Looking At The Rainiers 2018 Schedule

January 16, 2018

With the season starting in just a couple of months, it’s time to take a look at the 2018 Tacoma Rainiers schedule.

This is the first year of the 140-game era for the Pacific Coast League.  The league has been working off a 144-game schedule since the 1980s, but Major League Baseball wants all of its full-season minor leagues to play no more than 140 games. 2017 was an in-between year, with the league shortening from 144 to 142 games, and now 2018 is the first season of the 140-game schedule.

Surprisingly, the league cut the four games off from the cross-conference portion of the schedule, and not the opposing division. It is not known why they elected to do this, but it creates a competitive imbalance which could easily be resolved.

The basics are still the same: Tacoma will play its three Pacific-North Division rivals (Reno, Sacramento, Fresno) 16 times each, eight games home and eight away.

The Rainiers will play each of the Pacific-South Division clubs 16 times, eight home and eight away.

The imbalance comes in the cross-conference play. This season the American-North teams will visit Tacoma: Iowa and Colorado Springs will play four games in Tacoma, while Oklahoma City and Omaha will play three games each. Tacoma does not visit those cities this year.

We travel to the American-South division: Memphis and Round Rock for three games, and Nashville and New Orleans for four games.

It’s an opposite situation for Tacoma’s travel partner and division rival, Reno. Let’s say Tacoma and Reno are neck-and-neck in a pennant race the last week of July, when the two teams do the New Orleans – Round Rock road trip. Tacoma plays four at New Orleans and three at Round Rock – while Reno plays four games at Round Rock and three at New Orleans. If one of those teams is terrible and the other is really good, the imbalance of games could sway the race.

The simple solution would be to continue playing the American Conference teams in a four-game series, and play one game fewer against the Pacific-South teams. If the Pac-North played 16 games against its own division, 15 against the Pac-South, and four each against the American Conference we would have 140 games and a competitively balanced schedule.

Again, not sure why they did this – the travel cost washes out as the same either way. And it seems kind of silly for, say, Reno to fly all the way to New Orleans for just three games.

Some thoughts on the Rainiers schedule, from a guy who has gets to travel it:

  • Tacoma opens at home on Thursday, April 5th against Sacramento, and finishes the season on Labor Day (September 3) at El Paso. The final road trip is a seven-gamer – Tacoma’s last home game falls on August 27.
  • It’s 140 games in 152 days, including the three-day all-star break in July. The added off-days created by contracting to 140 games should help with the league-wide fatigue problem.
  • There is only one off-day in April, and one in May. This is good, in my opinion. We always have a couple of rain outs (home and away) early in the season, and everyone is invigorated and ready to play at the beginning. The remaining ten off-days are scattered over the final three months of the season – when we actually need them. Well done, PCL.
  • The first thing I always look at is to see if we play El Paso and Albuquerque on the same road trip. Both are long flights – El Paso in particular, because there is zero chance of a direct flight from SeaTac – and flying on the game day is a challenge. It’s a three-hour bus trip from El Paso to Albuquerque, so you really want to knock ’em out in one road trip… but this year we do not visit both cities on the same road trip.
  • Tacoma plays one long road trip: a 12-game, three-city jaunt that starts in Reno for four games, moves to El Paso for four, and then finishes with four games in Sacramento. Thanks to a well-placed getaway afternoon game on a Monday in Reno, I’m told this is not the travel nightmare I originally thought it would be.
  • On the flip side, the Rainiers have a wonderful 11-game, 12-day homestand in late August when the weather should be fantastic. The August 16-27 run features two weekends, a pair of Sunday afternoon games, and eight potentially key match-ups against division rivals Fresno and Reno.
  • As usual we are home on July 3rd, and hit the road (to Albuquerque) on the Fourth of July. The Rainiers prefer this, thanks to our long-standing tradition of July 3rd Fireworks at Cheney Stadium.
  • For the first time in decades the all-star break in the Triple-A leagues does not match up with the major league all-star break. We’re off July 9-11, with the Triple-A All-Star Game on July 11 in Columbus. But the MLB all-star break is July 16-19, with their All-Star Game in Washington, DC on July 17th. I have no idea how this happened, but it definitely is a bummer that the Triple-A All-Star Game will be competing with a full slate of major league regular season games on July 11, instead of having the baseball exclusive on that date as in the past. Could negatively impact the national TV situation, too.
  • The PCL needs to implement a rule that they have in the major leagues: teams must schedule a day game on the Sunday before the all-star break.
  • Fun stuff: we have a day game on a Sunday followed by a Monday night game in both New Orleans and Las Vegas, meaning we get Sunday evening off for fine dining in the Big Easy and fun & games in Vegas. No such luck on the Memphis trip, though – you can really eat well there after a day game.
  • Our first Vegas trip is the same weekend as the Punk Rock Bowling festival next door to our hotel. A very different crowd than the time we were there during the Electric Daisy Carnival, to be sure. Maybe I can catch At The Drive In…

