Sunday, July 27, 2014

7th Inning, Again?


Season: 56-50; Home Stand: 1-4; Home Game Remaining: 18
Wrap, Box

What is it about the 7th inning? Déjà vu. And not as if it should have been unexpected. Enny Romero has only gone past 6 innings once this year, back on 1 June. Going into the 7th his pitch count was low at 79 pitches, so that must have been why he went out to face famous home run hitter Mike Hessman. Bad decision. Hessman hit a home run. Two more hits and one more run later the Bulls were three runs behind and had even less of a prayer of winning than before.

Because the Bulls simply have not been hitting lately, as yesterday’s chart showed. Last night Toledo’s pitchers tied them in knots. Only 5 hits, all singles, a walk, and a hit batsman. That’s just seven base runners. Plus the one time they did get a runner to second base (Mike Fontenot in the 4th), he was thrown out trying to steal third base. And the Mud Hens were able to pull off three double plays, which did away with three of those guys who got as far as first.

Outside the game —
  • The Norfolk Tides have won six in a row and are coming on strong as the Gwinnett Braves fall off the edge of the cliff (see chart below and the standings) The Bulls’ lead in the South Division of the IL looks much less comfortable.
  • Juan Carlos Oviedo is a Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher who started the season with the Durham Bulls. Technically he was on a rehab assignment and never counted against the roster. He made 7 appearances for the Bulls, pitching one inning in each appearance.[ Bulls stats]  A short reliever for the Rays, he made 32 appearances for 31.2 innings down there. Stats. I mention him because he has been designated for assignment by the Rays. That means that he could show up in Durham. The Bulls are short one man and the Rays did not send Jeff Beliveau back. Could be Beliveau is going to stay for a while. 
  • Dan Johnson’s still up with the Blue Jays and “blasted” a 70-foot infield hit for a go-ahead RBI. He followed that with a 3-run, 9th inning homer to win a game against the Yankees. 


Saturday, July 26, 2014

Tough 7th


Season: 56-49; Home Stand: 1-3; Home Games Remaining: 19
Wrap, Box

Beautiful night for baseball at the DBAP. Not too hot, not too steamy. Well-matched teams.

Seems like the 7th inning made all the difference. Mike Montgomery was looking much better than in his awful start down in Gwinnett on the 20th. However, the Mud Hens’ Robbie Ray was looking pretty good himself. Jeremy Moore had muscled an opposite-field home run over the Monster in the 6th to tie the game and Montgomery was up with just 86 pitches thrown. Too many? Hard to say. As a practical matter, no one was warming up. Montgomery walked the first batter, who stole second base and came home as the go-ahead run on a solid single to centerfield. That brought in Adam Liberatore, who had only allowed one of his 17 previous inherited runners to score — by far the best on the team. So although the Mud Hens were ahead by one with no outs it didn’t look impossible to catch up. But a bizarre bunt single that went out into right field put runners on first and third and the runner on third scored before Liberatore could put out the fire with two ground outs and a K. Should Montgomery have started the 7th? Probably not. Ain’t hindsight wonderful? Vince Belnome's pretty shot, also opposite field over the Monster, would not be enough.

Let’s celebrate the Bulls homers though, by Vince Belnome and Jeremy Moore. Let’s continue to worry about Hak-Ju Lee, who does not seem to be improving this last month either at bat or in the field.

Outside the game —
  • Terrific essay on Charlie Montoyo’s record-setting career as Bulls manager in the program notes for this series. Worth coming to the game to get a copy.
  • Nice ceremony after the game honoring Charlie. Nice to see wife and children out there with him.
  • Don’t look now, but there’s been a complete turnover in the IL South Division. Norfolk and Charlotte have both put together winning streaks, Norfolk rising to 2nd place and Gwinnett dropping into last place in just the last few days.
  • Looking back to a game a year ago, July 25, 2013, some interesting names pop up in a Bulls-Braves game.
  • Notice the surprising number at the beginning of this post. Only 19 home games left! Where did the season go?
More Geek Stuff

In spite of a couple of homers, Bulls hitters have not been doing well lately. This is the game-by-game team wOBA (weighted on-base-average) of the last 20 games. It’s the trend that matters. As for what it means, let’s just say that the descriptors for wOBA include terms such as “average” for .320 to “awful” for .290, which is where the trend is below after last night’s game. In other words, it ain’t looking good these days.


