Monday, May 29, 2017

Memorial Day — 2017

Bald eagle on veteran's grave, Fort Snelling National Cemetery. Photo by Frank Gilk, Minneapolis Star Tribune. Stories by Jon Tevlin June 25 and August 10, 2011.
Memorial Day 2017

The Young Dead Soldiers Do Not Speak

     Nevertheless they are heard in the still houses: who has not heard them? 

     They have a silence that speaks for them at night and when the clock counts. 

     They say, We were young. We have died. Remember us. 

     They say, We have done what we could but until it is finished it is not done. 

     They say, We have given our lives but until it is finished no one can know what our lives gave. 

     They say, Our deaths are not ours: they are yours: they will mean what you make them. 

     They say, Whether our lives and our deaths were for peace and a new hope or for nothing we cannot say, it is you who must say this. 

     They say, We leave you our deaths: Give them their meaning: give them an end to the war and a true peace: give them a victory that ends the war and a peace afterwards: give them their meaning.
     
     We were young, they say. We have died; Remember us. 

— Archibald MacLeish

Friday, May 26, 2017

Matchup: Bulls vs PawSox

Seems like the entire Northeast got rained out yesterday, so the Bulls moved on to Pawtucket, Rhode Island for four games against the Boston Red Sox AAA team.

The Bulls split their two games with the Rochester Red Wings, with a very dramatic comeback win in the second game. The rained out game, by the way, will be played as part of a double-header the day the Bulls come back to Durham.

Matchup

Most years Bulls/PawSox games are terrific contests, especially when the Red Sox Nation turns out in force at the DPAC. This year the PawSox aren't doing so well. We'll have to see. The Bulls lead them in every category except fielding.



Thanks to Hank chasing down Taylor Guerrieri's status. Doesn't sound good.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Great Homestand; To Rochester

Well, you can't ask for a better home stand than a 4-0 sweep of the Bulls' main competitor in the South Division (although I sure am tired of watching them play Gwinnett and they are probably tired of playing Gwinnett).

The Bulls outscored the Braves 25 runs to 9. They left town 14 games above .500 and 6 games ahead of Charlotte, who has moved into second place.

click on chart for larger image
Pitching

Game Score is one of those relatively new stats that is showing up on the box scores. The idea was to come up with a number that shows how well the starting pitcher did that made more sense than the "quality start" idea.

What this chart shows is the starting pitcher game scores of the last 15 games. Circled are a couple of instances where the starting pitcher did a decent job and the Bulls still lost the game. But the Bulls crew can be very proud that everyone in the last round through the rotation was well above the 50 mark (and the Bulls won all five games).


Hitting

Similarly, Bulls hitting has been terrific from game to game. That makes for an overwhelming combination.


Matchup

The Bulls play in Rochester, New York tonight. The Red Wings are the Triple-A affiliate of the Minnesota Twins and have been having a decent year. The Bulls have a substantial lead in every category. The Red Wings are coming off of two losses at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.


Tonight's game will be the debut of RHP José De León, a member of the Rays' 40-man roster who has been rehabbing from a spring training injury for this year. How is he going to fit in? Your guess is as good as mine. Seems like feast or famine in the Bulls starting pitcher world this year. Kyle Winkler was put on the inactive roster to make room.

Miracle League

Bulls fans can be very proud of the leadership that is being shown by Capital Broadcasting as they sponsor building a Miracle League field over on the other side of the freeway. The Miracle League is an amazing organization that provides a venue for everyone to play baseball and could not be more fun to watch (and participate in).

Monday, May 15, 2017

Home Stand Ends Well; To Charlotte; Charts

Well, this wasn't all that great a home stand for the Bulls, but it did end well. The four-game losing streak was disturbing; however, things seemed to sort themselves out the last two games, even if yesterday was touch and go.

Sunday was the 4th "bullpen day" since April 27. The Bulls have won three of those games, which says a lot about this year's relief crew. Without Yonny Chirinos' complete game shutout on Saturday, I doubt that it would have worked yesterday, though. Statistical trivia. Don't think I've seen two blown saves in one game before.

