Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Durham Bulls Basics 2015 - Part 2

The Schedule

The International League schedules 144 games for each of its teams. Half of those games are played at home. So, unless you are truly a Durham Bulls fanatic, you will only have 72 chances to see your Bulls during the regular season. Although, Charlotte and Norfolk aren’t all that far away ...

In 2015 the Bulls opens their season on April 9 with an away game against the Atlanta Braves affiliate, the Gwinnett Braves, at their stadium in Lawrenceville, Georgia. The last game of the season is a day game at home against the Norfolk Tides on September 7. The first home game is April 15 against the Norfolk Tides.

A key feature of the IL schedule is that the Bulls only play a few home games against each team outside the South Division.  That means that if you are a Boston fan the only chance you’ll get to see Red Sox prospects will be the three games May 5-7. That’s it. They won’t be back unless both teams are in the playoffs in September. The same is true if you’re a Yankees fan (four games, May 14-17). Cleveland fans, however, will see their team, the Columbus Clippers come to town twice (June 18-21 and Aug 22-23) as will Detroit fans (the Mud Hens are in town June 23-25 and Aug 19-21). Said another way, the Bulls only play 39 games at home with the teams from outside the South Division.

Just for the record, this is a huge change in IL scheduling which will only be noticed by the most die hard of fans. In the past it was four home and four away for all outside-of-the-division teams. This year the Bulls will instead split 41 games against the 6 teams in the North Division and play 37 games against the 4 teams in the West Division. Why the change? Beats me.

On the other hand, if you’re a Braves (Gwinnett) or White Sox (Charlotte) or Orioles (Norfolk) fan, you’re in luck. (Well, it’s a bit difficult to call an Orioles fan as being in any sort of luck, but you get the idea.) Those teams will be here a lot this year: 11 games each.

The Bulls have a 9-game home stand in August, but home stands usually run 4-8 days. Road trips are often 8 days long, but sometimes they are shorter.

Triple-A ballplayers have a much more relentless schedule than major leaguers. They play more games with fewer days off, at least until September.

The Triple-A All-Star game pitting the International League All-Stars against the Pacific Coast League All-Stars is set for July 15, well past mid-season, and will be played in Omaha, Nebraska. Exactly how the players are selected for the game is something of a mystery. Fans do get a vote; however, usually the IL doesn’t bother to tell us how the voting went.

The International League Championship (The Governors’ Cup) is decided with two rounds of best of five playoffs in September. A one-game “AAA Championship” game is to be played on September 22, 2015 in El Paso, Texas.

The Durham Bulls, as all readers of this blog must know, in just the most recent years won the Governors’ Cup and the AAA Championship in 2009, the Governors’ Cup in 2013, and has won the Southern Division championship seven of the last eight years.

This year’s schedule is at the Bulls web site here. If you want to download a calendar file of the home games to your computer or smartphone the file is here. Lastly, for a full schedule of all the teams in the International League, a schedule is here.

If you missed Part 1, check it out here. And then there's Part 3.

Monday, March 30, 2015

All-DBAP Manager - Evers and Montoyo

For what it’s worth, I think that choosing between Bill Evers and Charlie Montoyo is a false choice.

 It’s our game. Change the rules. No reason that we have to pick just one. Why couldn't they share the honor?

Vote for both at the Facebook page.

Durham Bulls Basics 2015 - Part 1

For the last couple of years WDBB has made a stab at presenting the basics of this terrific baseball team. Here’s  Part 1 of our 2015 version. I hope it doesn’t come off as too basic, but this is mostly stuff I did not know when I became a Bulls fan.

If you see a mistake, let me know. I’ll fix it as soon as I can.

AAA Baseball

The Durham Bulls are the Triple-A franchise of the Tampa Bay Rays.

Triple-A baseball is one step below major league baseball. How do we know that? Because Major League Baseball says Triple-A baseball is one step below Major League Baseball.

Major League Baseball has 30 teams: 15 in the American League and 15 in the National League. Each major league team has a AAA team in their farm system. Thus, there are 30 AAA minor league baseball teams — who said I couldn’t do basic arithmetic? Except, of course, that there’s a AAA Mexican League with 16 teams and recognized by Major League Baseball as being AAA, but I’ve never been able to figure that one out. (This is the last mention of the Mexican League for another year.)

The 30 Triple-A teams are divided into two leagues: The International League with 14 teams and the Pacific Coast League with 16 teams. So that sort of makes sense, so far.

What also makes sense is that, mostly, the International League is made up of teams who have their major league affiliates in the eastern and midwestern part of the country, while the Pacific Coast League’s parent clubs are, mostly, in the southwest and west.

But, hey, it’s baseball, so there will inevitably be a few quirks in the system. The Marlins, Brewers, and Cubs affiliates, for example, are all in the Pacific Coast League not in the International League.

The Durham Bulls are in the International League.

The International League

The 14 teams in the International League are matched up with major league teams without regard to whether the parent club is in the National League or the American League. The IL has teams affiliated with Boston, New York (Yankees), Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, Atlanta, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Detroit, Chicago (White Sox), Toronto, and Minnesota. That gives the IL 9 American League and 5 National League affiliates.

