Saturday, July 26, 2008
The AL East will see the Kansas City Comets franchise in their third city and under their third owner in three seasons, as they move to Charlotte. GM majresorter leaves the Toledo (now Syracuse) squad to take over the Comets and has moved them to Charlotte to play in the AL East. When asked about the team's constant moving, 2B Javier Tavarez said, "Hey, as long as we're getting paid, we'll go out and do our best, no matter where that is. Baltimore this season, right? Oh wait, no, that was season 1. Can you edit that out?" Majresorter can only hope that switching franchises works as well for him as it has for John Henry in real life, who went from owning part of the Marlins to the Red Sox franchises and has 2 World Series titles to show for it.
The AL North has seen nearly a complete overhaul. The still-heartbroken Milwaukee fans will get to see the Manic Maulers try to get over the hump this season, but all their competitors have moved. Toledo fans are very confused, as they lost their current team but gained a new one. The Mud Hens packed up and headed to upstate New York to become the Syracuse Slyce under owner UtahCubs. When asked what was the first thing he'd do when he got to Syracuse, star SS Eli Jacquez replied, "Buy a snowblower". As Toledo residents were waving the moving trucks goodbye they welcomed in the former Cleveland Skidmarks, who didn't want to leave Ohio in their quest to make the playoffs under new owner/GM charlie22098. SS Orlando Franco said the best part of his new home city was "the fact that we no longer play next to a lake that once caught fire". Ottawa has not only left town but left the country- they will play in St. Louis as the Sillie Nannies. GM solowkoe will not confirm that Peter Griffin has been contacted to play for them next season; he was too busy dancing around a maypole to take our request for an interview.
In the AL South, the Durham franchise moves off Tobacco Road and into the deep, deep south as they will operate in Jackson this season as the Vipers under owner viperxx79. I'd have to think a Viper would easily win a fight with an Entombed Spider, so bonus points just for the nickname upgrade. When asked about the team's move, 2B Alex McClain replied, "Where's Jackson?"
Finally, the AL West sees another Canadian team leave our neighbor to the north and settle down in Seattle, much to the delight of their pitching staff and much to the chagrin of their hitters. GM The_Rock has denied he has already received angry phone calls from the agents of both members of the Kobe connection (Nakajima and Takahashi).
The Philadelphia Blue Jays have packed up and moved down the I-95 system to Washington D.C. and will be the Blue Coats. Ordinarily I'd question the team name, but in a league with the Manic Maulers and the Dirtbags, I think I'm going to let it pass. New ownership led by GM tymurr17 is excited to begin play in the nation's capital. The location of the team may be very appropriate, as it plays in a division as volatile as the economy.
In the North, the former Cincinnati Dragons have finally found a home; they'll take over for the Blue Jays in Philadelphia and become the Phantoms. It will be interesting to see what new GM chazzzzzz decides to do with this team; this could be a crossroads season for this team. They have some talent, but they're in the toughest division in the Bigs: can they compete? Star pitcher Bernard Robinson could not be reached for comment on the move, as he was reportedly looking for a good place for cheeseteaks. Meanwhile, the Chicago Cubs have officially changed their name to the Snake Tamers. The Cubs are either trying to shake off the 100 year losing tradition of their real-life namesake or piss off deaconsoule and the Arizona Diamondbacks. Perhaps both?
In the South, Memphis is singing the blues as the Short Grass left town for Austin to become the City Limits. Things got messy when the ownership had to buy out the current lease of Autozone Park. A reasonable dollar figure was agreed upon, but owner/GM blanch13 had to go to court when the city demanded that he take the NBA's Grizzlies with him. Federal courts found the city's demands unconstitutional (cruel and unusual punishment for the city of Austin) and the Short Grass were able to leave free and clear.
The Western division sees the potential move of the Boise Buckskins, as the ownership situation is now settled. Rumor had it that Mark Cuban was trying to put in a bid to buy the team, but commisioner mfoster55 has turned down the ownership group, opting instead to bring in veteran HBD owner/GM vikingdal. The (former) Buckskins will head south to Scottsdale and be known as the Scottsdale SLAMMERS. This would seem to be a natural rivalry with the Arizona Diamondbacks due to the two teams' proximity and residence in the same division (although Arizona regards itself rivals with just about everyone).
