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!


One Last Time

September 1, 2014

The 2014 Tacoma Rainiers season comes to an end today, as the Rainiers play their final game of the year at 1:05 in Fresno.

Tacoma picked up a 7-3 victory last night for their 74th win of the season. Tacoma hit three homers, Andrew Carraway had a great start, and the team still needed an eighth inning comeback. Details can be found in the first link below.

After the game, the following players were told they are joining the Mariners today: Taijuan Walker, Lucas Luetge, Carson Smith, Corey Hart, Justin Smoak, Stefen Romero, and Humberto Quintero. Erasmo Ramirez and James Paxton are not eligible to go back up until the PCL season ends, so they are with the Rainiers for one more day.

Romero and Smoak have been hot all month. Romero hit .390 with nine homer and 27 RBI in August, while Smoak batted .415 with one homer and 19 RBI this month. Smoak leaves the PCL with a streak of 27 straight games reaching base via hit or walk.

With all of those call-ups, the Rainiers were a bit shorthanded for today’s season finale. The Mariners have brought in two players from short-season Pulaski to help the cause: catcher/corner outfielder Wayne Taylor and infielder Yordi Calderon are here for today’s game.

Monday’s game starts at 1:05 PM – the Alaska Airlines Pregame Show begins at 12:50 on South Sound Sports 850 AM and streaming online right here. Tacoma starts LHP James Gillheeney (3-11, 5.75) against Fresno RHP Chris Heston 11-9, 3.36).

Links:

  • All of the details on last night’s Rainiers victory can be found in the game story from The News Tribune.
  • Dustin Ackley took matters into his own hands and ended the Mariners losing streak on Sunday afternoon. Big series in Oakland starts today.
  • Fangraphs has a piece on former Rainiers and current Mariners reliever Danny Farquhar.
  • The Pacific-North race is going down to the final day. Reno beat Sacramento last night 7-3, and today’s game will be for the division title. Sacramento manager Steve Scarsone is taking the calm approach.
  • The winner of today’s Reno-Sacramento game will open the Pacific Conference playoffs at Las Vegas on Wednesday. Vegas lost a wild one in Albuquerque last night, 12-11. 
  • Omaha clinched this American-North title with a 13-8 win over Colorado Springs this morning. Yes, this morning: last night’s game was delayed by rain for 2 hours, 40 minutes before the first pitch was even thrown!
  • Omaha will host Memphis in game one of the American Conference playoffs on Wednesday. Memphis was swept in a doubleheader at New Orleans yesterday.
  • Round Rock’s Jared Hoying joined the 20-20 club in a 3-2 win over Nashville.
  • El Paso held off Salt Lake, 4-1, and the Chihuahuas close out a highly successful inaugural season today.
  • Iowa scored six runs in the bottom of the eighth inning to beat Oklahoma City, 11-8. Cubs fans in Iowa have had a glimpse of the future.
  • A Brewers minor leaguer pulled a Leury Bonilla and played all nine positions in one game. Bonilla did this for Double-A Jackson on the last day of the season three or four years ago.

The season ends today, but this blog will continue on. We’ll be back on Wednesday with a brief season wrap-up and PCL playoff predictions.


One To Forget

August 31, 2014

When you play 144 games in a season, there are going to be a few clunkers.

The Tacoma Rainiers had one on Saturday night in Fresno, dropping a 9-2 decision.

Scheduled Rainiers starter Taijuan Walker was scratched by the Seattle Mariners, who apparently have more pressing plans for him. Walker threw a bullpen session and remains with the team here in Fresno – for now.

Logan Kensing made the emergency start for the Rainiers, and he was great for three innings before tiring in the fourth. New reliever Trevor Miller followed, and he had a rough outing as Fresno started to pile up the runs in the middle innings.

A few positive notes: Corey Hart opened the game with a homer, and he’s hit one out in each of the last two games. Stefen Romero hit two singles and he is batting exactly .400 (40-for-100) since being optioned to Tacoma on August 1. Justin Smoak hit a single, and he’s reached base via hit or walk in 26 straight games.

The Rainiers will play tonight’s game with a full squad, but things could get real interesting when the rosters expand on Monday in terms of personnel. With the Mariners opening an important series in Oakland on Monday night, they are probably going to inform the call-ups after tonight’s game and have them travel tomorrow morning (perhaps by bus or hired cars – it’s a three-hour drive) to Oakland.

