Friday, September 21, 2018

Durham Bulls Wrap Up Their Season

Well, the Durham Bulls did not end the season on a high note, but that's OK. They remain one of the best teams we've seen around town. The pitchers, with only a couple of exceptions (Poche and Harrison) simply had very bad outings. Box Score, Durham Wrap, Memphis Wrap.

Callups

Not long after the game, Austin Meadows, Chih-Wei Hu, Austin Pruitt, and Hoby Milner were called up to the Rays. As noted down in St. Petersburg, Kean Wong was not called up. I'm guessing that Kean is going to find himself another home before next spring.

Celebration and Donation Drive

The Bulls are hosting a Championship celebration and disaster relief event this Saturday. It's a chance to get your T-shirt and do some good.

Next game: In Charlotte, April 4th, 2019. 
Next home game: Against Columbus, April 11, 2019.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Bulls Win the Governors' Cup ... Again!



Durham Bulls 6; Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders 2
Wrap 1, Wrap 2, Box

For those who watched the game you know that you saw some exciting, very well-played baseball on the part of the Durham Bulls. The Bulls attacked pitchers who'd given them trouble in the past (the Bulls had never gotten a base hit off of the RailRiders' Domingo German before). Home town lad Joe McCarthy (who'd watched from the stands when the Bulls won the Governors' Cup at the same field last year) had a terrific game accounting for 4 of the Bulls 6 runs. Rob Refsnyder continued his great series. Refsnyder had actually played for the RailRiders last year before going on one of those crazy baseball treks through the Blue Jays and Indians systems enroute to the Rays and then the Bulls.

As a team the Bulls continued clean defensive work. They only allowed one unearned run over the nine post-season games. The glove work of young shortstop Jake Cronenworth, who'd only came up from Montgomery on September 2nd, was particularly impressive.

Lefty Kyle Bird was the opener and for the most part Manager Jared Sandberg's apparent plan to limit his pitchers to no more than one time through the batting order was followed. Bird went for 10, but he managed to deal with runners on base quite well. Surprisingly, the only pitcher to allow a run was the spectacularly successful Colin Poche (he needs to visit the Rays before the end of the season). Austin Pruitt got into the game to finish up the last two innings.

Repeating a Governors' Cup championship is a big deal. That the Bulls did it a the same baseball field against the same team (the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders) is one of those quirky little details that will likely be remembered for a long time.

While the lineup during the playoffs was fairly stable, the pitching crew was not. The Bulls used 14 different pitchers ranging from a high of 6 appearances by Jordan Harrison (7 innings) to Riley O'Brian's AAA debut at 2 innings. Austin Pruitt's two starts and one relief appearances totaled 13⅓ innings for the most innings pitched by a Bulls pitcher. Ian Gibaut was an odd man out. He faced four batters without getting an out in game 2 against Toledo and was on the mound in game 1 against Scranton/Wilkes-Barre when the rains came and the game was delayed. Those were his only appearances. In the regular season he made 48 mostly very successful appearances.

After the game the Bulls headed off to Columbus, Ohio where they will play the Memphis Redbirds (not to be confused with the Red Wings a Toronto affiliate), the St Louis Cardinals AAA team. Again.



This is yet another oddity of the season. The Redbirds are also back-to-back champions (although they are cleverly calling it a "beak-to-beak" championship). I do have to note that the Bulls are already selling the t-shirt. The Redbirds are wearing theirs, but the image isn't yet up in their store.

T-shirts



So, Tuesday night, NBC Sports Network. First pitch 7:05. Patrick Kinas will probably be broadcasting on WRAL radio (but he was not for the championship game, grumble, grumble, grumble, had to go with streaming which can be annoying). Could be fun. Would be nice to have another AAA trophy.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

This is the Game!

The Governors' Cup (note: photo taken before Bulls' 2017 win engraved)
Here we are about to start the Durham Bulls'  148th game of this year. The Durham Bulls and the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders are tied 2-2 in the best-of-five series. This afternoon's game (starts at 4:05) decides who holds the Governors' Cup for 2018.

It's been quite a trip.

If we pull up the box score from the first game of the season we see only three position players from last night's lineup: Joe McCarthy (who was soon to go on the DL and not return until August), Kean Wong, and Jason Coats. Christian Arroyo is on the DL. Jake Bauers and Willy Adames are playing for the Rays. Justin Williams, Johnny Field, and Curt Casali have moved on to other ball teams. One of the pitchers (Chih-Wei Hu) is still with the Bulls, two others (Adam Kolarek and Ryne Stanek) are with the Rays, and Cody Hall was released from the Biscuits back in June.

So this is a mostly new team and yet this is the team we have to win that cup. And they are clearly able of doing so. Tampa Bay has mostly left the team alone in September. The Bulls have the bats and the pitching and the fielding to do the job.

Last night wasn't the night, though. I don't know if Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders' pitcher Ryan Bollinger got inside the Bulls' head or not, but he sure got into mine. I think it was the 4th inning when he turned into a human rain delay and could not have been more annoying. Tossing over toward a no-threat runner at first, stepping off the rubber, etc. Just infuriating. Ending up shouting at the computer which, of course, did absolutely no good.

Bulls hitting never got on track. They struck out 10 times and left a bunch on base.

Sure wish the game was being played here.


Maybe next year.

Meanwhile, #BULLieve!

Friday, September 14, 2018

Durham Bulls 2-1 in Governors' Cup Contest


PNC Field, Moosic, PA

Kind of weird to be playing a home game up at the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders' home. And it was a pretty sparse crowd of just 1,775 (likely because the RailRiders were not expecting to play a game there either).

But I'm proud to say that some of those were very noisy Bulls fans! Patrick Kinas said that some of the Bulls office folks traveled up to see the game and it turns out that outfielder Joe McCarthy was born in Scranton. So certainly some of the noise in support of the Bulls was from his friends and family.