This post made me start to get excited about the season. We’ll continue on Thursday with the first edition of our pre-spring training positional breakdown of potential Rainiers players.

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  • Bad news: Mariners prospect Eric Filia has been suspended for the first 50 games of the 2018 season after testing positive for ‘drugs of abuse.’ In Minor League Baseball, ‘drugs of abuse’ include substances that are legal in most of the western United States. Still, everyone knows the rules, and he’s gonna sit out 50.  Filia was slotted to start the season at Double-A Arkansas.
  • Good news: John McGrath writes that Mike Zunino is trending in the right direction.
  • Pitcher Tyler Cloyd – a member of the 2017 Rainiers – signed as a free agent with the Miami Marlins.
  • Former Rainiers first baseman Ji-Man Choi signed a minor league deal with the Milwaukee Brewers, meaning he’ll probably be back in the PCL playing for Colorado Springs.
  • The Mariners are really average, Matt Calkins writes.
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The Return Of The Staff

January 11, 2018

The Seattle Mariners announced their 2018 minor league coaching staffs on Wednesday afternoon, including the Tacoma Rainiers returning trio.

Pat Listach is back for his fourth year as manager of the Rainiers, and his sixth year managing in the Pacific Coast League. He’ll be joined by third-year pitching coach Lance Painter, and second-year hitting coach David Berg.

Listach took the helm of the Rainiers in 2015, going 68-76 in his first season. Year two saw a huge improvement: an 81-62 record, a division title and Tacoma’s first playoff appearance since 2010.

Last year the Rainiers fell to 66-76 due to a revolving-door roster that was out of Listach’s control. Tacoma had a winning record for much of the season before the incessant roster moves and the lack of any sort of true “team” caught up with us in the end.

Listach is good for the fans at Cheney: during his three years in Tacoma, Listach has amassed a 123-92 (.572) home won/loss record, which is the best of any PCL team over that time.

Personally, I happily welcome back all three. This is a fun staff to work with, and each of the trio gives interesting insight when interviewed on the radio show.

In 2017 the Rainiers had four coaches, but apparently the Mariners have backed away from that. The fourth coach last season was Denny Hocking, who yesterday was named the manager of the Mariners Low-A Clinton (Iowa) affiliate.

The Rainiers training and medical staff has not yet been revealed.

Links:

  • SB Nation reporter Chris Cotillo says that the Mariners have re-signed Christian Bergman on a minor league deal. Bergman was very good for Tacoma last year, posting a 9-4 won-loss record and pitching a complete-game shutout – although his ERA ballooned to 5.34 due to a couple of very rough starts toward the end of the season (he was 8-1 with a 3.34 ERA on July 26). He also filled in for the Mariners last year, pitching in 13 major league games.
  • The Seattle Times has a post on the Mariners minor league staffs, along with Ryan Divish’s comments on the assignments.
  • Hall of Famer and member of the original 1960 Tacoma Giants Willie McCovey celebrated his 80th birthday recently, and he reminisced about his career.
  • Longtime Mariners scout Wayne Norton passed away at age 75. He was a Canadian scout who also covered other international areas. Baseball America covered his career.
  • Congratulations to Friend Of The Blog Dave Cameron, who is now a former baseball writer because he was hired by the San Diego Padres front office.

