Saturday, August 16, 2014

Tampa Bay Rays Reach .500

In mid-June the Tampa Bay Rays were 18 games below .500 and I made the comment that they would be doing well if they could get up to .500 by the end of the season. In mid-July I even created a chart (of course I did) that plotted a path to .500 and noted that they were doing a bit better than could be expected.

Well, yesterday they reached .500 at game #122 on the season, very likely breaking all sorts of records. So, it’s only fair that we update our chart.

Congratulations Tampa Bay!

click chart to enlarge

11 Innings! 19 K's! Shutout 13! 1-0 Walkoff Win!

Season: 66-61; Home Stand: 1-0
Wrap, Box

So, let’s imagine that you are parents and you know that fireworks after a Durham Bulls game is a wonderful show. So there you are with your kids, who aren’t exactly baseball fans. They came for the fireworks. The game’s been going on for 4 hours! The Bulls have burned through four pitchers and the Knights have gone through five of them. The Bulls, in fact, had a combined no-hitter going through the first 8 innings. You might be enthralled with the inch-by-inch progress, but I can tell your kids ain’t. Some are asleep. Some are bouncing around like sugar-addicts seeking yet another fix.

Then in the top of the 11th new guy Cory Burns gives up a one-out double. Charlie Montoyo orders a rare, very rare, intentional walk. It’s only the second intentional walk he’s called for the entire year. Burns K’s the next batter, making it 18 Ks on the night for Durham pitching. But then he walks the next batter and that loads the bases. Things are not looking good for the Bulls, but Mr. Burns strikes out Knights shortstop Carlos Sanchez and the Bulls are out of the inning.

By this time (bottom of the 11th) the Bulls have not a single position player left on the bench. They started out with Hak-Ju Lee, Wilson Betemit, Jeremy Moore, and Mayo Acosta there. By the top of the 11th they are all in or have made an appearance in, the game. Tim Beckham leads off with a single. Mike Fontenot sacrifices him to second base and Mayo Acosta, hitting something like .110 on the season comes to bat. Even with that poor history, we fans know what could happen.

Meanwhile, the kids are wondering if they are ever going to get around to fireworks. Some moms are seriously questioning their own and their husbands' sanity. Why are we still here?

Well, here’s why. Mayo Acosta hits a double and the Bulls get their very first walk-off in a very long time. Bulls pitching has held off the best hitting team in the IL to just four hits.

All is right with the world.

Cue the fireworks.

Outside the game —
  • Brandon Gomes has been optioned back to the Bulls. Look for roster changes.
  • Update: Vince Belnome has been called up (16 Aug)
Note: WDBB is leaving town for a week. Not sure if we’ll be able to connect reliably from up Brasstown way. Maybe. Enjoy the games. We’ll be back.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Last Stand in the North Successful

Season: 65-61; Trip: 2-3
Wrap, Box, Democrat & Chronicle

For their last game in the North in the regular season, the Bulls had some fine pitching and a hit fest — 16, including two doubles and two home runs. Merrill Kelly, who wakes up each morning wondering whether he’s going to be a starter or a reliever, started and led the shutout allowing just two hits.

Hak-Ju Lee, who is having a generally awful season (including two E’s last night) hit a home run in his first at bat to lead things off for the Bulls. That helped as the Bulls had trouble pushing runs across until the 8th. Still, they were seeing the ball well and putting a lot of guys on base.

Mike Fontenot’s last several days have been terrific. Last night he went 4 for 6, as did Mikie Mahtook. Ray Olmedo only went 3 for 4, but drew two walks and scored three runs. Tim Beckham’s return remains strong. He was 1 for 5 last night.

