Thursday, September 16, 2021

Bring Back the International League

 

International League Governors' Cup

Let's talk about what should be happening right now, right here in Durham, North Carolina. We should be having a Governors' Cup playoffs (or at least getting ready for them). Remember the International League? It lasted for 136 years until Major League Baseball murdered it. If you won the championship, you got your name on the cup. The Durham Bulls won the cup six times.

Given the current standings, the Durham Bulls would now be in a best-of-five series with either the Triple-A Northeast winner, the Buffalo Bisons; the Triple-A Midwest, the Toledo Mud Hens; or the wild card team, either the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders or the Gwinnett Stripers. 

Now wouldn't that be fun? Of course, it would be. Would it have taken a lot of thought to set up? Of course not. One problem would be finding the Governors' Cup. Does anyone know where it is? Do the Columbus Clippers still have it?

What we are stuck with is, to his credit, broadcaster Patrick Kinas promoting an entirely artificial "Triple-A East Championship". Spoiler alert: The Durham Bulls have a 2½ game lead over Buffalo. Well, better than nothing. But think about what could have been.


Wednesday, September 15, 2021

How About Them Blue Jays?

 As 2021 began, Charlie Montoyo's Blue Jays were doing OK, even though they had not played at "home" for a year and a half. Now, take a look at where they are! Essentially in a three-way tie for the American League, the Blue Jays just got back to Toronto a few weeks ago. And look where they are now! Shabash! Now, don't push the Rays away, but no love here for the Yankees or Red Sox. So keep at it ... after the Rays leave town.



Monday, August 30, 2021

Four Wins in Charlotte; Off to Jacksonville

 The Bulls won 4 of 6 against the Charlotte Knights last week and are off to Jacksonville, Florida for a six-game set against Miami's franchise, the Jumbo Shrimp. This is a simply spectacular season for the Bulls. They are 7½ games ahead of tied second-place teams — Jacksonville and Gwinnett. I do have to note the impressive run of the Strippers, though. They went from 8 games below .500 to 16 above over the last few weeks before falling off the last couple of days.


Meanwhile, the Bulls' parent club, the Tampa Bay Rays, is having a spectacular season of their own. The Yankees made a 20-win run to get close, but fell off recently. The Rays are going home to face Boston with their clutch of Durham Bulls pitchers in train.

And it isn't as if they are in an easy division. The wild card leaders include 3 teams from the AL East



Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Solid Homestand; Off to Lawrenceburg

 The Durham Bulls played six games against the Memphis Redbirds last week and did very well. They won 4 out of the 6 games and improved to 27 games over .500, by far the best in all of Triple-A baseball. The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, the Yankees franchise is next best in the Triple-A East at 19 games over ,500, but the Bulls will not play them this year.

Other Bulls' stats are equally impressive. The team OPS of .825 is the best in the Triple-A East as is their ERA (3.49), WHIP (1.14), and Opponents Batting Average (.217).

They are off to Lawrenceburg, Georgia to play the Gwinnett Strippers, the Braves franchise. In the old days, this was a very hot competition. Not so much this year where they only met for one homestand (the Bulls took 5 of 6) and this away series. 

Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Rays have pushed into the lead of the American League East. They have won 8 of their last 10 and are now in Boston for a 3-game series that could be a very big deal.

The American League Wild Card race is full of AL East teams. In my view, the team to watch is Charlie Montoyo's Blue Jays. They've been on quite a run lately.



Monday, August 2, 2021

Tough Road Trip

The Bulls played 7 games in Harbor Park last week. It did not go very well. They lost 5. Not badly. Most by 1 or 2 runs. But still, they lost. They left town 28 games above .500 and came home 25 games above .500.

On the other hand, they remain 7 games ahead of the Nashville Sounds and have the best record in the Triple-A East. Standings.

Reflecting (causing?) the team performance, all the measures of team pitching ticked slightly upwards — not a good thing. ERA from 3.40 to 3.49; WHIP from 1.13 to 1.15; and Opponent's Batting Average from .214 to .215. Those are trivial changes and the numbers remain very, very good. 

The Bulls come home to play the Memphis Redbirds for the second and last time this season. Memphis is the Cardinals Triple-A team and has been doing fairly well. But had a tough week against Gwinnett.

Meanwhile, down at the bandbox by the bay, the Rays swept the Red Sox and moved into first place in the AL East. 