Povse Back To Starting Role

January 5, 2018

A recent story on the Mariners website brought some clarity to the role of potential Rainiers pitcher Max Povse.

Povse had a tumultuous 2017 season, which saw him struggle amid role changes at the upper levels but also make his Major League debut.

Some background:

A 6-foot-8 right-hander, Povse was acquired from the Atlanta Braves on November 28, 2016 in a rare prospect-for-prospect trade. The M’s gave up their 2014 first round draft pick Alex Jackson in the deal.

Always a starter in the Braves system, Povse opened the 2017 season in the rotation for the M’s Double-A Arkansas affiliate in April. After his eighth start he hit the disabled list with a hamstring injury.

Upon returning from the disabled list Povse was moved to the bullpen. He made one relief appearance and was immediately called straight up to the major leagues, with general manager Jerry Dipoto saying that he hoped Povse could become a multiple-inning super-reliever like the Houston Astros’ Chris Devenski.

That put a lot of pressure on Povse, who in addition to the nerves of being a rookie had essentially zero experience working in a relief role.

The results weren’t good. Povse was hit around in his (very brief) major league tenure, then was optioned to Tacoma where he struggled with his fastball command while being used as both a starter and a reliever, without really knowing his role.

Things changed with an assignment to the Arizona Fall League. Povse was used as a starter there, building up to five-inning stints and improving as the season went on.

In the story on the Mariners site (first link below), Dipoto admits that in hindsight making Povse a reliever was a mistake. He said that Povse will come to spring training this year and compete for a job as a starter.

Let’s go ahead and pencil Max Povse into the Rainiers starting rotation. This will be a good one to watch every fifth day. He has the stuff to be a quality major leaguer in the future and it will be fun to watch him develop.

We have news that two former Rainiers players have new teams.

Infielder Shawn O’Malley has signed with the Colorado Rockies, and catcher Steven Baron inked a deal with the St. Louis Cardinals. Both are minor league contracts.

These are two high quality people and we wish them well.

Links:

  • Here’s the original story on Max Povse and his return to the starting rotation, reported by Greg Johns.
  • Veteran News Tribune columnist John McGrath made his Hall of Fame ballot public and wrote a column about how he voted.
  • Since the Buffalo Bills made the playoffs in the NFL, the Mariners now have the longest playoff drought in professional sports. Baseball writer Ryan Divish displays an alarming amount of knowledge of poor teams in other sports in this Seattle Times story.
  • In the PCL, the Colorado Springs franchise is moving to San Antonio after this coming season, and San Antonio needs a new ballpark.

We’ll be back next week with a look at the 2018 schedule.


New Season Coming!

January 2, 2018

Hopefully everybody had a great holiday season, and is ready for 2018. Tacoma Rainiers opening day – at home this year, on April 5 – is just 94 days away.

It was the quietest winter break in baseball that I can remember. There was no notable news in the minor leagues. Only one major league free agent signed: the Rockies added relief pitcher Wade Davis.

Even Jerry Dipoto went off the grid, apparently. The hyper-active Mariners general manager hasn’t made a roster move since signing reliever Juan Nicasio on December 20th. We are on Day 12 without a transaction for Dipoto, which must be his personal record and makes you wonder if he’s ok.

As we gear up to the start of the season, we’ll begin previewing aspects of it here on the blog.

Coming soon we’ll look at the 2018 Rainiers schedule. The PCL made some unexpected changes to the schedule format this year, which we’ll reveal soon.