Outside the game —
  • Justin Christian’s punishment of a three-game suspension for threatening the pitcher that hit him seems a bit harsh . (He made a few steps toward the pitcher with the bat still in his hand. I saw it. He was carrying the bat in the middle, at the balance point. Not in a striking pose. What was he supposed to do? Throw the bat away and then come after the guy who’d just hit him? No doubt, however, that he was really upset. As was Charlie Montoyo.) The punishment extends to the entire team. The Bulls are not allowed to replace him, so they will be a position player short for the next two games. Expect to see infielders in the outfield. At least the Bulls will be at home with the short left field wall. Christian’s right hand bat will be missed, though.
  • I missed any update there might have been regarding Wil Myers. If he’s still with the team, that will help fill the gap.
  • Meanwhile, that was the last out-of-division game of the year for the Bulls. And they will not be back in the North unless they 1) win the South Division and 2) win the first round of the playoffs against the West champion.
  • If I’ve counted right, the Bulls have 12 home games and 5 road games left, all against South Division teams.
  • Ice Bucket Challenge. I don’t know if this is a local or national challenge, but all sorts of local leaders and celebrities are participating in an “ice bucket challenge”, which amounts to standing in front of a camera and dumping a bucket of ice water over your head — all in a good cause — ALS treatment and research. All the local mayors seem to have joined in. Not to be outdone, Wool E. Bull, General Manager Mike Birling, and a cast of ... a lot ... have joined in.
  • Note for twitteristas: See the hashtag #keepthecup that is out there. Good idea.
  • Over at Rays Colored Glasses Robbie Knopf speculates on where Tim Beckham might fit in the Rays situation next year.

The Bulls come home well ahead of anyone else in the South Division, but stuck just a few games above .500.

Click on chart for larger view

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Split; Roster Turmoil

Season: 64-61; Trip: 1-3
Wrap, Box 1, Box 2, Democrat & Chronicle

Lots of transactions and player shuffling over the last couple of days. But first these two screwy, and long, games.

The first one was a resumption of Tuesday’s game when the rains came down and the game was stopped after the second inning. That meant the Bulls came into the night to play their fourth double header in a week. That’s a lot of baseball and a lot of turmoil. Then, to top if off, the Bulls blew a 3 run lead and the game dragged on into the 11th inning before Mike Fontenot doubled and Vince Belnome went all the way from first base to home. Vince is not the quickest guy on the Bulls, but by the time he rounded third he had worked up a real head of team. Not real sure Charlie Montoyo could have stopped him. But he didn't try. He was waving his arms like a berserk windmill. Nevertheless, the Bulls had 15 hits over two nights and certainly one of their best hitting games in a long while.

Speaking of Charlie, he got tossed a few minutes later after Justin Christian got hit on the third inside pitch of his at bat. Very ugly words exchanged, most notably between Christian and a Red Wings fan whom the umps didn’t notice that Christian was inviting down into the dugout.

Speaking of fans, I gave up around the 4th inning of the second game, near midnight. I could see at least two, maybe three, fans left in the stadium. Gotta admit that 16 innings of baseball, even if you’re winning the second game, is a bit much.

Is Wil Myers to become a base stealer, or just having fun? He stole two in the first game (didn’t play in the second one). Noticed that in addition to his major league helmet, he’s in the long trousers worn by most, but not all, the Rays.

Players moving around —
  • Let’s start with Tim Beckham. He was an important part of last year’s championship team. He started out at 2B, then played most of the rest of the year at shortstop after Hak-Ju Lee’s injury. He was in 122 games last year and had excellent numbers. Plus, he did OK in a September callup. He ripped up his knee in training over the winter and has finally made his way back. His opening night at second base was pretty darn good, 4 for 6 with 3 runs scored, and an RBI. Playing second base.
  • Also moving onto the roster was Cory Burns a right-handed reliever, up from the Rays AA team, the Montgomery Biscuits. Burns has a bunch of Triple-A experience. [stats] He’s been doing just fine as a short reliever in Montgomery. The question might be how come he was there in the first place. Burns came on for 2+ innings in the second game, gave of three hits, but no runs and K’d two batters.
  • Moving off the roster was Robby Price and Doug Mathis, both to the Hudson Valley roster, meaning that they can’t play in a Bulls uniform, but they are still traveling with the squad.
  • Then Brandon Gomes was called to the Rays (and he appeared last night for two scoreless innings to close out the Rays/Rangers game).
  • And Cole Figueroa is coming back. Mr. Figueroa is one of my favorite players and as much as I have hoped that he’s enjoyed bringing home the huge major league money (compared to Triple A money), I have worried about his lack of playing time with the Rays. He’s mostly been on the bench since his last callup. He does join the crowd of infielders on the Bulls roster. The Bulls now have six ballplayers who range from pretty good to excellent middle infielders — Figueroa, Fontenot, Franklin, Lee, Olmedo, and Beckham, and that doesn’t count Wilson Betemit who is a decent third baseman, and Robby Price who just went off the roster. What’s happening is that some of them are spending time in the outfield (Ray Olmedo was in left field for the first game last night). 
  • At any rate, I’m happy to see Cole Figueroa and Tim Beckham back. I’d guess that Charlie’s going to have a tough time filling out a lineup. The odd man out, from a performance perspective, is young Hak-Ju Lee. He’s having a terrible year. Would it help for him to spend some time in Montgomery? Don’t know. What’s obvious from the stands is that he’s not hitting well at all and that he’s using is arm to compensate for not very good footwork in the field.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Bulls Lose Both; Montgomery?