Friday, July 25, 2008
Hi, and we're live on WTRA, 550 on your AM dial. We're back with the Jim Martin show and I am Jim Martin. Before we get into Princeton and Rutgers previews, we have Traffic GM gumbercules on the line.
JM: Gumbercules, thanks for calling in to us. Now in a recent poll, 63% of the callers on our show thought you should have been fired after the collapse last season. Any thoughts on that?
GUM: No, not really.
JM: OK, so what exactly happened?
GUM: We just stopped hitting, the pitching didn't get key outs, it was a little bit of everything. Maybe I made a move I shouldn't have or didn't make a move that I should have made. Hard to say. But I think we're all to blame.
JM: Now the word coming out of the clubhouse is that King Winn is on the trade block. Is that true? Has he demanded a trade?
GUM: We're exploring trade options involving Winn, yes. This is not to say that I blame King for what happened last season- he's been great. We just think he may be a better fit somewhere else. And no, neither King nor his agent has indicated that he wants a trade.
JM: One team that would seem to be a good fit for him would be Monterrey. Is it true that Winn is headed south of the border?
GUM: That's a little premature. On paper, it would seem to be a good fit. Of course, I can't discuss any negotiations with other teams. There is no deal in place to send him anywhere at this time. If ACE calls, I'll pick up the phone, as I would with anyone else. But no, King can leave the passport at home for the time being.
JM: So what should make Traffic fans think this season will be different than last season?
GUM: Well, we did win 100 games the first season. Personally, I don't think we're as good as that or as bad as the 80 wins from last season. So as we stand, I think we're pretty good. Of course, that doesn't mean I'm planning to stand pat; we'll explore trades and free agency. If everything goes according to plan, after next season, I will be calling in and 63% of your callers will want me back.
JM: Only 63%?
GUM: Well, hopefully more than that.
JM: OK, gumbercules, thanks for calling and good luck this season.
GUM: Thanks for having me. See you at the park, Jim.
We'll start with the defending National League champs, the Fargo Dirtbags. Rumor has it that SP/RP Christopher Siddall may be available in a trade. Fargo could definitely use a bat (or several) and may be dangling Siddall to try and get a big-time offensive player.
Word out of Houston is that stud SP Matty Eusebio could be available. GM jmagliaro has gone on record stating that he's planning for Houston to 3-peat in the NL South, so this is not a fire sale/rebuilding type trade if it does happen. Many teams have expressed interest, but it's possible that jmagliaro may just be gauging interest at this point. Chicago GM mfoster55 has gone on record stating that his Snake Tamers would love to have Eusebio on the South Side for season 3.
Even the average fan would have to figure that something would have to change in Trenton after last season's collapse. WTRA 550 AM, the local station that carries the Traffic games, is reporting that King Winn is on the block and that he could be headed to Monterrey. GM gumbercules confirmed that Winn could be on his way out but denied that a deal with the World Series champions is imminent.
Friday, July 18, 2008
1. Fargo pitcher Javier Henriquez
a) won the National League Cy Young Award
b) will eventually have the Cy Young renamed the Javier Henriquez Award
c) will have the trophy permanently on display on his mantle and force the NL to have another Cy Young trophy made
d) all of the above
2. Arizona LF Osvaldo Johnson
a) won his second straight NL MVP award.
b) led the league in runs
c) hit 53 home runs
d) all of the above
e) divorced his wife and is dating Madonna
3. Which was the most painful to watch?
a) Trenton losing 21 of their last 26 to blow the NL East
b) Milwaukee losing games 6 and 7 at home to lose the ALCS
c) The New York Mets losing a 7 game lead with 17 to play to blow the real life NL East
d) Any commercial with the Geico cavemen
4. Arizona's archrival is
a) their main competition for the best team in the division, the Salem Sacrifices
b) the reigning NL champions, the Fargo Dirtbags
c) any team belonging to anyone who picks against Arizona in the blog
d) all of the above
5. Which of the following has the best chance of fielding a ground ball?
a) Greg Burkhart in Game 6 of the World Series
b) Dan Uggla in the real life All-Star Game
c) Bill Buckner in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series
d) An inanimate cardboard box placed anywhere on an infield.