Our old friend Charlie Montoyo and his Toronto Blue Jays are playing in Toronto for the first time since 2019! Good for them. And the team is doing pretty well. 


That means the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons will finally come home from their exile away from their namesake town. They've been having a pretty good year as well. Too bad we won't be seeing them in Durham.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Bulls at Mid-Season

 The Bulls are roughly halfway through their season (a bunch of games has been tacked on in September). They are doing very, very well. They lead their division by 4½ games and have the best record in the Triple-A East. For that matter, the best record in Triple-A baseball. Their hitting (OPS) is the best in the league, as is their pitching (ERA, WHIP, and OBA). So there's a lot to like. And I do, I do.


I just don't much like the Triple-A East and its schedule. So far the Bulls have only played 5 teams in a 20-team league. I get that there are only 7 teams in their division. But what's the point if the Bulls never play one of them (the Nashville Sounds, who are in second place)? And another they only play one home and one away set (Memphis, 12 games)? 

The Bulls have played 6 games against Memphis, 24 against Jacksonville, 12 against Charlotte, 16 against Norfolk, and 6 against Gwinnett. These 6-game stands (and the limited number of opponents) mean that the same guys match up over the year—a lot. I don't think I like that. 

I'll restate my old objection, what are these teams playing for? I guess that we geeks can make charts like this to show won/loss differences, but unlike the majors, the mask is off Triple-A, the players are going for individual glory, not for the team. Except that's not true either, if their behavior at a win is any indication. These guys do care about winning as a team. But Major League Baseball has conspired to make their efforts somewhat pointless.

Meanwhile, the Bulls' parent club is doing very well. They are only 1 1/2 games behind the Red Sox. Not that folks down there are noticing. Some nights the Bulls have drawn more fans than the Rays (who only drew 9,900 last night). 

But at least they have decent coverage. So we can go to the St Pete Times to read about the two Durham Bulls who will be pitching in the Olympics, Shane Baz and Joe Ryan. We wish them well.

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Durham Bulls Back in Town

 The Durham Bulls came home last night and we got to see them play some good baseball against the Gwinnett Strippers, Atlanta's Triple-A team. Lots of power (6 doubles, 2 home runs) and terrific pitching by Joe Ryan and an 8-3 win. Box.

Meanwhile ...

Ballpark Experience — Areas to work on

  • You'd think that with two weeks to prepare that the DBAP's video board would be working. Half of it was. But you could not see the lineup. Which might be ok if ...
  • We had a program, but we don't have programs. Gotta say that if I was paying to advertise in the Bulls online program, I'd want my money back. Who's reading it? Get your program!
  • The radar gun wasn't working at first, but came on later.
  • The lights on the manual scoreboard (ball, strikes, outs) were not working at the start of the game.
  • The LED board below the fan clubhouse wasn't working, but I don't know if it's been working at all this year.

Ballpark Experience — Attaboys

  • Wool E Bull had his gokart running. Not all around the field, but still ...
  • Some between-inning stuff back near first and third base stands.


By the way, the Bulls are hanging on to first place.




Monday, June 21, 2021

Norfolk to Jacksonville; Franco Moving On

The Durham Bulls had a decent run over in Norfolk, winning 4 of 6 games from the Tides and establishing themselves in first place in the Triple-A East (Southeast). They are 15 games over .500 and lead the Nashville Sounds by 1½ games. Their pitching got slightly worse, the team ERA rose from 3.37 to 3.46. But its run-scoring improved from a run differential of 85 to 94.


So they are off to Jacksonville to play a six-game set with the 3rd place Jumbo Shrimp, without the services of Wander Franco.

Meanwhile, the Bulls' parent club, the Tampa Bay Rays, had an awful road trip. They lost their last 6 games and fell out of first place. Their ERA crept up from 3.21 to 3.38 and their run differential fell from 87 to 73. And they go home to a series against the first-place Red Sox. So, for the few fans likely to show up, there could be some important games ahead. Plus, Wander will be there. Is this a rotten trip why? Maybe. Probably.




Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Matchup Durham Bulls @ Norfolk Tides

 


How About the Rays?

 The Tampa Bay Rays are the parent team of the Durham Bulls and are having a terrific year. They are 19 games above .500 in the American League East, ahead of the Red Sox by 3 games. The hitting is not terrific, Team OPS .714 (8th in AL), but pitching is, Team ERA 3.23 (2nd in AL) and Team WHIP 1.10 (1st in AL). And their defense is the best in the AL at .989.