Wrap 1, Wrap 2, Citizens Voice, MiLBcom

I have been thoroughly unimpressed with Chih-Wei Hu this year, often wondering just what the Rays saw in the young right-hander. Yet, here we are in the post-season and he's is showing up, big time. Last night was his best start of the year. He pitched a scoreless 7 innings while throwing just 77 pitches. His Game Score of 76 was 10 points above his next best back on August 15. Simply a superb game. Note that his start in Game 3 against Toledo was pretty good as well (5 innings, Game Score 55 and a win). He may turn out to be the starting pitcher hero of the Cup. See the MiLB link above for some good quotes and analysis.

Another feature of the playoffs is how good the Bulls' defense has been. They were the second-worst in the IL in errors (107!). Their uERA (unearned runs per 9 innings) during the season was a bottom of the league .521. That's a half a run per game given away. In the post-season they have only given up one unearned run and that in the very first game, a 10-3 loss to Toledo.

Whether it was Bulls pitching or something else, I do have to comment that the RailRiders certainly looked flat. Even the RailRiders broadcast crew sounded flat.

Meanwhile, I'm listening to the wind blow and sending best wishes down east. The Bulls and the International League certainly made the right decision. And a BIG thank you to the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders for hosting the second half of the playoffs.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Durham Bulls Even Up Cup Contest

Austin Pruitt really looked good last night. 6 scoreless innings.

Last night's game was a big deal. Wrap. and MiLBBox. Kean Wong and Rob Refsnyder set the table and Austin Pruitt held off the RailRiders. The Bulls are now 1-1 in the best-of-five series.

That's so very important because how hard it would be to come back from 0-2. As it is, things are looking up.

While we wait for Florence to get here, we can watch a ball game. Remember, for this and any following game, the Bulls are the home team.

Wish I could say that the viewing experience is pleasant, but it isn't. To my surprise, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders' TV operation is not nearly as professional as Toledo's. Stats banner very limited (no outs/balls/strikes). Screen size is square. Camera views are limited.

Out in California, Fresno and Memphis are also 1-1, but their games have been much more lopsided. Wrap.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Durham Bulls Move to Moosic — to Stay

In a very smart move, the Durham Bulls will be playing all of their Governors' Cup games at the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders field. See press release here.

This makes sense to me. Florence will surely make things difficult if not dangerous before the weekend.

Note that the RailRiders will honor your ticket if you can make the game.

Here's the biggest downside for me — other than not being able to be at the game — the RailRiders only drew 1,491 & 912 fans for the two games they hosted for the first two games of the Cup series. That doesn't bode well for anyone being there to witness our Bulls at work.

We will surely be listening/watching from afar tonight.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Waiting for Florence



Hurricane Fran Comes Ashore, September 6, 1996
Got to start worrying about Hurricane Florence due to arrive sometime this week.


Are we going to have a game 3 of the Governors' Cup on Thursday?

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Durham Bulls Win First Round of Governors' Cup Playoffs

I can tell you that I'm really glad the Bulls aren't playing today (Sunday). I mean I would have had trouble getting to the DBAP with all the life that's intruding on my baseball watching ...

The other reason is, obviously, that the Bulls are going to the Governors' Cup Finals! And they are going in a moment when this team looks really, really solid. The pitching and defense are sound, especially the relief crew. 11 Mud Hens got left on base last night! The offense is not depending on the home run. More would be nice, only one has been hit (McCarthy in game 3).

They are getting two days off before Tuesday's game against the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, who play in neither Scranton or Wilkes-Barre. The Yankees franchise plays in Moosic, Pennsylvania. Hats off to them for their run to the wild card and their 3-1 win over the team with the best regular season record in the International League, the IronPigs.

Coverage:
My big worry now is hurricane Florence. That critter is headed right at Raleigh ...

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Bulls Go Ahead 2-1 in Playoffs

Wrap, Box

The Durham Bulls win last night was a very big deal. After a long, long trip back to Durham, they managed to stay focused against a very good and hard-hitting team. The first several innings saw a bunch of long balls hit out to the warning track, but Hu escaped with only one home run.

Meanwhile, McCarthy, Lowe, Refsnyder, and Wong provided the hits and runs for a win. Also notable was some very slick shortstop work by new guy Jake Cronenworth and seeing Austin Meadows get a very solid single.

And there was even a real newspaper reporter at the game with a real news story! Bob Sutton reporting for the Times-News.

Tonight should be fun.

Up in Allentown, the Lehigh Valley IronPigs were in desperate straits. After posting the league's best record and sweeping essentially all of the post-season awards, they were down 0-2 to the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders. It took 13 innings before catcher Nick Rickles (a Stetson University grad I might point out) hit a walk-off single to keep the IronPigs in the running. Story. Nevertheless, the RailRiders have the lead.


Friday, September 7, 2018

While We Wait for Tonight's Game, Wonder What Happened To?


  • Justin Williams (last Bulls game July 30): Ended the AAA season with the Memphis Redbirds (Cardinals), who are  in the Pacific Coast League championship playoffs.
  • Jeremy Hazelbaker (last Bulls game, July 16): Had a decent rest of the year with the Rochester Red Wings (Twins) with an OPS of .716.
  • Johnny Field (last Bulls game, July 18): Finished season with Rochester Red Wings (Twins) and was called up to the Twins.
  • Curt Casali (last Bulls game, May 29): Became regular catcher with Cincinnati Reds carrying an OPS of .868! Congrats!

Local Coverage of the Governors Cup Run? Nah

I guess I get to indulge myself a bit with this blog, so indulge me in my rant:

Four teams are playing for the Governors' Cup, one of the oldest trophies in professional baseball.
Last night saw two games, both with their ups and downs and interesting moments. Three of those teams had solid coverage in their home town newspaper:
The Toledo Blade had a solid story on their Mud Hens' near comeback in the 9th inning.
The Allentown Morning Call raised concerns about the IronPigs falling 0-2 before the RailRiders.
The Scranton Times Tribune reported on the near no-hitter and the 2-0 lead of the RailRiders.

The Herald-Sun? Nothing, zilch, there's a baseball team in Durham? We haven't run a Bulls baseball story all year. Why start now?

The News & Observer? Oh man. It ain't basketball, or hockey, or Duke, UNC, or NC State. And Durham's just too far to go.