6. Which song title best describes the Trenton Traffic season?
a) "Free Fallin'" by Tom Petty
b) "The Great Collapse" by Nine Inch Nails
c) "I Predict a Riot" by Kaiser Chiefs
d) All of the above
7. The Milwaukee Manic Maulers
a) won 112 games
b) outscored the Bucks this season
c) petitioned the league to have Monterrey expelled from the league
d) petitioned the league to allow bratwurst and beer in the dugout
8. Which of the following names is NOT the name of a ML player in The Bigs?
a) Shooter Mahoney
b) Hooks Williams
c) Pinky Higgins
d) Zephyr Palmer
e) Dweezil Marquis
f) Footsie Lewis
9. Gregg Black failed to win his second straight AL MVP award because
a) Milwaukee's Burt Stevenson had an outstanding season, hitting 64 home runs and driving in 150
b) he "only" hit .320, which was a 65 point drop from last season
c) Rollie Fingers kept calling him asking for his mustache back
d) he was on the cover of Sports Illustrated
e) both A and B
10. Which of the following cannot be seen without a telescope?
b) The moons of Jupiter
c) Any galaxy other than the Milky Way
d) Vancouver in the AL West division race
e) All of the above
Essay: In season 1, the Trenton Traffic surprised the league with 100 wins and an NL East title. In season 2, the favored Traffic collapsed down the stretch and Atlanta won the division despite scoring fewer runs than they allowed. In 800 words or less, explain what we should expect from the NL East in Season 3.
Answers: 1. d 2. d 3. d, and whoever came up with the idea of them having their own TV show should be sentenced to life without parole. 4. d, although you could make a case for e) the other 31 teams. 5. d 6. d and speaking of Kaiser Chiefs, "Oh My God" might work just as well. 7. a 8. c Higgins played in real life for the Philadelphia A's and Detroit Tigers during the 1930's and 1940's. 9) e, although we've heard rumors the Fingers has Black's home phone number 10. e
Essay question: any answer containing "How on Earth should I know?" or "in an All-Star game, the NL North could spot them 5 runs and still win" is acceptable.
Most Valuable Player
1.Burt Stevenson, Milwaukee (13)
2. Gregg Black, Nashville (10)
3. James Dixon, Anaheim (5)
4. Howard Murray, Monterrey (2)
Luis Martinez, Milwaukee (2)
My pick: Stevenson
Analysis: This basically came down to a 2-person race. Black's numbers were almost as impressive as his MVP season from Season 1, but I just felt Stevenson's .344-64-150 numbers were just too much to ignore. Black had a 40-40 season, but Stevenson had both a higher batting average and higher slugging average than Black. Like the NL Rookie of the Year race, reasonable minds could make an argument for either guy.
1. Vin Solano, Milwaukee (19)
2. Woody Hiller, Milwaukee (5)
3. Philip Allensworth, Monterrey (4)
4. Carlton Fleming, Cleveland (2)
Ajax Drabek, Anaheim (2)
My pick: Solano
Analysis: This was a no-brainer. If Cleveland's Steven Michaels had struck out 9 fewer batters, Solano would own the Triple Crown. He went 23-2 with an ERA of 2.07 (next out of these 5 was Fleming at 3.08) and a WHIP of .97. The league hit .203 and had a slugging average of less than .300, which means if you're lucky enough to get a hit off the guy, it's probably a single. He was a large part of why the Manic Maulers came within a game of going to the World Series.
