Snow Delivers Late-Season Flurry

August 31, 2013

Rainiers reliever Forrest Snow made a spot-start yesterday, and he delivered his best outing of the season as Tacoma defeated Sacramento, 7-1.

Snow went five scoreless innings – more than exceeding the coaching staff’s expectations – and did not allow a run. He set a season-high with eight strikeouts, and gave up just two hits.

Snow finished off his season on quite a roll. The University of Washington product did not allow a run in his final seven Triple-A appearances, spanning 13 innings. Assuming he doesn’t pitch again, his final Tacoma numbers for 2013: 4-0 with a 2.93 ERA, and 43 strikeouts in 40 innings.

Two players had successful Triple-A debuts last night. Nick Hill tossed two perfect innings in relief of Snow, and James Jones was 1-for-4 with a run scored and an excellent running catch in center field.

Ji-Man Choi continues to hit, giving us something to look forward to next year. Choi is getting a two-week taste of Triple-A, and we can expect him on opening day next year if nothing wacky happens during the off-season. Choi was 3-for-4 with two doubles, three runs scored, and an RBI last night.

Sacramento will be eliminated from playoff contention – ending a string of six straight division titles – with either a Tacoma or a Las Vegas win tonight.

Tonight’s game is at 7:05 (Pacific), and you can hear it on South Sound Sports 850 AM, streaming right here, and available via the TuneIn app for iPads and smart phones. Tacoma starts RHP Blake Beavan (5-6, 6.00) against Sacramento RHP Bruce Billings (13-7, 4.40).

Links:

  • The Rainiers game story from The News Tribune has quotes from Forrest Snow.
  • Taijuan Walker was sharp and earned the win in his major league debut last night. Abraham Almonte also debuted, going 1-for-5 with two RBI.
  • The Mariners traded Michael Morse to Baltimore for Triple-A outfielder Xavier Avery. Avery is expected to report to Tacoma today.
  • Baseball America has a brief report on Avery.
  • Las Vegas was three outs way from clinching the Pacific-South title – only to blow a 1-0 lead in the ninth. Tucson won it on Mike Wilson‘s two-run homer. The 51s “magic number” is one.
  • Reno won the first game in Salt Lake, 5-4, and the Rainiers picked up a game in the standings. Ahhh, whatever.
  • Gary Brown had three hits as Fresno beat Colorado Springs, 7-5.
  • In the American-North, Omaha remained in a first-place tie with Memphis by grabbing a 6-4 home win against Round Rock.
  • Memphis is trying to win on the road, and they shut out Oklahoma City last night, 4-0. Memphis has a big advantage: they own the tiebreaker against Omaha, having won the season series.
  • New Orleans shut out Albuquerque last night, writes friend-of-the-blog Tim Grubbs.
  • PCL Pitcher of the Year Johnny Hellweg finished strong as Nashville topped Iowa, 3-2.
  • The new ballpark in Nashville may be closer than we think, since the newspaper ran an article today on what they would do with the old park, Greer Stadium.

It’s the last night game of the season. See you at the ballpark!


Rainiers Eliminated As Roster Revolves

August 30, 2013

Lots going on today, so let’s get to it.

The Rainiers were eliminated from playoff contention last night, as Salt Lake clinched the division title with an 8-4 victory. They celebrated in the visiting locker room at Cheney Stadium, much to our clubbie’s delight.

Salt Lake was as many as nine games behind Tacoma in late May. Their turnaround was remarkable, as they are now 16 games over .500 and on the cusp of 80 wins despite posting a negative run differential. Salt Lake manager Keith Johnson was named the PCL Manager of the Year today.

Our congratulations to Salt Lake, who will play either Las Vegas or Sacramento in the playoffs.

After the game, moves started to happen.

Abraham Almonte was called into the office to receive the good news: he was getting his first promotion to the majors – two days before anticipated.

