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 ( 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


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).


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.


[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.