Rookie of the Year
1. Kenneth Graves, New York (13)
2. James Dixon, Anaheim (9)
3. Jared McMahon, Toledo (5)
4. Josh Gant, Nashville (3)
5. Al Carrasco, Las Vegas (2)
My pick: Graves
Analysis: To be honest, I don't remember who I picked. I think I picked Graves. If I had to pick today, I'm not sure who I would take. Graves, a 20-year-old lefty, went 18-5 with a 3.26 ERA and a 1.12 WHIP, numbers just about any veteran would be quite proud of. Dixon, 21, went 40-40 in his rookie year, hitting .328 with 41 home runs and 145 RBIs while stealing 50 bases. Both should be significant ballplayers for seasons to come.
Fireman of the Year
Candidates: Quinton Hughes (MIL), Jared McMahon (TOL), Larry Stokes (MNT), Justin Lawrence (LOU), Wesley Cora (NY)
My pick: Hughes
Analysis: Even the computer couldn't foul this one up; this was too easy. Except for switching Stokes and Lawrence, these were the top 5 guys in saves in order. Looking at peripheral numbers (see my NL analysis), Cora is the only person who is close to Hughes. Cora has a slight edge in ERA (2.00 to 2.07- the other 3 guys are over 3), but Hughes has a lower WHIP, opponents' batting average, and an OPP SLG of .257, which is ridiculous for any pitcher. So, using both the pure save numbers and a more sabremetric approach, Hughes should win either way.
Most Valuable Player
1. Osvaldo Johnson, Arizona (17)
2. Ignacio Diaz, Norfolk (5)
3. Reid Colbert, Cincinnati (4)
Leo Miller, Houston (4)
5. Eddie Greer, Arizona (2)
My pick: Johnson.
Analysis: Led the NL in runs (139), was 2nd in home runs (53), was tied for 5th in RBIs (128), was 9th in average (.316), and stole 28 bases. He walks almost as much as he strikes out and helped lead a disappointing team from season 1 to a division title. Most GMs agreed, as Johnson won with 17 votes; the next closest was Diaz with 5
Javier Henriquez, Fargo (20)
Jim Arnold, Fargo (5)
Matty Eusebio, Houston (4)
Kane Grahe, Arizona (2)
Bert Price, Fargo (1)
My pick: Henriquez
Analysis: Must be nice to be a Fargo fan right now, huh? When you have a pitcher who goes 24-5 for your team with a 2.53 ERA and can't come close to beating out his own teammate for the Cy Young Award, life is good. Arnold's season was great; Henriquez's was special. He went 22-6(how did he lose 6 times?) with a 1.79 ERA and 265 strikeouts, so Arnold's two extra wins cost Henriquez the Triple Crown. He had a 0.95 WHIP and the league hit .176 off him, both of which also led the league. And it's not like these stats are in a small sample size: his 246 1/3 inning was 2nd in the NL, only 1/3 inning behind Cincinnati's Bernard Robinson. In most seasons Arnold would easily win the Cy Young, but Henriquez is truly deserving.
Rookie of the Year
1. Sean Simpson, Chicago (12)
2. Alex Sanchez, Atlanta (11)
3. Stan O'Brien, Philadelphia (5)
4. Ray Cepicky, New Orleans (2)
William Farr, Chicago (2)
My pick: Simpson
Analysis: This was probably the toughest one in both leagues to pick. Besides the fact that it's tough to compare pitchers to hitters, Simpson (.322-31-111) and Sanchez (17-10, 3.27) were both huge pieces in taking their teams from also-rans in season 1 to the playoffs this season. So why did I go with Simpson over Sanchez? I think Simpson was just so far and beyond the production of his teammates. Sanchez led the team in wins, strikeouts, and innings, but others on his team were close in categories like ERA and WHIP. Simpson drove in 20 more runs than any of his teammates, some of whom played in 20-25 more games. I felt Simpson was just so important in what his team did this season; not that Sanchez wasn't, but I felt Simpson was more so. You could argue this one back and forth with legitimate arguments for both players.
Fireman of the Year
Candidates: Dude Huskey (MEM), Tex Howell (HOU), Bert Price (FAR), Vic Trevino (ARI), Trevor Watson (ATL).
