Saturday, July 31, 2010

# 9

Game 106: Durham Bulls 9; Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs 2
Season: 66-40; Trip: 4-0; Streak: 9-0
Wrap, Box, Morning Call

The Bulls tied on their hitting shoes and put on their fielding gloves to get their ninth win in a row, the best streak this season. And they are 26 games above .500. They have swept the last two teams. It just keeps getting better.

Just a few highlights:

Five double plays. Even though Durham pitchers gave up eight hits (all singles) and two walks, very few went far.

Dan Johnson, held to “just” four singles and 3 RBIs during the series. But he got a hit and 2 RBI last night, just to keep his hand in, I suppose. In the meantime, Dan, with a .303 batting average, has let Chris Richard (.304) and Elliot Johnson (.306) slip ahead of him in the batting average category. We won’t talk about Omar Luna’s .362.

Chris Richard and Justin Ruggiano had a classic Durham Bulls-type night. Chris hit two doubles (he has the most in the IL — 33), a single, an intentional walk and three RBI (51). Justin Ruggiano had two doubles, a single, three RBI (53) and scored two runs. Elliot Johnson got on base a lot (3 times), stole two bases, and scored 3 runs. Should not overlook the contributions of Desmond Jennings (2 doubles, couple of nifty outfield plays) or Omar Luna, two hits, participation in most of those double plays.

Richard De Los Santos has won his last three starts and pushed his ERA down from 4.34 to 3.78. That’s hard to do this late in the season. The first run scored in the 5th last night was the first in something like 15 innings.

As good was Joe Bateman’s 2 innings. We’ve been a bit worried about him. He’s been having these little bitty appearances, an inning here, ⅔ of a inning there, for the last couple of weeks. Last night it was a solid two innings work. No walks, two Ks, no runs.

Need to mention the enthusiasm of Iron Pigs fans. They are filling of their park every night and it sure sounds like they are having fun. On the other hand, there was a fan interference ground rule double last night for Justin Ruggiano last night. Would it have been a grand slam otherwise? Probably not, but …

Good to have broadcaster Solondz back in the booth last night. He said that the Triple-A Durham Bulls streak record is 11. We’re up against Red Sox affiliate Pawtucket tonight, with Virgil Vasquez scheduled. There’s a chance.

By the end of the day there will probably be a bit of roster-shuffling, trades, claims, etc. And then probably a couple of days before we can make sense of it. With last night’s win over the Yankees, however, you have to think that the Rays might start throwing money around to stay in the game for the next two months. On the other hand, they’ve made it this far without throwing too much around. Will be fun to watch. Here’s hoping it doesn’t mess up the Bulls too much.

Friday, July 30, 2010

# 8

Game 105: Durham Bulls 2; Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs 1 (11 innings)
Season: 65-40; Trip: 3-0; Streak: 8-0
Wrap, Box, Allentown Morning Call

I missed the item that yesterday’s game started at 11:00 AM. I didn’t really notice the game was going on until the webworld lit up later in the day. I should note that the Bulls website didn’t notice it either since they weren’t posting the box score and the link to 620 AM didn’t get you the game.

The web was rumbling about the implications of Jeremy Hellickson coming out of the game after only three innings and 37 pitches. For example, see RaysIndex and The St Pete Times. I've heard nothing since.

Nevertheless, up in Allentown the Bulls played one heck of a ball game and, yet again, our relievers seemed to be just a tiny bit better than the Iron Pigs’ relievers.

Game trivia: I’m pretty sure that it’s the first game with no walks, no hits by pitch for both teams this year. It’s probably also the only game where an out (by Elliot Johnson) was converted to a ground rule double because the ball “lodged” in an outfielder’s shirt. Scroll down to the end of the Morning Call link above.

Maybe it takes a slightly negative mention (Downs and Furmaniak) in this blog for players to turn it around. Or positive mention (Swindle) to start having troubles. The other possibility is that this writer is just wrong a lot, but that seems unlikely. At any rate, Darin Downs put in two very solid innings, the 10th and 11th and got the win. J.J. Furmaniak got the game-winning hit with men on base. R.J. Swindle got his second blown save in two appearances when he gave up the game tying home run in the 9th. Maybe if I just didn’t say anything about the players at all

The longest streak of the year and longer than any last year.

This time last year the Bulls were also in the North and were 60-46 on the year.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Two More Wins

Game 103: Durham Bulls (Rays) 5; Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs (Phillies) 3
Wrap, Box

Game 104: Durham Bulls 3; Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs 2
Season: 64-40; Trip: 2-0
Wrap, Box

Seven wins in a row; twenty-four games above .500, the best won-loss ratio in a couple of years; thirteen games ahead of Charlotte in the South Division of the International League. After a few problems just after the break, the Bulls are more than back on track.

Up in Pennsylvania we’ve had a couple of interesting games. In both the starting pitchers, Heath Phillips and Brian Baker, had above-average starts, but ended with no-decisions. In both Winston Abreu came on in the 9th and struck out the side.

In the first game Lehigh Valley did what it could to avoid Dan Johnson and it was modestly successful. They walked him twice and he was held to “only” one single. In the meantime they may have lost track of other power hitters on the Bulls. In the 9th, Justin Ruggiano came to bat with runners on first and third, one out, and the Bulls behind by one run. You have to pitch for the double-play because Dan Johnson is up next. Showing signs of the Ruggiano of 2007 and 2008, Justin put it over the wall.

In the second game the Iron Pigs sort of pitched to Dan. He singled in the 2nd, but was caught in a double play. He singled in the 4th, but was again out on a double play. In the 6th, with Elliot Johnson on third base, he grounded out and got his 92nd(!) RBI. He led off in the top of the 8th and drew a walk. Fernando Perez came in to run for him and promptly stole second base. The next batter, Chris Richard was walked. Joe Dillon got a bunt single, so the bases were loaded for Dioner Navarro, who drew a bases-loaded walk for the tying run. The next batter, Furmaniak, hit into a double play, but the go-ahead run scored.

Speaking of Furmaniak, he hit into two bases-loaded double plays yesterday. I don’t know how you work on your “situational hitting”, but his needs some work.

A couple of charts. Click on the chart for a larger version.

Since the last time, the Bulls keep on improving.

And the runs scored/runs allowed chart is simply spectacular.

Meanwhile, down between the Bay and Clearwater, Florida, the Rays are having a so-so season, and a fair-to-middling runs scored/runs against numbers. Note that Baltimore is doing so awful I’ve taken them off the chart. It was screwing up my scale. Given how the Rays are doing, you’ve got to wonder why there are any trade rumors at all. What’s to fix?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Bulls Bash

Game 102: Durham Bulls 15; Syracuse Chiefs 4
Season: 62-40; Home Stand: 6-2
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

Last night down in St. Petersburg, on his way to a no-hitter, the Tampa Bays Rays’ Matt Garza was through five innings by the time he had faced 15 batters. Up here in Durham we got 15 batters to the plate in one inning, and faced two Syracuse pitchers. Every Bull got at least one hit. Every Bull scored at least one run. Some Bulls outdid themselves, such as Omar Luna with two doubles, two singles, two RBI, and three runs scored. Dan Johnson, Joe Dillon, and Fernando Perez (!) homered. A night to remember as they hit the road for Lehigh Valley and Pawtucket.

Despite a slightly shaky 3rd inning, Virgil Vasquez looked much better than his last two times out. Here’s hoping that whatever was off is sorted out now. Nice story about Vasquez on the Bulls’ website.