That could leave Tacoma with a very interesting lineup on Monday.

Sunday’s game starts at 6:05 PM – the Alaska Airlines Pregame Show begins at 5:50 on South Sound Sports 850 AM and streaming online right here. Tacoma starts RHP Andrew Carraway (8-5, 5.28) against Fresno RHP Jake Dunning (0-3, 4.65).

Links:

Only two games left. Can the Rainiers get two more wins?


Rainiers Power To Victory

August 30, 2014

Tacoma launched four home runs and grabbed a 9-7 win at Fresno on Friday night.

Justin Smoak hit a three-run shot in the first inning, Stefen Romero a game-tying two-run blast in the seventh, Leury Bonilla the go-ahead solo dinger in the eighth, and Corey Hart added an insurance run with a tater in the ninth.

The win was Tacoma’s 73rd of the season, with assures the club of an over-.500 record in Roy Howell‘s first year as manager.

Tacoma’s bullpen was outstanding, as Logan Bawcom pitched two scoreless innings and earned the win. Blake Beavan got a big double play grounder to end the eighth inning with a one-run lead, and Todd Coffey worked the ninth to earn his 11th save.

The five-game series here in Fresno is tied, 1-1. Three games remain in the 2014 season.

Saturday’s game starts at 7:05 PM – the Alaska Airlines Pregame Show begins at 6:50 on South Sound Sports 850 AM and streaming online right here. Tacoma starts RHP Taijuan Walker (6-3, 4.57) against Fresno RHP Austin Fleet (3-2, 4.17).

Links:

  • We start with the Rainiers game story from The News Tribune.
  • Felix Hernandez had a rare rough start, allowing a career-high four homers in the Mariners 8-3 loss to Washington last night.
  • The entire recap of the Jesus Montero / Butch Baccala / ice cream sandwich situation can be found in Bob Dutton’s essential Mariners notebook
  • We have a change at the top of the division. Mike Jacobs homered twice and Reno won in Sacramento last night, 7-5. The Aces now lead the Pac-North by one game over Sacramento with three to play. Sacramento does hold the tiebreaker.
  • The American-North really tightened up last night, when Iowa’s Elliot Soto singled in the winning run in the 11th inning to give the Cubs a 5-4 win over Oklahoma City.
  • Oklahoma City’s lead is down to a half-game over Omaha, who was a 6-2 winner over Colorado Springs. Carlos Peguero hit his 30th homer.
  • Memphis trimmed its magic number to clinch the American-South down to one with an 11-6 win at New Orleans. Luis Mateo drove in five runs for the Redbirds.
  • Nashville stayed alive in their chase to catch Memphis by downing Round Rock, 7-4. Round Rock may lead the league in attendance.
  • Salt Lake’s Luis Jimenez hit his 21st home run of the year in an 8-6 win at El Paso.
  • Carlos Triunfel hit a three-run homer during a five-run rally that gave Albuquerque a 9-6 win over Las Vegas.
  • Baseball America has a big story on the potential affiliation changes in the PCL. 

Go Bears! Errr… Go Rainiers!


Rainiers Let One Slip Away

August 29, 2014

Welp, that hasn’t happened in a while.

Tacoma took a 5-1 lead into the bottom of the eighth inning, only to see Fresno pick up a 6-5 walk-off win over the Rainiers on Thursday night in the opening game of a five-game series.

Fresno scored four tuns in the bottom of the eighth inning, with veteran infielder Brandon Hicks launching a game-tying three-run homer with two outs off new Rainiers reliever Trevor Miller. Miller – who was making his Triple-A debut – pitched a perfect seventh inning before surrendering the lead in the eighth.

The Grizzlies rallied to score the winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning against Tacoma reliever Carson Smith. A bloop single, an infield single, and a walk loaded the bases with two outs before Adam Duvall grounded the game-winning single into left field.

The fact that Smith allowed the winning run to score is surprising in itself: he has been on a terrific run lately. He had allowed just three runs in 27 innings since June 6.

Tacoma starter Jordan Pries lost his chance to become Tacoma’s first 10-game winner since 2010, when both Luke French (11 wins) and Chris Seddon (ten wins) did it. Pries allowed one run over six innings in his final start of the year, and he finishes with a 9-7, 3.69 record.