My pick: Price
Again, I disagree with the SIM on the fireman winner. I wrote in this space last season that I felt Huskey should have won last season over my own closer, Justin Beverlin. Huskey wins due to his gaudy save totals (52 to Price's 38), but if you look at other stats, I'd think you'd have to take Price. Which stats, you ask? How about blown saves (3 to Huskey's 7), WHIP (.89 to Huskey's 1.21), ERA (2.22 to Huskey's 3.81), opponent's average (.184 to Huskey's .278), and innings (81 to Huskey's 54 1/3)? So, in other words, Price gave up 4 fewer hits than Huskey in 26 2/3 more innings. Price was 7-6; Huskey was 0-5. Price finished 5th in the Cy Young voting; Huskey wasn't even nominated. Now I understand that saves are an important part of a closer's job, but it's not the whole story. If I had a vote, I'd ask myself the following question: if I had a one run lead in the bottom of the 9th in game 7 of a postseason series and I needed 3 outs to advance (or win the whole thing) and I could put either of these guys out on the mound for the last 3 outs, who would I take? If I had these stats in front of me, I'd run Price out there without a second thought.
Game 1: Cash Field was sold out for game 1 of this series. Fargo's fans became accustomed to watching great pitching performances, and they were treated to Philip Allensworth and Javier Henriquez do just that. Allensworth gave up a mere 2 hits in 7 innings, while Henriquez yielded only 4 in 8 innings; neither starter allowed a run. The scoring held off until the 10th, when Torey Diaz hit a 2 out, 2 run pinch-hit home run off of Fargo closer Bert Price. Larry Stokes closed the door on Fargo in the bottom of the inning, and Monterrey stole game one with a 2-0 victory. Monterrey leads 1-0
Game 2: To borrow the old Herman's Hermits line, "Second verse, same as the first". Two great pitchers shutting the offenses down, Monterrey gets a 2-run shot to provide the offense, Fargo gets nothing, Monterrey wins 2-0. Max Jacquez replaces Allensworth as the master over the Fargo offense, Jim Arnold replaces Henriquez as the hard-luck loser, and Sammy Castro replaces Diaz as the hitting hero. Diaz was aboard for the home run this time. The Sultans win 2 at Fargo. Monterrey leads 2-0
Game 3: As the series shifted to Monterrey, Dirtbag fans were wondering if their team could score a run, never mind win a game. All of Fargo was pleased to watch their team do both. After going 19 scoreless innings in Fargo, the Dirtbags led off the game with a Greg Burkhart double and an Ed Mullin single to score before starter R.J. Toca recorded an out. An Andy Maddox error and a sacrifice fly by Cody Lincoln gave Monterrey 2 runs in the bottom of the inning. Things went from bad to worse for the Dirtbags in the bottom of the 3rd inning when starter Sammy Pierce dislocated his shoulder after a routine groundout to short. But the game turned again in the 4th when DH William Bolling hit a 2-run shot off Toca to give the Dirtbags a 3-2 lead that they would not relinquish. Tyler Wilson was great out of the Fargo bullpen and Bert Price nailed down the victory with a scoreless 9th. The Dirtbags were on the board with a 3-2 win. Monterrey leads 2-1
Game 4: So now that we had established that Fargo could indeed score a run, the next question was if the home team could win a game. Again, the question was answered in the affirmative. Monterrey got a 2-run Haywood McDonald HR in the 2nd off of Henriquez, a Benito Tavarez single to score Torey Diaz (there's that man again!) in the 7th, and a Sammy Castro 2- run homer off reliever Christopher Siddall for 5 runs. Kurt Christenson's solo home run in the 4th wasn't nearly enough, as that was the only mistake starter Albert Gonzalez made in this pivotal game. He gave up 4 hits, walked nobody, and stuck out 10 on his way to a complete game 5-1 victory. Monterrey leads 3-1