Grumble, grumble, grumble.

There, I feel a little bit better.

Oh. The Burlington Times-News covered the game.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Rays & Injuries Blow Up Bulls Roster

The Bulls are leaving soon for Toledo, Ohio and the first round of the Governors' Cup playoffs. If you tune in Wednesday to listen (or watch on MiLB TV), the team will look a bit different (as it did yesterday in the season's last game).

Call-ups
  • Catcher Adam Moore got called up and then pushed aside (visa problems?)  for 
  • Catcher Nick Cuiffo who started in Toronto on Sep 3
  • Infielder Andrew Velazquez was called up and has had two, count 'em, two plate appearances as a pinch hitter
Those three had a lot to do with the Bulls getting to the playoffs. I don't begrudge them their opportunity, but I sure wish the Rays had waited.
  • Jaime Schultz and Jose Mujica were called up as well. I'm not a big fan of Mr. Schultz. He is very likely a very good pitcher. But he has not been much of an asset to the Bulls (32 appearances, 35 innings, 2-1, 2 holds, 3 saves, 2 blown saves, 5.75 ERA). 
  • To be honest, I didn't know Mr. Mujica was well-enough to play. He only made one appearance as a Bull (August 22) since May 5th. Must be some sort of rosterizing going on there.
Injuries

Much more worrisome is the list of serious and, I hope, not-so-serious injuries.
  • Kean Wong (who certainly deserved a call-up before a couple of the guys who are now playing with the Rays) got hit on the elbow a couple of days ago and looked awkward in yesterday's game. 
  • Brandon Snyder fouled a ball into the side of his knee yesterday and, although he stayed in the game, was certainly limping a lot.
  • Rob Refsnyder did not play yesterday. Not sure of injury status
  • Austin Meadows did not play yesterday. Also not sure of injury status.
  • Christian Arroyo was placed on the disabled list a couple of days ago and won't be back.
So, the Rays have done some raiding of the Montgomery Biscuits.
  • Mac James has actually been with the team a while. I did not explect to see him at 3rd base, though. With the Bulls grabbing catchers, however, my guess is that he will be the primary backstop in Toledo
  • Jake Cronenworth was called up from Montgomery. He had a good day at bat and played shortstop Sep 3
  • LHP Travis Ott made his AAA debut on Sep 2. It did not go well (3 walks, 1 hit batsman). But maybe ...
Likely to be more, but the Biscuits are also in their own playoffs, so more promotions may be tough.

What we can hope for is that the bus ride to Toledo does not lead to locking up of muscles, but rather some rest and recuperation. With all except Arroyo possibly at form and assuming that James and Pena can handle the catching, the Bulls are still in good shape.

So why am I haunted by the memory that the Bulls won their first AAA National Championship on a wild pitch/passed ball thrown/missed by two recently called-up players?


Thursday, August 30, 2018

Bulls Win the South; Call-Ups Coming?

Somewhere else I've written that for AAA baseball it's the Division Championship that matters. Come September the playoffs are driven by call-ups, the quality of the AA franchise, and the ability of team leaders, managers, and coaches to sustain team cohesion. In other words, something of a crapshoot. So, last night's clinching of the South is a big deal and says a lot about the team and the Rays.

The hero was new guy Austin Meadows (MiLB.com story here) who hit three home runs, a single, and took a nasty high and insider off a protective arm. That last event led to two ejections and a bench-clearing moment or two. Tonight could be ugly.

They also reached a season high 19 games above .500.



We are getting near to September call-up time. Here's Tampa Bay Times writer Marc Topkin's thoughts:

The Rays are expected to make at least a couple of additions when rosters can be expanded Saturday, then more when Triple-A Durham's season is over. Among the more interesting prospects who have not yet been called up are C Nick Ciuffo, RHP Ian Gibaut, OF Austin Meadows (acquired from Pirates), LHP Colin Poche and INF/OF Kean Wong. Others who have and might return at some point include INF Christian Arroyo and RHPs Jake Faria, Austin Pruitt and Jaime Schultz. "We've had a lot of guys at the upper levels doing some really interesting things that deserve to be rewarded,'' senior VP Chaim Bloom said. "The tough decisions we have sometimes are balancing that against the practical limitations of the (40-man) roster and that you can only run so many guys out there on a given night.''

Meanwhile, Columbus has surged to a one-game lead over Indianapolis in the West. They are playing for the opportunity to host the Bulls on September 5. The Wild Card competition remains wild.


Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Durham Bulls Dissed By International League

The International League announced its 2018 Awards list yesterday — a big day for the Lehigh Valley IronPigs — not so much for anyone else, especially if you're a Durham Bull.

2018 International League Award Winners
Most Valuable Player – Joey Meneses, Lehigh Valley
Most Valuable Pitcher – Cole Irvin, Lehigh Valley
Rookie of the Year – Joey Meneses, Lehigh Valley
Manager of the Year – Gary Jones, Lehigh Valley

2018 International League All-Star Team
C – Danny Jansen, Buffalo
1B – Joey Meneses, Lehigh Valley
2B – Kevin Kramer, Indianapolis
SS – Kevin Newman, Indianapolis
3B – Mitch Walding, Lehigh Valley
OF – Brandon Barnes, Columbus
OF – Rusney Castillo, Pawtucket
OF – Christin Stewart, Toledo
DH – Kennys Vargas, Rochester
SP – Cole Irvin, Lehigh Valley
RP – Pedro Beato, Lehigh Valley
UTIL – Kean Wong, Durham

I guess the Bulls might as well just go home now ... 

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Wild Carding

The Bulls and Tides stopped play two outs into the 6th inning over in Norfolk last night. They were tied 1-1. Box. My guess is that they will try to finish the game in Durham next weekend. Austin Meadows was at bat with a 1-2 count when they gave up.

Meanwhile, the very odd International League Wild Card continues in its strangeness. The oddness begins in the IL West Division where the Indianapolis Indians (Pittsburgh) and the Columbus Clippers (Cleveland) are tied for the lead. As it happens, that means, at the moment, they are also tied for the wild card slot where they are a game ahead of the RailRiders and a game and a half ahead of the Tides and the Mud Hens.



