happened before, in 1979. Willie Stargell and Keith Hernandez each had exactly 216 points in the baseball writers balloting, and they were named Co-MVPs. We had a tie game in the NFL this weekend, let’s have an MVP tie!

One former Rainiers has a real chance at a win this week: New York Mets pitcher R.A. Dickey is a finalist for the NL Cy Young Award, and the winner will be announced on Wednesday.

I recently read Dickey’s autobiography, which has been on the shelves since before the season (I read my baseball books during the off-season, when I have more time). It’s a pretty good read, and it moves quickly.

Dickey has had a lot of interesting things happen in his life, and not all are good – it’s really a story of perseverance, in my opinion. Knuckleball enthusiasts will get details on learning the pitch, minor league baseball fans will get a few zany stories, and spirituality is a recurring theme (but not to a point of overdoing it).

The Tacoma/Seattle element is pretty brief, as he spent only one season in our corner of the country – although he makes it clear that our weather is very good for knuckleballing. In the afterward, he reveals that he started writing the book while he was with the Rainiers – something I did not know at the time.

The centerpiece of the book is his story of trying to swim across the Missouri river, which runs right behind the old team hotel in Omaha. Dickey did tell this story to the team while on a bus trip when he was with the Rainiers; to say he had everyone’s attention would be an understatement.

It’s a good read, I recommend it.

There was no baseball news of any consequence to us over the weekend, but we do have a few stories of note:

On another personal note, my favorite non-baseball sport opened up this weekend. My team did well, and so did the Huskies. Even the Cougs won!


Rainiers Fall, Let’s Talk About Awards

August 24, 2012

Las Vegas evened up the series by taking down Tacoma on Thursday night, 6-1, in what could be described as kind of a dud of a ballgame for the Rainiers.

Tacoma didn’t have much in the way of offense, collecting just six hits and scoring one run. They had one big missed opportunity – loading the bases with one out in the second, and not scoring – but that was really about it.

It was tight for a while. Hector Noesi held Vegas to three runs in six innings, but after he left the 51s plated three runs against Tacoma reliever Brian Moran.

Moran, who has pitched well for Tacoma, struggled in three areas in the seventh: he walked the leadoff man, made a mental mistake fielding a bunt, and didn’t hold runners close resulting in a key double steal. These little things all factored into the three-run rally. The inning served as a reminder that this is the minor leagues and players are still learning things that you take for granted when watching the majors.

Once Las Vegas opened up the 6-1 lead, the game just kind of fizzled out and that was that.

I turned in my awards ballot yesterday, and here’s who I voted for:

MVP: Adam Eaton, Reno. He leads the league in batting average, on-base percentage, hits, runs, stolen bases, doubles, total bases… and he’s the catalyst for a first-place team. He’s not just a product of the ballpark in Reno – he’s putting up big numbers on the road, too.

Pitcher of the Year: John Ely, Albuquerque. 14-7, 3.10 ERA while pitching half of his games in one of the worst places to pitch on the planet – he actually has a lower ERA in home games at Isotopes Park (2.76). He leads the league in wins and is the ace of a first-place club.

Rookie of the Year: Eaton. He’s my MVP pick, and he’s a rookie, so that’s all she wrote.

Manager of the Year: Darren Bush, Sacramento. Yeah, yeah, yeah, the River Cats always win because the Oakland A’s front office makes a concerted effort to win Triple-A championships, but they have won this year without a true star player – they had zero candidates for any of the positions on the All-PCL team, and Bush had to deal with the extreme number of transactions that come as a result of being the A’s Triple-A affiliate.