Game 5: Things couldn't have looked better for the Sultans. They were at home, had 3 shots to win the title, and had game 1 hero Philip Allensworth on the mound to try and close it out. Things don't always work out according to plan. Fargo again struck in the top of the 1st, this time with a leadoff home run by Greg Burkhart. The teams traded runs, so Fargo led 2-1 when Stan Pederson stepped to the plate. A couple of pitches in to the at-bat, Allensworth went down, and the trainers rushed the field. Allensworth was later diagnosed with a torn groin (ouch!). Dennys Fox finished the at-bat and got Pederson to ground out. Torey Diaz (again!) stepped up in the 4th and tied the game with a solo homer. The key was the 6th inning, when Fargo scratched for 2 runs against Fox; Burkhart manufactured a run by walking and stealing second (after which Kurt Christenson drove him in) and a Peterson fielder's choice with runners on 2nd and 3rd with 1 out. Siddall and Price again shut the door for a 4-2 Fargo victory. Monterrey leads 3-2
Game 6: After games 1 and 2, we should have expected another pitcher's duel. We ended up with a wild affair, starting in the 1st inning. It started with a simple ground ball. With a man on second and 2 outs, Fargo 2B Greg Burkhart booted a Cody Lincoln ball for 1st and 3rd. The next batter was Felipe Ortiz and he also grounded one to Burkhart; Burkhart again couldn't make the play. The good news for Fargo was the next ball was not hit to Burkhart. The bad news was it was hit over the fence; Haywood McDonald hit a 3-run home run. It was only the first, but a team that couldn't score in the first two games at home now needed four runs! In the bottom of the 3rd they got all four with one swing of the bat. With the bases loaded and 2 outs, Kurt Christenson hit a ball which reportedly got picked up on radar by Hector International Airport to tie the game at 4. But Monterrey wasn't finished. A walk and 4 straight singles in the 7th scored 2 runs and would have scored 3 had Benito Tavarez not been thrown out trying to score. A fielder's choice plated another run, and the Sultans tacked on another run in the 8th when Hideki Tanaka singled home Torey Diaz. That was too much to overcome, and when Howard Murray threw out Andy Maddox on a slow ground ball to end the game, reliever Ed Adkins found himself mobbed on the mound. The celebration was in full swing after an 8-4 victory to wrap up the series. Torey Diaz was named World Series MVP and in his postgame interview stated that he is declaring for free-agency. A classic move from the book How to Play Amazing Baseball and Still Tick Your Own Fans Off by Alex Rodriguez.
Yet another wonderful season wraps up with a well-played, exciting World Series. Congratulations to ACEROTHSTEIN and the World Series champion Monterrey Sultans and to kjmulli and the NL champion Fargo Dirtbags. Hope to see everyone back for Season 3.
Sunday, July 13, 2008
#2 Monterrey Sultans vs. #1 Fargo Thundering Herd
All-time series: These two teams have never played.
Preview: This series would seem to raise the question of pitching vs. offense. But Monterrey has pitching of its own. Sure, Philip Allensworth and R.J. Toca don't quite match up with Javier Henriquez and Jim Arnold, but they both proved in the Milwaukee series that they are capable of limiting a good offense. So maybe the question is if Fargo can manage enough runs to supplement their pitching; so far it has done so. Fargo has home field advantage and the advantage of rest.
Prediction: It's going to be a good series. I think Monterrey is a little more balanced than Fargo and can scratch a few runs off of the great Fargo starters. I picked them to start the season, and I'm not getting off the bandwagon. Monterrey in 6.
Monterrey at a glance:
Team: Monterrey Sultans
Payroll: $92.4 million
Stadium: Estadio Monterrey
Dimensions (LF-LCF-CF-RCF-RF): 325-363-400-363-325
Season 1: 105-57 (Won AL South, lost in World Series)
Season 2: 108-54 (Won AL South)
Season 2 Postseason:
Round 1: BYE
Round 2: Def. Louisville 3-1
Round 3: Def. Milwaukee 4-3
Monterrey has taken a much different road to get to this point than Fargo has. Far from sweeping through the playoffs, they won a four-game set with a tough Louisville team and then survived an epic 7-game battle with the talented Milwaukee squad. Let's relive what probably has been the best playoff series in this league's history.