Sunday was also the seventh extra-inning game the Bulls have played. They won 3 of those games.

The Bulls are four games ahead of Gwinnett in the South, but note that Charlotte's on a streak.

click on chart for larger image

Runs Scored Chart

Net runs scored is one of those interesting stats that we like to track. If you run it through the Pythagorean Expectation formula, it will tell you what the team's won-lost record "should" be. In the Bulls case, this year the PE formula says that the Bulls "should" be at 23-12, exactly where they are. The Knights, who are at 18-17, "should" be at 19-16. The sabermetrics guys seem to think that discrepancies tend to indicate strengths (weaknesses) in relief pitching.

What this chart shows is just how well this year's team is doing compared to previous years, the best since 2013.


Rosterizing
  • RHP Yoel Espinal came back from Montgomery and did a fine job last night.
  • RHP Ryan Stanek got called up to Tampa Bay and had his big league debut against the Red Sox last night. He faced two batters. One hit. One K.
  • RHP Blake Snell is coming back. In my end of year comments last year I said that after Snell's callup in June he would not be back. I was wrong (imagine that!). He hasn't been having a very good year with the Rays (4-0, 8 games, 4.71 ERA, 25 BB in 42 innings). Expect him to be working on very specific tasks, which may or may not help the Bulls when he shows up.
Matchup 

Charlotte's on a roll lately. And they are hitting very well. And they are at home. This could be an interesting series.


Friday, May 12, 2017

Stumbling at Home; Mud Hens Arrive

Missing from the accounts of the last four games is the fact that a former Bull played a key role in two of the Bulls' losses. Richie Shaffer, who spent part of 2015 and most of 2016 with the Bulls, is now in the Cleveland system. He got key hits in games 2 and 3 of this series.

Nevertheless, even after losing three games in a row, the Bulls remain firmly in first place.


Rosterification

Just to try to keep things up to date ...
  • LHP Justin Marks went up to the Rays. Got DFA'd and then claimed by the LA Dodgers. I'm just a blogger, but sure looks like a dumb move by the Rays.
  • RHP Chih We Hu is back, but not as a starting pitcher. So that hole remains unfilled.
  • RHP Yoel Espinal went back to Montgomery
  • RHP Kyle Winkler is back from "extended spring training"
  • Outfielder Johnny Field came off the disabled list
  • Outfielder Shane Peterson, who started the year with the Bulls, is back from TB.
  • Outfielder Granden Goetzman, surely one of the more exciting Durham Bulls in a while, has gone back to Montgomery.
  • Outfielder Dayron Varona has been "assigned" to the Hudson Valley Renegades. 
  • RHP Austin Pruitt, who has been with the Rays all year, but spent last year in Durham, is headed to the Bulls
  • RHP Diego Mareno got called up.
Matchup - Toledo Mud Hens

In most years visits by the second-most famous team in minor league baseball, the Toledo Mud Hens, are fun. Probably will be fun this year as well. The Mud Hens are leading the West Division, but their numbers are not good. On paper, the Bulls should be in good shape. On the other hand ... Tampa Bay, where's a starting pitcher? The Bulls have been without a 5th starter for a long time and it's starting to show. They used three (3!) position players as pitchers the other night. They gave up 10 runs on 7 hits and 6 walks in 2 innings, putting a severe kink in the team's pitching stats.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Rain in Georgia; Off to Norfolk

The Durham Bulls won two games in Gwinnett to near-empty stadiums, but things were looking up this morning for an education day. Then the clouds opened up and the game was postponed. The Bulls headed off to Norfolk.

They Bulls are doing very well. Ryne Stanek's performance in game two last night was particularly impressive. After the Bulls had come from behind to get ahead by one run, Stanek came on for the 9th. The first two batters got hits and ended up on 2nd and 3rd with no outs. Stanek struck out the next three batters. That could have been a turning point for this young man.

The Bulls are now four games ahead of Gwinnett in the IL South and have the best won-loss record in minor league baseball.