Almonte will certainly be the Rainiers Team MVP for 2013. He hit .314 with 11 homers and 50 RBI in 94 games – from the leadoff spot. He drew 49 walks and posted a .403 on-base percentage. Almonte was 20-for-27 in stolen base attempts.

Almonte can drag bunt and he can hit for power. He also has the best throwing arm from center field we have seen in Tacoma since Adam Jones played here.

Analysts have pegged Almonte as a fourth outfielder type in the majors. After watching him play for four months, I believe he is better than that. Here’s hoping I’m correct on this one.

The Rainiers also officially lost Taijuan Walker today, as he will be starting for the Mariners tonight in Houston. Go get ’em, Tai!

Also out of the picture is left-handed reliever Brian Moran, who sprained his right ankle on Wednesday night. He is out for the remainder of the PCL season, and unfortunately the injury clouds his chances for a September call-up.

The Mariners have promoted two players from Double-A Jackson to Tacoma. Outfielder James Jones and left-handed reliever Nick Hill are on their way.

Jones hit .275 with six homers and 45 RBI in 101 games. He’s a speed player: he hit ten triples and stole 28 bases in AA. This is probably a 2014 preview, as Jones seems like a strong candidate to play daily for Tacoma next year.

Hill is a product of the US Military Academy who had to jump through a lot of hoops to pursue his professional career. He’s dealt with injury issues, but rebounded this season to post a 2.17 ERA in 42 games out of the Jackson bullpen.

One other move occurred today: the Mariners traded Michael Morse to the Baltimore Orioles for Triple-A outfielder Xavier Avery, and assigned Avery to Tacoma.

Avery hit .237 for Norfolk, with two homers, He has 29 stolen bases between Double-A and Triple-A this year.

This trade just happened this morning, and Avery is with the Norfolk club. It remains to be seen if he will actually report to Tacoma before the season ends with the day game on Monday – I say coin flip, 50/50 shot.

The Sacramento River Cats come to town today, and the Rainiers can play spoiler.

Sacramento trails Las Vegas by two games in the Pacific-South. Las Vegas has possession of the tiebreaker, so their magic number is two.

Sacramento’s string of six consecutive Pac-South division titles is on the ropes. Ending that streak would be a fun way for the Rainiers to finish off this season.

Tonight’s game is at 7:05 (Pacific), and you can hear it on South Sound Sports 850 AM, streaming right here, and available via the TuneIn app for iPads and smart phones. Tacoma starts RHP Forrest Snow (3-0, 3.34) against Sacramento LHP Carlos Hernandez (1-2, 6.00).

Links:

It’s the final Friday Night Fireworks of the season – come on out to the ballpark!


Rainiers Fall In 13th; On Verge Of Elimination

August 29, 2013

Tacoma lost to the Salt Lake Bees in the 13th inning last night, 8-6. It was a 5 hour, 7 minute marathon game that ended amid some light showers at 12:15 in the morning.

The loss put the Rainiers 2013 playoff hopes on life support. Tacoma trails Salt Lake by four games with five to play, and the Bees can clinch the division with a victory in the series final tonight.

It was a frustrating game that saw Salt Lake score two unearned runs due to Tacoma errors, including the tying run in the top of the seventh inning. Then the Rainiers had the go-ahead runner at third base with one out in the bottom of the eighth, and couldn’t get him in.

Tacoma did not threaten to score after the eighth, and Salt Lake rallied for two runs on four singles in the 13th.

The Bees were pretty excited to get the win. They’ve been crawling to the finish line, losing eight of ten games prior to last night. They’re going to have a massive dogpile on the infield if they win tonight.

I don’t want to see that celebration. Hopefully Tacoma can take this game tonight and send them on their way.

The worst-kept secret in the Pacific Northwest became public before the game yesterday, when Taijuan Walker was announced as the Mariners starting pitcher for tomorrow’s game at Houston.

Walker is coming off a six inning, one run, nine strikeout gem at Tucson in his last outing – it was one of his best games at the Triple-A level.

