M’s Update: Wild Card, Bakersfield, Hultzen

September 22, 2014

There was some baseball news to pass along from the weekend, but first a word about the blog: we are in off-season mode now that the minor league season is over, so that means no more posts on Saturday and Sunday anymore. I’ll have new content two or three times a week during the business days. I’ve got a list of off-season topics to write about, and some of them are going to be pretty fun.

As for the weekend that was, well… it was a rough one for our Seattle Mariners, who dropped two-of-three games at Houston. It is now crunch time in the push for the playoffs: the Mariners are two games behind Oakland and 1.5 games behind Kansas City, and they need to pass one of those teams to make the playoffs. The final week starts tonight – here are the schedules:

  • SEATTLE: (7) four games at Toronto, three vs. Los Angeles Angels.
  • OAKLAND: (7) three games vs. LA Angels, four at Texas.
  • KANSAS CITY: (8) four games at Cleveland*, four at Chicago White Sox

* one of KC’s four games at Cleveland is the completion of a suspended game which KC trails 4-2 in the tenth inning. This game will be completed today.

The Mariners need to take care of their own business and start winning games again. Something like a 5-2 finish could do the trick.

The Mariners changed affiliates in the Advanced-A California League, switching from High Desert to Bakersfield.

By moving to Bakersfield, the Mariners will no longer have prospects playing 70 home games in the notorious launching pad of High Desert. Instead, they’ll play 70 home games in the not-quite-as-notorious launching pad of Bakersfield’s Sam Lynn Ballpark.

Locals have been trying (and failing) to replace Bakersfield’s ballpark for decades. It’s an ancient mistake: they built it facing the wrong way, so the sun sets in straight-away center field. There is (or used to be – I worked in the California League from 1996-1998) a tall sun screen behind the center field fence. Often, 7:05 games would start ten or 15 minutes late – the umpires would wait until the sun was low enough to no longer shine directly into the batter’s eyes.

Why would the Mariners move their affiliate to this place?

It appears that the M’s are gambling on the future.

Plans are afoot to build a new ballpark in Salinas, California and move the Bakersfield franchise there. This could happen as soon as 2016 if everything falls in place – there is a key city council meeting on Tuesday.

By signing on with Bakersfield now, the Mariners could find their affiliate playing in a shiny new park in two years.

I received some encouraging news about Rainiers pitcher Danny Hultzen over the weekend.

Hultzen – who missed the entire 2014 season with shoulder surgery – is recovering nicely. He faced live hitters for his first time on Friday down at the Mariners instructional league in Peoria, Arizona. Reports are that Hultzen looked good – and also happy, as he was finally pitching again after a long and grueling rehabilitation process.

I don’t know what the Mariners plan to have Hultzen do next, but for now this is great news. Hopefully he can be ready to compete for a rotation spot in Tacoma next spring.

Links:

  • The postseason outlook is included in this Mariners game story covering Sunday’s loss. The Mariners rotation is struggling, including yesterday’s starter Hisashi Iwakuma.
  • There is big pressure on rookie James Paxton to deliver a strong outing tonight in Toronto. He’ll be pitching on his native soil for the first time in seven years, according to Bob Dutton’s Mariners notebook.
  • Here’s the press release on the Mariners switch from High Desert to Bakersfield.
  • If you haven’t seen this yet, PCL MVP Joc Pederson – now a lowly rookie with the Dodgers – was asked to go on a pregame Starbucks run for the veterans. In full uniform. The photo was shot outside Wrigley Field.
  • Omaha has won three of the last four PCL titles, and the wave of talent isn’t done yet.
  • I wrote on Friday about how the PCL affiliation changes (nearly) wiped out the Triple-A version of the Mariners-A’s rivalry. Turns out the PCL version of the Giants-Dodgers rivalry suffered the same fate.
  • Fresno’s Chris Dominguez is enjoying his first big league call-up, and he hit his first Major League home run on Sunday. The story of what happened to the baseball is a new one.
  • John McGrath ranked and commented on the 30 MLB teams in Sunday’s News Tribune.
  • In his Sunday column for the Seattle Times, Ryan Divish picked his MLB award winners. He also has his power rankings.
  • Baseball history alert: it’s the 50th anniversary of one of the biggest collapses in MLB history. Chico Ruiz helped doom the 1964 Phillies, and his story is a unique one.
  • If you don’t enjoy this Vine of a fan catching a home run with his popcorn bucket, we just can’t be friends anymore.