Hitting

Bulls hitters are doing a great job. Their On-Base plus Slugging Percentage (OPS) is well above the IL average and ranks 3rd in the IL.


Rosterizing
Matchup

The Norfolk Tides (Baltimore's Triple-A) are not having a good start this year. This will be the first of 11 games against the Tides, so we will get to know them well before the year is out.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Great Durham Bulls Home Stand; Off to Georgia

Everything to like about the 5 and 1 home stand by the Bulls. They stay in first place in the South Division and are at the top or near the top in most statistical categories.

Patrick Leonard was named International League player of the month.

Biggest worry is lack of starting pitching. The Bulls had to make do with two bullpen games (but won them both).

click on image for larger view
Rosterification

The Bulls are getting reliever Ryan Garton back from Tampa Bay. No word on who will be leaving the bus .

Dr. Miraculous is reporting that Yonny Chirinos (RHSP) is coming to the Bulls. This would be his AAA debut.


Matchup

Gwinnett, at this point in the season, is the Bulls' competition in the South Division. They are coming off a 7-game road trip to Rochester and Pawtucket where they lost 4 and won 3 games.


Friday, April 28, 2017

Durham Bulls Sweep Chiefs; Bisons in Town; Charts!

Syracuse came to Durham on a six-game winning streak. They left town on a three-game losing streak. Last night the Bulls' bats simply got very, very hot — especially Patrick Leonard who is now at .413 on the season!

Disturbingly, the Bulls pitching roster is short two starters and one of the fill-ins, newcomer Edwin Fierro left the game with an injury last night.

Time for some charts. All can be expanded by clicking on the image.

The Bulls lead the IL South and have the best won-loss record in the league.


Pitching is better than the league average, with the relief crew doing a simply superb job.


As are the hitters, with last night's game being their best effort of the year.


Tonight the Bisons are in town. The Blue Jays' Triple-A team leads the International League North and is arriving after splitting a series with Norfolk (and putting up with much of the same weather we've seen this last week).


Familiar faces on the Bisons include pitcher Jeff Beliveau from 2013 and 2014, catcher Luke Maile who was with the Bulls for much of 2015 and 2016; and infielder Jake Elmore, who had 57 games with the Bulls (and 51 with the Rays) in 2015.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Two for Three in Louisville ... Rain!

DBAP, 25 April, 11:15 am
The weather does not look good at the moment, but they are obviously going to try. The Bulls probably did not get a lot of quality time on the golf course yesterday (or this morning). Check out our Coping With Rain link to see our thoughts on dealing with rainy days.

Not that the weather was all that good for the road trip. A rain suspension last week led to a double-header on Saturday. Then there was the 13-inning marathon on Sunday that was lost after the Bulls ran out of pitchers (scheduled starter Chin-We Hu was called up and it was a game of relief pitchers). Veteran catcher Michael McKenry was drafted to pitch the 13th inning (apparently for the first time in his 11 years as a pro). Things didn't go well and the Bulls lost.

More to the point, why was he out there in the first place? Well let's go over the key transactions.
  • Starting pitcher Chi-We Hu was called up to Tampa Bay on Saturday. He made his first major league appearance on Sunday, putting in one inning in relief in a rainy loss to Baltimore.
  • Reliever Ryan Garton was also called up to Tampa Bay and he's made two appearances in relief so far on Friday and Saturday.
  • RHP Kyle Winkler was called up from the Montgomery Biscuits and put in 2 innings in Sunday's marathon in Louisville. Winkler has two one-game stints with the Bulls in previous years: 3 innings in 3 games in 2015 and 1 1/3 innings in 1 game last year. 
  • RHP Edwin Fierro also came up from Montgomery to make his AAA debut. He pitched 3 innings in the Sunday Marathon and began his AAA career with a blown save.
The Washington Nationals Triple-A team, the Syracuse Chiefs are in town for a three-game series. They've won their last 6 games in a row, against Norfolk (3 games), Toledo (2 games), and Rochester (1 game). On the Chiefs roster is outfielder Joey Butler, a guy we really liked watching play back in 2015. He's currently on the disabled list, so not sure we'll see him this time.