I’m wondering if there is something afoot regarding Aneury Rodriguez and his physical condition, or did I miss something? He had one inning on July 2nd. He didn’t pitch again until July 11th (one inning). He did two innings on July 18th and then two more last night, the 26th. That’s just 8 innings on the month with a couple of very big gaps. Moreover, not very effective appearances, for the 8 innings, 7 earned runs.

The implication is that, along with Darin Downs, we’ve got some problems in the bullpen to worry about.

On the other hand, the Bulls end the home stand on a five-game winning streak and 22 games above .500, the best they’ve been all season. The heat certainly made for a tough eight days at home, but the wins probably made it more palatable.

The next locale is tonight’s game is at Coca-Cola Park in Allentown, PA, site of Dan Johnson’s wining of the AAA home run derby. Here’s hoping he gets a couple more.

A bit more background on the now-famous tarp pull at Bulls’ exec George Habel’s blog.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Tarp Pull

Mostly for Bulls/DBAP fanatics.

Thanks to DRR for letting me know it had been posted.

I'm not very good at this, so if embedding doesn't work, go to here and take a look.

Fun to watch Wool E. Bull at work, and the billowing tarp about 2:00 in.

A Win, A Storm, and a Puzzle

Game 101: Durham Bulls 5; Syracuse Chiefs 0
Season: 61-40; Home Stand: 5-2
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

The Bulls got a home run, three triples, and two doubles, all by players not named Dan Johnson. The other Johnson, Elliot, got the home run in the first. J. J. Furmaniak, Desmond Jennings, and Omar Luna got the triples. Chris Richard and Dioner Navarro got the doubles. Dan Johnson did draw a walk and scored on the Navarro double, so he did make it into the stats.

But Nature was very much a player in the game. Beginning with crowd-diminishing heat, 95° with a heat index of 107°, and finishing with a tarp-billowing storm that challenged the crew. In fact, they were lucky that there weren’t any injuries.

We left once we could get through the rain to car, expecting that the field would take a good bit of time to get back into shape and that at 5-0, bottom of the 8th, two Bulls on base, we had a pretty good shot at winning the game no matter what the umps said. They called the game half an hour later, about the time I was pulling into the driveway.

Richard De Los Santos had a terrific game. Charlie Montoyo was reported as saying after the game that, as a former reliever, De Los Santos was on a 6 inning/90 pitch limitation. That makes a lot of sense. What seems odd is that he’s just letting us know this after De Los Santos has made 16 starts for the Bulls. Charlie is nothing if not tight-lipped. Nevertheless, a fine game.

Less encouraging was Darin Downs’ appearance. It was the first time the young left-hander had come to the mound since a 2 inning, 2 run, 4 walk appearance the first game against Columbus last Monday. He came on at the top of the 7th inning. He got a ground out, gave up a single, got a fly out, gave up another single, and was pulled from the game for Joe Bateman. At the time the Bulls were ahead only 3-0, so with men on first and second, the tying run was at the plate.

Here’s the odd part: In our observation of Charlie Montoyo over the years, when it comes to a situation where he has to choose between seeing how a young pitcher deals with a tough situation or trying to ensure a win, Mr. Montoyo usually goes with leaving the pitcher in the game. In fact, we “experts” in the stands often think he leaves pitchers in way too long. So, why pull Downs in this situation? More than that, if we aren’t going to pitch him, why is he here? (12 innings since he came up on June 23rd.) Don’t get me wrong. I would much prefer a Bulls win. I’m just a bit puzzled with how Darin Downs is being handled.

Tonight is the last game before an eight game road trip. With one of the most secretive front-offices in baseball, there’s no telling what the Rays might be up to as July comes to an end, but the team that comes back from Lehigh Valley and Pawtucket might not be the team that is playing tonight.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Another Hot Night

Reminder: Tonight, Sunday, 25 July, the game is to start at 19:00, not 17:00

Game 100: Durham Bulls (Tampa Bay) 5; Syracuse Chiefs (Washington) 1
Season: 60-40; Home Stand: 4-2
Wrap, Box

Let’s start with a trivia question for serious baseball geeks: How do you get charged with an earned run without a batter getting an RBI? Or, to put the question in another way (that contains the answer to the first question), When someone steals home, who gets the RBI?

The answer is in last night’s box score. No one gets a RBI when a runner steals home, but the pitcher does get charged with an earned run.

In an otherwise superb outing, Jeremy Hellickson had a lapse in concentration with the Chief’s Brandon Whiting dancing around on third base in the 6th inning. He went into a full windup and Whiting was off for the plate, getting there about the same time as the ball. Heads up baseball on Whiting’s part and Mr. Hellickson did walk the batter at the plate. That was enough to bring in Mike Ekstrom to finish the inning. The steal had little effect on the game, but you have to wonder if Chief’s manager Trent Jewett was trying to get inside Charlie Montoyo’s head with that play and several others during the evening.

For example, he let his pitcher throw to Dan Johnson at the top of the 2nd. D.J. took it over the Blue Monster for home run number 28 and RBI number 88. But not after that. The next three at bats were walks, two IBB. Then he pulled a shift against Desmond Jennings, a right-handed batter, with Jose Lobaton on third base in the 8th, leaving only the first baseman on the right side of the infield. How weird is that? It worked. But very likely because Jennings didn’t step back and think about it for a second or two.

Justin Ruggiano was in fine form last night with two doubles, a single and a RBI. As frustrating as it has been this year watching Mr. Ruggiano strike out a lot, we need to point out that he’s gotten 45 RBI, third on the team behind Dan Johnson and Chris Richard. He may not be having a great year, but not awful either.

Elliot Johnson ticked over .300 last night with three singles and an RBI. And speaking of Elliot, over at The Life of a Baseball Wife are a couple of posts [here, here, here] giving an insiders look at the Triple-A All Star game. Fun reads.

Alvin Colina is out for the year with an ACL tear. We really like this guy and are sorry to see him go. Sad moment watching him on the ground past first base the other night.

Two former Bulls met in Cleveland last night, with David Price getting the better of Mitch Talbot. But not before Talbot struck out six Rays in a row to set a new Cleveland record. As a Bulls fan, we have to point out that Mitch Talbot did a lot more for the Durham Bulls that David Price ever did. Sure Price is the better pitcher, just not the better Durham Bulls pitcher. We are cheering for Mitch to have a great season with Cleveland.

NB: We stayed in the AC at home and watched on TV. Tonight? Maybe. If the Bulls can suffer for us, shouldn't we suffer for them?

The Vampires Are Coming

As pointless as it may be, just a short post about major league baseball’s recently announced program to start testing minor leaguers for human growth hormone (HGH).

Why just for minor league ballplayers? All or none, seems to me.

I guess that in the end the reason it’s only for minor leaguers is pretty simple — because they can with minor leaguers and they can’t with major leaguers. “They” being the folks who own the players.

As the Bulls' own Chris Richard and Elliot Johnson would agree, it isn’t as if the problem is pervasive. Baseball isn’t bicycling. They aren’t hanging bags of blood in the back of the bus — at least I hope they aren’t. And yet, even two professionals with a lot of time in the minor leagues can disagree on the approach being taken, as can fans.

First, having a lifelong phobia regarding hypodermic needles, the idea of a random blood test creeps me out. Peeing in a cup, OK. Been there, done that, welcome to the 21st Century workplace. But watching even a drop of blood leak out of my arm ...
Blood samples will be collected from the non-dominant arms of randomly selected players after games, and the samples will be shipped to the Sports Medicine Research and Testing Laboratory in Salt Lake City for analysis.
Second, if there’s a problem it is surely much, much more important to clean things up from top to bottom, not bottom to top.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

How Hot Was It?