All of us with the Rainiers are rooting for Walker tomorrow. If anything, it should be entertaining!

Prior to the game yesterday, it was not known who would take Walker’s spot in Tacoma’s rotation.

Today the Pacific Coast League announced that Reno shortstop Chris Owings in the winner of the 2013 Most Valuable Player award. Owings is hitting .329 with 12 homers and 74 RBI and an .833 OPS while showing good range (albeit with 28 errors) at shortstop.

I did not vote for the 22-year-old Owings, and here’s why: Reno is 29 games under .500, and has been in last place all season. Call me old school if you must, but I’m not giving an MVP vote to a player on an awful team unless he is far and away the best player in the league – and Owings is not.

Owings also benefited from his home ballpark, which is a great place to hit. He has a .905 OPS at home, and a rather pedestrian .755 OPS on the road. He’s harder to walk than Carlos Triunfel, with just 18 unintentional walks drawn in 550 plate appearances.

The league press release said that nine different players received MVP votes, which is remarkable since there were only 32 votes cast (voters do no rank a top three like they do in the majors; here in the PCL you list one name). This must have been an extremely close vote.

For the record, I voted for Tucson shortstop Dean Anna.

Tonight’s game is at 7:05 (Pacific), and you can hear it on South Sound Sports 850 AM, streaming right here, and available via the TuneIn app for iPads and smart phones. Tacoma starts RHP Hector Noesi (3-2, 4.82) against Salt Lake RHP Jarrett Grube (7-5, 4.39).

Links:

  • Here is the Rainiers game story from The News Tribune.
  • The Mariners lost their sixth in a row as Felix got roughed up.
  • Here is the TNT’s story on Taijuan Walker‘s call-up. Baseball Prospectus subscribers can read this report on Walker. Jeff Sullivan thinks it will be interesting.
  • Ryan Divish has additional thoughts on Walker – and also news on Michael Morse, who has apparently been claimed on revocable waivers.
  • Well, if there is one benefit to not making the playoffs, I suppose getting to attend this would qualify.*
  • Las Vegas split a doubleheader at Colorado Springs, and now leads the Pac-South by two games. Las Vegas holds the tiebreaker on Sacramento, so this is effectively a 2.5-game lead.
  • Sacramento’s Anthony Aliotti homered in the ninth to give the River Cats a 4-3 win over Fresno.
  • Tucson is hosting its final Triple-A baseball game tonight. Greg Hansen has a column.
  • Omaha lost in Iowa, with a rare catcher’s balk factoring in the game. Omaha leads the American-North by one game, because…
  • Second place Memphis blew a 7-4 lead in the tenth inning and lost to New Orleans in the 11th. The American-North is a war of attrition. (One of these two sub-.500 teams will probably sweep through the playoffs and win the whole ball of wax).
  • Springer, Springer, Springer. We just can’t get enough George Springer!
  • It sounds like Albuquerque is the big winner, travel-wise, with the new PCL alignment for 2014. The Topes picked up a 2-1 win in 11 innings last night.
  • Jim Caple has an ESPN feature article on keeping score.

It’s the last Thirsty Thursday of the year, you guys.

* this event has been booked for months – the Rainiers will be on the road in the playoffs on Saturday if they pull off a miracle.


Two Down, Two To Go

August 28, 2013

The Rainiers completed Step No. 2 of the four-step plan to division title contention on Tuesday night, defeating first-place Salt Lake 7-1.

The Rainiers have won the first two games of the series, pulling within three game of the Bees. Two more wins, and Tacoma will be just one game out of first with four to play, and in possession of the tiebreaker.

James Paxton was in complete command last night, coasting through eight innings while allowing just five singles and one (unearned) run. He issued just one walk and struck out seven.

It was a return to July’s form for Paxton. That month he dominated every five days and posted a 1.80 ERA. He had a couple of rough outings at the beginning of August, but has improved lately and then last night happened.