Statistically, the two teams match up pretty well.


Friday, April 21, 2017

Bulls Win Series, Trek to Louisville

The Bulls had two day games in Indianapolis before heading down I-65 to Louisville to play the Bats, Cincinnati's Triple-A team. A few comments about their stay in Indy.
  • They won two out of three to remain tied with Gwinnett for first place in the South. 
  • They had trouble establishing/holding a lead, but came from behind for both of their wins. 
  • Lefty Ryan Yarbrough's third start yesterday was the charm. He allowed only one run over 7 innings yesterday.
  • New guy RHP Brent Honeywell got roughed up in his Triple-A debut in Wednesday's game.
  • New guys Granden Goetzman and Cade Gotta looked just fine. 
Over the years the Bulls/Bats games have been terrific contests. The Bat's numbers are a close match to the Bulls (they lead in two out of three categories), with the exception of their won-loss record.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Sweep, Swept

The Bulls are getting a day off, then leave town for three games in Indianapolis and then three games in Louisville. Indianapolis is off to a slow start.


This was a frustrating home series with the Bulls first taking four games from Charlotte and rising to a solid grasp on first place in the South Division at 6 games above .500. Then they lost three in a row to Gwinnett and fell into a tie with Gwinnett at 3 games above .500.


Adding to the frustration was how the Bulls lost to the Braves: by giving up big innings in the first two games and then taking a tie game into the top of the 9th and one out, and not being able to hang on.

When it comes to stability this year, things are not looking good, 11 games, 10 transactions.
  • RHP Jamie Schultz went on the disabled list almost right away. To fill his spot RHP Jeff Ames was called up from "extended spring training" (not sure what that means). Ames has already made three relief appearances and has only given up one run.
  • Outfielder Johnny Field was hurt and went on the disabled list, but he's been hanging out in the dugout, so we can hope that he will be back soon. Cade Gotta came up from the Montgomery Biscuits and is 3 for 12 with 3 stolen bases so far. 
  • Somebody with the Rays got an ouchie, which led to OF Shane Peterson being put on the 40-man and being called up (good for him). He hit a home run in his first at bat as a Ray.
  • To replace Peterson, Granden Goetzman was called up from Montgomery. He's played in two games so far. 
  • Tampa Bay called up RHP Chase Whitley and then the next day RHP Taylor Guerrieri was put on the disabled list. 
  • Those transactions led to RHP Brent Honeywell being called up from Montgomery where the young (22 years) pitcher has had two starts this year. He has not yet pitched for Durham.
  • And, lastly, RHP Yoel Espinal was called up from the Charlotte Stone Crabs, the Rays A+ team down in Florida. He pitched a terrific 2 1/3 innings last night. In fact, an argument could be made that he should have stayed in the game after the first out of the 9th. Certainly, he could not have done worse than what was done.
Outside the game —
  • The Herald-Sun and News & Observer have been doing an unusually good job on feature articles this year. In one, the current Atlanta Braves manager Brian Snitker recalled his time as a Durham Bulls manager when the Bulls were a Single-A Braves team. I was pleased to learn that even back then Bulls fans were obstreperous and noisy. Back in 1983 fans put together a petition and sent it to Braves management, to have Snitker replaced (this was pre-internet, so they had to have worked to get a petition together). Got me thinking ...
  • As fans may have noticed, Jared Sandberg is managing from the dugout this year and new coach (and former Bull) Craig Albernaz is coaching 3rd Base. Sandberg discusses that change in a feature article by the Herald-Sun's Steve Wiseman. Hard to tell this early in the season if it will make a difference.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Great Beginnings

This year's Durham Bulls are off to a very strong start. They took three of four down in Lawrenceville, Georgia against the Gwinnett Braves and just swept four games from the Charlotte Knights.

