Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Casali Coming Into His Own? IL South Undecided

Three teams have been in first place this month. Gwinnett back on top for now. Standings.
Game 137, Monday, 29 August, Durham Bulls Athletic Park
Columbus Clippers (Cleveland): 2
Durham Bulls (Tampa Bay): 3
Season: 60-77; Home Stand: 1-3; 7 games left in season
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

Game Score: Marks 65; Season Avg 53 (22 starts, 133.2 innings)
Tm OPS: Game .613; Season .679; Diff -.066

It isn't very often that we get something right in this blog, so grant me a moment to pat myself on the back. Yesterday I mentioned how Curt Casali was doing a pretty good job since coming down from Tampa Bay. Last night might have been his best. Casey Gillaspie got himself on base three times (with a walk, a single, and a double) and two of those times Mr. Casali brought him home, once with a hit and another with a sacrifice fly.

As it happened, I watched the bottom of the 8th from out above the center field wall. That was fun. The Bulls started out back by two. Daniel Robertson walked and made it to third base (nice baserunning, by the way) on a Casey Gillaspie single. Taylor Motter singled Robertson in for the tie. A perfect sacrifice bunt by Jaff Decker moved runners to second and third. Then Casali's sacrifice fly to center field.

For the first 6 innings, however, it was mostly pitching. Justin Marks had his best start in a very long while, but let just one pitch get away from him to a member of the best home run hitting team in the league.

Mikie Mahtook is back and we're happy to have him. His timing is off, but we can hope to see it improve before he gets called back up.

Outside the game —
  • Eddie Gamboa was placed on the "temporarily inactive" list. Have not idea what that means.
  • Here's a thoughtful piece on Desmond Jennings that points to systemic issues within the Rays system. We think that the issues are even more serious than in this article, but this is a good start. The Rays are not growing position players.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Bulls Having Decent Home Stand

Charlotte inches back into first place
Game 136, Sunday, 28 August, Durham Bulls Athletic Park
Gwinnett Braves: 6
Durham Bulls: 10
Season: 59-77; Home Stand: 2-1; Games Left in Season: 8
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

Game Score: Faria 29; Season 52 (12 starts, 60.2 innings)
Tm OPS: Game 1.086; Season .679; Difference .407

Jacob Faria's very shaky start was more than compensated for by Bulls' hitting and superb relief. Everyone but Jake Hager got at least one hit. Casey Gillaspie and Dayron Varona hit home runs. Richie Shaffer's line drive off the wall was one of his rare hits this year that looked like last year. Curt Casali may have just had the one hit, but he may have quietly sorted himself out. His wOBA is up to .372 since coming down from Tampa Bay.

I'm not at all ready to eat my words regarding Ryne Stanek, but it's only fair to point out that he got yesterday's win while pitching two clean innings.

Two recent returnees pitched yesterday. Casey Coleman, who went on the disabled list after an emergency appendectomy, is back and pitched for the last two outs of the 5th. Tyler Sturdevant, who was up and back to the Rays, pitched the 9th.

Should you noticed Dana Eveland's numbers? He started the season with the Rays, but has been with the Bulls since the All-Star break. In that time he's had 16 appearances, pitched 22 innings, and has a stellar ERA of just 0.38 and a WHIP of just 0.79. To put it a little differently, he's given up just one hit, a home run back on July 14th! The teams who passed on him when he was DFA'd back in early July must be regretting it.

Outside the game —
  • The International League South remains in turmoil. As we noted several days ago, it appears to be Charlotte's to lose, although Gwinnett obviously has a shot at it. Charlotte closes out the season with three games against Louisville, three against Norfolk, and two against Gwinnett. Gwinnett stays in the South with three against Norfolk, three against the Bulls, and the two against Charlotte.
  • After one inning with Tampa Bay, Steve Geltz is coming back.
  • For a playoff circumstance that's truly weird, our colleague over in Montgomery, Alabama (one of the three minor league fan bloggers I know of) has just pointed out that a team can get into the Southern League playoffs by losing a game.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

A Tale of Two Pitchers; South Division Struggles

Game 135, Saturday, 27 Aug, DBAP
Gwinnett Braves: 3
Durham Bulls: 5
Season: 58-77; Home Games Remaining: 6
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

Game Score: Cobb 46; Average 36 (4 starts, 15 innings)
Tm OPS: Game .682; Season .676; Diff .006

Here' an interesting oddity for regular readers:

We have a pitcher with 4 starts, no wins, 15 innings, an ERA of 6.60, a FIP of 5.87, and a WHIP of 2.00.

We have another pitcher with 27 appearances (12 starts), 6-4, an ERA of 2.68, FIP of 2.77, WHIP of 1.13.

The first pitcher (Alex Cobb) is going to the Rays and, technically, was never a Durham Bull. The second pitcher (Eddie Gamboa) is not going to the Rays. Too bad. If Gamboa ever does go  up you can probably depend on catcher Curt Casali doing everything he can to not be his catcher. Last night Gamboa struck out two batters but passed balls let them get to first base, plus Casali had two more passed balls to drive his totals upwards. Catching knuckleballers is tough.

At this stage of the season and with their status in the division race, you wonder why the Braves started their not-quite-ready-for-Triple-A pitcher. But it looks like Gwinnett is just as hostage to Atlanta as the Bulls are to Tampa Bay.