Really fun to watch.


Up in the big leagues there's another interesting Wild Card run over in the American League, which has two wild card slots. The Bulls' parent club, the Tampa Bay Rays has put together an extraordinary 8-game winning streak that has them edging upwards into competition with the Athletics and Mariners.





Friday, August 24, 2018

Eleven Games Left

The Bulls didn't do all that well in that 3-day, 5-game set here in town (2 wins, 3 losses). And now they are off to Norfolk who has gained just a bit in the standings, although they are still 4½ back

Pitching

We remain concerned about Bulls' pitching as they go in to a 4-game set in Norfolk. The starting crew has soared up to slightly above the IL team average for the first time this year, and all of that slippage has come since the All-Star break.


Wild Card

The Wild Card race is just ... odd. Indianapolis and Columbus are tied for the lead the the IL West and tied for the lead in the wild card.



Monday, August 20, 2018

Run to the Finish Line

The Durham Bulls did just fine in this last out-of-division road trip, but hard times are a-comin. They start tomorrow. The Bulls are to play five games in three days against the Gwinnett Stripers. That will surely stress the pitching staff.

Then the Bulls hit the road for four games against Norfolk and three against Charlotte before coming home for their last hurrah of four more games against Norfolk.

My worry is this disturbing pitching trend, especially the Bulls' starters' ERA. On the other hand, the last two games were rare shutouts, so maybe things are back on track. If they can just get through the next couple of days (and the Rays leave them alone)



Now, take a look at the division standings



This could get really tricky with those 8 games against Norfolk. At the moment the Bulls are just 4½ games ahead of the Tides. The spread between the two teams has been wobbling around quite a bit in August.

Meanwhile, the wild card is getting pretty wild. Indianapolis and Columbus are going at it in the West for the division championship and that means that there's currently a three-way going on for the wild-card, with the third member being whoever ends up second in the west. It would seem that Scranton/Wilkes-Barre has the best shot, but it really is up in the air.



Thursday, August 16, 2018

On to Pawtucket; Playoffs Coming

The Bulls did just fine up in Pennsylvania, taking 2 out of 3 against the Lehigh Valley IronPigs. The important takeaway, for me, was that Chih-Wei Hu finally had a decent game. Seems like a very long time (it has been, since late June) that he's done well in a Bulls uniform. Here's hoping he can keep it up.

Meanwhile, time to think a bit about the playoffs. Here's how it works in the International League.

The West Division Champion hosts the South Division Champion to begin a  best of five series (after two games the site moves to opponent park). The North Division Champion hosts the Wild Card.

Winner of North v Wild Card hosts the winner of West v South for the start of a best of five Governors' Cup Championship.

So, it playoffs began today it would be the Durham Bulls at the Indianapolis Indians and the Columbus Clippers at the Lehigh Valley IronPigs.

But, notice how tight things are in the IL West (standings) and how tight they are in the Wild Card race. Could be some changes by the end of the month (or even tomorrow).



Matchup

The Pawtucket Red Sox are usually a much better team than we've seen this year. That seems especially true given the absolute dominance of their parent club in the American League. They've got the best pitching (measured by ERA) in the IL, but are still 15 games behind the IronPigs. What I don't know is how much turmoil they've undergone this year.



Monday, August 13, 2018

Off to the North

We had a couple of thrilling games in this home stand. A blowout of the Columbus Clippers on the 8th. Two games won by walk-off. But a couple of losses that were tough as well. Still, the Bulls left town remaining in first place in the IL South.

The Bulls are off to Lehigh Valley to face the team with the best won-loss record in the International League, the Phillies AAA franchise, the Lehigh Valley IronPigs.  And the only other team that has its very own blogger. Check it out.

Matchup



[Geek Alert!]

Here's the oddity. The Bulls and the IronPigs match up very closely in everything except won-loss records and run differentials. Now, if you run their run differentials through the Pythagorean Expectation formula it turns out that the Bulls "should" be 69-47, not 65-51. And the IronPigs "should be" 67-52, not 72-47. In that case, the Bulls would be the best team in the International League, not the IronPigs. Darn this pesky real world stuff!

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Getting Ready for Columbus

The Bulls are back in town after an odd 2 win/2 loss trip to the West and South. They spent a lot of time watching the rain fall on Georgia. They are back with a 4 game lead over Norfolk and some significant changes on the roster (again).


They open tonight against the Columbus Clippers, the AAA franchise of the Cleveland Indians and traditionally a formidable team in the International League West. This year they are tied for second place in their division. For stats geeks they show off the anomalous negative run differential with winning record. Overall, it appears that pitching is their problem.


Former Bulls Brandon Guyer, Johnny Field, and Richie Shaffer have worn Clippers uniforms this year. Guyer is with the Indians. Shaffer is in the Milwaukee system. Johnny Field is playing for Rochester in the Twins system.

Still with the Clippers are pitchers Jeff Beliveau, a pitcher we liked back in 2014, and Mitch Talbot, who made our list of great Durham Bulls pitchers back in 2013 and was a key player in the Bulls' first AAA championship in 2009 (trivia — he won the first and last games of that season). Looks like after joining the Cleveland system in 2010, he's done some serious roaming around including time with Korean teams and independent baseball.