All-PCL Team:

  • C – Tim Federowicz, Albuquerque. He gets the nod over Travis d’Arnaud because he stayed healthy.
  • 1B – Anthony Rizzo, Iowa. Despite being called up a while ago, he still has the best numbers at the position.
  • 2B – Johnny Giavotella, Omaha. He’s going to repeat here, I think.
  • 3B – Jedd Gyorko, Tucson. Better numbers than Ryan Wheeler of Reno, in not-quite-as-much of a hitter’s park.
  • SS – Adeiny Hechevarria, Las Vegas. Excellent with the glove and hit pretty well, too.
  • OF – Adam Eaton, Reno.
  • OF – Wil Myers, Omaha. My main man!
  • OF – Andrew Brown, Colorado Springs. The offensive leader of the best Sky Sox team we have seen in a while.
  • DH – Luis Jimenez, Tacoma. Home town vote or deserving? I think both.
  • RH Starter – John Ely, Albuquerque.
  • LH Starter – Brad Hand, New Orleans. I selected him over Ryan Verdugo of Omaha in a close decision because he has better stuff and more strikeouts.
  • Reliever: Chad Beck, Las Vegas. Dude had a 1.49 ERA this year in Vegas. That’s insane.

We’ll see if my thinking is in line with the league or not – the winners will be announced shortly!

Tonight’s game is at 7:05, and it is sold out. You can listen to the broadcast on South Sound Sports 850 AM and streaming online right here. Tacoma starts LHP Danny Hultzen (1-2, 4.35) against Las Vegas LHP Bill Murphy (5-5, 4.95).

Links:

  • The Rainiers game story from The News Tribune was penned by Don Ruiz.
  • Benjamin Hill – the guy from MiLB.com who visits ballparks around the country – stopped by Cheney Stadium and filed this report.
  • The Mariners were off yesterday – they are in Chicago to take on the first-place White Sox tonight. They have already matched their win total from two years ago.
  • Jerry Brewer handicaps the American League Cy Young Award race.
  • Larry LaRue has an off-day story on Mariners reliever Tom Wilhelmsen.
  • In the PCL, Reno held off Fresno to maintain a 3.5-game lead in the Pacific-North. Daniel Cabrera is trying to help the Aces down the stretch.
  • Colorado Springs had a come-from-behind victory at Tucson to stay close to Reno.
  • Sacramento shaved its magic number to clinch the Pac-South over Las Vegas down to five. The River Cats got a late grand slam from Brandon Hicks to knock off Salt Lake.
  • Former Rainiers catcher Adam Moore had a nice game and his Omaha Storm Chasers blasted New Orleans, 11-1.
  • Albuquerque now leads New Orleans by four games in the American-South, after beating Memphis, 6-3. The Redbirds signed an infielder to help finish out the season.
  • It’s too late, but the Round Rock Express are finally starting to play well. Former Rainiers slugger Brad Nelson belted his 22nd home run last night.
  • Drama! Ejections! A one-run game! Tempers were high in Oklahoma City’s 2-1 win at Iowa last night.
  • Tucson general manager Mike Feder is “baffled” by attendance struggles.

Looking forward to tonight’s game – Hultzen’s final Cheney Stadium start of 2012.


Three Is The Magic Number

September 1, 2010

Tacoma ripped Colorado Springs last night, 11-1, in a game that featured two rain delays before it really got going. The win lowered Tacoma’s magic number to clinch the division title over Salt Lake down to three.

It was a late night at the park. There was a 32-minute delay prior to the first pitch, and another rain delay of exactly one hour in the middle of the second inning. It’s just typical April weather here at Cheney Stadium – don’t worry, it will be beautiful this Summer!

The pitching hero last night was Andy Baldwin, who is always a great guy to go to in wet conditions – he seems to excel in them. Baldwin went 4.2 shutout innings after the second rain delay, allowing just one hit. Baldwin has pitched 15 consecutive scoreless innings over his last five games – and the coaches have taken notice; don’t be surprised if Baldwin takes Ryan Rowland-Smith’s soon-to-be-vacated starting rotation spot in the playoffs.