Outside the game —

  • Mikie Mahtook is coming back. Good news for those of us who would like to see him again even for just a couple of games. He will surely go back to the Rays on September 1. 
  • Former Bull Desmond Jennings has been released by the Rays. Although talented, he had trouble staying healthy even as a Bull and even more trouble as a Ray.
  • Steve Geltz got a call-up. Good luck!
  • Reliever Casey Coleman is coming back.
  • Cameron Seitzer has gone back to wherever he and Mayo Acosta go when the Bulls can't carry them on their rosters.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

What Else Happened?

Game 134, Friday, 27 August, Durham Bulls Athletic Park
Gwinnett Braves (Atlanta): 11
Durham Bulls (Tampa Bay): 1
Season: 57-77; Home Stand: 0-1; Home Game Remaining: 7
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

Game Score: Pruitt 22; Season Avg 54 (26 starts, 153.1 innings)
Tm OPS: Game .705; Season .676; Difference .029

In keeping with my comments yesterday, let us reflect on the interesting/beautiful things that happened last night.

The 2nd inning was awful; however, it ended on a very nice play. The Braves had runners on first and second base. The batter singled to Dayron Varona in right field. The runner on second scored. Bulls first baseman Cameron Seitzer positioned himself perfectly for the throw home from Verona, cut the throw off, and threw out the Braves runner trying to reach from first to third (runner happened to be former Bull, Reid Brignac).

Speaking of Cameron Seitzer: He's done a lot of bench-sitting, bus-riding this year. Great to see him hit a nice double to start the 3rd inning.

In the Bulls half of the inning, Braves first baseman Sean Kazmar made a very pretty grab of a very hard hit Hank Conger grounder and had no trouble beating Conger to the bag.

In the Bulls part of the third inning they load the bases with one out. Taylor Motter struck out, but Richie Shaffer hit what looked to be a sure single into left field. But a very clean play by Braves Daniel Castro stopped the grounder and he easily threw out Casey Gillaspie at second base.

Neil Wagner, one of those pitchers we would like to see do well, had a clean two innings in relief.

Normally we are annoyed when Patrick Kinas gets into full-blown story-telling mode. But last night was different. The game was a blowout and he had some great stories from the Olympics. I left the game in the 8th and they were nice listening on the way home.

On a somber note, the Bulls are now 20 games below .500. Quite a fall from their end-of-July status of 8 games below .500

Friday, August 26, 2016

Blown Out in Charlotte

Game 131, Tuesday, 23 August, BB&T Ballpark, Charlotte, NC
Durham Bulls (Rays): 2
Charlotte Knights (White Sox): 3
10 innings
Wrap, Box
Game Score: Faria 63; Season Avg 54 (11 starts, 56.1 innings)
Tm OPS: Game .680; Season .674; Diff .006

Game 132, Wednesday, 24 August, BB&T Ballpark, Charlotte
Durham Bulls (Tampa Bay Rays): 5
Charlotte Knights (Chicago White Sox): 6
Wrap, Box
Game Score: Marks 48; Season 52 (21 starts, 121.1 innings)
Tm OPS: Game .773; Season .674; Diff .099

Game 133, Thursday, 25 August, BB&T Ballpark, Charlotte, NC
Durham Bulls: 7
Charlotte Knights: 12
Wrap, Box
Game Score: Schultz 19; Season Avg 53 (26 starts, 126.2 innings)
Tm OPS: Game .819; Season .676; Diff .143

In this visit to Charlotte, the Durham Bulls managed to play themselves out of contention for the South Division championship.[standings] Could they play themselves back in? Only if the Knights and Gwinnett really stumble. The Bulls have six games with second place Gwinnett (currently on the three-game winning streak), two with Norfolk, and three with one of the best teams in the IL, the Columbus Clippers. Simply not very likely.

This visit to Charlotte was their big chance but the pitching crew, which had been a strength of this team, blew it. Neil Wagner could not hold on to a lead on Tuesday. The decision to move Ryan Stanek to a reliever role looks ever more questionable as on Wednesday he recorded his third blown save and 4th loss in relief since the All-Star break. And last night it was starter Jamie Schultz' turn as he gave up a grand slam in the second inning and left the game before the inning was out.

The hitters, for a change, did just fine. Just not enough to hold up the pitching crew.

Why then go to any of the eight remaining home games?

As a Bulls fan, not many reasons at all. As a baseball fan, however, all the usual reasons are still there: a chance to see a well-turned double play; a perfectly executed throw from under the Monster to second base; a stolen base; a home run; a nasty curve ball; a diving catch in center field; a cup of beer; a hot dog.

Outside the game —
  • Patrick Kinas in back from Rio and in the booth. Doesn't seem to have lost a step.
  • Ryan Garton is back from Tampa Bay.
  • Tyler Sturdevant went back up.
  • Richie Shaffer coming back. He got a grand total of 7 ABs while there. 2 hits, 1 walk, 3 K's, and scored a run.
  • Manager Jared Sandberg was ejected for the 6th time this year, in Wednesday's game.
  • The Charlotte Observer, which used to cover the Knights very nicely, is not any more.
  • Not that different from Raleigh's N&O which has foregone next morning coverage altogether in the last few weeks.
Gee, I sound awfully grumpy, don't I?

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Big Day at Bat for Bulls

Game 130, 22 August, Harbor Park, Norfolk, Virginia
Durham Bulls (Rays): 10
Norfolk Tides (Orioles): 6
Season: 57-73; Trip: 2-0
Wrap, Box, Virginian-Pilot

Game Score: Cobb 27; Average 33 (3 starts, 11 innings)
Tm OPS: Game 1.113; Season .673; Difference +.440

From the beginning this was very unusual game. At the top of the 1st inning, in just four pitches, the Bulls hit back-to-back-to-back home runs: Casey Gillaspie (batting left-handed), Taylor Motter, and Jaff Decker. Since Daniel Robertson was on base for Gillaspie's shot, the Bulls were ahead 4-0.