Game 99: Durham Bulls (Rays) 5; Syracuse Chiefs (Nationals) 4
Season: 59-40; Home Stand: 3-2
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

First off, we need to mention that the time for Sunday’s game has been changed from 5 o’clock to 7 o’clock. Why? The Heat!

I’m something of an agnostic on the issue of global warming; however, on the issue of local warming I think that I, and my fellow fans, are becoming expert. It’s hot out there! And if it’s hot in the stands, think about what it must be like on the field.

So let’s lift our glasses of iced tea (sweetened, of course, this is Nawth Car’lina after all) to the Bulls and the Chiefs. And if the Bulls broadcaster once again tells us how much cooler he is in the press box than we are in the stands, the fan who chunks a water balloon through his window will receive our gratitude.

How hot was it? By one measure (mine of course), the heat index at the start of the game was 108° — right warmish.

And yet the baseball was interesting enough to keep us outdoors. Brian Baker, this year’s pitching equivalent of a utility infielder, got another spot start. This time for Carlos Hernandez who is on the disabled list, again. Mr. Baker did a simply terrific job through 6 innings. He had a season-high eight strikeouts, walked two, and only gave up one run on two hits. Mr. Baker’s overall numbers (FIP, for example) are better than three of our starters, Phillips, Hernandez, and Vasquez. So, I guess we are looking to the Rays’ future, not the Bulls. However, I’m OK with that. I like watching him pitch and he’s winning games for us in a lot of different ways.

After Dan Johnson came to the plate in the 1st and, what else, whacked a ball over the fence, the game moved briskly along until the 8th inning, with the Bulls coming into the 8th ahead only 3-1, but looking very comfortable.

Joe Bateman had had a really ugly 7th, but got out of it with a strikeout. In the 8th, however, things did not improve and the first two batters walked. Dale Thayer came in and struck out his first batter, but gave up a three run homer, so Bulls are now behind 4-3. J. J. Furmaniak, playing second base, saved the day with a brilliant play to end the inning, a grand leaping catch and desperate throw to first. If he doesn’t make the play, the Chiefs score at least one more run.

In the 8th inning, it was the Chief’s pitchers turn to have problems. After striking out Desmond Jennings, the Chief’s Ron Villone walked Elliot Johnson, was caught out by a nifty bunt single by Justin Ruggiano, walked Dan Johnson to load the bases, then hit Dioner Navarro to force in the tying run. The Chiefs sent in Josh Wilkie to get a handle on things and he got two quick strikes on Joe Dillon. Not enough. He could not close the deal. Ten pitches later Dillon put a soft hit just over the shortstop’s glove and the go ahead run scored. Brilliant at bat. So much so that the fans didn’t even whimper when Jose Lobaton grounded into a double play to end the inning (well, most of the fans didn’t whimper).

The stage was set for Winston Abreu and he did his thing. Included were some late inning histrionics by Chiefs shortstop Pete Orr who got tossed from the game arguing a called third strike with umpire Damien Beal. As an aside, Beal really wasn’t sharp last night. I guess the heat affects us all. At any rate, a K, ground out, and another K and we could either stay for fireworks or head for air conditioning. I headed for air conditioning.

Roster notes:

Alvin Colina is on the disabled list with a knee injury. More info after an MRI today. Omar Luna activated from DL. Seen last night nervously trying to warm up Winston Abreu.

And here’s an oddity. In an item datelined St. Petersburg, Florida, minor league baseball announced the Durham Athletic Park’s website. A bit odd, but here’s the site. Now you can get the t-shirt.

Friday, July 23, 2010

’Till September?

Game 98: Durham Bulls 4, Columbus Clippers 2
Season: 58-40; Home Stand: 2-2
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun, Indy Week

Columbus Clipper right-hander Josh Tomlin had a terrific five innings. In that time he faced just 21 batters, struck out nine, only walked two, and gave up three hits, all singles. But then came the 6th inning. By the end of it the Bulls had tied the game at two-all after a walk, double, and bases-clearing single.

On the other side of the scoresheet, Durham Bulls left-hander Heath Phillips was having one of his better outings. True, he gave up solo home runs in the 2nd and the 4th, but that’s what Mr. Phillips does. He’s given up 20 of them this year. Nevertheless, he was well into the 8th inning before he got into anything like serious trouble and that was only after a rare error by J.J. Furmaniak put runners on first and second with two outs. R.J. Swindle came in to solve that problem.

But let’s rewind to the Bulls half of the 7th, because that’s where they won the game. At that time the score was 2-2 and the Clipper’s right-hander Shane Lindsay was making his Triple-A debut. Fernando Perez drew a walk, but was out on a fielder’s choice that put J.J. Furmaniak on first. Elliot Johnson walked, putting men on first and second. Justin Ruggiano struck out (his third of the night) for the second out.

On the last pitch of Ruggiano's at bat, Montoyo called the key play of the game, a double steal. And it worked, with J.J. Furmaniak ending up on third and Elliot Johnson on second. You have to wonder at the Clippers decision to then pitch to Dan Johnson. But they did, and Mr. Johnson did what he does so well, hitting a line drive that just blew between the center and right fielders to the wall. Two runs scored. Between them Mr. Phillips and Mr. Swindle, who picked up three more K’s in the 9th, finished things off.

Unfortunately, we could have some serious people problems in tonight’s lineup.

In the 6th inning Desmond Jennings (who was getting a day off) pinch hit for Angel Chavez. Jennings had a key double that got the Bulls back into the game. But our concern is why Chavez came out of the game. Reports are that the problem is his shoulder. We are hoping that the problem is short-lived. Jennings stayed in the game, going to left field, while Dan Johnson, who started in left, came in to cover third.

Also in the 6th inning, Alvin Colina, batting as the designated hitter with one out and Jose Lobaton on first, hit a grounder to third. He really pushed himself to get to first to prevent the double play, and succeeded when the throw got past the first baseman. But that’s when things went very wrong. Just past first base Colina fell to the ground, curled up, and was still for quite a while as trainers and others hovered over him. The Clipper first baseman picked up the ball, tagged the curled up Colina, and trotted off the field with the rest of the team, to a chorus of boos. Broadcaster Solondz said he was puzzled at the boos. Well, it had to do with essentially kicking a guy while he’s down. Colina had to be helped off the field and was in obvious pain (ankle, knee?). So, at a guess he may be out for a while. Dioner Navarro took his place in the lineup for the rest of the evening. Joe Dillon put on catcher’s gear to warm up, briefly, Darin Downs, and then R.J. Swindle.

So, if Dillon stays out (he’s had some kind of illness), Chavez is out, and Colina is out, we have precisely nine batters/ballplayers to put in the lineup tonight. Do we have a pitcher who can actually play baseball? And bat? We just might have to find out.