Roster Changes in the last two weeks:
  • 7/24 OF Justin Williams optioned to Durham from Tampa Bay
  • 7/24 LHP Hoby Milner optioned to Durham from Tampa Bay
  • 7/24 RHP Yonny Chirinos recalled by Tampa Bay
  • 7/24 RHP Chih-Wei Hu recalled by Tampa Bay
  • 7/25 RHP Austin Pruitt recalled by Tampa Bay
  • 7/25 LHP Adam Kolarek optioned to Durham from Tampa Bay
  • 7/27 RHP Andrew Kittredge recalled by Tampa Bay
  • 7/28 RHP Chih-Wei Hu optioned to Durham from Tampa Bay
  • 8/1 INF Michael Russell assigned to Durham from Double-A Montgomery
  • 8/1 OF Austin Meadows acquired in a trade with Pittsburgh and assigned to Durham
  • 8/1 INF Christian Arroyo placed on disabled list (retroactive to 7/30)
  • 8/1 OF Justin Williams traded to St. Louis for OF Tommy Pham
  • 8/1 RHP Jake Faria activated from disabled list by Tampa Bay
  • 8/3 LHP Adam Kolarek recalled by Tampa Bay
  • 8/4 INF Brandon Lowe had his contract selected by Tampa Bay
Of all of that list what jumps out for me is the departure of Justin Williams, whose strong right arm from right field was a wonder to watch and the call-up of Brandon Lowe for what may be a quick cup of coffee, but still a big deal for someone who had to have room made for him on the 40-man. Should Kean Wong have been the guy called up? Sure. But let's not take anything away from Mr. Lowe. And we've got a new guy in the outfield, Austin Meadows.

Monday, July 23, 2018

The NEW Durham Bulls Are Back

This season's post-All-Star rosterizing by Tampa Bay seems to be even more frantic than usual. The break ended on July 12. Since then the Bulls have seen 26 transactions (and this list could miss a couple).
  • 7/12 INF Willy Adames optioned to Durham from Tampa Bay
  • 7/12 INF Christian Arroyo had his MLB rehab assignment transferred to Durham from Charlotte 
  • 7/12 OF Johnny Field optioned to Durham from Tampa Bay
  • 7/12 OF Jeremy Hazelbaker cleared waivers and was outrighted to Durham
  • 7/12 RHP Ryan Weber optioned to Durham from Tampa Bay
  • 7/12 RHP Jacob Faria had his MLB rehab assignment transferred to Durham from Charlotte 
  • 7/12 RHP Chih-Wei Hu recalled by Tampa Bay
  • 7/12 INF/OF Ji-Man Choi recalled by Tampa Bay
  • 7/13 C Adam Moore activated from disabled list
  • 7/13 C Roberto Pena transferred to Princeton
  • 7/15 RHP Ryan Weber designated for assignment by Tampa Bay
  • 7/16 INF Christian Arroyo completes MLB rehab assignment and optioned to Durham
  • 7/17 RHP Chih-Wei Hu optioned to Durham from Tampa Bay
  • 7/17 INF Michael Russell transferred to Double-A Montgomery
  • 7/19 RHP Andrew Kittredge optioned to Durham from Tampa Bay
  • 7/19 OF Jeremy Hazelbaker traded to Minnesota for cash considerations
  • 7/20 C Adam Moore had contract selected by Tampa Bay
  • 7/20 OF Johnny Field designated for assignment by Tampa Bay
  • 7/20 C Roberto Pena assigned to Durham from Princeton
  • 7/21 C Mac James assigned to Durham from Double-A Montgomery
  • 7/21 INF/OF Micah Johnson activated from disabled list
  • 7/21 RHP Ryan Weber outrighted and assigned to Durham from Tampa Bay
  • 7/21 C Roberto Pena placed on disabled list
  • 7/21 OF Justin Williams recalled by Tampa Bay
  • 7/22 INF Willy Adames recalled by Tampa Bay
  • 7/22 OF Justin Williams optioned to Durham from Tampa Bay
Not to put too fine a point on it, this seems a bit nuts. By the way, Hazelbaker now playing for the Rochester Red Wings.

With this kind of turmoil, no surprise that since the break the Bulls are 5-6. It says something about the coaching/managing crew that it has not been worse. Note that Norfolk's on a run.



Query: Last night Weber started, pitched 2 innings, and gave up 1 earned run. Jake Faria came in, pitched 3⅓, gave up 4 runs. The Bulls lost 3-5. Weber took the loss. Why?


The Toledo Mud Hens come to town on Tuesday. They lead in the IL West Division and match up well against the Bulls, except for their pitching. But then who knows who will be pitching for the Bulls by the time the game starts.



Speaking of pitching, Bulls starting pitching has been slipping. In the last 8 games, not one starter has achieved an "average" Game Score. That is not good. ERAs have been ticking upwards as well.



Thursday, July 19, 2018

The Importance of Pitching; Matchup Bulls v Bisons

These last two games up in Syracuse (Box Game 94, Box Game 95) provide great examples of the importance of pitching. In the first game, rehabbing Jake Faria and struggling Chih-Wei Hu combined to give up 11 hits, 5 walks, and 11 runs (8 earned) over 6 innings. In the second game, Andrew Moore's five hits (2 home runs) and 2 walks resulted in 4 runs, enough to lose the game. This is continuing an unfortunate trend that started back on Game 91 that has seen the team ERA rise from 3.21 to 3.34. Not the end of the earth, but worrisome.

Today the Bulls are over in Buffalo playing against Toronto's AAA team, the Buffalo Bisons. They can surely expect a few more fans in the seats (one of the Syracuse games only had a paid attendance of 2,600 fans).

The Bisons are in 3rd place in the IL North, but their stats indicate they should be doing a bit better.



Monday, July 16, 2018

Hazelbaker!

Jeremy Hazelbaker
Photo Credit

July 15, 2018
Durham Bulls 7; Charlotte Knights 6
Wrap, Box

We have noted, if only indirectly, that Jeremy Hazelbaker was not having a good year. At the All-Star break, he was carrying a poor .189 batting average and a .647 OPS. He had just been Designated for Assignment by the Rays and it wasn't clear if he'd be back after his July 5 game in Charlotte.

He did make it back and if the two games he played since his return are any indication, he may have turned a corner. Including his walk-off double last night, he has 6 hits in 9 at-bats (3 doubles last night). He's pushed his batting average above the Mendoza Line to .210 and his OPS up 42 points to .689.

Good for him. Good for the Bulls.

Friday, July 13, 2018

The NEW Durham Bulls

What else can you call a team that had 8 (count 'em 8!) transactions over the All-Star break? All but one of them had spent at least some time with the Bulls this year. But even the best need to have a bit of playing time with each other.