About the only early worry we have is the health of the team. Pitcher Jamie Schultz went on the disabled list after his first appearance and last night's starting pitcher, Taylor Guerrieri, left the game with two outs in the 3rd. Outfielder Johnny Field is looking great, but he went on the disabled list earlier in the week.

Today the Gwinnett Braves come to town after winning three out of four against the Norfolk Tides (who are off to an awful 1-7 start). Very early days, but the two teams match up pretty well.


Monday, April 10, 2017

Opening Day —2017

Today’s the day. The Bulls are back!



The Bulls won three of four games against the Gwinnett Braves. So they are off to a great start. They open up againt the Charlotte Knights, who won their first four games against the Norfolk Tides.

The team looks/sounds pretty good with pitching, power, and speed.




I went to the Duke game last week and did not notice any major changes to the park. The outfield grass looks a little better, but the Duke team is doing some damage. Not sure if it's a good idea to share the park with them — not that my opinion carries any weight at all.





Today’s game starts at 6:05. That means we’re going to be on the Durham Freeway during rush hour. Grumble, grumble, grumble. No telling how the parking situation will be this year. Downtown Durham gets more and more popular. My suggestion is come earlier than usual just in case.


Tuesday, April 4, 2017

2017 Durham Bulls Roster is Announced

The team is set. See announcement and profiles here.

The Bulls are playing the Trinity College Blue Devils today.


Friday, March 31, 2017

Remembering Sidd Finch

Once each year Watching Durham Bulls Baseball invites our readers to take a moment to recall the all-too-brief career of an exceptional baseball player, and horn player of some note, Sidd Finch.

Photo courtesy Sports Illustrated

For those among you who were witness to those unforgettable events back in 1985, this is a chance to bring that gentle young man back from his undeserved obscurity, if only for a brief stay among us. For those unfamiliar with Mr. Finch’s contributions to the game we commend to you the brilliant essay by George Plimpton in Sports Illustrated that first brought this gentle soul to our attention. 

Photo courtesy Sports Illustrated.


Update for 2015: Mr. Finch's fame has now extended even into the realm of Wikipedia.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Who's in Camp? Durham Bulls from 2016

2016 Position Players

Of the 19 Durham Bulls who played in 25 games or more in 2016, just 8 are in the major league camp with the Rays this spring. And of those, 3 are on the 40-man roster of the Rays, having a shot at sticking with the team. For more info, check out our end-of-season report here.

Here's last season's group, listed in order of # of games played. Players now in the Rays camp are in bold.

  • Richie Shaffer, 199 games: Now with Cleveland Indians (via Mariners, Phillies, and Reds over the winter)
  • Daniel Robertson, 118 games with Bulls in 2016: On Rays 40-man. Infielder. 22 years old. Not having a particularly good spring with 23 ABs and just 2 hits.
  • Dayron Varona, 117 games in 2016: Non-Roster invite to spring training. Outfielder. This spring: 6 hits in 18 ABs. 
  • Jaff Decker, 99 games in 2016. Now with Oakland Athletics.
  • Jake Goebbert, 93 games in 2016. Now with Arizona Diamondbacks.
  • Taylor Motter, 88 games in 2016. Now with Seattle Mariners
  • J.P. Arencibia, 78 games. Free agent?
  • Jake Hager, 71 games with Bulls in 2016. Non-Roster Invite. Infielder. 23 years old. Spring so far: 21 ABs, 3 hits.
  • Johnny Field, 69 games. NRI. Outfield. 16 ABs. 3 hits.
  • Nick Franklin, 64 games. On 40-man. Infield. Having a decent spring, but only 18 AB and 9 hits.
  • Luke Maile, 58 games. On 40-man. Catcher. 20 AB, 8 hits. 
  • Kyle Roller, 50 games. Free agent?
  • Casey Gillaspie, 47 games. NRI. Infield (1B). 24 years old. Impressive spring. 19 AB, 5 hits (2 HR).
  • Patrick Leonard. 42 games. NRI. Infield. 18 AB, 4 hits.
  • Cameron Seitzer. 40 games. With Chicago White Sox
  • Juniel Querecuto, 36 games. With San Francisco Giants
  • Hank Conger. 30 games. With Arizona Diamondbacks.
  • Mikie Mahtook, 27 games. With Detroit Tigers.
  • Eury Perez, 17 games. With Pittsburgh Pirates (May see him with Indianapolis).
Update [14 March]: Ooops! This is position players only. Makes my head hurt trying to keep track of the pitchers.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Durham Bulls Basics — 2017 — Part 3


