Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Conger Has a Good Night

Game 104, July 25, Durham Bulls Athletic Park, Durham, North Carolina
Toledo Mud Hens (Detroit Tigers): 2
Durham Bulls (Tampa Bay Rays): 8
Season: 46-58; Home Stand: 1-0
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

Game Score: Faria 56; Season Avg 47 (6 starts, 26.2 innings)
Team OPS: Game .952; Season .668; Diff +.284
Team wOBA: Game .383; Season .300; Diff +.083

In yesterday's post, I complained about new guy Hank Conger who was not having a particularly good introduction to the Bulls, hitting just .130. Nor could I understand why he'd be put in a DH slot with that kind of record. And then there he was in the lineup as DH as I filled out my score card! I grumbled about that all through the first two innings, along with being appalled at the appearance of the turf. The outfield looks just awful.

I continued to be sure of my opinion even after Mr. Conger's single in the 3rd inning. After all, every one of the players on the bench, Jaff Decker, Richie Shaffer, or Daniel Robertson, had much better stats than him. But then he came to bat in the 4th. By that time the Bulls had scored a run off an Arencibia fielder's choice. Runners were on first and second with two outs. So what did he do? Batting left-handed (he's a switch-hitter), he chips one over the Blue Monster, bringing home 3 runs and putting the Bulls ahead, 4 to 2. Jake Goebbert hit a home run the next at bat to put the game away.

Bottom line: As much as it pains me to my soul to admit it, putting Hank Conger in the lineup in the DH slot was the right call last night.

Jacob Faria had a good night. It was particularly notable following his last two starts where he had Game Scores of -6(!) and 24.

But it was a hitters' game. J.P. Arencibia continued his hot streak with a single and 2 RBIs. Taylor Motter hit two doubles, scored 2 runs, and had an RBI. Dayron Varona had a double, walk, scored a run, and an RBI. We've already mentioned the homers by Conger and Goebbert.

Plus, we need to mention that twice the Mud Hens put a runner on third base with a triple and neither of them scored. Good defense, good pitching.

Outside the game —
  • The Montgomery Biscuits, Tampa Bays' AA team, is in first place in  their division in the Souther League. (standings)
  • The Bulls are 12 games below .500, but have moved into sole possession of second place in the South Division of the International League. (standings).
  • The web is abuzz with possible deals involving the Rays. Most of the speculation involves them trading off starting pitchers. If they are dealing pitchers for prospects, we can expect some roster turmoil here with the Bulls.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Matchup: Toledo Mud Hens vs. Durham Bulls

The second-most famous team in minor league baseball, the Toledo Mud Hens, arrives in Durham today. The Mud Hens are the Triple-A affiliate of the Detroit Tigers. The Bulls lost 2 out of 3 up in Toledo at the end of May. The Mud Hens are last in the West Division and are not having a good year. And yet they lead the Bulls in essentially all statistical categories. The Bulls will have to continue their improvement to win this series.

On the other hand, baseball is finally back in Durham. It has been a long, long 14 days since the last game in the DBAP!

Long Trip; One-Run Losses

Game 101, July 22, PNC Field, Moosic, Pennsylvania
Durham Bulls: 5
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRaiders: 6
10 innings
Wrap, Box, Scranton Times-Tribune
Game Score: Schultz 42; Season Avg 54 (20 starts, 97 innings)
Tm wOBA: Game .358; Season .298; Diff +.060

Game 102, July 23, PNC Field
Durham Bulls: 4
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders: 5
Wrap, Box, Scranton Times-Tribune
Game Score: Pruitt 38; Season Avg 56 (20 starts, 114.1 innings)
Tm wOBA: Game .363; Season .299; Diff +.064

Game 103, July 24, PNC Field
Durham Bull: 3
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders: 4
Season: 45-58; Trip: 5-6
Wrap, Box
Game Score: Gamboa 38; Season Avg 52 (8 starts, 30.2 innings)
Tm wOBA: Game .270; Season .299; Diff -.029

After starting the post-All-Star trip with two losses in Syracuse, the Bulls then pulled off four wins in a row, wins that started with a spectacular no-hitter by Justin Marks and continued with decent hitting. The wins included two in extra innings. Two Durham Bulls, Marks and J.P. Arencibia, were named as IL Players of the Week.

Then we have these three one-run losses where three usually reliable starters aren't so reliable.

Oddly enough, for a day or so the Bulls were in first place in the IL South, tied with the Charlotte Knights. Today the Bulls are still tied with the Charlotte Knights but they are both in second place. The Gwinnett Braves have ridden a five-game winning streak into first place.

This has to have been the toughest road trip of the year for the Bulls and we can guess that they are looking forward to being back in Durham and Thursday's day off.

