The Durham Bulls baseball team, the Triple-A franchise of the Tampa Bay Rays, returns to the Durham Bulls Athletic Park today (Tuesday) after 10 games on the road. The trip took them to Buffalo, New York; Scranton, Pennsylvania; and Norfolk, Virginia. They won seven out of the ten games.
How are the Bulls doing this year?
Terrific. They are well above the .500 mark (74-53) and are 6 games ahead the Gwinnett Braves (Atlanta) in the contest for the International League’s South Division championship.
The Bulls have played 127 games out of a 142 game season that ends in early September.
For more details about the Bulls and the International League, take a look at Bulls Basics.
Who are they?
The Durham Bulls are a mix of major league veterans, prospects (young players moving up through the system), and AAA veterans. What’s the difference as far as the game you see at the DBAP goes? Very little. These are all professional ballplayers who have been in the game anywhere from 4 years (shortstop Tim Beckham) to 11 seasons (first baseman Dan Johnson). They are managed by one of the most successful minor league managers in baseball, Charlie Montoyo.
The Norfolk Tides (Aug 23-24) are the Baltimore Orioles AAA team. They are not having a good year (49-79), much like their parent club. The Bulls just split a two-game series with them in Norfolk and will finish the season playing them in Norfolk for four games September 2-5.
The Charlotte Knights (Aug 25-28, 5 games) are the White Sox’s AAA affiliate. At 5 games below .500 (62-67) they are not having their best year, but they are a dangerous team. Their series will feature a double header on
Saturday (Aug 27) Sunday (Aug 28). The Bulls will play two more games against the Knights in their stadium on Aug 31 and Sep 1.
The Gwinnett Braves (Aug 29-30) are the Bulls lead competitor for the South Division Championship and have a shot at the Wild Card slot in the IL Championship. Good pitching. This could be a key series for the Braves and the Bulls.
Bulls players to watch
The Bulls roster turned over in July. Half of the pitchers and fielders were new to the team, some sent down from Tampa Bay, some up from the Montgomery Biscuits (the Rays AA team), and some purchased outright from other teams. All of them have done well. A couple have gone back to their original teams.
Matt Moore is possibly the best pitcher in minor league baseball. He should be pitching today. Alex Torres, another talented left-hander, will probably pitch Wednesday. Starters Matt Torra and Andy Sonnanstine have had very good games recently, but the fifth slot in the rotation is up for grabs. The Saturday double-header screws up any projection beyond that. The Bulls have one of the best bullpens in AAA. If a starter can get through five or six innings, the relievers can usually carry the load.
The new guys are simply fun to watch, including catcher/outfielder/first baseman Stephen Vogt, catcher Nevin Ashley, and shortstop Tim Beckham. They are all recent call-ups from Montgomery.
Outfielder Brandon Guyer is a rising star. You will want to say you saw him play as a Bull. He's my guess as a possible call-up to the Rays if outfielder B.J. Upton's injury yesterday is more serious than early reports indicate.
Outfielder Russ Canzler is having a breakout year. He’s WDBB’s favorite for a September call-up to the Rays. Dan Johnson’s power has been erratic this year. But flashes of last year’s Johnson shine through from time to time.
Catcher Robinson Chirinos just returned from a stint with Tampa Bay. Ray Olmedo, J.J. Furmaniak, and young Daniel Mayora are (along with Tim Beckham) a formidable infield. They turned six double plays in a game last week.
First baseman/outfielder Leslie Anderson is recovering from a very painful hit by pitch a couple of nights ago.
Outfielder Justin Ruggiano is with the Bulls on a rehab assignment. If he plays, expect some serious power at bat. An ex-Bull, he knows the DBAP better than any player on the field. Also a possible immediate return to St. Petersburg if Upton's injury is serious (and Ruggiano's rehab goes well).
Speaking of the DBAP, our park got some love from Stadium Review recently.
After these nine games, the Bulls play six games on the road and that’s it. No more baseball for 2011. Except, the Governors’ Cup playoffs! That’s a possibility of four more games at the DBAP.