Unfortunately, for him and for the Bulls, Alex Cobb's rehab does not appear to be going well. Over his 4 innings, the Tides came back with four runs on 9 hits, two walks, and no K's. The Bulls came back with two more runs in the top of the 5th, but Cobb started the bottom of the inning giving up a single and was pulled out for Parker Markel. The Tides scored two in the inning leaving the score at 6-6.

In the 7th the Tides' pitcher hit Daniel Robertson and Gillaspie (batting right-handed) hit his second home run of the game, putting the Bulls ahead 8-6. In the 9th the Bulls loaded the bases and two runs scored on a Dayron Verona single.

A couple of important things happened in this game. The Bulls' hitting was as good as it's been this year, the best in terms of total bases at 28. The Bulls have no choice when a pitcher is with them on a rehab assignment. Everything is dictated by the Rays — pitch count, innings, even the baseballs he throws. So it's up to the bullpen to carry the weight. And that's what they did last night. Markel, Eveland, and Geltz only let one run in while the hitters were doing their thing.

Outside the game —
  • Virginian-Pilot reporter Jim Hodges is my kind of guy. Remember our curiosity about why manager Jared Sandberg got tossed at the beginning of Sunday's game? Hodges chased it down.
   For those wondering why Durham manager Jared Sandberg was ejected after only one batter Sunday, be advised that the process actually began a night earlier and 185 miles or so away. From the third-base coaching box on Sunday, Sandberg advised umpire John Bacon that he had missed a strike call a day earlier in Durham. Words over the Saturday call were exchanged between Tides batter Dariel Alvarez and Bulls catcher Curt Casali, and the discussion escalated into a rumble in which both benches and bullpens emptied but no punches were thrown.
    Then the two clubs – and the umpires – moved on to Norfolk, where Sandberg decided that the issue should linger. And Bacon decided it, and Sandberg, shouldn’t linger at all.
   “I don’t know why I was ejected,” Sandberg insisted Sunday. “You’ll have to ask the umpire.”
   International League umpires do not comment about such situations.
  • About those baseballs Alex Cobb was throwing, they are major league balls and they manufactured in Central America. The IL's baseballs come from China. There's speculation that the MLB versions are being juiced

Monday, August 22, 2016

A Win at Harbor Park

Game 129, 21 August, Harbor Park, Norfolk, Virginia
Durham Bulls (Rays): 5
Norfolk Tides (Orioles): 4
10 innings
Wrap, Box, Virginian-Pilot
Game Score: Gamboa 74; Season Avg 55 (12 starts, 55.2 innings)
Tm OPS: Game .679; Season .670; Diff .009

If anyone knows why manager Jared Sandberg got tossed after the first out of the 1st inning, we'd like to know.According to the game log, Jake Hager had just popped out. What could there have been to argue about? By my count, that was the fifth time this season he's been tossed and the second time in the first inning. The Bulls have won the last three times he was ejected. Trend?

Meanwhile, after cruising into the 9th (mostly), the Bulls needed Jake Hager's first home run of the season to win the game in the 10th. Heroics would not have been necessary except for the two runs that Tyler Sturdevant gave up over the 8th and 9th innings. That led to the very odd statistical quirk that Sturdevant acquired his fifth blown save but also his third win. Seems unfair somehow.

A win at Harbor Park this season is a big deal. The Bulls have only won 4 of 15 games played there.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

At Least the Weather was Hot

Game 126, 18 August, Durham Bulls Athletic Park, Durham, NC
Norfolk Tides (Baltimore): 8
Durham Bulls (Tampa Bay): 5
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun
Game Score: Marks 9 (season low); Avg 53 (20 starts, 106.1 innings)
Tm OPS: Game .746; Season .669; Diff +.077

Game 127, 19 August, DBAP
Norfolk Tides (Orioles): 2
Durham Bulls (Rays): 3
11 innings
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun
Game Score: Schultz 38; Season Avg 54 (25 starts, 125 innings)
Tm OPS: Game .885; Season .672; Diff +.213

Broke a six-game losing streak, but the next day ...

Game 128, 20 August, DBAP
Norfolk Tides: 4
Durham Bulls: 0
Season: 56-72; Home Stand: 1-2; Games Remaining: 16
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun
Game Score: Pruitt 69; Season Avg 56 (25 starts, 148.1 innings)
Tm OPS: Game .326; Season .669; -.343

Only one Bull got a hit last evening, Casey Gillaspie, and he got three of them. Did not manage to score, though. So the Bulls were shut out for the 18th time this season.

Austin Pruitt appeared to be flagging near the end, but he did reach 97 pitches in his 8 innings. At 148⅓ innings, he has the most innings pitched of any Bulls pitcher this year. However, at 2,158 pitches on the season, he is considerably more efficient than Jamie Schultz, who has used 2,236 pitches to get through 125 innings.

Dylan Floro is back from a lengthy stay with the Rays. Richie Shaffer has gone to St Petersburg after Nick Franklin got hit by a bat and the concussion protocol put him on the DL. Eury Perez is off the roster for the moment.

The International League South standings are not any less bizarre than the last time we looked, although the Bulls are in last place now. The Division could go to any of the teams currently clustering within a couple of games of each other.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Worst Team in Durham Bulls History?