Our next blog update will come on Wednesday.

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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.


Opportunity Missed

August 23, 2014

Tacoma missed a chance to pull within three games of first place last night, dropping a 2-1 game to Omaha in front of a packed house at Cheney Stadium.

The Rainiers ran into Omaha’s Liam Hendricks, who has been the best starting pitcher in Triple-A baseball this season.

Hendricks started the season with Buffalo in the International League, where he was leading the circuit in ERA. He was the starting pitcher and winner for the IL in the Triple-A All-Star Game, and then was traded near the deadline to the Royals organization.

In just his fifth start for Omaha, Hendricks tossed eight innings without allowing an earned run. He gave up just six hits and two walks, while recording seven strikeouts. Hendricks is now 4-1 with a 2.83 ERA in five PCL starts.

The loss hurt Tacoma, which had strong pitching performances of its own from James Gillheeney, Blake Beavan, and Logan Bawcom.

First place Sacramento lost, second place Reno won and is now only one game back, and Tacoma remains in third place and four games out of first. Only ten games remain.

Imagine how tight things would be if Tacoma had won last night! Still, the boys aren’t out of the race yet. We’ll see what happens tonight.

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 Jordan Pries (9-6, 3.77) against Omaha RHP Aaron Brooks (10-3, 4.32).

Links:

  • The Rainiers game story from The News Tribune has reaction from Ketel Marte and manager Roy Howell. One big correction: the final out was a controversial called strike three, not a swinging strike. I haven’t had a chance to look at the video yet, but I’ve been told that pitch appeared quite low.
  • The Mariners miraculous 5-3 comeback win over Boston was so dramatic you may want to read about it twice. So, here’s Ryan Divish’s story for the Seattle Times, and here is Bob Dutton’s version from the TNT.
  • Dutton’s Mariners notebook includes a Michael Saunders update.
  • There could be a big affiliation shuffle in the PCL this fall, and a newspaper report out of Oklahoma says the Dodgers are moving to Oklahoma City next year. That’s news to the folks in Albuquerque.
  • Sacramento scored first and did not score again in a 4-1 loss at Memphis. Redbirds starter Tim Cooney won his league-leading 13th game.
  • Reno pulled to one game back by crushing Iowa, 11-6. Reno goes for a four-game sweep tonight.
  • Fresno’s Chris Heston pitched a complete game four-hit shutout at Nashville and won, 3-0. Nashville trails Memphis by one game in the American-South.
  • Having already clinched the Pacific-South title, the Las Vegas 51s picked up an 8-7 win over New Orleans while pausing to enjoy the Little League World Series.
  • El Paso beat Oklahoma City on Tony Cody Decker‘s eighth inning homer.
  • Joc Pederson homered (32) and stole a base (29) in Albuquerque’s 13-7 win at Colorado Springs, and he’s one steal away from becoming the PCL’s first 30-30 man since 1934.
  • Round Rock was rained out at Salt Lake, they’ll play two today.

It’s the last Saturday night home game of the year – see you at the park!


Hot Rainiers Make A Move In Division Race

August 19, 2014

The Rainiers banged out 15 hits, Jordan Pries delivered six scoreless innings, and Tacoma beat Round Rock on Monday night, 6-2.

Tacoma made a big move in the standings. The team gained on both Sacramento and Reno, and things are really starting to tighten up.

Sacramento has lost three straight to Oklahoma City, and Reno took a tough 11-inning loss in New Orleans last night. Sacramento is still in first place, and Reno is two games back.

Sitting in third place, the red-hot Rainiers are now only four games out of first. This is the closest Tacoma has been since May 20.