Offensively, Rich Poythress had the big hit – a two-out, two-run double in the third inning to give Tacoma a 3-1 lead. Poythress added a solo homer later and went 3-for-4 with three RBI.

Ji-Man Choi connected on another home run – this time a two-run shot to right after Poythress’s double. Choi went 3-for-4 and has five hits over the last two games.

Mariners catcher Mike Zunino started his rehabilitation assignment and contributed a triple and a walk while catching five innings. I expect Zunino to be with the Rainiers through Saturday at least.

Tonight’s game is at 7:05 (Pacific), and you can hear it on South Sound Sports 850 AM, streaming right here, and available via the TuneIn app for iPads and smart phones. Tacoma starts RHP Andrew Carraway (6-7, 5.37) against Salt Lake LHP Dontrelle Willis (1-1, 5.74).

Links:

  • We’ll start with the Rainiers game story from The News Tribune.
  • We have video of Mike Zunino‘s triple to center last night.
  • Seven Mariners prospects are going to the Arizona Fall League, including Rainiers Danny Hultzen and Stefen Romero. Hultzen threw a simulated game at Cheney yesterday and hopes to pitch an inning in a real game this weekend.
  • The Mariners lost on a tenth inning balk.
  • Toledo broadcaster Jim Weber called his 5,000th consecutive game. Not “just” 5,000 games – 5,000 games without missing one. I tip my microphone to you, Jim. << this story has a good Jose Lima / Eric Wedge anecdote.
  • The Chicago White Sox executive who orchestrated the signing-bonus kickback scandal got two years in the federal penitentiary.
  • At the bottom of this report, Baseball America has a list of the all-minors home run and strikeout leaders. Taijuan Walker is tied for fourth in the minors in strikeouts.
  • Nashville’s Johnny Hellweg was named PCL Pitcher of the Year. He had a great season, but I voted for Sonny Gray instead due to Hellweg’s lofty walk total.
  • Las Vegas saw its lead in the Pacific-South trimmed to 2.5 games after losing a crazy game in Colorado Springs.
  • Sacramento edged Fresno to pick up ground on the 51s.
  • Tucson was blown out by Reno 10-1, but several Padres are in line for a major league promotion.
  • Oklahoma City was the first team to clinch a playoff spot, and manager Tony D was prepared – he brought his goggles.
  • Omaha lost to Iowa and now leads the American-North by just one game.
  • Memphis pulled within one game of first be picking up an 8-2 win at New Orleans.
  • Albuquerque is finishing its first season using a baseball humidor – here’s a review.

Off to the ballpark – let’s see if the Rainiers can keep this going!


Step One Complete

August 27, 2013

The Rainiers took Must-Win Game No. 1 last night, emphatically beating Salt Lake 11-5. Tacoma scored four runs in the first inning, Blake Beavan pitched well into the sixth inning, and Leury Bonilla had four hits.

One down, three to go.

Tacoma is now four games behind Salt Lake with seven games remaining – and three in the current series, in which they can gain a game each day with a win.

The Rainiers should add a player tonight: catcher Mike Zunino is expected to start a rehabilitation assignment. Zunino (broken hamate bone) is supposed to catch five innings tonight, and look for him to bat high in the order to maximize plate appearances.

Hopefully Zunino will help with Must-Win Game No. 2 tonight.

PCL awards week is underway.

Yesterday the league office announced the All-PCL team, or post-season all-star team. No Rainiers made it this year – and there weren’t any real surprises, except for possibly the omission of Oklahoma City’s George Springer. Springer hasn’t been in the league for very long and there are several teams (including Tacoma) who never faced him.

The full all-star team is available in the links below.

Today the league announced the Rookie of the year, and it is Reno shortstop Chris Owings. The rookie crop was very strong this year, with Wilmer Flores, Dean Anna, Corey Dickerson, Springer, and Michael Choice other excellent candidates.