Game 125, 17 August, Huntington Park, Columbus, Ohio
Durham Bulls: 0
Columbus Clippers: 2
Season: 54-71, Trip: 0-3
Wrap, Box
Game Score: Faria 72; Season Avg 53 (10 starts, 51 innings)
Tm OPS: Game .373; Season .669; Diff -.296

The Bulls are back after a dismal trip to Columbus.

The Really Big Picture

The 2016 Durham Bulls are on track to having the worst record in the 19-year history of the Bulls as a Triple-A team.

The Bulls still have 19 games to play, most of them at home. They've done modestly better at home this year, so maybe they won't end up being the worst.

But this last trek to Ohio does not hold out much hope. The pitchers did fine. The hitters only scored 4 runs. Yesterday they were shut out for the 16th time this year.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Awful August Continues Awful

click on chart for larger view

The Durham Bulls have only won three games this month, out of 12.

The last two:

Game 123, 15 August, Huntington Park, Columbus, Ohio
Durham Bulls (Rays): 1
Columbus Clippers (Indians): 4
Game Score: Gamboa 57; Season Avg 54 (11 starts, 49 innings)
Tm OPS: Game .551; Season .670; Diff -.119

Game 124, 16 August, Huntington Park, Columbus, Ohio
Durham Bulls (Tampa Bay): 3
Columbus Clippers (Cleveland): 4
Game Score: Cobb (rehab) 50; Season Avg 35 (2 starts, 7 innings)
Tm OPS: Game .752; Season .671; Diff +.081

Monday, August 15, 2016

A Lengthy Loss

Game 122, 14 August, DBAP
Charlotte Knights: 4
Durham Bulls: 3
13 innings
Season: 54-68; Home Stand: 1-2; Home Games Remaining: 11
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

Game Score: Pruitt 57; Season Avg 55 (24 starts, 140.1 innings)
Tm OPS: Game .606; Season .671, Diff -.065

The night started by honoring a large contingent of fellows from the Negro leagues. Great to see them at the game. All of the Bulls wore 42, remembering Jackie Robinson. Nice start of the game. And the whole game was mostly fun, until the end.

I'll confess that I left the game at the 8th inning when the Bulls and Knights were tied at 3-3, listened to the radio on the way home, and saw the last several innings on TV (enduring an unfortunate bit of nattering about the Village People).

Overall, the Bulls pitching crew was superb, with one notable exception. However, so was the Knights' crew. Beginning with the 8th inning, the Bulls went through their batting order three times against three pitchers and only got three hits, a single by Gillaspie in the 8th, a single by Motter in the 10th, and a single by Goebbert in the 12th.

It came down to the 13th inning and a pitcher who does not seem to be ready for AAA, Ryne Stanek. He throws really, really hard. He often hits 98 and has reported to have been over 100. Durham's catcher, Curt Casali had never caught him before last night's appearance. That unfamiliarity might account for some of the inning's problems. Nevertheless, after a hit, passed ball and a couple of walks, Stanek wild-pitched the winning run across. The Herald-Sun had this from the manager:
"He's a young kid with a power arm," Bulls manager Jared Sandberg said. "Just a little off. We were talking today about his approach. He's missed a lot of balls up with the fastball sailing on him. He's trying to get his fastball command a little better."
When Stanek arrived from Montgomery he was in the midst of a conversion from starter to reliever. He's had 10 games in relief with the Bulls, but has not been much help to the team. Too soon?

At bat the Bulls were certainly impatient last night, drawing just  1 walk in 48 opportunities. Thanks to Jake Goebbert for keeping the Bulls in the game with a big home run in the 7th.

About the South Division and the Playoffs

Here's the deal. The competition within the South Division is a bit bizarre. The "best" team in the division, Gwinnett, is 12 games below .500 with a 28-36 record. The worst team in the division, Norfolk is 17 games below .500 with a 29-34 record. They also happen to hold the worst record in the International League. However, Norfolk is only 2 games behind Gwinnett. Any one of these teams could win the South Division. [standings]

This makes the next three games for the Bulls all the more interesting. You see, the first International League playoff games are the South playing the West and the North playing the Wild Card. No South team has even the remotest chance at the wild card, so it's safe to say that the only playoff team from the South will be the South champion playing the West champion. The current West leader is the Cleveland farm team, the Clippers, who have an 8-game lead. The Bulls play them tonight and five more times before the season's over, three games starting today and three home games at the end of August. The Bulls have been to Columbus once before this year, losing two out of three in May.

Thus, these games with Columbus could be playoff previews, assuming the Bulls can win a few more games against Norfolk, Gwinnett, and Charlotte.

This chart shows the IL South since the All-Star Break.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Blown Save

Game 121, 13 August, Durham Bulls Athletic Park
Charlotte Knights (White Sox): 5
Durham Bulls (Rays): 1
Season: 54-67; Home Stand: 1-1; Home Games Remaining: 12
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

Game Score: Schultz 89; Season Avg 55 (24 starts, 122 innings)
Tm OPS: Game .406; Season .672; Diff -.266

Jamie Schultz pitched his best game of the season and added to his league-leading strikeout totals by 11. He left the game with a shutout in hand.

At first, I wondered why Tyler Sturdevant was called in for the 9th. However, the facts were that he had only allowed 1 run in 9 appearances since the All-Star break. So, it seemed to make sense. But things got ugly in a hurry when two infield singles and a sacrifice put runners on second and third with one out. Former Bull Jerry Sands came to bat.