Friday’s game starts at 7:05 PM – the Alaska Airlines Pregame Show begins at 6:50 on South Sound Sports 850 AM and streaming online right here. Tacoma starts RHP Forrest Snow (2-3, 3.27) against Fresno LHP Kelvin Marte (1-2, 5.34).

Links:

There is a bizarre story out there regarding Jesus Montero on his rehab assignment with Everett. The stories that I’ve seen have so much conflicting information that it’s hard to know which details – if any – are correct. I’m not linking to anything until we get some actual reporting on this. Here’s what we do know: Montero and Mariners scout Butch Baccala got into a verbal confrontation. And thanks to some relentless investigation by Seattle Times sports business reporter Geoff Baker, we know for certain that the Boise Hawks sell ice cream sandwiches.

Mmmmmm, ice cream sandwiches.

 


Final Home Game Tonight

August 27, 2014

The Rainiers took down the Iowa Cubs on Tuesday night, 5-3, and the two teams wrap-up a four-game series tonight.

Tonight’s game is the Rainiers final home game of the season. Crowds have been excellent throughout this homestand and hopefully that will continue tonight.

The team continues to play well, although it was eliminated from playoff contention last night. Sacramento has a one-game lead over Reno with six games to play, and Tacoma is five back. Because Sacramento and Reno play each other in the final five games, it is mathematically impossible for the Rainiers to pass both teams.

That being said, Tacoma has been the best team in the second half. The team is 46-27 over the last 73 games, and is now guaranteed an at-least .500 final record. Considering that the team was 13 games under .500 in May, that’s pretty amazing.

Yesterday’s win was impressive. Andrew Carraway had been pitching as a reliever, even pitching in back-to-back games for the first time in his career on Saturday and Sunday. On just one day of rest (and less than three hours of notice), Carraway made the spot start and lasted five innings, giving up one run. Carraway threw 69 pitches and earned his eighth win of the year.

The Mariners announced their prospects who will play in the Arizona Fall League, and Tacoma catcher John Hicks is one of them. Hicks went 2-for-4 with an RBI and two runs scored last night.

Today Tacoma is adding right-handed pitcher Trevor Miller to the roster, up from Double-A Jackson. Miller started the season in the rotation for Jackson, and he was 4-7 with a 5.05 ERA when moved to the bullpen in mid-June. As a reliever, Miller is 2-1 with four saves and a 1.40 ERA. He did not allow an earned run in his last 23.1 innings for Jackson.

Miller has a good chance to open next season with the Rainiers, so this is an opportunity for him to get an early taste of Triple-A. Tacoma is very, very short in the bullpen right now so Miller is going to pitch.

Wednesday’s game starts at 7:05 PM – the Alaska Airlines Pregame Show begins at 6:50 on South Sound Sports 850 AM and streaming online right here. Tacoma starts LHP James Gillheeney (3-10, 5.81) against Iowa RHP Dae-Eun Rhee (1-2, 5.19).

Get out to the park a little early tonight if you can. Prior to the game, the Rainiers team awards will be handed out: offensive player of the year, defensive player of the year, pitcher of the year, and the community service award.

Links:

  • The Rainiers game story from The News Tribune has reaction from Andrew Carraway and Roy Howell.
  • James Paxton was dealing and the Mariners beat the Ranger on Tuesday night.
  • Bob Dutton’s Mariners notebook includes the complete list of Mariners prospects going to the Arizona Fall League. They have a pitcher slot “TBA” and I wonder if that could go to Danny Hultzen.
  • The big news off the field yesterday is that the Mariners committed to general manager Jack Zduriencik for at least another year. The team’s excellent season this year is obviously the reason why.
  • Jerry Brewer of the Seattle Times has a column on Jack Z’s extension.
  • Jay Jaffe of Sports Illustrated shared his thoughts on Jack Z’s extension.
  • The major story in the PCL is that tonight’s game is the last one at Greer Stadium in Nashville. The Sounds move into a new downtown ballpark next year. The Tennessean has a good story on the people who made the park famous.
  • On the field, Sacramento’s Matt Buschmann pitched a three-hit shutout and struck out ten in a 2-0 win at Nashville.
  • Reno remained one game behind Sacramento by edging Omaha, 7-6.
  • Memphis downed Fresno, 9-6, and the Redbirds have a two-game lead over Nashville in the American-South.
  • Oklahoma City claimed sole possession of first place in the American-North with a 13-6 win over Albuquerque. The RedHawks are focused on the PCL playoffs.
  • Las Vegas won its sixth in a row, beating Round Rock 9-5. The 51s have set their playoff rotation. << that story includes one of the most horrifying notes at the bottom that a baseball fan could ever read. Proceed at your own risk.
  • Colorado Springs lost to El Paso but won at the gate: the Sky Sox set a franchise attendance record.
  • Grant Green had four of Salt Lake’s 18 hits in an 11-2 win over New Orleans. The game featured a strange obstruction play and Zephyrs manager Andy Haines winning his argument after he was ejected.
  • Baseball America has its daily minor league round-up.