Another way to look at the Rays is through the serious number-crunching being done over at FiveThirtyEight. Their statistical model is updated every night and shows the Rays in a steady upward progression through the season.


Meanwhile, the Bulls are off to Norfolk for 6 games and in a tie with Nashville for first place in the Triple-A East (Southeast).




Monday, June 7, 2021

Durham Bulls Five Weeks In

 


The Durham Bulls are 29 games into the season and are still looking good. In fact, a little better than the last time we updated. Their nice run in late May and their 3-2 run against Norfolk last week, kept them at 13 games above .500 and just a game back of Nashville, which had an extraordinary 15-game win streak.

Nevertheless, let me gripe some more about the so-called Triple-A East (Southeast). The Nashville Sounds lead the division that the Bulls are in, but the Bulls will not even play them this year. How weird is that? 

Back to the Bulls, though. The team OPS is .849, the best in the entire league. The Bulls team ERA of 3.59 is 2nd, behind the Buffalo Bisons, who just got kicked out of their stadium so the Toronto Blue Jays could play there. A stat that I like, team WHIP (Walks/Hits per Inning) is 1.126 and is also the best in the league.

23 pitchers have stepped up on the mound so far this year, including the severely injured Tyler Zombro. Zombro was reported this morning to have moved out of the ICU over at Duke. We are wishing him well. 

Among the hitters, Wander Franco and Vidal Brujan are getting the most playing time and they are making the best of it. Franco's .922 OPS and Brujan's .949 are among the tops in the league. Brujan is on the Rays' 40-man, Franco is not. But the Rays are looking pretty good in the infield just now, so maybe they both will stay with the Bulls for a bit longer. Brujan also leads the league in stolen bases with 13. 

DBAP notes

  • The DBAP is pretty much open now. Pretty big crowd on Saturday (7,100), a bit smaller on Sunday (5,400).
  • They had food trucks on Saturday up on the right-field concourse.
  • The center-field gate was open on Saturday
  • Still no printed program, which I find very annoying. Should not have to dig out my phone just to find a player's name. 
  • I'm guessing there's some kind of "bubble" around the players. All of the in-game entertainment is in the outfield.
  • Noticed the extension of the screens to the end of the baselines.

Monday, May 24, 2021

Eighteen Games In; How Do the Durham Bulls Look

 The 2021 Durham Bulls are a very good baseball team. They stand in third place in the Triple-A East (Southeast). More about that weirdness later.


As a team, for the entire Triple-A East league, they rank 1st in hitting, 6th in ERA, and 2nd in WHIP (Walks/Hits per inning pitched). That's very, very good. 

And we can see it in the individual players. Six Bulls hitters have OPS's above .900. Granted the season is young, but that's still an exceptional number.

They have so many pitchers on the roster that I confess I can't keep track of them. There are, I think, 22 of 'em. Of those, 20 have made a mound appearance. 

So far Tampa Bay hasn't screwed with the team all that much, but that will surely change.

What about this Triple-A structure and schedule? I don't like it. How to count the ways? 

  1. No Governors' Cup. I've got a drawer full of South Division Champions and Governors' Cup T-shirts. But what are we rooting for this year? 
  2. What's this division structure and 6-game series all about? I'm guessing the idea is to save travel costs. But as much a fanatic as I am, I'm not gonna go to see 12 games in a row against just two teams.
  3. And even in "our" division the Bulls have teams they play a lot and teams they play hardly at all. 
  4. What would be wrong with a simple set of "grand rounds"? One home and away series for every team in the league? Why not? Then those of us who are not Tampa Bay Rays fans — that would be most of us — could see teams they are following. 20 x 12 = 240. OK, you'd have to trim it a bit. 
  5. I get that they are trying to save travel money, but calling the games from the MiLB-TV broadcast? Really? Shades of Bull Durham movie broadcasts.
  6. What are the players playing for? Only a few are on the Rays' 40-man roster, 5 pitchers and 4 position players. The salaries at Triple-A are OK. But, again, what are they playing for? Should be something — like a Triple-A championship ring.

What about the DBAP?

OK. Not great. Just OK.