I have to mention my annoyance with one of the Bulls newest members, Hank Conger, a catcher who appears to bring nothing to the team (unless he is particularly good at handling pitchers). In his 6 games as a Bull he's had just 3 hits (.230/.167/.217), although he is fitting right in with his 8 strikeouts. Why would he DH with those kinds of stats? By the way, the Bulls lead the International League in K's with  887.

On the positive side, switch-hitting first baseman Casey Gillaspie is looking awfully good, as is J.P. Arencibia

If we aggregate the stats over the 11 games, we see a few ticks upward in hitting stats, a small improvement in the relief crew's work, and a worrisome drop in starting pitcher performance.

Lastly, continuing our look at a Bulls' "Road to .500" possibilities — steep road. The Bulls need to win 27 out of their next 41 games to get to .500 on the season.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Durham Bulls Tied for First

Game 100, July 21, PNC Field, Moosic, Pennsylvania
Durham Bulls (Tampa Bay Rays): 8
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders (New York Yankees): 4
Season: 45-55; Trip: 5-3
Wrap, Box, Scranton Times-Tribune

Game Score: Marks 46; Season Avg 53 (15 starts, 84 innings)
Tm wOBA: Game .415; Season .297; Diff +.118

The Bulls are in 1st place in the International League South Division! How weird is that? They are 10 games below .500 and yet they are tied with Charlotte for first place. Plus, they won a game from the best in the IL in a very impressive fashion. See the chart below.

At first, it looked as if Justin Marks, who threw a no-hitter his last time out, was going to have a very short outing. He got through the first inning OK, but the 2nd was a disaster. Then, the Bulls had a great top-of-the-3rd with Taylor Motter's 2-run homer a highlight and acting manager Ozzie Timmons left him in the game. A couple of double plays helped as he did a good job through the 5th.

Timmons and, very likely, pitching coach Kyle Snyder, had to make the decision because manager Jared Sandberg had gotten himself thrown out of the game in the 1st inning. By my count, this was the fourth ejection of the year (2 wins and 2 losses) and gets us wondering about his anger management skills. Did he have a legitimate beef? Probably. Nick Franklin had taken a pitch off his hand that was called a foul ball, not a hit-by-pitch. Franklin ended up leaving the game.

In the 4th Richie Shaffer hit a long home run to tie the game. Jaff Decker drew a walk and did some nice base running to get to 3B on a Daniel Robertson single. Decker came home on a Johnny Field sac fly. That put the Bulls ahead to stay. Speaking of Decker, in the 8th the accounts will show he hit a double, and that's fair. What they don't say is that the hit was a dribbler that barely made it past the infield and the RailRiders didn't expect Decker to even think about going to second base until they looked around and there he was standing on the bag. Decker came home for the Bulls' 8th run on a Johnny Field single.

Add in Daniel Robertson's 2-run homer in the 6th and you have the Bulls best day at bat in a long while.

Parker Markel came back from Hudson Valley to pitch the 6th inning. Ryan Garton has been put on the disabled list. [Note: I assume that most readers of WDBB understand that to/from Hudson Valley transactions are typically paper transactions. Markel, for example, has very likely been traveling with the team, just not wearing a game jersey.]

Kirby Yates, one of WDBB's all-time favorites (e.g., see a typical post here), came to the mound to pitch the 9th inning for the RailRiders. After coming up through the Rays system Yates started the season as a Yankee. He came down to the RailRiders at the end of June. Overall, he seems to be doing OK on the year even if he's back in Triple-A. J.P. Arencibia, who must have caught him a couple of times last year, seemed particularly amused during his at-bat, and he managed a single off of him.


Thursday, July 21, 2016

Loss in Rochester; Off to Moosic

Game 99, July 20, Frontier Field, Rochester, New York
Durham Bulls: 2
Rochester Red Wings: 6
Season: 44-55; Trip: 4-3
Wrap, Box, Rochester Democrat & Chronicle

Game Score: Faria 24; Season Avg 45 (5 starts, 20.2 innings)
Team wOBA: Game .250; Season .296; Difference -.046

Morning did not suit the Bulls yesterday, especially young Jacob Faria. He will undoubtedly improve, but he's obviously having trouble adjusting to Triple-A hitters.

Nick Franklin is back with the Bulls and accounted for all of the game's RBIs. Dayron Varona continued his hot hitting. Richie Shaffer committed his 14th error. Hank Conger is still working toward his first hit as a Bull. Eury Perez was moved to the Sand Crabs to make room for Franklin.