In the starting lineup was:
  • Jacob Faria on a rehab assignment as starting pitcher
  • Christian Arroyo on a rehab assignment at 3B (he did have some time as a Bull earlier this year)
  • Willy Adames back at shortstop (commentary about that event here and here)
  • Johnny Field batting leadoff and playing right field.
Not playing, but back on the roster were
  • Pitcher Ryan Weber
  • Outfielder Jeremy Hazelbaker who cleared waivers and has been outrighted.
Missing were:
  • Pitcher Chi-Wei Hu went to the Rays and came on in relief of Blake Snell last night and did OK
  • Infielder Ji-Man Choi, who DH'd for the Rays last night and was 0-fer with 2 Ks.
The latest roster is here.

Also missing was broadcaster Patrick Kinas, who was "called up" doing pre- and post-game shows for the Rays.

Oh, the Bulls lost 4-2 to Charlotte. Box. Wrap.

Fortunately, I was watching on TV at home. I'm guessing that if I were at the game (unless listening on the radio) I'd have to wait for the video board to tell me who the players were because they were yet again wearing my least favorite jersey without nameplates.

Congratulations are due Kean Wong who earned IL-MVP honors at the All-Star game. About the game: The IL lost to the PCL 7-12. WrapBox.

Monday, July 9, 2018

The Durham Bulls at the All-Star Break; Charts!

The All-Star Break for the International League is not at mid-season. That happened quite a few games ago, but 88 games into the season is not a bad time to take a look at how the team is doing. Only 52 games to left!

Overall, the Durham Bulls have been doing very well this year and at the break are 4½ games ahead of Norfolk in the South Division.

click on chart for larger view

Pitching

Twenty-six different pitchers have stepped up on the mound for the Durham Bulls this year. Ranging from infielder Brandon Snyder (1 inning) to Forrest Snow (88 innings).

As a team, they have the best ERA in the International League. In previous seasons, the comparison of starters and relievers provided some mild insights to the team. In this season, the Tampa Bay style of using "openers" and the Bulls' need to have occasional bullpen days are messing with those comparisons.



The team's WHIP (Walks and Hits per Inning Pitched) is, by a few hundredths of a point, second to the Lehigh Valley IronPigs in the IL. Pretty good.



Runs

Another way to look at team performance is to track run differentials. That is, how many runs are scored compared to runs allowed. In that race, the Bulls are also doing very well this year.



And not only this year. This chart shows run differentials for the last five years at this point in the season. Looking pretty good.



Hitters

Although I am not a big fan of the OPS stat, it does seem to be a decent measure of overall team performance. This chart shows the cumulative team OPS over the last 20 games. The Bulls rank second in the IL, just behind the Indianapolis Indians.



Twenty-three players have come to bat for the Bulls this year. Their plate appearances range from the visiting Tampa Bay rehabber Adeiny Hechavarria (4) to Justin Williams (327). This table is sorted by wOBA, weighted on-base average, and includes another newish stat called RC+, weighted runs created plus. Important to all is just how truly spectacular those numbers of Rob Refsnyder and Brandon Lowe are, but also to note the very small sample size. Neither has been with the team very long at all.



NameAgePAAVGOPSwOBAwRC+
Brandon Lowe
23
128
.330
1.084
.470
203
Rob Refsnyder
27
57
.373
1.007
.447
187
Joe McCarthy ˆ
24
143
.265
.863
.386
145
Brandon Snyder
31
252
.251
.839
.376
138
Kean Wong
23
310
.316
.843
.376
138
Ji-Man Choi †
27
86
.270
.766
.348
119
Andrew Velazquez
23
280
.262
.725
.328
105
Jason Coats
28
276
.245
.736
.327
104
Justin Williams †
22
327
.266
.711
.323
101
Jeremy Hazelbaker
30
226
.189
.647
.295
82
Nick Ciuffo
23
107
.257
.646
.291
79
Roberto Pena
26
36
.265
.600
.278
70
Michael Russell
25
106
.260
.602
.275
68
Adam Moore ˆ 
34
151
.225
.595
.271
66
Micah Johnson ˆ
27
137
.197
.572
.259
57
Source: https://www.fangraphs.com
†=on 40 Man; ˆ= on DL; Hazelbaker has been DFA'd

Defense

Lastly, here's my homebrewed measure of team defense. For much of the year, the Bulls were giving up a lot of runs as measured by unearned runs per game. Lately, they've been doing better. Let's hope that keeps up.



Nameplates!

One more kvetch about the uniforms. Names! Names! Names! I really don't like digging into my program to find out who's on first.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Bulls Return With a Solid Lead in IL South

You really can't have a better outcome when you visit your closest rival and take four games from them in their home park. That's what the Durham Bulls just did over in Norfolk and opened up their lead in the International League South to 5½ games.

The buzz, as it should be, is the continued stunning performance of young (23) Brandon Lowe. His OPS has soared to 1.147 and he has contributed 23 RBI in his 22 games as a Bull. Not far behind is another new guy, Ji-Man Choi who is carrying an OPS of .990. Not to mention All-Star Kean Wong whose batting average of .317 is 2nd in the International League. Choi and Lowe do not have enough ABs to get on the list.





Meanwhile, down in that great bandbox-near-the-sea in St Petersburg, Florida, the Bulls parent club, had a homestand nothing short of amazing. They took 8 out of 9 games against the New York Yankees, Washington Nationals, and Houston Astros! And with only a couple of legitimate starting pitchers. They seem to be having fun.



Monday, June 25, 2018

Good Trip; Coming Home

The Bulls had another good road trip, winning four of six games against the Louisville Bats and the Indianapolis Indians. Perhaps the highlight of the trip was the breakout hitting of young Brandon Lowe. His OPS soared from a pretty dismal .448 to a very solid .929 and included 5 home runs and 9 RBI. His batting average went from .196 to .263 over the six games.

Ji-Man Choi also had a good trip, but left the game yesterday after getting hit in the face by an elbow as a runner passed by. His OPS is a stunning 1.056 over his first 10 games with the Bulls.

Overall, the Bulls seemed to have survived the departure of Willy Adames and Jake Bauers. Now if they could just win some games at home.



Outside the Game

Jake Bauers had a game-winning, 12th inning home run yesterday to beat the Yankees and complete a three-game sweep of the Yankees at home ... and they even had some fans watching the game!