Looking to September, if the Bulls win the South Division and Columbus wins the West Division the Clippers will be back in the DBAP on 10th of September for the third game of the Governors’ Cup playoffs. Really, really want to see that game. The team will likely be quite different. Nevertheless, we are 4-4 so far this year, so what could be a better match up than to extend the series into Cup competition?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

A Tale of Two Games

Desmond Jennings, July 21, 2010, Courtesy Durham Herald-Sun

Game 96: Durham Bulls 7, Columbus Clippers 0
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun, Indy Week

Game 97: Durham Bulls 6, Columbus Clippers 7; 12 innings
Season: 57-40; Home Stand: 1-2
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun, Indy Week

About the only thing these last two games had in common was an inordinate length, times trying fans' souls. Tuesday’s game had a hour and a half rain delay to add to its 2 hr 50 minute length. Wednesday’s went on for 12 innings, and 4 hrs and 20 minutes ending up at almost exactly the same time of night, 11:30 or so. Paid attendance at the first game was 3,861 and at the second was 3,151. But I’m here to tell you there were surely only a couple hundred left at the end of either. Unfortunately, last night that included the annoying little kid who kept kicking my seatback the entire game — shouldn’t he have been home in bed? As far as the first night goes, I must admit that I never made it to the DBAP, but watched on Channel 151.

Otherwise, the games were very different.

In the first game the Bulls pitching lineup did very nicely. Richard De Los Santos, R.J. Swindle, and Winston Abreu combined for a 7 hit shutout. Meanwhile the Johnson boys, Justin Ruggiano, and Chris Richard led the pack as the Bulls put together 14 hits and 7 runs.

For the second game things were very different. Virgil Vasquez in his second straight shaky start gave up 6 runs, but Joe Bateman, Mike Ekstrom, and Dale Thayer kept us in the game until the 12th when Winston Abreu gave up his first run since May 18th. An amazing 21-appearance run. Just wish it had gone one more game.

There were interesting events to watch throughout, however. For instance, After Dan Johnson hit his 26th home run in the 1st, and singled to lead off the 4th, he didn’t see another decent pitch. He drew three walks, including a lead off walk in the 12th. Unfortunately, while he got on base 5 out of 6 times at bat, he only scored one run (off of his homer). The snakebit guys of the night were the six and seven batters, Dioner Navarro and J.J. Furmaniak. In their combined 12 at bats in the game, 11 came with runners on base. Mr. Navarro got a vital ground-out RBI in the 6th, But Mr. Furmaniak didn’t get a one. The hitting hero was Angel Chavez with his three-run homer in the 6th that pumped some life back into the team. But after tying in the 7th, the Bulls could not push another run across.

I’m something of a Desmond Jennings skeptic. But even I have to admit that he made a spectacular, running into the wall catch in the 1st inning (see above) and a terrific running forward, keep us in the game catch in the 11th.

Both teams essentially ripped the heart out of their bullpens. Heath Phillips is due to start tonight. Every one of our relievers has seen duty either last night or the night before. One (Abreu) was up both nights. Who goes to the mound from the bench? One of the catchers?

These Columbus youngsters (the oldest is 27) are giving us fits. Maybe Mr. Phillips will repeat his terrific performance of a few days ago. We need it.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Pitiful, Just Pitiful

Game 95: Durham Bulls (Tampa Bay) 3; Columbus Clippers (Cleveland) 8
Season: 56-30; Home Stand: 0-1
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun, Indy Week

Ugly, ugly, ugly. It was a pitiful performance by Durham pitchers. The 4th inning quite possibly the worst single inning of the year — 11 batters, 5 walks, 1 run scoring error, 2 hits, 5 runs, two Bulls pitchers.

Bulls broadcasters started making excuses for Jeremy Hellickson even before the game began, mentioning his fourteen days since his last Bulls start, his two innings at the Futures game (he should have gone just one?), the possibility that there might be some “rust”. As the game progressed there was a spate of blaming the ump, Derek Crabill, but since Columbus’ pitcher was getting the same calls, that didn’t fly. In the end, Hellickson was out of the game after 6 K’s, 5 BB’s, and 3 runs on 4 hits, leaving the bases loaded for Dale Thayer in the aforementioned 4th inning. Easily Hellickson’s worst start of the year. Possibly his worst start as a professional ballplayer.

Dale cleared out the debris by giving up a base-clearing double (adding three more runs to Hellickson's total), then loaded the bases himself with two walks. Still, he didn’t let any more runs in. That was left to Darin Downs, who coughed up two more runs on four more walks (that’s eleven if you’ve been counting) and a couple of hits.

I gave up at the end of the 5th and left the ballpark, but noticed that Brian Baker and Mike Ekstrom did decent jobs in the 7th, 8th, and 9th. Ekstrom did give up a BB for a season high 12 walks for the Bulls.

Carlos Hernandez, by the way, was put on the disabled list last night. A muscle strain of some sort, possible aggravated by a play at first base Sunday afternoon.

Moving right along, let’s just go on out to the Web World
  • The Raleigh News & Observer did a not-very-timely profile on Jeremy Hellickson.
  • Rays Index is reporting the Rocco Baldelli has signed a minor league contract with the Rays. He was before my time as a Bulls fans, but apparently he has a lot of Durham friends. He has been assigned to the Charlotte (Florida) Stone Crabs. We may see him in due time.
  • Winston Abreu gets some love from DRaysBay with a plea for him to be called up.
Lastly, and very regretfully, is the news that Jon Weber, although retired, has received a 100 day suspension from major league baseball for his third positive test for a “drug of abuse.” Really sorry to hear it. Probably explains his sudden retirement.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Get Out of South Carolina

Game 93: Durham Bulls 2; Charlotte Knights 1
Wrap, Box, Indy Week

Game 94: Durham Bulls 4; Charlotte Knights 8
Season: 56-38
Wrap, Box, Indy Week

This is a puzzle. However, we have an on-the-site reporting of Indy Week’s Adam Sobsey, who spent two days exploring the wilds of Fort Mill, SC and Knights Stadium, to try to explain it all. Take a look at the links above.

In the meantime:

Let’s step back and look at the last two five game chunks (two times through the pitching rotation).

We see a 4 win - 1 loss chunk (starting pitchers: Hernandez, Phillips, De Los Santos, Vasquez, Baker) followed a 1 win - 4 loss chunk (starting pitchers: Hernandez, De Los Santos, Vasquez, Phillips, Hernandez). Missing, obviously, from this 10 game run is prospect Jeremy Hellickson, who apparently was stressed out by his two inning, 25-pitch appearance at the Futures game on 11 July. It is obviously the case that the Futures/All-Star shows have disrupted the Bulls a good bit. By now, of course, you would think that there’s been enough time to recover. Even Mr. Hellickson should be ready for tonight’s encounter with Cleveland franchise, the Columbus Clippers.

If we want to worry, however, take a close look at the red line in this chart. That’s the cumulative wOBA of our opponents. There’s a big gap between the red and green lines (that’s good). But, the red line is creeping upwards. At this point in the year, that is definitely not good. Essentially, what’s being measured there is the performance of our pitchers and defense over the year. We need to worry about that trend.

In the meantime, we don’t have to play Charlotte until 10 August (we play them 10 more times this year). That’s good. It gives us some time to get back on track.

Columbus is a good team. If things were to stay on track, we’ll see them in the playoffs. Should be a fun, if warm, couple of nights at the DBAP.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Quiet Night At the DBAP

Game 92: Durham Bulls 4, Charlotte Knights 6
Season: 55-37
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun, Indy Week

Let’s sift through the wreckage and see if we can find something interesting to say about last night, or the last two nights for that matter.
  • Charlotte pitchers are dedicated to the proposition to not letting Dan Johnson hit. They’ve given him five bases on balls in eight plate appearances.
  • Which makes sense because the next batter in the lineup, Joe Dillon, has been in an awful slump. But maybe, just maybe, he’s seeing some light. Joe hit a two-run home run (driving in the walked Dan Johnson) in the 9th last night.
  • Alvin Colina may not be the best choice (from an admittedly short list) for designated hitter. He had three K’s last night.
  • When we’ve got three catchers, how come Navarro gets two games in a row? Orders from St. Pete?
  • Give some credit to Charlotte defense, a couple of nice catches by right fielder Stefan Gartrell, and one by left fielder Jeremy Reed.
  • And Charlotte offense, especially first baseman Josh Kroeger, home run, two doubles, and a single.
  • The flurry in the 9th showed a bit of what we’ve come to love about this year’s team. Bet it rattled Charlotte. Need to keep that up tonight.
The Knights are a good team, so it’s up to the Bulls to take it to them in their back yard down in South Carolina.