The broadcasters mentioned that an intentional walk was the obvious call, setting up a possible double play. What were they thinking? Manager Jared Sandberg has only called for an intentional walk 5 times this year. It is simply not what he does as a manager (he only called for 8 all of last season). He is not alone in his thinking. The best team in the league, the RailRiders, has only called for 4. Still, Sandberg is the same guy who has said that hitting is contagious on both a team and individual level and Sands had gotten two of the three hits allowed by Schultz. Just sayin'.

All of which became moot when Sands hit a three-run home run. A couple more hits and a couple more runs later Parker Markel came in to get the last out. But not before Sturdevant had earned his 4th blown save and a loss, his ERA had ballooned from 1.14 to 2.51 and the Bulls had slipped out of first place .

Moving on to another topic: Unless local reporters, that would be the Herald-Sun, ask the question, or we happen to tune in to the broadcast early, we fans never get injury updates from the Bulls. Jaff Decker played last night for the first time since August 5. Injured? Probably.


Since the All-Star break the relief crew has been doing a terrific job. By last Thursday, they'd brought their running ERA down from 3.79 to 3.43, even better than the starters. In just two games, two of them, Kyle Stanek up in Pawtucket and Sturdevant here in Durham, have added enough runs to push the entire relief crew's ERA back to being well above the team average.

click for larger view

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Big Night

Game 120, August 12, Durham Bulls Athletic Park, Durham, NC
Charlotte Knights (White Sox): 2
Durham Bulls (Rays): 10
Season: 54-66; Home Stand: 1-0; Remaining Home Games: 13
Box, Wrap, Herald-Sun

Games Score: Marks 74; Season Avg 55 (19 starts, 111.2 innings)
Tm OPS: Game 1.212 (season best); Season .674; Difference +.538

The Bulls' very best night of hitting this season,  a solid start by Justin Marks, and a loss by the Gwinnett Braves: The Bulls are back into first place in the South Division of the International League!

Durham's 13 hits included 4 doubles and 3 home runs. Richie Shaffer celebrated (?) his return to the Bulls with a single, double and home run that resulted in 2 RBI (he played right field). Center fielder Johnny Field also had a double and home run ; catcher Curt Casali had a single and home run. In all, Bulls hitters accumulated 26 total bases, the most in a single game this year.

Meanwhile, Justin Marks' post-All-Star break performance has been exceptional. In his six starts, five have above-average Game Scores; his ERA is just 2.38 over 41.2 innings; and, of course, he threw a no-hitter.

Outside the game —
  • The Bulls moved into first place in the South. Should the front office start printing playoff tickets? Order 2016 South Division Champs T-Shirts? Re-sod the outfield?
  • Alec Sole, who went over to Montgomery after several hitless games with the Bulls, had two hits, including a home run, in his first game with the Biscuits.
  • Juniel Querecuto went to Hudson Valley to make room for Richie Shaffer.
  • The Bulls are still carrying three catchers.

Thursday, August 11, 2016


Game 117, August 9, McCoy Stadium, Pawtucket, Rhode Island
Durham Bulls (Tampa Bay): 1
Pawtucket Red Sox (Boston): 3
Wrap, Box
Game Score: Pruitt 50; Season Avg 55 (23 starts, 133.1 innings)
Tm OPS: Game .486; Season .668; Diff -.182

Game 118, August 10, McCoy Stadium
Durham Bulls: 4
Pawtucket Red Sox: 5
Wrap, Box
Game Score: Cobb (Rehab Start) 22
Tm OPS: Game .658; Season .668; Diff -.010

Game 119, August 11, McCoy Stadium, Pawtucket, Rhode Island
Durham Bulls: 5
Pawtucket Red Sox: 6
Season: 53-66; Trip: 0-3; Games Remaining: 25; Home Games Remaining: 14
Wrap, Box
Game Score: Faria 65; Season Avg 51 (9 starts, 44 innings)
Tm OPS: Game .822; Season .669; Diff +.153

Coming into the bottom of the 8th inning today things were looking pretty good. The Bulls had a 2 run lead.  Big arm Kyle Stanek had had a 3 up/3 down 7th inning. But then — walk, out, out, home run, walk, home run, and the PawSox have a 2-run lead.

In the top of the 9th, the Bulls loaded the bases, and a walk scored a run. But the game ended with the Bulls a run behind and the bases still loaded.

It was something of a change for the light-hitting Bulls to lose a game because of poor pitching, but that was the reason in game 119. Otherwise, the PawSox thoroughly dominated the Bulls.


Rehabbing Matt Duffy went to the Rays. He didn't look too happy to be with either the Bulls or the Rays, although someone did get a major leaguer's batting helmet to him. Based on the unfairly small sample, the Giants (who got Matt Moore out of the deal) certainly got the better end of the trade. Two for 11 in 3 games.

Alec Sole, who didn't get a hit in his three games with the Bulls, was sent to Montgomery when Daniel Robertson came off the DL. Robertson was hit by pitch today and left the game. Hope he's OK. Rehabbing Alex Cobb is with the team for at least one more outing. He had a couple of ugly innings in game 118 (and lost the game). Richie Shaffer is reportedly coming back. He was in 3 games with the Rays and had a single and a double in 6 at bats.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Negro League Night, August 14, DBAP

Bulls Press Release:
[Bulls to play in] Negro League-style uniforms to pay tribute to the legacy of Durham's local Negro League stars. Former Negro League players will be on hand for the game, and will sign autographs for fans on the concourse.

I take the times I've had the opportunity to shake the hands of these fine gentlemen as some of my best moments as a baseball fan. Central North Carolina has quite a tradition of Negro League ball and a surprising number of men who played are still with us.