In mid-January we’ll launch our look at prospective Tacoma Rainiers players entering spring training. That’s when we start to get a feel about how this year’s team is going to look.

On that front, expect to hear more names of minor league free agents signed by the Mariners in the coming days. Organization depth is still thin at the upper levels.

During the holiday break I still hop on the computer each day and check the various websites for interesting baseball stuff. This year that daily routine produced exactly one (1) link.

Link:

  • This was a fun idea/project: Sam Miller attempted to answer the question “what was the season remembered for?” for each year in baseball history. Baseball nuts can argue about this for weeks.

Happy Holidays To All

December 20, 2017

It’s that time of the year again, when minor league baseball offices close down for the holidays and front office workers get some rest until the new year. Then everybody shows up on January 2nd and says “wait, there are only how many days left until opening day? Ahhhhhhhh!!!!!”

The Rainiers office closes today and will re-open January 2nd. However, the team store is still open on holiday hours through Saturday if you need to do some shopping.

Not much baseball news going around right now. The Mariners did officially announce the signing of free agent reliever Juan Nicasio, which was reported several days ago but was in limbo until he took and passed his physical, which he has now done.

There are still a few big free agent names out there, but as far as I have seen the Mariners have not been linked to any of them. I thought they might have some interest in Yu Darvish, and perhaps they do, but Darvish is in an odd spot: his outstanding track record commands a very large contract, yet everyone’s most recent memory is those two bad starts he had in the World Series.

If the Mariners do make any substantial moves between now and the new year, I’ll chime in with a blog post here. If not, we are going dark until 2018 – when we will start looking forward to a new year of Tacoma Rainiers baseball.

Have a great holiday season!

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Winter Meetings Wrap Up With Rule 5 Draft & Major League Reliever

December 14, 2017

The Winter Meetings ended this morning, with the Rule 5 Draft at breakfast time and then everyone flew home from Orlando.

If the social media accounts of my baseball friends are any indication, there apparently was a end-of-meetings blowout at Disney World last night. One friend Snapped the entire Pirates of the Caribbean ride, which I think is worse than Snapping from a concert. Can we get a ruling on that?

Sorry for the digression. On to the baseball news.

The Mariners came to terms with veteran relief pitcher Juan Nicasio on a two-year contract, pending a physical.

Nicasio was a mediocre starter for several years who has taken off since being moved to the bullpen. Last year he was with three different teams, since it was known he would be a free agent at the end of the season. All told he pitched in 76 games and went 5-5 with a 2.61 ERA, and great numbers across the board. In 72.1 innings he struck out 72 and issued 18 unintentional walks, giving up only 58 hits.

Pleased to report that the Mariners did not lose any players in the major league portion of the Rule 5 Draft, so we’ll get a locker ready for Ian Miller. The Rainiers speedy outfielder was the most likely player to be grabbed by another team.

The Rule 5 Draft requires the drafting team to keep the player in the majors all season long, or else return him to his previous organization. Seattle chose one player, from the New York Yankees: first baseman Mike Ford.

Ford split last season between Double-A and Triple-A, posting terrific numbers as a 25-year-old. However, as a left-handed first baseman it’s really hard to figure out how he’ll fit into the Mariners opening day roster.

There is a possible work-around: the Mariners can look at Ford in spring training, and if they like him but don’t have room on the opening day roster they could put together a trade with the Yankees, which would eclipse the Rule 5 restrictions and allow the M’s to send him to the minors. But that rarely happens.

There is a minor league phase of the Rule 5 Draft which works completely different from the major league phase, and the Mariners were active here.

During the offseason major league teams list their minor league players on different rosters: a Triple-A roster, Double-A roster, on down the line. This is an on-paper roster, with limits of how many players you list at each level. These rosters are never made public.

In the Triple-A phase of the Rule 5 Draft, a team can select certain qualified players off another team’s lower-level roster with only a cash obligation. Basically, they are buying the player.