Diligent observers of the Bulls’ roster will notice a new addition, left handed pitcher Brian Shouse. Who is Brian Shouse and when will we see him on the mound? To quote Indy Week Blogger, Adam Sobsey,
41-year-old lefty side-armer Brian Shouse ... made 45 relief appearances for the Rays in 2009, latched on with Boston this year, was let go after an injury, and was immediately placed on the disabled list by the Rays after yesterday's deal was announced.
Not mentioned, since probably not known till he got snuck in, is that Shouse is on the Bulls disabled list. He might show up here eventually. The Rays seem to have a love affair with side armers and lefty specialists. Which should mean that Joe Bateman and/or R.J. Swindle have a shot some day.

Jon Weber Retires

Jon Weber in the Durham Bulls dugout, July 3, 2009

A quote from the Bulls twitter account:
Hey Bulls fans Jon Weber texted us last night and told us he is retiring. One of the all-time fan favorites. We wish him the best.

Similar news is buried in the bottom of this item; and a Yankees blogger takes notice.

We only had one very brief conversation with Jon Weber during his tenure as a Bull, but we sure wrote about him a lot. Just a couple of examples are here, here, and here.

I don’t want this item to sound like an obituary. Let’s keep it simple and direct:

Jon, you are one heck of a ballplayer. You did the Durham Bulls proud while you were with us. You did your country proud by helping win the World Cup in 2009.

Keep on having fun in the rest of your life. Hope to sit down and have a beer with you some day. Maybe talk about the Bulls and baseball.

Update: Unfortunately, given all the attention we've given to Jon Weber over the years, we feel an obligation to add this link from Major League Baseball. Guess it explains the retirement. But it also is going to keep him out of baseball for a while.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Swindle (and Abreu!) Staying With the Bulls

Game 91: Durham Bulls (Rays) 2; Charlotte Knights (White Sox) 6
Season: 55-36
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun, Indy Week

Their starter pitched good and ours didn’t so that was kind of the game.
— Durham Bulls manager Charlie Montoyo as quoted in the Durham Herald-Sun

That pretty much tells the story of the game. And we’ll come back to that. But first to the headline. Adam Sobsey over at Indy Week is reporting that R.J. Swindle has decided to not exercise his “opt-out” clause. More than that, Winston Abreu, who apparently had the same type clause and the same deadline, is sticking with the Bulls as well. That is terrific news for the Bulls. And it’s terrific news for us. If there are two pitchers on the roster who are more fun to watch that those two, I don’t know who they are. We’re going to get to see the “Thing” some more. We’re going get to watch a pitcher with more twitches than Jonny Gomes on the mound. (Wouldn’t that be a sight? Winston Abreu on the mound and Jonny Gomes at bat?)

Oh yeah, the game. I don’t see things in quite the apocalyptic terms as Sobsey —
Meanwhile, if you look in the right places, you can descry some widening cracks in the Bulls' armor. If Charlotte can manage to pull off a sweep of this post-vacation, home-and-home, four-game series, they will suddenly find themselves just five games behind the Bulls, with 10 more head-to-head contests before the end of the season, and with Durham about to play an eight-game homestand against two of the best teams in the league, Columbus and Syracuse.
But he does have a point.

On the other hand, Richard De Los Santos is hardly our best starter; Charlotte’s had a bit of a run lately (see the first chart here); our bats were really cold last night (we hit into five double plays!); and Charlotte appeared to be scared to death of Dan Johnson (three walks) and Chris Richard (two walks).They really didn’t hit De Los Santos all that well. We had our chances and couldn’t come through.

Darin Downs pitched an inning last night, so I made a mistake the other day when I left him off our pitcher’s list. Next time.

Two decent innings from Dale Thayer last night. On his way back?

Other Stuff:

Over at DRaysBay, Steve Slowinski is cranking up a series on some of the newish numbers in use. So far there are posts on pitching stats, WAR, wOBA, and BABIP. Interesting reads. For Bulls fans, however, some of these numbers are of limited use in judging how our team or an individual is doing. That’s simply because we’re a minor league team and some of the formulas include major league averages as constants (e.g., FIP). I like two of them, FIP and wOBA, not sure about the rest.

Can’t remember the last time I put a stamp on an envelope, but I think I’ll go out and get a sheet of the new Negro Leagues Baseball Commemorative stamps anyhow. It’ll give me a chance to stand in line at the post office again. I’ve been missing that these last few years.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

IL Wins, TV Fans Lose

All-Star Game: International League 2; Pacific Coast League 1
Wrap, Box, Video

Our own Elliot Johnson won the game for the International League with an opposite field double followed by the PCL’s catcher mishandling the throw from left field to home letting the run in. Good for Elliot (at least until he dashed for home on a Dan Johnson smash to right center and got doubled off the base when it was caught). Terrific story focused on Johnson and Charlie Montoyo in today's Herald-Sun.

I think that it might have been a pretty good game. Not really sure. Here’s why:

MLB network’s broadcast was simply awful, awful, awful.

How bad was it?
  • The broadcasters clearly knew almost nothing about AAA baseball except the barest minimum. For example, we were informed that PCL ballparks are out west and — talk about a blinding glimpse of the obvious — some of them are in high, dry climates. The ball carries better. Somehow that means that the 25 home runs of Las Vegas catcher J.P. Arencibia is some kind of fluke.
  • During the game we got to listen to endless opinions of what kinds of pitches the pitcher should be throwing. Who cares? To that end, did anyone catch the name of either of the broadcasters? Never mind. Not sure I want to know.
  • They hadn’t given even the most minimal of thought of who would be watching the game. Who else but fans of the teams with players in the game? So talk about their home teams, Durham, Albuquerque, Las Vegas, Indianapolis — that’s who’s watching the game, dummies.
  • Players came into the game, but we never found out who they were, when they came in, or where they were playing (you had to get the box score to find out that Elliot came in at shortstop, but even there you don’t know when.)
  • I can’t tell you how little I care about even listening to, much less watch while the game is going on, the President of Minor League Baseball natter on about “the product”.
  • I think I can go the rest of the year without watching sweat drip off a pitcher whose name I don’t know.
  • Whose idea was it to hide the home team of players? I think, but I’m not sure since there were almost no shots of the players in the field, that players wore their team caps. But at bat they were wearing helmets, had their parent team logo on a sleeve, and, usually, the broadcaster was interviewing, say, the CEO of the Phillies. So, unless you got lucky, you never found out much about the batter, his team, or his prospects.
  • According to the wrap, the players had a good time. And it did look like the fans had a good time.
  • So just fire the MLB network. Instead hire Explorer Post 50 to work the cameras and bring in Neil Solondz and Scott Pose to do the commentary. They could have done a much, much, much better job.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Durham Bulls At the Break — 3


As the last piece of this series, let’s take a look at pitching. Pretty darn good.

The first chart is the team trend over the last twenty games. This may at first glance, look fairly flat, but flat at what level, you may ask? And the answer is, at a pretty good level, since we won 13 out of those twenty games.