  1. The field seems to be in good condition.
  2. All the between-inning stuff has been moved to extreme right field and out of view/earshot. Not sure why. 
  3. Covid protocols seem to be OK
  4. But you'd think they'd print a program since the visiting team will be here for 6 games. Can't tell the players without a smartphone ... and I don't like digging out my phone to try to figure out who's on first. Maybe with the crowd restrictions, they decided to save some money. At any rate, don't like it.
  5. Radio/TV. Needs tech work. Odd echo last night (23 May). Pose/Kinas team in good form. Kinas doing a great job calling games even if in the TV broadcast he sounds like he's in a well (OK on radio).
  6. Food beverage ordering is just plain awkward. I don't buy much at games, so not much impact.
  7. Netting has been extended. Mostly a good thing since parents apparently don't like to look after their children.
  8. 8. Still, IT'S GOOD TO BE BACK!!!

Monday, May 10, 2021

Tomorrow!

 


The Durham Bulls had a solid start to their season over in Memphis against the Cardinals' franchise, the Redbirds. They took 5 out of 6 in this new style season where six-game sessions are going to be the norm. They come home tied with Gwinnett for first place in the Triple-A East— Southeast.

While in Memphis, the Bulls scored an impressive 49 runs and only allowed 23. The team OPS was .973, the second-best in the "Triple-A East" (the new name for teams mostly from the old International League). 

14 Bulls came to bat over the six games, hit 16 home runs, and gathered up 128 total bases.

The pitching crew did just fine as well. The team ERA is now 3.46, 5th best in the league. The WHIP was 1.079, the second-best. And a bunch of them saw action. Sixteen different Bulls were on the mound.

Tuesday night we'll have our first home baseball since September 2019. It's been a long, long dry spell. 

The Bulls' opponents will be the Jacksonville (Florida) Jumbo Shrimp, which ranks right up there with the Gwinnett Stripers as a team name. They are the Miami Marlins AAA team that has roamed around the country in recent years (New Orleans and Wichita). This year they started the season at home and won 4 of 6 against the Norfolk Tides. They are in third place in the Southeast.

The DBAP has a ton of new rules for this season and they all seem to make sense. On the other hand, we can expect them to change as the COVID rules for North Carolina change. I'm gonna start with my mask on and see how it goes. 

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Durham Bulls Off to Good Start

 Game 2, Durham Bulls 4; Memphis Redbirds o

Season: 2-0

Box

Here's a cut & paste from the Bulls report

FRANCO BLASTS FIRST TRIPLE-A HOMER, RYAN FANS NINE IN 4-0 SHUTOUT WIN

Consensus #1 prospect Wander Franco homers & drives in two; starter Joe Ryan earns 1st Triple-A victory


MEMPHIS, TN – Durham second baseman Wander Franco and center fielder Vidal Brujan both homered, while Bulls starter Joe Ryan struck out nine and yielded just two hits in five innings pitched in a 4-0 two-hit shutout win over the Memphis Redbirds on Wednesday night at AutoZone Park.

 

Brujan bashed the fifth pitch of the game for a leadoff longball off St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Miles Mikolas, who was with Memphis on a Major League Rehab Assignment to start the scoring. Two innings later, Brujan would score on Franco’s run-scoring double to right.

 

Franco would later smash a solo shot to left in the fifth for his first career Triple-A home run. The 20-year-old, unanimously touted as the top overall prospect in baseball, has recorded five hits over his first nine at-bats through two games with Durham.

 

Ryan (5.0 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 9 K) retired each of the first 12 batters he faced, which included five consecutive strikeouts at one point, before Memphis DH Austin Dean clubbed a double to left to start the fifth. Ryan earned the win while Mikolas (2.1 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, BB, 3 K) suffered the defeat. Bulls relievers Phoenix Sanders (1.0 IP, K), Ryan Sherriff (1.0 IP, BB, 2 K), Stetson Allie (1.0 IP, K) and Tyler Zombro (1.0 IP) combined for four hitless frames to preserve the shutout, with Redbirds RF Lane Thomas’ seventh-inning walk the lone blemish.

 

Durham and Memphis are slated to square off in the third game of their six-game series on Thursday evening. First pitch is scheduled for 7:45pm ET. Starting pitchers for both clubs have not yet been announced.

Some additional love for Wander Franco here.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Durham Bulls Begin Season With a Win

 Game 1: Durham Bulls 7; Memphis Redbirds 5

Wrap, Box

They had to wait almost 2 hours, but the Bulls got on a baseball field for the first time since 2019. In Memphis against the St Louis Cardinals AAA franchise. All is right with the world!

And they won with extra-base hits — a triple and 2 home runs. They used 6 of the 17 (!) pitchers on their roster. But only 1 of the 4 (!) catchers. (More about that someday soon). 