Home finale tonight. Should be fun!


Rainiers On Brink

August 26, 2014

Tacoma was shut out by Iowa last night, 8-0, and the Rainiers are on the brink of elimination from the playoff chase.

The best-case scenario for the Rainiers now is a 3-way tie for first place in the division. One Tacoma loss, or if either Sacramento or Reno wins a game in the next two days, and the Rainiers are eliminated.

Facing those long odds, Tacoma has a bullpen day today. Scheduled starting pitcher Erasmo Ramirez is on hold, as he is the likely starter for the Mariners in their day game tomorrow against the Texas Rangers.

This isn’t exactly the best day for the Rainiers to be without a starting pitcher. The 14-inning game on Sunday has already stretched the Tacoma bullpen – so much that last night the Rainiers used infielder Ty Kelly to pitch the top of the ninth with the team trailing 8-0.

Kelly, by the way, was great. He retired the side in order on five pitches (four strikes), and topped out at 88 mph on the scoreboard radar gun. He retroactively earned the bragging rights he was talking about on our pregame show yesterday.

The Rainiers won’t have to deal with Jorge Soler tonight. The Cubs prospect homered in the first two games of this series, but after launching a three-run opposite-field shot off Taijuan Walker last night, he was pulled from the game. Reports out of Chicago say he is on his way to joining the Cubs and will make his MLB debut on Wednesday.

Kris Bryant can’t be far behind, but the Rainiers have held him in check so far. Bryant is 1-for-10 with a homer in this series.

Also of note on the Iowa Cubs side of things, they placed player/coach Manny Ramirez on the disabled list with a knee problem yesterday. He’s still here in Tacoma coaching, but we won’t see him take an at-bat in this series.

Tuesday’s game starts at 7:05 PM – the Alaska Airlines Pregame Show begins at 6:50 on South Sound Sports 850 AM and streaming online right here. Tacoma starts LHP Lucas Luetge (3-2, 3.53) against Iowa RHP Dan Straily (7-7, 4.00).

Links:

  • The Rainiers game story from The News Tribune has reaction from manager Roy Howell and Ty Kelly.
  • Albuquerque outfielder Joc Pederson won the PCL Rookie Of The Year award. According to the press release, Tacoma’s Chris Taylor received at least one vote.
  • The Mariners were shut out by Texas last night, 2-0.
  • The Mariners are juggling their starting rotation again, to give guys an extra day of rest.
  • Larry Stone writes that the Mariners have already won their biggest game: they got the fans to care again.
  • For ESPN Insiders, Buster Olney writes that the Mariners are in prime position to steal the AL West. My take: they need to figure out how to beat Texas first (they are 5-8 against the last place Rangers this year).
  • The Sacramento River Cats are probably still hitting singles as you read this. They had 20 singles among a franchise record 24 hits in a 20-1 win at Nashville last night.
  • Reno remained one game out of first place by taking down Omaha, 7-1, Reno’s Bradin Hagins tossed a complete game in his third career Triple-A start.
  • Memphis shut out Fresno for the second day in a row, 1-0. Memphis leads the American-South by one game over Nashville.
  • Asher W. was dealing and Oklahoma City shut out Albuquerque, 3-0, to pull into a first-place tie with Omaha in the American-North.
  • Salt Lake shortstop Shawn O’Malley credits Katy Perry for his all-star season. Salt Lake lost to New Orleans last night, 6-5.
  • Las Vegas is prepping for the playoffs by winning every night. Their 9-3 victory over Round Rock last night was their fifth in a row.
  • El Paso topped Colorado Springs 4-3 in a game that featured numerous ejections during a downpour.

Only two home games left: tonight and tomorrow.


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