Friday, July 25, 2014

The Rain Came Down; Mud Hens in Town

We should have known that it was a doomed effort from the start. After all, that’s what all the weather predictors were saying. Nevertheless, the tarp was pulled in time for the game and we drove through thunderstorms to the DBAP, getting there one inning late. That meant we only saw a couple of innings of baseball before the tarp came back on. At that, though, the Red Wings were hitting Alex Colome pretty well. Worrisome.

The Bulls are going to try to finish the game while they are up at Rochester next month.

Matchup

The Toledo Mud Hens seemed to have sorted themselves out until they arrived in Norfolk four days ago. But then they lost four in a row and are coming in to  Durham in 3rd place in the West. [standings] Statistically, the Mud Hens and Bulls are not that far apart in any department.


Possible Bulls starters for the four game series are: Mike Montgomery, Enny Romero, Matt Andriese, and Nathan Karns.

Geek Stuff

The Pythagorean Expectation computation attempts to translate runs scored for and against into win and losses. So if you were to run the PE equation as we went along this season, here’s what you would get.

click on chart for expanded view

Now, the question is, how come the Bulls are doing better than their expectation? The most likely answer is the bullpen. The Bulls overall ERA is nothing special. At 3.57 they are 4th in the IL. But the relievers’ ERA is 2.86, pretty special. Otherwise, something of a mystery, and something to worry about if the Bulls cannot score runs to push their expectation up. It takes runs to win a game, and the Bulls are not as good at that as some of their competitors.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Ugly, Ugly, Ugly


Wrap, Box, Rochester


Season: 56-48; Home Stand: 1-2; Standings
Wrap, Box, Rochester

The Rochester Red Wings did not score one earned run last night.

And that just about says it all. Plenty of blame to go around, but this was the worst, by far, game of the year for Durham Bulls defense. Prior to last night, the most errors in one game had been two. This set a new record. Another new record was strikeouts, 16, but in an 11-inning game that’s bad, but not the worst of the year. That would be 15 K’s in a 7-inning game on May 16 against Charlotte. Buy, hey, the Bulls won that game 6-2. So it wasn’t the K’s, it was the E’s.

Outside the game —
  • You have to think that Neil Allen must have puffed up with pride when he looked at the Rays/Cardinals box score yesterday morning. All the pitchers were former Durham Bulls and 3 out of 4 from this year. 
  • Jeff Beliveau was among them. He’s been called up for the 4th time this year. He’s only made three game appearances, though.
  • No replacement for Beliveau has been named. The Bulls are operating one relief pitcher short in the bullpen and used three last night.


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Red Wings Arrive


Season: 55-46; Home Stand: 1-0; Standings
Wrap, Box, Rochester

Enny Romero is not my favorite Bulls pitcher, so you will forgive me if I point out that last night he started out the first three innings with a runner on base, and did it again in the 5th. But only the walk he gave up to start the 5th scored. Meanwhile, his opponent, Rochester’s Sean Gilmartin, didn’t let a Bull on base for the first three innings, striking out five of them. Finally Jayson Nix singled and, who else, Jeremy Moore doubled him in in the 4th. Another run in the 5th, and then things really unraveled for Gilmartin in the 7th with the Bulls scoring one run while he was still in the game and then pushing across the two guys he left on base when he left.

This was the first game at the DBAP for the Bulls since July 7th, two weeks ago. Of course, several played in the All-Star Game, but it was still something of a homecoming for them. They showed at least some of that in their aggressiveness on the base paths, although that didn’t exactly pay off for them. Two runners going from 2nd to 3rd got put out, Jeremy Moore stretching out a double and Hak-Ju Lee in an awkward steal attempt.

Has Romero turned it around? Hard to say. On paper last night he was much, much better than his last six starts (5 losses and one no-decision). Certainly the Rays think a lot of him. So, maybe.

The Big Deal was, of course, Charlie Montoyo’s win # 614. Lots of well-deserved accolades, including ours.