Matchup

The Charlotte Knights were just here and they are back. They are not having a good year, which doesn't mean they don't do well against the Bulls. Just last week they were also in town and swept the Bulls.



Those 2018 Uniforms

OK, is it time to talk about the uniforms? Just for the record, I don't like them. First, I like nameplates on jerseys. What happens if I don't have a program? Or it's a new player? Second, I'm no fan of the new Bull City logo. I get it, Durham paid millions for the stadium upgrade, they get to call some shots. But it's ugly.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Boom!

Durham Bulls (Tampa Bay) 13; Louisville Bats (Cincinnati) 3
Wrap, Box

Last night's performance by Bulls hitters was simply stunning. Seven out of nine hitters improved their OPS, some by substantial margins, in just one game. One, Ji-Man Choi, albeit from a very small sample so far, jumped up 300 points with 2 home runs! Lowe and Hazelbaker had good nights.

Name
6/20
6/21
Diff
Ji-Man Choi*†
.791
1.109
.318
Nick Ciuffo*
.652
.666
.014
Jeremy Hazelbaker*†
.579
.628
.049
Brandon Lowe*
.500
.556
.056
Michael Russell
.711
.739
.028
Brandon Snyder
.815
.822
.007
Andrew Velazquez#
.744
.741
-.003
Justin Williams*†
.698
.690
-.008
Kean Wong*
.872
.879
.007
Team
.731
.739
.008
*=Left-handed bat; †=on 40-man

The Bulls head up the road to second-place Indianapolis where they face a team that is a very close match to the Bulls in most categories. The Indians are a formidable hitting team, a decent ERA, but their team WHIP is not good at all. That may help explain their similar won-loss record, but much lower run differential. Should be a good series.




Monday, June 18, 2018

Another Dismal Home Stand

Well, this home stand was a disaster. The Bulls lost 5 out of six, with a run differential of -10 over the six games. And of the total of 21 runs given up, 7 were unearned (see chart below). About the only nice thing that could be said of the week was that it was great to see Kevin Kiermaier in a Bulls uniform. On the other hand, it was painful to see the difference between a major leaguer and what we saw on the mound, at bat, and on the  field.

Why? Well, part of it stems from the four hitters who are below .600 OPS: Brandon Lowe, Ji-Man Choi, Jeremy Hazelbaker, and Micah Johnson (although Johnson just went on the disabled list). Of those, three are below the Mendoza Line (batting average of less than .200). Only one hitter  on the Bulls is over .800 OPS, Kean Wong.

Pitching isn't all that bad. The team ERA and other metrics are among the best in the IL. But the fielding has been awful.

Nevertheless, even though they can't seem to win at home, the Bulls remain, just barely, in the IL South lead as they head off to Louisville and Indianapolis.


The Bulls are a half game ahead of Norfolk.



This is just plain ugly. Bulls mistakes have cost them 41 runs on the year.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Bulls Dis Durham

What's wrong with this picture? The last homestand the Durham Bulls lost 4 and won 2 against lightweight competition. Then they went on the road, also against sub-.500 teams, and won 5 and just lost 1. Now they are back home and have dropped the first three games to the worst teams in the South Division.

Not to oversimplify, but there's a good chance that it has something to do with lineups like last night's. Two batters were below the Mendoza Line (.200): Hazelbaker and Lowe. As much as aggressive baserunning is fun to watch, watching a pickoff and caught stealing (Lowe) was tough. New guy Ji-Man Choi is probably going to turn out OK, but he's had several opportunities to knock runners in and he hasn't in these early days.

Of course, missing Adames and Bauer, as well as Anthony Banda for the season, makes a difference. And it's just June. But it's also coming up on mid-season and playing at home should be more fun.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Bulls Back, Bauers and Adames Are Not

The Bulls are back after taking 5 of 6 on an exceptionally productive road trip to Pennsylvania and New York to play the Phillies and Twins franchises. I have to note that it seems only fair that after the Rochester Red Wings swept the Bulls at their home at the end of May, that the Bulls went up to the Red Wings’ home and swept them.

The biggest problem with the Bulls being back is that they are back without two key players, Willy Adames and Jake Bauers. Adames got called up yesterday and Bauer has been up there for a couple of days where he has been the starting first baseman and doing very, very well. See reports in the Tampa Bay Times. We here at WDBB also wish them well.

Other news is that outfielder extraordinaire and former Durham Bull Keven Kiermaier may be coming through on a rehab stint this weekend.

Meanwhile, the Rays have acquired first baseman Ji-Man Choi in a trade with the Brewers and sent him to the Bulls. Choi is carrying a stunning .924 OPS in 40 games with Milwaukee's AAA franchise, the Colorado Sky Sox and has had 12 games with the Brewers this year where he hit .781 including a recent grand slam.

Hard as it is to believe, but the Bulls are only 9 games away from mid-season! And only 35 more home games.

Oh yeah, they are in still in first place, 3 games ahead of Norfolk and 9½ games ahead of Charlotte.


Matchup

The White Sox franchise, the Charlotte Knights are having a surprisingly poor year at the plate, particularly given their hitter-friendly ballpark. Former Bulls Casey Gillaspie (OPS .627) and Patrick Leonard (OPS .664) are not having strong years. Too bad. Now, of course, it not the time to get their games back.


Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Bulls Hit the Road; and More...

Not the best of home stands. Four losses and two wins. And then comes the news that Anthony Banda is out until 2020 as he goes through Tommy John surgery and rehab. We wish only the best for Mr. Banda. We really liked watching him pitch this year.

Nevertheless, the Bulls stayed in first place, a full game ahead of Norfolk. Standings.

The team is off to Pennsylvania for their first trip to the North Division. Three games against the Yankees franchise, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, then three games against the Minnesota team, the Rochester Red Wings who just swept the Bulls here at home.

The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders do not play in either Scranton or Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, a bit of trivia that's always fun to share. Their actual zip code is Moosic. They are just off of a 6-day trip to the West Division where they split with Louisville and Indianapolis. At the moment they are in last place in their usually very competitive division.