At the individual level we use Fielding Independent Percentage as a metric (think ERA, it’s almost the same thing at these sample sizes). The pitchers marked with a * are on the Tampa Bay 40-man. What I find interesting about this chart is how well our relievers are doing. Everyone knows that Hellickson is a first rate pitcher, but notice that most of our relievers are better than the team average. The implication is that, even on a bad day, we always have a chance.

I’ve thrown in strikeout to walk ratio mostly to once again show R.J. Swindle’s unusual numbers. But notice how well Virgil Vasquez does on both charts. He’s probably the guy to watch in the second half of the season.

What does the rest of the season look like? A couple of these guys are on the cusp of moving up/moving on.

R.J. Swindle is not on the 40-man, but according to this post yesterday, he has a 15 July opt out clause. Opt out as in, “Call me up or call me gone.” That’s Thursday folks. We would do well to remember what the Rays did last year in similar circumstances. They called up Winston Abreu, let him sit in the bullpen for a few days, and traded him to Cleveland. If history were to repeat itself, R.J. might be back in time for the playoffs. Somehow I don’t think that will happen. I, along with a lot of other folks [WDBB, Adam Sobsey, Jason Collette], would love to see him get a chance to see if he can handle major league hitters.

Another guy I’d love to see get his shot is Joe Bateman. He isn’t on the 40-man either, but, as was pointed out yesterday, the Rays have got several open 40-man slots.

How about the guys who are on the 40-man?
  • Jeremy Hellickson — the Rays, unless they really, really need him, will probably leave him with us until September.
  • Dale Thayer — insurance for a TB injury. Dale’s basic numbers are pretty good, but June was not his best month.
  • Mike Ekstrom — have to say that he’s probably available for a trade
Not in Durham are two more pitchers on the TB 40-man, Jake McGee and Alex Torres. Both are with the Montgomery Biscuits. Torres is having a good year, McGee isn’t. I think we’ll see Torres before the end of the year. Much like Hellickson showed up in late July of last year.

How about the rest?

Let me first say how much I like almost all of these guys. Going forward, in addition to the guys already mentioned, I’ve got to say that I’m really looking forward to watching Virgil Vasquez and Brian Baker get in a bunch of innings; Winston Abreu show the International League how to close out a game; and Dale Thayer getting back on track. Unfortunately, I’d guess that Heath Phillips and Aneury Rodriguez may not be long with the team. If Darin Downs had done better, one of them might be on the bubble right now. Richard De Los Santos is doing a good job. We need him to stick around as well. I like having a lefty, but Carlos Hernandez, whom I also like a lot, may not be with us all that much longer either.

Some of you guys out there understand this much better than I do. What do you think?

Durham Bulls At the Break — 2

Position Players

Before we get to the hitting let's mention other aspects of the game.

The Durham Bulls are a very good defensive team. They have committed the fewest errors on any team in the International League, 43. To put that into perspective, the next best team, Louisville, has committed 61 and the worst, Norfolk, has committed 96. Our catchers have allowed only 52 stolen bases (the worst, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre has allowed 100).

Our runners have stolen 100 bases, best in the league.

The Bulls runs allowed (clearly mostly the pitching, of course) is the lowest in the league.

As a crew they have shown great versatility as well. So far we’ve had 21 different ballplayers on the roster. We’ve had 7 different guys play catcher, 4 at first base, 5 at second base, 5 at shortstop, 4 at third base, and 8 different guys in the outfield.

Over in the hitting categories, the Bulls are usually in first or second place, sharing honors mostly with the Cleveland Triple-A team, the Columbus Clippers. Columbus is having a terrific season as well, at 55-36 to our 55-35. Would have been interesting to have been in the same division as them. Glad we weren’t. The Bulls lead the league in runs scored and home runs; we are second to Columbus in team batting average (.277 to .288), team OPS (.794 to .812), and team wOBA (.352 to .367). The Bulls are 2-2 against in our one away series back in May. We meet again this month at home.

Now let’s take a look at the roster. Just for comparison, I’ve got the Rays position players as well.

An oddity is that we have 12 position players (infielder Omar Luna comes and goes) and we are carrying three catchers. That’s because the Bulls have essentially a 24-man active roster and usually split that 12-12 with the pitchers. The Rays have a 25-man active roster.

As can be seen, five players on the Rays 40-man roster are with the Bulls. As far as I can tell, the only position player not with the Rays and not with the Bulls is outfielder/first baseman Leslie Anderson. Anderson is currently in Montgomery and we can expect to see him before the end of the year. Without diving into a birth month analysis, the average age of the players on the two team’s rosters is pretty much a wash. The Bulls have the players at the extremes (Jennings, 23, and Richard, 36). As we’ve been noting all year, the Bulls are very much a veteran team.

Of course, comparing the wOBA between two very different levels of play is hard to do. Particularly difficult are the differences in the quality of pitching faced. On the other hand, we should note that all Triple-A playing fields are required to be maintained at major league levels. So the differences there (not the ambiance, of course) are not all that much.

So, what might happen over the next month or so? Particularly, say, for the players at the top of the list? Dan Johnson is something of a special case. So lets look a the others.
  • First, several of the Bulls' best are not on the 40-man. To go up to the Rays someone would have to be taken off their 40-man and at risk of being lost to the Rays system entirely.
  • Second, with the exception of Elliot Johnson, the non-40 man players are “old”.
  • Third, to be called to the Rays, they have to perceive a need.
  • Fourth, some of these guys could easily be seen as trade bait. And their numbers are likely to make them attractive.
  • Lastly—don’t fall out of your chairs—several may be with the Bulls because the Rays want the Bulls to be the best team in Triple-A baseball.
With all that in mind, here are some possibilities in the short run.
  • I can’t make a better case for Dan Johnson going to the Rays than the one made over at DRaysBay recently. But that’s if the Rays really want him. I’m betting that they’ll put him into a trade package.
  • If the day comes that the Rays want to shuffle the 40-man, I’m afraid that Fernando Perez is likely to be the top candidate to be waived.
  • Gotta think that they are also watching Navarro closely and either Navarro or Shoppach is available for a deal.
But that’s the Rays. I don’t really care about them. What about the Bulls? Here’s the interesting part. Seems to me that, except for Dan Johnson, there’s a really good chance they will leave us alone for a month or so. Leaving us with a terrific infield, pretty good outfield, and decent power (especially if Ruggiano, Richard, and Elliot Johnson step up as they certainly can and have.

Update: A careful reader has pointed out to me that I need to point out to everyone else an additional feature of the Rays’ 40-man roster — they don’t have 40 men on it. In fact, they only have 37 on it and could easily shift J.P. Howell to 60-day DL and free up a fourth slot. So, for all those comments I may have made in this post and others about the Rays having to free up a slot to get one of our guys onto the 40-man — never mind ...

Monday, July 12, 2010

Durham Bulls At the Break — 1

The All-Star Break is a big deal in the major leagues for a few reasons: it comes near the middle of the season; it gives most players some time off; there’s a usually not-very-interesting game where you can see a lot of stars in one game being very careful not to hurt themselves.

In AAA the Bulls are well-past the middle of the season with 90 games of 143 played. (Note: one of the rainouts can’t be made up, so the Bulls will be one short of the scheduled 144.) For the Bulls, mid-season came back on 23 June when the team was playing in Indianapolis. We only have 53 games left (27 at home). Nevertheless, it sort of feels like the middle of the season, and our guys, except for the futures players and our All-Stars, are getting a bit of a break.