The Players

Each of the 30 major league teams has 25 players = 750 major league baseball players (!). Out of those 25, usually 13 are pitchers and 12 are position players = 390 pitchers (usually 5 starters - 150; and 8 relievers - 240); 360 position players. Of those 12 position players, most teams have 2 catchers, 5 infielders, and 5 outfielders.

For those 750 guys who are on a major league roster, we have another 750 players divided into 25 man teams who are in Triple-A and, trust me, every one of them could be playing in the major leagues today.

How do the Durham Bulls fit into that?

Well, now, sigh, we need to talk about the Tampa Bay Rays, who own the players wearing the Durham Bulls uniform. To oversimplify just a bit, the Tampa Bay Rays have a contract to provide the Durham Bulls a baseball team. In turn, the Durham Bulls provide a place to play and folks to cheer them on (that would be us).

To clear up some possible confusion, the Tampa Bay Rays play baseball in St. Petersburg, Florida, not Tampa. That may come as a bit of a surprise to those not familiar with Florida geography (or modern marketing strategies).

As mentioned above, a major league team consists of 25 players on the “active” roster. Those are the guys in the games and in the box scores, traveling in chartered airplanes, and making a decent, sometimes obscene, amount of money.

The 40-man Roster

An additional 15 players are added to the 25 to make up a 40-man roster. In general, once a player makes it to the 25-man "active" roster he stays there (unless traded, sold, released, or designated for assignment). For players who have been around for a while, there are all sorts of byzantine rules regarding how this works. To complicate matters, the rules were changed last year to allow major league teams to expand their roster to 26 on days that they have a double-header. What matters to Bulls fans, however, is that a Bull cannot be called up to play in a Rays game (even to temporarily replace an injured player) unless he is first on the 40-man roster.

Here in Durham we are not much interested in the active roster. What matters to Bulls fans are those 15 ballplayers who are on the Rays 40-man but not on the active roster. The current Rays' 40-man is here. And their 25-man, "active," roster is here.

If previous years are typical, we can expect that 11 to 12 of the players on the 40-man, but not on the 25-man roster will be assigned to Durham. Of those 6 or 7 will be pitchers and 4 or 5 will be position players. Of the pitchers, one or two will be prospective starting pitchers, the others potential relievers. Fairly often when WDBB writes about a Bull we will mention whether or not he’s on the 40-man.

What about the rest of the team? Without exception — and this is part of what makes AAA baseball so much fun — they are ballplayers who have played, or are judged capable of playing, at the major league level. The precise reason why they are not playing there is also part of the fun — too young, too old, no room at the top, need to work on a specific skill — sometimes all of the above.

The odds of a player being called up are pretty good. There are enough injuries and trades in a given year that almost all of the players on the 40-man who start the year with the Bulls will at least get a few days with the Rays. Some will go there and stay.

However, unless Tampa Bay takes someone off the 40-man, a non-40 man player cannot be called up. Adjustment to the 40-man roster can, and does, happen — just not very often. On the other hand, the Rays are nothing if not creative in gaming the system.

The 40-man roster also has an effect on how the players who are with the Bulls are used. For example, pitchers may be on limited pitch counts and/or working on specific pitches that the Rays have decided the pitcher needs to develop. Relievers may be tested to see if they can do two days in a row, or “tried out” as a closer. We will see infielders playing the outfield (and vice versa).