Outside the game —
  • Tim Beckham, a regular presence on the infield for the 2012 and 2013 Durham Bulls, played in a game down in Florida yesterday. He messed up his knee working out in the off-season. As far as we can tell, this was his first official appearance this year. Good news for him and very likely for the Durham Bulls if he’s ready to progress.


Montoyo at 614

Photo courtesy Durham Bulls
The 2006 Durham Bulls finished the season 15½ games behind the Charlotte Knights. The year served as a pause following the Bill Evers years (1998-2005, 613 wins). John Tamargo was the manager of a team that struggled to deal with some very difficult personalities including B.J. Upton, Delmon Young, and Elijah Dukes. It was my first year watching the Durham Bulls. I wasn’t sure I’d be coming back. And I didn’t have a clue about how important the manager is to a Triple-A team.

Tamargo moved on and Charlie Montoyo was promoted up from the Montgomery Biscuits. In 2007 he began his extraordinary run as the manager of the Durham Bulls that reached 614 wins last night.

Just a short list of some of the ballplayers he’s managed is a testimony to a man doing his job — getting players to, or back to, the major leagues. Among them would be: Elliot Johnson, Evan Longoria, Justin Ruggiano, Ben Zobrist, Jeff Niemann, Andy Sonnanstine, Mitch Talbot, Dale Thayer, Ried Brignac, Jonny Gomes, John Jaso, Dan Johnson, Grant Balfour, Wade Davis, Scott Kazmir, David Price, Desmond Jennings, Joe Bateman, Jose Lobaton, Dioner Navarro, Jeremy Hellickson, Tim Beckham, Brandon Guyer, Stephen Vogt, Chris Archer, Alex Cobb, Dane De La Rosa, Brandon Gomes, Dirk Hayhurst, Jake McGee, Matt Moore, Ryan Reid, Cory Wade, Matt Joyce, Hideki Matsui, and many, many more who pitched or got at bats in the majors after passing through Durham.

That’s quite a list and one he should be proud of, along with all the South Division titles. Manager of the Year awards, and more. As we’ve written elsewhere, as wonderful as the Governors’ Cup championship is, the true measure of an International League team is the Division championship. And he's won it almost every year he's been managing the Bulls.

For a closer look, see Bull City Summer or John Feinstein’s Where Nobody Knows Your Name for insights into the challenges of Triple-A management.

In the meantime, let me just add my congratulations and thanks. Every time Charlie makes his run down the third base line to take up his position in the coach’s box I think we’re ready to win another game. Last night we did.

For more, check out this and this.

Photo courtesy Durham Bulls

Monday, July 21, 2014

Gettin' Outa' Laurenceville; Red Wings in Town


Season: 55-46; Road Trip: 2-2; Standings
Wrap, Box, Gwinnett Daily Post

That 2nd inning was just ugly. Doug Mathis came on after Mike Montgomery had managed only four outs, let 6 runs in, and had 2 runners on base.

Mr. Mathis has become this year’s sacrificial goat. He goes off to “extended spring training” or “Hudson Valley” when roster room is required. He comes back after the Rays have raided the Bulls. He usually comes in for long, very long, relief situations, often when the game is already out of hand. Is he any good? Hard to tell. All things considered, his line of 18 appearances, 49 innings, with an ERA of 4.22 isn’t bad at all.

After Mathis’ 3 innings, a couple of pitchers who haven’t thrown in a game since before the All-Star break got some time in: Riefenhauser and Kelly. Adam Liberatore wrapped up a lost cause.

Not a game for the Bulls to be proud of, though.

Matchup


Tonight is the first time that the Durham Bulls have seen the Minnesota Twins’ Triple A team, the Rochester Red Wings, this year. After this four-game home series, the Bulls will play them again in the middle of August for their last out-of-division games before the end of the season. The Red Wings are doing very well in the tough North Division of the International League. In fact, if the season ended today, they’d be the Wild Card team for the International League playoffs.

The Red Wings lead the Bulls in every key statistical category listed, so the Bulls will have their work cut out for them over the next couple of days. And there’s the very distinct statistical oddity of their Pythagorean Expectation being so far off from their actual. That implies a lot of games lost by low scores, and games won by very big scores. Let’s hope that they don’t start balancing that out tonight.