There are 14 games left in the season. Tacoma wraps up the Round Rock series tonight, then comes home to play Omaha and Iowa before finishing up with a five-game series at Fresno.

The Omaha-Iowa homestand will be fun. Those two teams are battling each other for first place in the American-North, and they will have a lot on the line just like the Rainiers. These should be some pretty intense games on the upcoming homestand!

Tacoma has won five of the last six games, and has clinched a winning record on the current road trip. Now the team tries to win the series here in Round Rock – it would be the third straight road series won by Tacoma if they get it done. The Rainiers have not lost a road series since they went 1-3 at El Paso in late June.

Tuesday’s game starts at 5:05 PM (Pacific) – the Alaska Airlines Pregame Show begins at 4:50 on South Sound Sports 850 AM and streaming online right here. Tacoma starts RHP Forrest Snow (2-2, 2.18) against rehabilitating Round Rock LHP Derek Holland (0-1, 9.64).

Links:

  • The Rainiers game story from The News Tribune has reaction from Jordan Pries and manager Roy Howell.
  • Familiar foe Jerome Williams shut down the Mariners on Monday night, 4-1. Back at ’em tonight.
  • Larry Stone is starting to see some similarities between this year’s Mariners and the 1995 club.
  • There are tidbits galore in Bob Dutton’s Mariners notebook.
  • Cats Slump Continues” cries the headline in the Sacramento Bee. It seems that their offense is really struggling. Nick Tropeano shut ’em down last night.
  • New Orleans took down Reno in the 11th inning on a walk-off home run by Brian Bogusevic. The deep fly ball was actually tipped over the left field fence by outfielder Zach Borenstein.
  • Austin Fleet went the distance for a shutout as Fresno beat Colorado Springs, 5-0.
  • Nobody in the league is hotter than Memphis right now. The Redbirds won their ninth in a row, taking down El Paso, 7-4. Memphis leads the American-South by one game over Nashville.
  • Nashville kept close by knocking out Albuquerque, 9-3, on 50-cent Hot Dog Night. Jason Rogers went 4-for-5 with three RBI. Joc Pederson hit his 30th home run, and he needs two steals for 30-30.
  • A top prospect debuted, Carlos Peguero homered again, and Omaha was a 9-5 winner over Las Vegas.
  • Iowa is struggling without Kris Bryant in the lineup. He pinch-hit last night, but they lost to Salt Lake again – this time by a 7-5 score as Vance Albitz homered twice.

Early post today, because I’m going on a lunch adventure. I’ve been told to beware of falling into a post-meal meat coma – hopefully that won’t cause any problems for tonight’s broadcast.


Rested For Stretch Run

August 7, 2014

The Tacoma Rainiers enjoyed their last off-day of the season yesterday, and now the team begins the run to the finish line: 26 games in 26 days, starting tonight against Fresno at Cheney Stadium.

The team is ready for a playoff push. Tacoma trails first place Sacramento by six games, and second place Reno by four games.

The key to a possible playoff run is the fact that Sacramento and Reno play each other ten times in the final 26 days, including a five-game series in Reno starting tonight. Tacoma wants the results of their ten games to be close: a 5-5 split, or maybe 6-4 to Reno’s favor. That would give the Rainiers the chance to gain games on both teams if they can stay hot.

And hot they are. The Rainiers won the series at Albuquerque and finished the road trip with a 5-3 record. Tacoma is 34-19 over the last 53 games, including an 11-5 stretch over the past 16. Tacoma has also won 10 of the last 14 home games, going into tonight.

Now Tacoma faces a Fresno club that has played steady .500 ball since the all-star break, going 10-10. They’ve had a lot of roster changes in the last week, and there are several new faces on the club. Tacoma has gone 4-2 against Fresno so far this season.

Thursday’s game starts at 7:05 PM (Pacific) – the Alaska Airlines Pregame Show begins at 6:50 on South Sound Sports 850 AM and streaming online right here. Tacoma starts RHP Erasmo Ramirez (3-4, 3.74) against Fresno RHP Jason Berken (8-8, 4.40).

Links:

It’s Thirsty Thursday tonight!


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!