Moving on down the road
After yesterday's game, the Bulls trekked on to Moosic, Pennsylvania to play the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders. Interesting site for a baseball field. (zoom in to see)


If this looks/sounds familiar, it is. I mistakenly put it up a couple of days ago when I misread the schedule. Updated.

The Bulls face their most formidable matchup of the year in these four games against the Yankees Triple-A franchise. Back at the end of May, the Bulls took two out of three. We could say that stats aren't everything, but...

Since then the RailRiders have gotten even better and the Bulls have remained in the cellar for offensive stats and middle of the road in pitching. As can be seen, the RailRiders lead not just the North Division, but the entire International League in all these key metrics.

They are 4th in errors committed, but the Bulls are 14th in that category, too.

The RailRiders are coming home from a 3-game series in Charlotte where they lost 2 of 3. However, they've won 7 of their last 10.

Gonna be a tough series.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Another Comeback Win

Game 98, July 19, Frontier Field, Rochester, New York
Durham Bulls: 7
Rochester Red Wings: 6
10 innings
Season: 44-54; Trip: 4-2
Wrap, Box, Rochester Democrat & Chronicle

Game Score: Gamboa 68; Season Avg 54 (7 starts, 26 innings)
Tm wOBA: Game .289; Season .296; Diff -.007

Eddie Gamboa had his second terrific start in a row, thoroughly baffling the Red Wings lineup. Plus the offense put together 6 runs on mostly small ball. In the dugout after six innings, he should have been chalking up his sixth win. Dana Eveland had a nice, clean 7th inning. Then there was a truly awful beginning of the 8th. The Red Wings scored 5 runs off of Steve Geltz to tie it up.

No fan just watching from the stands or on TV can do anything more  than just speculate, but this is Mr. Geltz' second visit back from Tampa Bay and he's not doing well at all. On yesterday's 1/3 of an inning his ERA ballooned from 3.31 to 5.94. More than that, he just doesn't look confident on the mound.

New guy Casey Coleman came on to get out of that inning and the 9th. In the 10th a walk and a single (Casey Gillaspie and Richie Shaffer) led to a pitching change. After Jaff Decker K'd, a bit of shakiness on the part of the pitcher/catcher combination led to a passed ball and set up Dayron Varona's second RBI.

Then new guy Ryne Stanek simply blew away the Red Wings in the bottom of the 10th. The Red Wing announcers were called the fastball speeds and they were 97-98 mph most of the time and one was 100. A very impressive young man.

Outside the game —
  • Nick Franklin is coming back. In yet another example of how little I understand Rays' decision-making. Here's a guy who has played in 4 different positions for the Rays over 19 games and a holds a .836 OPS. And they are sending him back?  Happy to have him. But looks foolish on the Rays part. 
  • Early morning game today. 11:05.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Durham Bulls Take Advantage of Gifts

Game 97, July 18, Frontier Field, Rochester, New York
Durham Bulls (Rays): 9
Rochester Red Wings (Twins): 5
10 innings
Wrap, Box, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

Game Score: Pruit 49; Season Avg 57 (19 starts, 108.1 innings)
Tm wOBA: Game .316; Season .296; Diff +.020

The Rochester Red Wings have the best defense in the International League. The Durham Bulls have the worst. Did not work that way last night. Two errors from the Red Wings led to 8 unearned runs by the Bulls.

The big moment was Taylor Motter's grand slam in the 10th. Following as it did a throwing error, two walks, and a run-scoring, tie-breaking single, it was perhaps understandable that the Red Wings manager Mike Quade made some intemperate remarks directed at Motter. They were enough for him to get thrown out of the game.

The grand slam was needed. Bulls pitching gave up a lot of hits, 15 of them, including 3 home runs, one of them in the bottom of the 10th. A pitcher just back from Tampa Bay, Ryan Garton, was credited with both a blown save and a win after an ugly 9th inning.

Two newcomers were in the game. First baseman Casey Gillaspie, up from Montgomery, was in his third game as a Bull. He got his first hit, an RBI double. Catcher Hank Conger was in his second game since coming down from Tampa Bay. He has yet to get a hit. He did, however, catch Justin Marks' no-hitter the other day

Outside the game —
  • Durham Bulls players made a clean sweep of the Player of the Week honors in the International League. Justin Marks was named Pitcher of the Week and J.P. Arencibia was named Hitter of the Week. Congratulations!
  • Speaking no-hitters, we trolled back into the vast WDBB archives and found this account of the last time Bulls pitchers threw a no-hitter. 
  • Then there's this story from the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle that digs into the possibility that the firing the Minnesota Twins General Manager could have an impact on who the Red Wings affiliation with the team. It turns out that the Red Wings, Lehigh Valley IronPigs, and Toledo Mud Hens have contracts that expire at the end of the season.