Game 1: Milwaukee jumped all over Monterrey starter Max Jacquez right from the beginning. Luis Martinez led off the game in the bottom of the first with a solo homerun, and Homer Treadway followed with a 2-run shot. Jacquez was done in the third, as Milwaukee batted around in that inning and tacked on 5 more. Five different Manic Maulers hit home runs. That was far more than Vin Solano needed, as he gave up 1 run in 8 strong innings of work. Milwaukee cruised to a 12-2 victory.
Game 2: As in game one, the pace was set in the first inning. But this time it was Monterrey establishing the lead. Felipe Ortiz hit a 3-run homer in the top of the first to add to a Haywood McDonald RBI single for a 4-0 lead. Milwaukee cut that lead in half on a Bert Stevenson 2-run bomb in the bottom of the inning, but the story after that point was the starting pitching. Woody Hiller and R.J. Toca both settled down after that, with Hiller keeping his team in the ballgame but Toca coming up with the win for the Sultans. The final score was 5-3 and the series was tied at 1 as they moved to Monterrey.
Game 3: We go south of the border for games 3, 4, and 5. Game 3 saw a solid, if unspectacular, pitching performance by Sultans starter Dennys Fox, who held the Manic Maulers to 6 hits and 2 runs over 6 2/3 innings. The offense gave him just enough offense to win. Torey Diaz (who will be heard from again in this series), hit a solo home run and scored another run in a 4-2 Sultans victory.
Game 4: Just when it seemed Monterrey was in the driver's seat for this series, this wild game evens things up. In a 1-1 game in the 6th, Cody Lincoln hit a solo home run to put the Sultans up 2-1. That score held until the 9th, when Philip Allensworth, going for the complete game, gave up a 2-out home run to Homer Treadway. Allensworth, amazingly, pitched the 10th; neither team scored until the 12th. In the 12th, an error by Marcus Reboulet in right field opened the door for Andre Eckenstahler to step to the plate with 2 on and nobody out; he promptly hit a 3-run home run to left center field. Monterrey scratched out a run in the bottom of the inning off Quinton Hughes (a feat in itself), but still lost 5-3. The key to the game was actually Milwaukee's bullpen: Julio Navarro, Glen Kelly, and Nerio Branson pitched 6 consecutive scoreless innings (from the 6th to the 11th) to give the offense time to win the game. So after 4 games we had a 2-2 tie.
Game 5: Another great pitching performance by Vin Solano put Milwaukee on the precipice of the World Series. Solano went 6 innings, giving up only 2 hits and no runs. Navarro came in for the last 3 innings to shut the door completely on Monterrey. Solo home runs by Luis Martinez, Burt Stevenson, and Homer Treadway (back-to-back-to-back in the 4th) and by Bailey Bigbie (in the 8th) helped fuel a 5-0 victory. Milwaukee only needed one win at home to advance.
Game 6: In a potentially clinching game, Milwaukee starter Woody Hiller just didn't have it. Howard Murray led off with a solo homer and that set the tone for the game. Monterrey added 2 in the 2nd and 2 in the 3rd to leap out to a 5-0 lead. Milwaukee got 2-run shots from Luis Martinez and Andre Eckenstahler to cut the lead to 1, but Hiller couldn't stop the bleeding; Moose Coleman tagged him for a 2-run HR to make it 7-4. The difference was Max Jacquez; after getting bombed in game 1 and giving up the 4 runs, he settled down and only gave up 1 run the rest of the way. Howard Murray, Marcus Reboulet, and Moose Coleman, the 1-2-3 hitters in the Monterrey lineup, drove in 8 runs and scored 6 times in an 11-5 laugher.