If you have a child or grandchild interested the game, you owe it to them to them to take advantage of this opportunity to meet these men. And to reflect on both the positive and the uncomfortable legacy they represent.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Matchup: Durham Bulls vs Pawtucket Red Sox

The Bulls played a 4 game home series against the Boston Red Sox Triple-A team in early July. They split 2-2. Now the Bulls are up in Rhode Island for 3-games and their next-to-last out-of-division series of the year. In contrast to the International League South Division, Pawtucket has a winning record but is in 4th place in their division and 3rd in the Wild Card standings.

Traditionally, the PawSox and the Bulls have had very close, very challenging series. However, statistically they have a real edge for this set of games.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Mistakes Matter

Game 116, August 7, DBAP
Gwinnett Braves: 5
Durham Bulls: 2
Season: 53-63; Home Stand: 2-3
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

Game Score: Schultz 48; Season Avg 54 (23 starts, 114 innings)
Tm wOBA: Game .294; Season .301; Difference -.007

Steve Wiseman, writing for the Durham Herald-Sun, captured some of my feelings about the game here:
In the eighth inning, [Casey] Gillespie represented the tying run at the plate with one out and Durham runners on first and second. But, on a 3-0 count, he grounded into an inning-ending double play.
“For a young hitter to come to Triple-A and get the green light, you try to get a good pitch to hit and do some damage,” Sandberg said. “Obviously it’s easy to be critical of him because he made an out. But I want him to be aggressive there. I was pleased with how aggressive he was.”
In the ninth inning, the Bulls loaded the bases with two outs thanks to a Gwinnett error and two walks. But, after working the count full against Braves hard-throwing closer Maikel Cleto, Alec Sole took a called third strike to end the game.

Actually, I'm not critical of Gillespie, I'm critical of the manager. The same manager who, at the start of the 6th inning, didn't even have a reliever warming up when Jamie Schultz was at 90+ pitches. After a double, a long fly ball that moved the runner to 3B, a walk, an errant pick-off throw that scored an unearned run, another walk, Schultz was up to 106 pitches. Markel was finally warming up. The same manager who, with an unusually deep bench, sent to the plate a fellow who has yet to have a hit for the Bulls.

By the way, new to the Rays shortstop Matt Duffy was with the Bulls on a rehab assignment, 0 for 4.

Outside the game —
  • The Bulls have a day off. It's time to note just how much harder these guys work than their major league counterparts. The Bulls first game this year was on April 7, the Rays first game was earlier, April 3. The Bulls have played 116 games in 122 days. The Rays have played fewer games (110) in more (126) days and, of course, traveled in much more comfort. Today is the last day off of the season.
About those unearned runs ...

Unearned runs are the result of mistakes by the defending team. So, it somehow doesn't seem fair to count them against the pitcher. That's why we have earned run averages. Overall, one of the many problems of the Bulls this year is mistakes of various sorts (errors, passed balls, etc.). That situation can be expressed as the percentage of unearned runs as part of the overall runs scored against the Bulls. It is not a pretty picture. And it has been an unlovely picture for most of the year. For the International League as a whole, 10.5% of the runs scored have been unearned. For the Bulls, as of last night, 13.8% of runs scored were unearned. That's down from a season-high of 15.9% back on May 8th, but the Bulls have been above the IL average since very early in the season. Some of that percentage can be attributed to Eddie Gamboa's contribution to the passed ball numbers, a league-leading  28, but the Bulls also hold second place in errors in with 93.

Here's how the unearned run rate has looked since the All-Star break (game 93).

click on chart for larger image

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Bulls' Bats Come Back

Game 115, August 6, DBAP
Gwinnett Braves: 0
Durham Bulls: 10
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

Game Score: Marks 77; Season Avg 54 (18 starts, 104.2 innings)
Tm wOBA: Game .470; Season .301; Diff +.169

Just last Wednesday the Bulls had their worst game at bat of the entire season (Tm wOBA of only .031). Last night they had one of their best: home runs, triples, doubles, singles adding up to 25 total bases. Leading the band was Johnny Field who hit a home run on the second pitch of the game. Also hitting home runs were two of the three Bulls catchers — Curt Casali who was actually catching, and Hank Conger, who was DHing. The third catcher, J.P. Arencibia, had the night off. In fact, everyone reached base (Motter on a fielder's choice) except new guy Alec Sole.

Meanwhile, Justin Marks had another good start.

About those catchers —

The Bulls are carrying three and something will have to give. At the moment the Bulls have 12 pitchers and 13 position players on the roster, the reverse from the usual 13 pitchers/12 position players. Both Hank Conger and Curt Casali are on the 40-man, and they both started the season with the Rays. I think that means that they are both drawing full major league salaries. They are with the Bulls because they weren't having very good seasons and then the Rays claimed a catcher, Bobby Wilson, off waivers. That gives the Rays five catchers with significant major league time (J.P. Arencibia has almost 500 major league games under his belt, many more than Conger, Casali, Maile, or Bobby Wilson). Given my track record for bad guesses, I'm not going to try. But the Bulls need a reliever to replace Danny Farquhar.

Outside the game--
  • My local newspaper, the Raleigh News & Observer, appears to have given up on covering the Bulls in print. Not even reprinting the press release of previous day's game now. 
  • Mikie Mahtook is reported as coming off the disabled list and should start playing for the Rays soon.