Coming up later this week, we’ll have the Pitcher of the Year, the MVP, and the Manager of the Year.

Tonight’s game is at 7:05 (Pacific), and you can hear it on South Sound Sports 850 AM, streaming right here, and available via the TuneIn app for iPads and smart phones. Tacoma starts LHP James Paxton (7-11, 4.64) against Salt Lake RHP Billy Buckner (7-2, 4.60).

Links:

  • We start with the Rainiers game story from The News Tribune.
  • Here is video of Ji-Man Choi‘s first Triple-A home run.
  • The entire All-PCL Team can be found right here.
  • Chris Owings put up big numbers at a young age to win the PCL Rookie of the Year.
  • The Mariners activated Franklin Gutierrez from the disabled list and released Aaron Harang. Seattle will need a starting pitcher for Friday, which is Taijuan Walker‘s day in the Tacoma rotation.
  • Meanwhile, the Mariners lost their fourth in a row and fell 12 games under .500 – that’s the lowest they have been in a while.
  • Geoff Baker has an in-depth feature on former Rainiers infielder Nick Franklin.
  • Former Rainiers outfielder Wladimir Balentien is closing in on the single-season home run record in Japan.
  • The Seattle Times caught up with my Monday Nights broadcast partner Bob Robertson. Bob told me he decided to step away from the play-by-play back in the spring, he is totally on-board and is looking forward to visiting Auburn this weekend.
  • Las Vegas went in to Colorado Springs and swept a doubleheader in the opening game of a six-game series.
  • Sacramento got shut out at home by Fresno and fell 3.5 games behind the Sky Sox. The River Cats six-year streak of division titles is on the ropes.
  • Reno got creamed by Tucson.
  • Omaha continued its remarkable path of losing its way to the American-North title.
  • New Orleans shut out Memphis 1-0 and the Redbirds still trail Omaha by two games.
  • Oklahoma City’s 17-game home winning streak came to an end. The RedHawks magic number to clinch the American-South is one.
  • Albuquerque edged Round Rock and is not eliminated yet. The story has some crucial season-end stats about 50-Cent Hot Dog Nights.
  • Jim Callis is leaving Baseball America – this is a shocker.

Another huge game tonight!


Rainiers Escape Tucson With Win, Must Sweep

August 26, 2013

Taijuan Walker delivered one of his finest starts of the year, and the Rainiers won the final game in Tucson on Sunday night, 6-4.

It was the last road game of the year – Tacoma finished the season going 36-36 in away games.* The Rainiers avoided a sweep at the hands of Tucson, and remained five games behind Salt Lake.

Walker lasted six innings, giving up one runs on six hits (all singles). He struck out nine and walked two.

In a radio interview earlier Sunday, Mariners GM Jack Z said that Walker’s innings limit for this season is 160. He is now at 141 IP on the year, with one PCL start remaining (unless Tacoma makes the playoffs – then he’d have one or two more).

Stefen Romero had a big game offensively, going 3-for-5 with a two-run homer and three RBIs. He’s a big part of the Rainiers offense – it’s too bad he’s had so many nagging injuries this season; he’s only played in 87 games.

Tacoma closer Logan Bawcom worked a scoreless ninth to earn his 20th save. He’s the first Rainiers player to get 20 saves in a season since Randy Messenger saved 25 games in 2009.

Now it’s time for the big series with Salt Lake, and the Rainiers have their backs against the wall. Trailing by five games with eight to play, the Rainiers must sweep the Bees to have a chance at the division title. A sweep leaves the Rainiers one game back with four to play (Tacoma hosts Sacramento at the end, Salt Lake is home against Reno).

If the Rainiers win three, they would be three back with four games left. Obviously that’s not mathematically impossible to overcome, but it sure is extraordinarily unlikely. The Rainiers need to sweep.

One thing to consider if the Rainiers do get the sweep: they would win the tiebreaker with Salt Lake based on head-to-head record, making the resulting one-game deficit easier to overcome. A tie at the end of the season would be good!