Matchup

The Bulls lead the RailRiders in all categories except defense.



We note that Curt Casali hit a home run in his first game as a Cincinnati Red. We also noted that in that game he caught reliever Dylan Floro who appeared in 32 games as a Bull in 2016 (and 22 in 2015) and now is pitching for the Reds.

Meanwhile (drumroll please), the Stetson Hatters are in the NCAA Super Regionals and will be playing UNC. The Hatters are on an impressive 18-game winning streak. Here's hoping they keep it up! Have I ever mentioned that I am a Stetson alumni and a huge fan of Doc Johnson's leadership of the Hatters team back in the 60's?

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Bulls Back in First Place

May 28, Game 49
Durham Bulls 5; Louisville Bats 1
Wrap/Box

New guy, righthander Andrew Moore, in trade from the Seattle system, pitched his first game as a Bull and did just fine. He only allowed one run over his 5+ innings. He is on the Rays' 40-man roster. Catcher Adam Moore, the second half of the Moore/Moore battery contributed 3 hits and 2 RBI.

Meanwhile, Norfolk's winning streak got broken and the Bulls are back in first place as they come home to play Rochester. Here's hoping the field is dry and has survived the ACC's depredations.


Monday, May 28, 2018

Durham Bulls Drop Out of First Place

May 27, Game 48
Durham Bulls 0; Louisville Bats 5
Wrap/Box

The Norfolk Tides have run off 6 wins in a row as the Bulls have lost 5 of 7 on this 8-game road trip. Time to come home.


Saturday, May 26, 2018

Boom!

May 25, Game 26
Durham Bulls 8; Louisville Bats 1
Box, Wrap

Four home runs (2 by Jason Coats, 1 each by Kean Wong and Andrew Valazquez) and 3 doubles (Wong, Hazelbaker, & Johnson) were enough to add a substantial tick upwards in the Durham Bulls' Team OPS, break a losing streak, and help Chih-Wei Hu get his first win.



Friday, May 25, 2018

Snakebit!

May 24, Game 45: Durham Bulls 1; Gwinnett Stripers 7, Box

Bulls coaches should be concerned with the dramatic rise in mistakes by their position players. In the last two games Gwinnett scored 7 unearned runs, running up the Bulls' very respectable uERA (unearned run average) of .385 to .533. Yes, the roster has been chaotic, but this is very worrisome.



On a side note, changing their name hasn't made a difference for the "Stripers" down at Coolray Field. The stands were essentially empty for all four games (paid attendance around 1,300 each game).

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Minor League Blues; Pitching Efficiency

Game 43: Durham Bulls 3; Gwinnett Stripers 9; Box
Game 44: Durham Bulls 4; Gwinnett Stripers 5; Box

So here we see some of the perils of being a minor league fan, even when your team is doing well. In the first game, a highly-regarding major leaguer comes to town on a rehab start in place of this year's most productive young pitcher. The pitcher, Nathan Eovaldi gives up 10 hits and 8 runs over his 4 innings.

In the second game, a completely reconfigured infield (Pena catching his first game, Kean Wong at 3B, Andrew Valazquez at SS, Micah Johnson at 2B, Joe McCarthy at 1B) allows in 3 unearned runs.

Chart of the Day

Here's a home-grown stat: Pitches per out. It sort of tells you how hard a pitcher has to work. Small sample size warning.


Monday, May 21, 2018

Durham Bulls at Game 41; Charts!

This was a very successful homestand. The Bulls won 5 out of 6 games (and they've won 10 of their last 13). They are off to Gwinnett for four games and then go from there to Louisville for four more. That's 8 games on the road just to keep them out of the DBAP while the ACC tournament is going on.

They are 3½ games ahead of Norfolk in the South Division.

click on chat for larger image
Runs

Net runs scored is a pretty good indicator of them performance. By that indicator, at 41 games into the season, this is a very good Bulls team.


Pitching

The Bulls have the second-best team ERA in the International League. The starters and relievers are holding about even, which is a change from previous years. Typically, the Durham Bulls relief crew does much better than the starters. But this is getting harder to sort out with the number of bullpen days, and the erratic performance on a couple of the starters.



For example, if we look at the WHIP numbers for all of the pitchers we see that three of the starters simply aren't putting up very good numbers. One of them, Chih-Wei Hu, is enduring another year where the Rays don't seem to know how they want to use him.



The biggest concern among the pitching crew is reliever Jaimie Schultz. He's had 8 appearances in May, but has just completed 6⅓ innings giving up 16 hits (2 homers), 9 walks, and 14 earned runs. We remember him as a decent starting pitcher back in 2016, but we have to admit that we're worried now.

On the positive side: the Bulls have a bunch of pitchers near the golden number of "1". Please also note that pitchers on the 40-man (marked by an *) are very often "working" on something which can mean that their stats don't necessarily reflect their value to the Rays. Also, this is very early in the season. Small sample size cautions apply.

Hitters

In most years Bulls hitters are in the middle of the pack. Not this year. A team OPS of .756 is very good and rates at 4th in the International League.



Durham Bulls hitters, sorted by OPS.


NameAgeGBAOBPSLGOPS
Kean Wong*2327.327.397.515.911
Curt Casali2923.316.369.500.869
Joe McCarthy*2432.259.379.481.860
Jake Bauers*2237.289.361.486.847
Willy Adames2239.308.387.448.834
Andrew Velazquez#2328.301.350.462.812
Jason Coats2832.227.287.429.715
Justin Williams*2235.244.309.394.703
Jeremy Hazelbaker*3023.182.292.403.695
Adam Moore3421.250.299.375.674
Brandon Snyder3128.189.316.358.674
Christian Arroyo2317.200.235.308.543
Micah Johnson*2725.175.224.288.511

Individually, Kean Wong stands out. Curt Casali is only playing in half the games, yet has impressive numbers. Andrew Velazquez's 11 stolen bases have been really fun to watch.

Defense

Lastly, here's our home-grown defensive measure, Unearned Run Average (unearned runs per 9 innings), which is the mirror-image of ERA. Looking good!