Today the Mariners ‘drafted’ catcher Joe Odom from the Atlanta Braves and catcher Tyler Baker from the Arizona Diamondbacks. These moves were made to help the organizational catching depth at the mid-levels of the farm system.

Of the two, Odom has more experience including about 50 games at Double-A and three at Triple-A. Baker has been at the Class-A level.

Seattle lost Class-A pitcher Lane Ratliff to the Diamondbacks. Ratliff was one of the many emergency fill-in pitchers for Tacoma last season, appearing in two games and earning a spot in the Can You Name The 52 Pitchers Used By The 2017 Tacoma Rainiers online quiz.

Taking a look at the entire list of Rule 5 Draft picks, a former Rainiers player stands out: shortstop Tyler Smith was selected by the Braves (from the Texas Rangers) in the minor league phase. He’ll probably get a chance to put on an original Gwinnett Stripers uniform.

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M’s Add More Players To Tacoma Mix

December 13, 2017

The Mariners added two minor league free agents late on Tuesday afternoon at the Winter Meetings – and one of them is a local player.

Triple-A first baseman Matt Hague has signed with Seattle and is likely to break camp with Tacoma in April. A six-year veteran of Triple-A baseball – all in the International League – Hague hit .297 with ten homers and 67 RBI for Rochester last season. He posted a .379 on-base percentage, with 61 walks and just 75 strikeouts in 502 at-bats.

Hague is a 2004 graduate of Kentwood High School, before playing three years of college baseball at the University of Washington. He transferred to Oklahoma State for his senior year before starting his professional career.

A right-hand swinging first baseman, Hague reached the majors with Pittsburgh in 2012, and returned for brief stints in 2014 and 2015. He played in Japan in 2016.

Another confirmed signing is speedy outfielder John Andreoli, who played for the Iowa Cubs the last three seasons. The 27-year-old has stolen base totals of 33, 43, and 26 in the last three seasons. He’s also got a little pop, having hit 14 homers in 2017 and 12 in 2016. He batted .244 with a .348 OBP in 2017.

Hopefully the Rainiers can get Andreoli and Ian Miller on base at the same time a lot and wreak havoc on the basepaths.

Today the Mariners re-acquired left-handed starter Anthony Misiewicz from Tampa, in exchange for international signing bonus cap money. The M’s traded Misiewicz to Tampa in early August for Ryan Garton and Mike Marjama.

Misiewicz pitched at the Double-A level during the second half last season (12 starts) and is a candidate to play for Tacoma in 2018, so I guess I should learn how to pronounce his name (I have no idea).

We also have an unconfirmed report that the Mariners have minor league deals in place with infielder Rey Navarro and reliever Johendi Jiminian. This source did have the correct information last week on Casey Lawrence re-signing, so let’s give it the benefit of doubt for now.

Navarro is a 28-year-old middle infielder who hit .278 with seven homers and 82 RBI for Salt Lake last year. He’s mostly a singles hitter; he picked up all of those runs batted in by hitting .313 with runners in scoring position last season.

Jiminian is a 25-year-old right-hander who the Rockies signed out of the Dominican Republic back in 2010. He got his first taste of Triple-A ball last year, appearing in 18 games for Albuquerque and posting a 5.04 ERA. He had control problems with the ‘Topes, issuing 22 walks in 30.1 innings. He pitched against Tacoma twice last year so don’t worry about me with his name – I know how to say this one. Him-in-ian.

Just now the M’s have traded more international cap room to Cleveland for reliever Shawn Armstrong.

Armstrong has been an up-and-down reliever for the Indians, bouncing back-and-forth between Triple-A and the majors for the last three years. He’s out of options and will need to make the Mariners major league roster in the spring, or else be exposed to waivers.

He has a 3.59 career ERA in 39 big league relief appearances, so maybe he’ll make the club. If he somehow gets through waivers and ends up in Tacoma, that would be a positive for the Rainiers. He’s put up great numbers in Triple-A.

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