On the other side of the equation, Salt Lake will clinch the title if they get two wins in Tacoma. That’s our visiting clubbie’s worst nightmare, so let’s make sure that doesn’t happen.

Tonight’s game is at 7:05 (Pacific), and you can hear it on South Sound Sports 850 AM, streaming right here, and available via the TuneIn app for iPads and smart phones. Tacoma starts RHP Blake Beavan (4-6, 5.95) against Salt Lake RHP Tommy Hanson (0-1, 3.27).

Links:

  • Here’s the Rainiers game story from The News Tribune.
  • The Mariners got swept by the Angels.
  • Eric Wedge explained what the Mariners are doing with Brandon Maurer.
  • Salt Lake worked Reno and ended up taking two-of-five there.
  • Las Vegas saw its seven-game win streak end with a 4-1 loss to Fresno.
  • Sacramento pulled within two games of Las Vegas by crushing Colorado Springs, 12-4. The Sky Sox made four errors in one inning – yikes!

That’s all I have time for today – we’re flying home, our last travel day of the season. I’m looking forward to this series – it will be a lot of fun, especially if Tacoma wins the opener.

* which leads one to wonder, why did we go on all of those road trips, anyway?


Playoff Race Takes Turn For Worse

August 25, 2013

Saturday was a bad day for the Rainiers, as Tacoma blew a 4-1 lead after the seventh inning stretch, and first place Salt Lake won easily in Reno.

That result means that the Rainiers are now five games behind Salt Lake with nine to play. The four-game series between the top two teams in the Pacific-North division starts in Tacoma on Monday.

First, the Rainiers play their final road game of the season tonight in Tucson (Tacoma is 35-36 on the road this year). A win is virtually mandatory tonight if the Rainiers are going to have a legitimate shot at running down the Bees.

Win or lose tonight, Tacoma is going to have to sweep Salt Lake in the series that starts tomorrow. Going 3-1 against the Bees would only pick up two games in the standings – and that’s not going to cut it.

Tucson also has a playoff problem, but of a different ilk: Tucson has gone 12-4 in the last 16 games, yet has lost a game in the Pac-South standings during that stretch. Las Vegas has gone 13-3. Tucson is five games back, and the Padres finish the season with a four-game series at Las Vegas.

Tonight’s game is at 7:05 (Pacific), and you can hear it on South Sound Sports 850 AM, streaming right here, and available via the TuneIn app for iPads and smart phones. Tacoma starts RHP Taijuan Walker (4-3, 3.86) against Tucson RHP Sean O’Sullivan (7-4, 3.88).

Links:

  • The blow-by-blow of last night’s game can be found in the Rainiers game story from The News Tribune.
  • My minor league notebook for the paper has an update on injured Rainiers pitcher Brian Sweeney, and more.
  • The Mariners are having some offensive problems.
  • Reno helped out Tacoma three days in a row, but that streak ended last night as Salt Lake beat the Aces, 7-2.
  • Las Vegas opened up a three-game lead in the Pac-South by edging Fresno, 2-1. The 51s have won seven straight games – talk about a stretch run!
  • Kent Matthes and the Colorado Springs Sky Sox knocked Sacramento further back in the standings.
  • New Orleans topped Omaha in the tenth inning on Kevin Kouzmanoff‘s game-winning hit. Omaha (66-69) still leads the American-North despite a sub-500 record. No PCL team has made the playoffs with a losing record since the current format was established after the Triple-A merger in 1998.
  • Memphis still trails Omaha by two games after losing to Iowa, 8-5, with former big league Cal Eldred in the stands.
  • Oklahoma City moved closer to clinching the American-South by knocking off Round Rock, 6-3.
  • In El Paso, the independent team is going away with Triple-A baseball coming next year. The local paper has a history of baseball in the city.

Night game on a Sunday? Yup. It’s too hot in Tucson this time of year to play day games.