Logic would say that since AAA is the next step down from the majors, the teams would prefer to be in close proximity to each other. Sometimes that’s true. Toledo is linked to Detroit, Pawtucket is the AAA team of Boston, and the Atlanta Braves’ AAA club is just a long taxi ride away from them over in Lawrenceville, Georgia. On the other hand, Charlotte is pretty far from Chicago and the Durham-to-St. Petersburg distance is a good bit more than average.

Obviously, all the teams in the “International” League are in the US, but up until recently there was a team in Ottawa. That gave us the chance to sing along to “O, Canada” four times a year. With the tentative re-opening of relations with Cuba, my bet is that we will see a International League team back in Cuba as soon as a major league team can make a deal. Maybe they will even name them the Sugar Kings, after the last International League AAA team that played in Havana. Why not move the Washington National’s affiliate, the Syracuse, New York franchise? Not much of a fan base up there. They drew less than 250,00 fans last year (the Bulls brought in more than twice as many). Only problem I see is learning the words to La Bayamesa, much less singing it.

With teams from both the National and American Leagues, what about the designated hitter rule? The rule is in effect in all games except when both clubs are National League affiliates. That means that no Durham Bull pitchers will go to the plate this year (except in the very weird circumstance where a pitcher could go to the plate as a pinch-hitter — not likely, but possible).

The International League has three divisions: North, West, and South

Divisions and Affiliations

North Division

Buffalo Bisons - Toronto Blue Jays
Lehigh Valley IronPigs - Philadelphia Phillies
Pawtucket Red Sox - Boston Red Sox
Rochester Red Wings - Minnesota Twins
Syracuse Chiefs - Washington Nationals

West Division

Columbus Clippers - Cleveland Indians
Indianapolis Indians - Pittsburgh Pirates
Louisville Bats - Cincinnati Reds
Toledo Mud Hens - Detroit Tigers

South Division

Charlotte Knights - Chicago White Sox
Gwinnett Braves - Atlanta Braves
Norfolk Tides - Baltimore Orioles
Durham Bulls - Tampa Bay Rays

Next: See Part 2 and Part 3

Friday, March 27, 2015

All-DBAP Comments & More

Bulls first game, at Gwinnett, April 9: 13 days!
First home game, v. Norfolk, April 15: 19 days!

The relief pitcher choices for all-DBAP are up and it sure looks like Lee Gardner is a shoo-in, although I lean in favor of Winston Abreu or Kirby Yates since they were the pitchers I’ve seen. Miss not having Joe Bateman on the list since he was one of my favorites. And who can ever forget R.J. Swindle’s slow curve ball? Still, good men to choose from.

Liked seeing J.D. Martin get the nod for starting pitchers.

Last choice will be for managers and that will certainly be the old fans vs. the young fans.

Meanwhile the Bulls first game is on the road against the Gwinnett Braves on April 9.

The Tampa Bay Rays first game is on April 1, so they will have to sort out their roster by then. April 1 to April 9 seems to me to be an unusually long gap between opening days of major league ball and Triple-A.

We have plenty of clues regarding the Bulls roster as chronicled over on the Bulls’ blog. At least three of the players we like to watch, Hak-Ju Lee, Mikie Mahtook and Vince Belnome, should be on their way back to the Bulls. None of the three was getting much playing time.

Friday, March 13, 2015

All-DBAP Outfield: Weber, Anderson, Ruggiano

I missed commenting on the shortstop selection, but I don’t have any deep objection to the choices, although they missed Reid Brignac who played 303 games for the Bulls (#7) and ranked #14 in WDBB’s all-time OPS list. Personally, I think Melvin (formerly known as B.J.) Upton certainly gave us more thrills than just about any shortstop I’ve ever seen (probably more groans, too). Plus he was #4 on our all-time number of games list and #5 on OPS.

But today the concern is outfielders. The Bulls blog gives us 10 choices.
  • Leslie Anderson*
  • Rocco Baldelli
  • Russ Canzler
  • Carl Crawford
  • Jonny Gomes
  • Desmond Jennings*
  • Andruw Jones
  • Wil Myers
  • Justin Ruggiano*
  • Jon Weber*
Let’s face it, that is quite a list. It may be missing a couple of guys who were thrilling to watch, such as Fernando Perez or Joey Gathright or Kevin Kiermaier, but it’s a good list. Of those on the list, the ones I’ve marked with an asterisk made WDBB’s all-time list as well.

Let me make my argument for my choices.
  • Justin Ruggiano: 476 games and an OPS of .836. He came to bat 2064 times. That’s 200 more times than any other AAA Durham Bull. And he’s got solid numbers to back it up. He made a difference in every year he played here.
  • Leslie Anderson: 267 games, OPS of .769. Our view is that the Cuban National Team star was slightly past his prime when he managed to get to the U.S. Plus he was a bit erratic his first year as a Bull. But when he came around on a pitch he could make it fly. We came to really appreciate him his last year and were sorry to see him go elsewhere.
  • Jon Weber: 264 games, OPS - .827. We just liked watching him play baseball. No player ever understood the Blue Monster better than Weber. He probably caught more runners trying to stretch a hit off the wall into a double than anyone ever at the DBAP. He seemed to be always deeply into every game, never letting up. He represented the Bulls/Rays on the championship USA team in the world cup. 
If you can’t go along with Anderson, then Desmond Jennings or Russ Canzler are good choices among the players we’ve seen at the DBAP.