Here is a chart displaying the Bulls' erratic hitting performance. This is the game-by-game team wOBA since the All-Star break (July 14th). Nice to see slight upward trend since hitting has been the Bulls' problem all year. Obviously, an above-average night at bat doesn't guarantee a win, but it sure doesn't hurt. Similarly, a poor night at bat (for example, July 16th's wOBA of just .191), doesn't always mean a loss — June 16th was the night Justin Marks threw a no-hitter.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Shutout # 15

Game 114, August 5, DBAP
Gwinnett Braves (Atlanta): 4
Durham Bulls (Tampa Bay): 0
Season: 52-62; Home Stand: 1-2
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

Game Score: Faria 49; Season Avg 49 (8 starts, 38 innings)
Tm wOBA: Game .232; Season .300; Diff -.068


In today's Durham Herald-Sun:

     [Manager Jared] Sandberg was not surprised by his team’s dozen strikeouts.
    “It’s how we make outs over the course of the season. If we’re not at the top we’re one of the worst teams as far as strikeout totals go,” Sandberg said. “We’re the worst hitting Triple A team in baseball, so when you match up any pitcher against us it could go either way.”

New guys Curt Casali (DH) and Alec Sole (3B) combined for 0 for 7 plus a walk. Looks like they'll fit right in.

Outside the game —
  • Reliever Danny Farquhar has been called back up to Tampa Bay. It's his 4th callup this year. Probably tired of packing his bag. He's done a good job for the Bulls since his last return in early July, just 2 earned runs over 9 appearances and 13.1 innings (1.35 ERA, 0.83 WHIP). Good luck.
  • Very cool tweet from the Bulls yesterday.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Matchup: Durham Bulls vs. Gwinnett Braves

The Bulls haven't played the Atlanta Braves  Triple-A team since June 5 (the Bulls won) when the Bulls were in the middle of a six-game winning streak and the Braves were in what became a six-game losing streak. For a couple of moments in recent weeks,  the Braves have led in the South, but an eight-game losing streak a few weeks ago has hurt them. They did, however, recover with a seven-game win streak. So, it's fair to say they've been "streaky" lately.

At the moment they are 1½ back from the Bulls [standings]. The Braves and Bulls play each other 9 times (6 in Durham, 3 in Lawrenceville) between now and the end of the season.

Statistically, they are pretty awful. But the Bulls are worse. Have not tracked their roster turmoil, but assume it has been much like the Bulls.

Bats Come Alive

Game 113, Durham Bulls Athletic Park, Durham, NC
Norfolk Tides: 2
Durham Bulls: 6
Season: 52-61; Home Stand: 1-1
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

Game Score: Gamboa 60; Season Avg 53 (10 starts, 42.2 innings)
Tm wOBA: Game .397; Season .300; Diff +.097

J.P. Arencibia's single, double, home run and 4 RBI led the team as he had a terrific game in the DH spot. It was a good night for the hitters as everyone got at least one hit except for Jake Goebbert.

I have to admit I was worried, however, when even after getting out to a 3-1 lead, the Bulls could not score an additional run with the bases loaded and one out in the 3rd. I was worried because you never quite know what will happen with Eddie Gamboa on the mound.

I've noticed that both J.P. Arencibia and Hank Conger have caught Gamboa this year. And you'd have to think that Gamboa is responsible for Arencibia's awful passed ball number (20). So it seems only fair that Conger takes a turn once in a while as he did last night. To that end, we should also note that, although Eddie Gamboa has a very nice 2.62 ERA, he also has seen 7 unearned runs scored (including one last night) and has been charged with 8 wild pitches. That is, of course, the life of a knuckleballer and his catcher. We have to say that he looked pretty good last night.

We also have to point out that the relief crew has been spectacular lately. Last night: 1 hit and 6 K's, no runs. Over the last 10 games, the reliever's running ERA has dropped from 3.71 to 3.54. That much change is hard to do when the innings totals are now up over 400 on the year.

Outside the game —
  • Infielder Alec Sole has been called up all the way from the Charlotte Stone Crabs. Sole was the leading candidate for last year's WDBB Moonlight Graham Award with his 2 game, 7 AB visit to the Bulls last September. Here's hoping he gets more time with the team this year.
  • Catcher Curt Casali, who started last season with the Bulls, is coming back. The Rays have claimed a catcher off of waivers from the Texas Rangers (Bobby Wilson) and sent Casali to Durham to make room. If too many K's is Casali's problem, he's coming to the wrong team. No Bulls roster move has been announced.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Win Six; Lose Three

Game 111, August 2, Harbor Park, Norfolk, Virginia
Durham Bulls: 1
Norfolk Tides: 2
Wrap, Box, Virginian-Pilot

Game Score: Schultz 58; Season Avg 54 (22 starts, 108.1 innings)
Tm wOBA: Game .172; Season .301; Diff -.129

Bulls cannot seem to win at Harbor Park.

Game 112, August 3, Durham Bulls Athletic Park, Durham, NC
Norfolk Tides (Baltimore): 6
Durham Bulls (Tampa Bay): 0
Season: 51-61, Home Stand: 0-1
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun, MiLB (w/video)

Game Score: Pruitt 28; Season Avg 55 (22 starts, 120.1 innings)
Tm wOBA: Game .031 (season low); Season .299; Diff -.268

The Durham Bulls only managed two baserunners (and those in the 9th inning) as they were completely dominated by Tides' pitching to be shut out for the 14th time this season.

Oddly enough, however, after three losses, they remain in first place in the South Division of the International League. Standings.