So, here’s some charts to kill the time while we’re waiting for baseball to start up again.

Up top, a look at how we stand in the International League’s South Division. Obviously, pretty good. We are 20 games above .500 and 9 games ahead of Charlotte.

The Runs Scored/Runs Allowed chart is really exceptional. There’s a sabremetrics idea called Pythagorean Expectation that crunches runs scored and runs allowed and comes up with a won-loss “expectation”. In the Bulls case it tells us we “should” be at 60-30 instead of 55-35. What does that mean? I’m not sure. Other than we have really been scoring a lot of runs and keeping the other guys from scoring as well. That is, the Bulls are a very good baseball team.

Another feature of the All-Star break is that major league teams start shuffling their rosters even more intensely than usual. That in turn means that our opponents are going to start looking very different from previous encounters. But this is a very intangible sort of thing likely to have more of an effect on internal team dynamics than the actual skill sets on display. A notable exception is the likelihood of seeing some extremes on the pitching side of things. That is, pitchers promoted too soon; or major leaguers down for a tuneup. In general, the Rays have not been prone to significant shuffling of players even in the September call-up season. Nor have they focused on “trade deadline” deals. But there’s a first time for everything and we’ve got some real depth here that they have to be looking at.

Speaking of the Rays, here’s how they look at the break after 88 games. Notice that they are also 20 games above .500. Unfortunately, the Rays play in the American League East. In any other division they’d be looking at a shot at the Series for sure. As it is, if the season ended today, they would be the Wild Card. Since they are in the AL East, however, they will be chasing the Yankees (and racing the Red Sox) all year.

The Rays Runs Scored/Runs Allowed chart shows how they appear to have recovered from their June troubles. Their “Pythagorean Expectation” is 55-33 and the actual is 54-34.

How did our guys do in the Futures game? Pretty good. [Box] Jeremy Hellickson pitched two innings and got the win. Desmond Jennings batted lead-off, did not get a hit, but got on base three times (walk, hit-by-pitch, reached on error), and scored three of the U.S.’s 9 runs.

Justin Ruggiano was named Hitter of the Week in the International League. Pleased to see Justin get the recognition he deserves. It was a very good week for him. Here’s the press release.

Durham outfielder Justin Ruggiano hit .355 with 3 home runs during the past week, and led the International League with 11 RBI and 7 extra-base hits. He hit safely in all seven games and drove in at least one run in six of the seven games to help Durham maintain the largest advantage of any of the division leaders in the IL. Ruggiano showed his versatility this week starting games at each of the three outfield positions, and in addition to his power he also stole a base and was tied for 2nd in the IL with seven runs scored.

28-year-old Justin Ruggiano is in his seventh season of professional baseball, and his fourth with the Durham Bulls. He is a former mid-season and post-season International League All-Star. Ruggiano is a native of Austin, Texas.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Win One; Lose One; Take a Break

Game 89: Durham Bulls (Tampa Bay) 5; Norfolk Tides (Baltimore) 3
Wrap, Box

Game 90: Bulls 4; Tides 5
Season: 55-35
Wrap, Box

The Bulls go into the All-Star break as the best Triple-A team in baseball—the International League or the Pacific Coast League. They should be proud of that. They have worked really hard to put together this remarkable record.

Yesterday Brian Baker did a terrific job of standing in for Jeremy Hellickson. Joe Dillon had his best game since coming back from his hamstring injury, and with some help From Elliot Johnson, Angel Chavez and Dioner Navarro, led the Bulls to their 55th win.

Today Carlos Hernandez seemed to be having a tough time of it, even though it was really only a messy 3rd inning that made the difference.

Atypically, the Bulls offense did not get on track until the 9th. At that point, with the Bulls down by five runs, they picked up four quick ones on a Perez walk, Furmaniak single, Ruggiano home run, Dan Johnson double, and Navarro single. (Why, you may ask, was Omar Luna in for Elliot Johnson as a pinch hitter early in the inning to strike out for the first out? Good question. Haven’t a clue.) It all came to an end with Chris Richard grounding into a double play.

Take a break guys. A very, very well-deserved break.

I’ll put together a couple of charts that take a closer look at the team over the next couple of days.

Might take a look at the Futures Game tonight — ESPN2, 6 PM, just to stay in touch.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Tides Get Rolled Out

Game 88: Durham Bulls 7; Norfolk Tides 2
Season: 54-34; Home Stand: 2-0
Wrap, Box, Game Log, Herald-Sun

Is Virgil Vasquez the real deal? Certainly beginning to look like it. He’s got almost 18 innings under his belt since he came off the DL and does not seem to be having any real problems. Certainly he didn’t last night.

Adam Sobsey over at Indy Week takes a look at Vasquez and our other, not fire-balling but game-winning pitcher, Brian Baker. Good read with some good quotes from Vasquez, Dan Johnson, and others.

Speaking of Dan Johnson, he got his 24th home run and an RBI double last night. You gotta wonder when they are going to stop pitching to him, especially with men on base. On the other hand, he leads the International League in walks drawn, so maybe they’d just be helping him set another record.

I really wish Darin Downs well, but he isn’t quite ready for prime time. Two batters, two home runs in the 9th. He did get a K, but then gave up a single before Winston Abreu had to come in to sort it out.

The Bulls have eaten up the Norfolk pitching staff these two games. We’ve seen six of their relievers so far. Potentially more opportunities over in Norfolk tonight and tomorrow.

The Bulls will be without the services of Charlie Montoyo, Jeremy Hellickson, and Desmond Jennings for the last two games before the All-Star break. I’ve got to be honest and say that I can’t get interested in the Futures game. Not even sure when it is and too lazy to look it up.

The Triple-A All-Star game will be July 14 on the MLB network. Too bad they don’t seem to have a decent website. Hard to get a decent idea of what’s going on. Might be interesting to at least look in on the game to see what one of the newer, and highly-touted, Triple-A ballparks looks like (Lehigh Valley’s).

I happened to catch the video clip with Dan Johnson, Chris Richard, and Joe Dillon promoting the Tobacco Road Cafe up on top of the Blue Monster. Stick with your day jobs, guys. You’re at lot better at baseball than you are at acting.

Since I’ve mentioned the media, maybe now is a good time for a radio rant. Here’s a bit of Marketing 101 the folks at “AM 620 The Buzz” who broadcasts the Bulls games:

A good fraction of your market listens to almost every game. So, when you peddle your commercial spots it really doesn’t work to tell your clients that they get some cheap air time by running the same spot three for four times a night for 144 games. What happens is that the listeners get so annoyed that they swear off the product — I may never drink Mountain Dew again.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Elliot’s Back ...

Game 87: Durham Bulls (Tampa Bay) 11; Norfolk Tides (Baltimore) 3
Season: 53-34
Wrap, Box, Log, Herald-Sun, Indy Week

The Bulls jumped on the Tides in the 1st inning and, after a bobble in the top of the 2nd, never looked back. By the end of the game, everyone had gotten at least one hit, and most had even more.

I would have been happy just to see Elliot Johnson back in the game. Seems like for a very long time all we’ve seen of him is the number 29 hanging on the dugout rail, hat back on his head. Elliot started at shortstop and handled his opportunities there just fine. At the plate he was a star. He singled and scored in the 1st; had a lead-off single and scored in the 3rd; had a two-run homer in the 4th; and a two RBI single in the 7th. Pretty good night’s work. All batting left, as I recall. His one at-bat batting right he struck out.