Meanwhile, the MiLB-TV worked OK. Plus Patrick Kinas was on the air at 99.9.

Monday, March 8, 2021

Updated Schedule Released

 First home game is May 11 against Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp.

https://img.mlbstatic.com/milb-images/image/upload/milb/urvaxtuv0fhucskvc1zb.pdf



Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Season Start Delayed

 


Here's some background on today's one-month delay. 

However, underneath it all is the reality that MLB delayed AAA because they can, but with the big leaguers in a union, they could not.

Baseball America's J.L. Cooper: "The decision to delay the start of the Triple-A season largely came about because of the difficulties of blending Triple-A travel with the reality that players frequently move back and forth from Triple-A to the majors and vice versa....At the MLB level, teams travel entirely by charter. At the Triple-A level, bus trips are by charter, but all flights are commercial. MLB’s Covid-19 protocols are quite strict in ensuring that MLB players do not cross paths with the general public to reduce risk of a coronavirus outbreak.

But those protocols cannot apply to a Triple-A player brought up from the minors—in many cases those players will have flown commercially in the past week.

By switching to alternate sites, teams will be able to keep their pool of potential call-ups under similar coronavirus protocols to the MLB team."

ESPN's Jeff Passan:

"Some executives told ESPN they believe the alternate sites could last longer into the season. The reason for rekindling sites -- which serve as training facilities for players who are likeliest to be called up to the major leagues -- is the proximity to teams' home stadiums and easier oversight of testing and coronavirus protocols, according to sources. Further, Triple-A teams travel via commercial airline, whereas major league teams can go from hotel to stadium to private flights on getaway days....Still, MLB's belief that April is likely to be the most difficult month for COVID-19 concerns has not wavered since it tried to get the MLB Players Association to agree on a one-month delay to the season. The union rejected the idea. MLB's control of the minor leagues allows unilateral implementation of policies."

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Taking a Look at the Durham Bulls' 2021 Schedule

 


The schedule just published by the Durham Bulls is going to be very different. It shows a lot of changes, driven by a combination of deep-sixing the International League, Covid, and economics. 

The Bulls are in the new Triple-A East, Southeast Division, which has seven teams. Some are long-time opponents — we've been watching the Gwinnett Stripers (née Braves), Norfolk Tides, and Charlotte Knights for as long as the Bulls have been in AAA. And they are the teams who the Bulls will play (along with Jacksonville) most of their games this season. They will play Charlotte 36 times, Norfolk 36 times, and Gwinnett 18 times. But one of the new teams, Miami franchise the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp (give me a break — Jumbo Shrimp??!!) will play the Bulls 34 times. The other two teams in the division account for 18 more games, Nashville just 6 games, and Memphis 12.

Another big change is that we will see 6-game (Tuesday-Sunday) home stands instead of the previous years' 4-game norms. 

The break out is this:

Charlotte Knights (Chicago White Sox) — 36 games, 18 home, 18 away

Norfolk Tides (Baltimore) — 36 games, 18 home, 18 away

Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp (Miami) — 34 games, 16 home, 18 away

Gwinnett Stripers (Atlanta) — 18 games, 12 home, 6 away

Memphis Redbirds (St Louis) — 12 games, 6 home, 6 away

Nashville Sounds (Milwaukee) — 6 games, away

Looks like there will also be changes in how we go about getting tickets, but more on that later.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

International League, RIP

A flurry of info is being dumped on minor league baseball fans, or maybe I just wasn't paying attention. 

For Durham Bulls fans, what jumps out is that the only "league" the Bulls have ever known has been pushed off the ledge.

The clue was right there on the Wikipedia page (thanks to whomever is keeping that up): "The International League (IL) WAS a Minor League Baseball League ..."

The Durham Bulls joined the International League their very first season, 1998, and went on to win the championship, the Governors' Cup, six times, most recently in 2018. 

Along with a couple of other teams, the League is now entirely gobbled up by Major League Baseball's new Triple-A East organization.

For an organization whose history reaches back into the 1800s, kinda sad to see it go.

Requiescat in Pacem International League. 

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

2021????

 Can't find out anything about the minor leagues, but here's part of what's going on.


A five-day quarantine before reporting to spring training. Shorter spring training games. No indoor dining. 


And then there's this piece which sounds very confusing to me, something about mixing up "Alternative Training Sites" and Triple-A"

Not sure what's going on.