Rainiers Roller Coaster Ends; PCL Playoffs Begin

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 Response to Rainiers Roller Coaster Ends; PCL Playoffs Begin

  1. Mac says:

    Thanks Mike. Enjoyed listening to you again this season.

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