Offensively, the Rainiers hitting attack was relentless. Mike Carp launched two home runs, raising his career-high total to 26 on the season. Greg Halman doubled and homered; he has hit 32 bombs this year – and Haman has nine RBI in his last three games. Dustin Ackley went 3-for-5, coming a homer away from hitting for the cycle.

Meanwhile, Salt Lake beat Fresno in the tenth inning, 7-6. But who cares – all the Rainiers need to do is go 3-3 in the final six games, and they clinch the division even if Salt Lake never loses again.

Tonight’s game is at 7:00, and it is the penultimate game at “Original” Cheney Stadium. I have heard that tomorrow’s game is just about sold out, so you might want to come to this one if you don’t have tickets for tomorrow. Tacoma starts LHP Ryan Feierabend (4-6, 5.11) against Colorado Springs RHP Chaz Roe (7-13, 6.13). Of course the broadcast airs live on 850 AM and streams via www.tacomarainiers.com.

Let’s hit the links:

  • Ryan Divish covered his last game at “Original” Cheney Stadium last night, and he shed a tear – but that was not out of sadness, it was actually out of personal pain as the rain delays kept going and going…  and then he couldn’t even get quotes because the game ended so late. Still, here is his game story for The News Tribune.
  • Ex-Rainiers pitcher Felix Hernandez can’t get any run support, but he certainly appears to be the best pitcher in baseball right now.
  • Mariners reliever Shawn Kelley has a dreaded date with Dr. Lewis Yocum.
  • The All-PCL Team was named today (no link available, maybe tomorrow), and no Tacoma Rainiers made the cut. I figured Luke French would have a tough time beating out Michael Kirkman for the LHP spot, but I thought for sure that Matt Mangini would take third base. Instead, Albuquerque’s Russ Mitchell won at third base. WARNING: RANT AHEAD. Russ Mitchell is an Albuquerque mirage. He hit .361 with 16 homers and a 1.168 OPS in his home launching pad known as Isotopes Park. On the road in the PCL, Mitchell hit .280 with 7 HRs and a very ordinary .794 OPS. I believe the voters in this league were fooled by his cumulative line of .322, 23 HRs, and a 919 OPS. Mangini also has better home numbers than road numbers, but he plays his home games in a pitcher’s park. Can you imagine how huge Mangini’s stats would be if he played 72 games in Albuquerque?
  • Oakland called up two Sacramento relievers – one of which was pitching in an independent league two months ago. Also, Sacramento signed Tommy Everidge for the playoffs. Everidge was released by both Seattle and Houston this year; Sacramento needs him because of Chris Carter’s injury.
  • The Salt Lake Tribune declared that the Bees are not dead yet. The Deseret News was not quite as positive.
  • The loss in Salt Lake City was more crushing to Fresno, which missed a chance to pick up a game on Sacramento. The River Kitties still lead the south by two games.
  • In the American-North, Iowa split a twinbill at Albuquerque while Memphis saw it’s seven-game win streak come to a halt. That means Iowa has a one-game lead over Memphis.
  • American-South leader Oklahoma City had a doubleheader against Nashville washed away. That means… back-to-back doubleheaders today and tomorrow!
  • Round Rock is hosting Jay Miller Appreciation Day. I appreciate you, Jay. I mean it.
  • The Omaha Royals are serious about renaming the team.
  • The Oregonian is running the Portland Beavers obituary. Here is a piece comparing baseball fans to soccer fans, and here is a “Best of the Beavers” story.
  • The Detroit Tigers called up a player who was in his 14th minor league season.
  • No matter how many RBIs Mike Moustakas gets in the final six games of the season, he’s not getting called up this year.
  • This blog item has an update on the minor league baseball home run leaders, with a Greg Halman mention.
  • If you want to follow the September 1 call-ups, this is my favorite transactions page.

Today I went to Cheney Stadium early and cleaned all of the non-essential items out of my broadcast booth – I must have everything out of there immediately following tomorrow’s game. This is going to be a fantastically wild off-season.


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.


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