My point is that sometimes what we see on the field is decided in St. Petersburg, not in the Bulls’ clubhouse. The Rays really aren’t particularly interested in the Bulls’ won-loss record. So, we will inevitably see some unfortunate (for Bulls fans) decisions, such as a player being called up, sitting on the Rays’ bench for a couple of weeks, then coming back to Durham with his timing shot and struggling at bat. And with this new 26 man roster for double header rule, Bulls’ pitching rotations can get really screwed up with a pitcher being called up for a spot start and then coming back.

Nevertheless, we cannot avoid the fact that the Durham Bulls live and die at the whim of the Tampa Bay Rays' front office. What’s fortunate for Bulls fans is that the Rays have invested a ton of effort into building a steady stream of talent to feed into the big team. More than that, in the Rays system very few upcoming prospects just “pass through” AAA-level ball. Time with the Bulls is a real and very serious testing ground for pitchers and hitters. That means we will get to see some talented ballplayers. Lastly, without the Rays we wouldn’t have AAA ball here at all.

All of which is not going to keep me from complaining about the Rays. Hey, it’s baseball!

More Stuff

For more background on the 114 years of Durham Bulls history, check out the Bulls’ History page and their Wikipedia page.

For a terrific book about Triple-A baseball, the Durham Bulls, and sheer great writing and photography, you cannot go wrong by picking up a copy of Bull City Summer. Available at local bookstores, the Bulls ballpark store (on sale, $20!) or online shops. We reviewed the book here.


If you missed them, check out Part 1 and Part 2, and you will be the expert in the DBAP this year.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Durham Bulls Basics — 2017 — Part 2


The Schedule

The International League schedules 142 games for each of its teams (down from 144 in 2016). Half of those games are played at home. So, unless you are truly a Durham Bulls fanatic, you will only have 71 chances to see your Bulls during the regular season. Although, Charlotte or Norfolk isn’t all that far away ...

In 2017 the Bulls have an exhibition game against Duke (née Trinity College) at 6 pm on April 4th. But their regular season starts April 6th down in Lawrenceville, Georgia against the Gwinnett Braves. The first home game is April 10th against the Chicago White Sox affiliate, the Charlotte Knights. The last home game of the season is a Sunday game against the Norfolk Tides on August 27. The Bulls' season ends September 4th back in Lawrenceville.

An important feature of the IL schedule is that the Bulls only play a few home games against teams 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 the first weekend of June (2-4). 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 against the RailRiders, August 10-13). Detroit  fans, in an exception to the rule, will see their team, the Toledo Mud Hens, come to town twice (May 12-14 and July 7-9). Said another way, the Bulls only play 36 games at home against the teams from outside the South Division.

On the other hand, if you’re a Braves (Gwinnett - 11) or White Sox (Charlotte - 13) or Orioles (Norfolk - 11) 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.

Triple-A ballplayers have a much more relentless schedule than major leaguers. They play more games with fewer days off than the big league guys, 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 12, well past mid-season, and will be played up in Tacoma, Washington at the home field of the Tacoma Rainiers (Seattle AAA affiliate). 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” is to be played on September 19, 2017 in Moosic, Pennsylvania, home field of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders.

The Durham Bulls, as all readers of this blog must know, 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 ten 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.

Part 1 of Bulls Basics is here. Part 3 is here.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Durham Bulls Basics — 2017 — 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 2017 version. This is mostly stuff I did not know before my first Bulls game. I hope it doesn’t come off as being too basic.

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 parts 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 Atlanta 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 re-opening of relations with Cuba, my bet is that we will see an International League team back in Cuba as soon as a major league team can make a deal. Note that the Tampa Bay Rays played the Cuban National Team in Havana last spring. Maybe a new team could be named the Sugar Kings, after the last International League AAA team that played in Havana. Why not move the Atlanta Braves affiliate since they only drew 3,000 fans per game last year (the Bulls brought in more than twice as many)? Only problem I see with a team in Cuba is learning the words to La Bayamo, the Cuban National Anthem, much less singing it.

With teams from both the National and American Leagues, what about the designated hitter rule? The DH 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

Part 2 is here. Part 3 is here.