And is Justin Ruggiano back on form, as speculated yesterday? Sure looks that way. Three hits, two doubles and a home run, pushed his average up to .294 and his OPS to .836. Looking much better. He got a stolen base (19) as well.

Always on the look out for oddities we noted that in the 5th inning Angel Chavez, Jose Lobaton, and Fernando Perez each hit singles to almost exactly the same place—just over the head of Norfolk shortstop Robert Andino.

And then there was the extremely unusual event of two Tidesmen reaching on errors. Including those two, this year Bulls have only allowed 19 base runners to reach on errors. On the other side of the equation, 45 Bulls have reached on errors. That goes along with other numbers the Bulls excel at this year. For example, the Bulls have drawn 339 walks, but only given up 273. One metric that seems to be a wash is hit by pitch—Bulls have been whacked 34 times and returned the favor 36 times.

I had also thought that a possible explanation for this lopsided score was turmoil in the rosters. And that might be true as far as pitching staff is concerned. But I looked at the lineups for last April 18 and can only find two Tides players missing—infielders Josh Bell and Scott Moore. The Bulls lost Hank Blalock and Ryan Shealy, so you can’t point to roster changes to explain things. On the other hand, we won that game 10-1. Guess things haven’t changed all that much.

We are 19 games above .500 for the first time this season. (Note: So are the Rays, but not for the first time.)

Speaking of the Rays, here’s a quote from Marc Topkin of the St. Petersburg Times regarding our own Dan Johnson.
OF Dan Johnson hit his 23rd homer of the season on Wednesday for Triple-A Durham, tops in the International League and second in all of the minors. He is hitting .304 with 77 RBIs. Those numbers have caught [Tampa Bay Manager Joe] Maddon’s attention. “He’s not just down there being lucky, getting hits,” he said. “He’s a good hitter. We look at that all the time.”

Thursday, July 8, 2010

A Knight Visit

Game 85: Durham Bulls (Rays) 4; Charlotte Knights (White Sox) 10
Wrap, Box

Game 86: Bulls 6; Knights 4
Season: 52-34; Trip 1-1
Wrap, Box

The Bulls are back tonight for a two game series against the Norfolk Tides. They won’t be back at the DBAP until July 15 for a game against Charlotte. Get your Bulls fix while you can.

In the meantime, a few highlights and quirks noted in last night’s game.

  • Justin Ruggiano hit a three-run homer in the crucial 3rd inning. Could he be steadying out a bit in what has been a very erratic season?
  • Dan Johnson hit his 23rd homer (77 RBI).
  • Dioner Navarro got thrown out of the game. The ejection was apparently for arguing with the home plate umpire, Jason Bradley about a stolen base call by the 3rd base umpire, David Rackley. How weird is that?
  • Then at the top of the 7th there was Chris Richard arguing that he was not hit by a pitch and should not be awarded first base. Might have had something to do with Justin Ruggiano scoring from third on what otherwise would have been a passed ball/wild pitch. Justin had to go back to third base.
  • Charlotte had three runners picked off by Durham pitchers (two by Heath Phillips, one by Dale Thayer). That helps explain how the Knights got a more hits than the Bulls (10-8) and still lost.
  • The second inside-the-park home run of the year was scored against the Durham outfield. Could not discern a reason from the broadcast. Solondz was constantly mentioning how small the park is. So how come an inside the park dash was possible?
  • Elliot Johnson back in the lineup for both games. Yeah!
  • Dale Thayer got a win. R.J. Swindle got a hold. Winston Abreu got his tenth save. Let’s not talk about Heath Phillips.
  • But, let’s do talk about Swindle — he has got some outrageous numbers. How about this over 19 appearances and 31 ⅓ innings? An ERA of 0.86; an FIP of 2.40 (for the Sabremetricians — the constant is 3.2, that means his raw FIP is -0.80); averaging one strikeout per inning; only 3 BB so far for a K/W of 10.00! R.J. had 6 innings with the Brewers last year and 4 innings with the Phillies the year before that. Looks like the majors have been ignoring him. For our sake, let’s hope the Rays continue that tradition.
  • Interesting podcast with Bulls Trainer Roger Fleming: Coping with heat, old age, and upcoming break.
  • Dan Johnson is going to participate in a Triple A All-Star home run derby. I’m not sure that’s a good idea. But as long as he doesn’t stretch/strain something, OK. And maybe there’s some bucks in it for him.
[Update: As noted in the comments, I missed the 9th and my source for a box score, ESPN, apparently did, too. Winston Abreu pitched in the 9th and got a save. I've gone back into the article and made a couple of corrections, which are in italics. Thanks to Chris D for catching the mistake.]

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Coming Home After a Good Inning’s Work

July 5, 2010 - Durham Bulls Athletic Park - 3rd Inning
Dan Johnson, Joe Dillon, Jose Lobaton.

Digging through the photos I took last night I came across this one. Had to put it up.

This is just after Jose Lobaton’s 3-run homer. These three Bulls accounted for 9 of the 11 runs last night. Dan Johnson had 4, Jose Lobaton had 3, and Joe Dillon had 2. Justin Ruggiano and Alvina Colina had one each.

Just a couple of guys coming home from the job ...


Dan Johnson at bat in 8th Inning

Game 84: Durham Bulls 11, Gwinnett Braves 0
Season: 51-33; Home Stand: 8-3
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun, Indy Week

Dan Johnson got two home runs in a game for the second time this home stand, putting him at 22 home runs and 75(!) RBI for the season. That’s four homers ahead of the second place guy in the International League (Mike Hessman of Buffalo) and eighteen RBI ahead of Hessman in RBI. (Note: Tampa Bay’s leading home run hitter, Carlos Pena, has 16. Evan Longoria has 60 RBI.)

Just a terrific home stand by Dan and by the team.

Jeremy Hellickson did a fine job in getting his eleventh win. He gave up more walks than usual (4) and had fewer strikeouts than usual (3). Our speculation in the stands was that since he was staked with such a huge lead so early, he was working on his off-speed stuff.

How soon was the game over? Well, our first batter, Desmond Jennings, singled. J.J. Furmaniak reached on a fielder’s choice/error. Justin Ruggiano singled Jennings home. Dan Johnson hit a homer for three more runs. So with the first four batters we had four runs. In the third inning we got two runs on a drought-breaking single by Joe Dillon and three more on a home run by Jose Lobaton. Solo home runs by Alvin Colina and Dan Johnson’s second completed the beat down.

Dale Thayer came off the Disabled List and pitched the 9th inning. Here’s hoping he’s back in form. Hard to tell, but he did a good job last night.

Elliot Johnson also came off the DL, but didn’t play. He’s expected to play tonight in Charlotte.

Aneury Rodriguez and Omar Luna were moved off-roster in various shuffles. Expect to see Rodriguez back. Not sure about Luna since Elliot Johnson is off the DL.

The Bulls have scored 462 runs on the year and allowed 318, for a difference of 144. My bet is that that difference could easily be the highest in franchise history. The peak in last year’s championship season was 68.

According to reader DRR, the IL’s Twitter feed is reporting that Joe Dillon will not by playing in the Triple-A All-Star game. I haven’t been able to get an official response from the Bulls front office yet, but my guess is that given the choice between several days off following his hamstring injury and playing in the game, Joe’s opted to take the days off. He certainly has not been himself at bat.

On the other hand, I got lucky with this series of shots last night of Joe in the middle of a Chevez - Dillon - Johnson double play that began with Canizares' out to end the 6th inning. Enjoy.