Season: 63-60; Road: 0-2
Wrap, Box 1, Box 2, Democrat & Chronicle, MiLB

The headline for these two games are the Bulls being no-hit in a game that was played out on two different days (24 July and 11 August) and two different places (Durham and Rochester); and the grand slam by rehabbing Wil Myers. I lean toward the Democrat & Chronicle as the best story on the no-hitter. I'll let the Rays bloggers wax poetic over Mr. Myers. Don't get me wrong, it was a pretty shot. Just wish a few more Bulls could get on base and score.

We are obsessed with the fact that the last time the Bulls were 3 games over .500 was back on April 11, 9 games into the season. At that moment they were 6-3 and climbing upwards, never to look back — until now.

While worrying about that, let me ask the question: What happened to Mike Montgomery? He was to be the star of the Durham Bulls pitching staff this year. He certainly started out that way with 7 wins in 14 appearances, including a no-hitter. But beginning in late June/early July things haven’t looked all that good. In seven appearances, five have been very weak, including 4 losses, two no-decisions, and only one win. In those seven starts he’s only gone a total of 26.2 innings, and has given up 21 runs. Plus, he’s been working really hard for those outs. Last night, for example, it took him 73 pitches to get through just 2⅔ innings. At a far-distant guess there is something afoot. We noted a couple of long breaks back in June where he only made two starts in the second half of the month (6/14, 6/23, 7/5).

He’s up to almost 1,800 pitches this year, slightly below average for this year’s starting pitchers, but that’s a near-pointless metric in the minor leagues. I would not be surprised to see him shut down again sooner rather than later. Have to think that something’s not quite right.

Meanwhile, Bulls hitting has not improved. Two more games since yesterday’s chart (4 games in two days has to be some kind of record as well). I had to change the scale on the left of the chart since the Bulls had not had a game this year where they were below .200.

click on chart for larger view

Monday, August 11, 2014

Bulls Manage (Just Barely) a Split

Season: 63-58; Home Stand: 2-3; Home Games Remaining: 12
Wrap, Box 1, Box 2

These two games were characterized by decent Bulls pitching, but absolutely pitiful Bulls hitting. Yes, some can be attributed to the Bisons’ pitching crew but just five hits over two (7 inning) games and only one double, is simply not very good. Even more worrisome, it appears to be part of a trend. As the chart below shows, not once in the home stand did the Bulls hit above average on the OPS stat. The two games they did win were 1-0 shutouts. Another troublesome stat: the Bulls struck out 44 times over the last five games and only drew 8 walks, a hint of some collective anxiousness. Seems like hitting coach Dave Myers has some work to do.

Will having Wil Myers around for a while matter? Who knows? He does get to wear the shiny major league batting helmet instead of the toadstool that minor leaguers have to wear. There’s an oddity to add to the concussion controversy. In baseball it’s the players who insist on inviting concussion, apparently because the safer helmets required of minor leaguers just don’t look right on those studly guys.

But I digress. Myers did get one of the two hits in game one as DH and will apparently be “reporting” to the Bulls in Rochester. Not sure what that means.

Nate Karns looked OK in game 1. With a little run support he might have done better. In game 2, Alex Colome actually looked to be struggling, but he was whistling in his fast ball and, mostly, keeping it under control.

Outside the game —
  • Remember a couple of weeks ago when we huddled in the stands and watched the rain come down on a fairly dull game? It was on 24 July in a game against the Rochester Red Wings and Red Wings had scored just one run on 5 hits in 4 innings against Alex Colome. The Bulls were hitless over three innings. Jayson Nix was in the lineup and had been in the middle of a double play. Box.
  • That game starts up again up in Rochester today. I think they simply play on with some adjustments to the batting order. The Bulls are due up in the bottom of the 4th. Not sure how this works, but on that day Vince Belnome batting in the DH slot and #3 in the order was coming to bat. (Game Log)

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Double Header Today! Negro League Night

Great baseball men! Great stories!

1st Game starts at 4:05! Nathan Karns starting. 7 innings
2nd Game 30 min after 1st game. Alex Colome starting.

Wil Myers DHing?

More info.