Outside the game —
  • Taylor Motter returned to the Bulls without getting an at-bat with the Rays.
  • Juniel Querecuto was called up from Montgomery and played 2B last night.
  • Richie Shaffer was called up to Tampa Bay and saw duty as a pinch runner in St. Petersburg last night. Apparently to play first base. Lame effort to explain turmoil here.
  • The Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs moved into first place in the IL North a day ago for the first time since 2012. [NoiseNation] They slipped back into a tie with the Rail Riders last night.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Bark in the Park Tonight

A chance to run my favorite cartoon. One caution: if it stays this hot, please keep your dogs well watered. And have fun.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Rays Rosterize the Bulls; More Moves Likely

First a little housekeeping. Infielder Daniel Robertson has gone on the DL, likely for the injury he sustained Saturday night. See comments about that here. Cameron Seitzer, who has been on and off the roster a lot this year, is back on. Second, as regular readers know, we here at WDBB are far from expert on how the business of baseball really works.

On to the big news ...

The Tampa Bay Rays dealt away three players from their 25-man roster for just one major leaguer, and he's on the disabled list. A good summary article is in the Tampa Bay Times. Dealt were two former Bulls. Lefty Matt Moore is off to the Giants. He remains on my list as the best pitcher I've ever seen at the DBAP (pre-Tommy John). Brandon Guyer is off to the Cleveland Indians. And a player who likely played in the DBAP along the way, but in a Scranton/Wilkes-Barre or Indianapolis uniform, Steven Pearce. He's going to Baltimore and will likely have an impact on the Tides' roster.

Not one of the five minor leaguers the Rays received in the trade appears to be Triple-A ready.

Impact on the Bulls:
  • Taylor Motter, who was just named International League Batter of the Week, was called up last night.
  • Reliever Ryan Garton was also called back up, his third call-up this year.
  • That leaves Richie Shaffer and Hank Conger as the only position players left on the Rays' 40 man roster.
  • The Rays have three players on the DL and what appears to be a couple of vacancies on their 40-man. So we can guess that at least one more player is going to Tampa Bay, but possibly not Richie Shaffer.
  • There are a couple of players on the Montgomery roster we've seen before. We might be seeing at least one of them.
  • The Rays have a hole in their starting pitcher lineup, but will likely use former Bull Matt Andriese for the short term.
  • Bulls pitchers on the 40-man: Jacob Faria, Steve Geltz, Danny Farquhar, and Tyler Sturdevant. All except Faria have seen some time with the Rays this year.
Bottom line: Probable near-term damage to the Bulls hopes for 2016.

Bulls Leave Bats Behind in Durham

Game 110, August 1, Harbor Park, Norfolk, Virginia
Durham Bulls (Tampa Bay): 0
Norfolk Tides (Baltimore): 3
Wrap, Box, Virginian-Pilot

Game Score: Marks 60; Season Avg 53 (17 starts, 98 innings)
Team wOBA: Game .226; Season .302; Diff -.076

Just three hits (and 3 walks) last night. None of them scored. Justin Marks once again got little run support as the Bulls' winning streak ended. They were shut out for the 13th time this season.

Must be something in the breeze at Harbor park. The Bulls have lost 10 of their 13 games there this year.

Lots of movement in the roster and likely more to come. Will do a separate post on that.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Sweep, Sweep

Game 109, July 31, Durham Bulls Athletic Park
Louisville Bats: 3
Durham Bulls: 6
Season: 51-58; Home Stand: 6-0
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

Game Score: Faria 62; Season Avg 49 (7 starts, 32.1 innings)
Tm wOBA: Game .464; Season .301; Diff +.154

The best home stand of the season showed that the Bulls have it in them to win the South Division.

They were hitting the Bats' starter all through the first couple of innings, bases loaded in the 1st, runner on 1B in the second, runner on 3B in the 3rd. But no runs. And it seemed that the 4th inning was to be more of the same with the first two hitters making outs. Then the next six batters all got hits: A double, 3 singles, and back-to-back home runs by Taylor Motter and Jaff Decker. That turned out to be all the Bulls scoring for the night, but that was enough.

Taylor Motter's eye and timing seem to be on track. In his first two plate appearances he was a microsecond early and slapped at least four pitches very hard (two for home run distance) to the left. In his third time, his shot went over the Bull.

Hank Conger got a gift from the scorer and was credited with one of those hits in the 4th (our section of the stands had E4's on our scorecards). However, his double in the 6th was a very clean shot. Whether he should have tried to score from 2B on Taylor Motter's single to left is another matter, although it did look like the Bats catcher missed the tag.

The Bulls also came close to doing their best-of-season in fewest K's. The Bulls lead the International League in strikeouts, so it was nice to see them whiff only three times.

Jacob Faria got the win, and he worked hard for it. I'd thought that Neil Wagner was back to form in his last outing, but he gave up two runs in his 1 inning.

Outside the game —
  • Duke broadcaster Bob Harris called the game with Scott Pose helping out, a lot. Pose usually does just color, but he obviously got recruited to help with the little snips of advertising that goes with broadcasting the game. "That walk brought to you by ...", etc. Good jobs by both.
  • The Bulls are off to Norfolk for a couple of games before coming back to play two more games against them and three games against Gwinnett. 
Here are a couple of charts to show how the team's been doing since the All-star break, you can see that the starting pitching ticked up then eased back down the last couple of games. More important, the relief crew is doing much better. The team ERA is at 3.54, a little bit better than the league average of 5.61, and 7th in the 14 team IL.


This very pretty chart shows the game by game wOBA of the team over the last 20 games. A very nice little trend going, especially the last ten games.