Game 7: Game 7s are never a laughing matter. This one will go down in the annals of baseball history as one of the greatest games ever. Vic Chavez drew the pitching assignment for Milwaukee and he was opposed by R.J. Toca. Milwaukee struck first in 3rd with back-to-back RBI singles from Bob Malone and Luis Martinez. Monterrey tied the game in the top of the 4th on an RBI groundout by Cody Lincoln and an error by Bob Malone, allowing Moose Coleman to score. Ray Buchanan's RBI groundout in the bottom of the 4th gave Milwaukee the lead back at 3-2. Lincoln led off the top of the 6th with a solo homer to tie the game, but Andre Eckenstahler struck again in the bottom of the inning with his own solo home run to reclaim the lead at 4-3. And then, in the 8th, Torey Diaz stepped up with 1 on and 1 out against reliever Navarro, who had been brilliant in the series. Diaz hit the ball to dead center field, and it left the park! With one swing of the bat, the game and the series had changed. Milwaukee could not manage to score against relievers Ed Adkins or Larry Stokes, and Monterrey eked out a 5-4 victory to advance to the World Series. Diaz was named the MVP of the series. To their credit, the disappointed Milwaukee fans still applauded their team for a great season.
Saturday, July 12, 2008
Fargo at a glance:
Team: Fargo Thundering Herd
Payroll: $73.8 million
Stadium: Cash Field
Dimensions (LF-LCF-CF-RCF-RF) : 335-368-400-363-325
Season 1: 87-75 (missed playoffs)
Season 2: 104-50 (NL North Champs)
Season 2 Postseason:
Round 1: BYE
Round 2: Def. Atlanta 3-0
Round 3: Def. Chicago 4-0
The Dirtbags have been in cruise control in the playoffs, as they have yet to lose a game. They have given up a total of 7 runs in the 7 games. Needless to say, their pitching is the main reason they've come this far. A recap of Fargo's domination in the NLCS:
Game 1: In game 1 Cy Young candidate Javier Henriquez completely shut down the Chicago offense, yielding 3 hits and no runs in 8 innings. CF Stan Peterson was the offense, hitting a solo homer in the second and a 2-run shot in the fourth to give Fargo a 3-0 win.
Game 2: Game 2 was an offensive explosion for the Dirtbags. Led by 3B Scot Hutton, who went 4 for 5, and starting pitcher Jim Arnold, who went 3 for 3 and drovfe in 2, the Dirtbags pounded out 13 hits. Arnold, Peterson, and 2B Greg Burkhart drove in two runs each. Chicago managed only solo home runs by Denny Moss and Orel MacFarlane, and Fargo triumphed 8-2.
Game 3: Other than the series switching to Chicago, the story remained the same. Fargo broke a scoreless tie in the 4th, with a Stan Peterson RBI single and a Morris Curtis 2 RBI single, both with 2 outs. Henriquez, on two days rest, gave up 2 hits: a Moss RBI double and a Grady Smart RBI single in the 7th. Henriquez went 7 2/3 and Bert Price got the final 4 outs for the save in a 5-2 final.
Game 4: At this point it was just a question of when, not if, Fargo was headed for the series. The answer became obvious after the first 3 batters of the game; Stan Pederson and Greg Burkhart both led off with singles and Kurt Christenson followed with a double to score both runners. This meant even if the Cubs held the Dirtbags without a run the rest of the game, they needed to somehow get two runs off of Arnold and the Fargo bullpen. The two runs was enough for Arnold, who went 6 2/3 and gave up one run. Christopher Siddall followed and gave the ball to Price for the 9th. The Dirtbags won 4-1 and had the sweep. Henriquez, Arnold, and Christenson were named NLCS co-MVPs.
The Bigs Daily News caught up with Henriquez after the series for an exclusive interview:
TBDN: Congratulations on this win, Javier. How does it feel?
JH: It feels great. We were very disappointed to miss the playoffs last season, so making it all the way to the World Series is great.
TBDN: I'm sure it's your dream to be in the World Series, but are you just a little disappointed that your opponent will be Monterrey instead of Milwaukee, the team that traded you?
JH: Not at all. Our goal is to win the World Series, no matter who we play. I'm just excited to be able to pitch for the title. Ever since I grew up in San Francisco de Macoris, I wanted to play in the major leagues and play for the World Series.
TBDN: What do you think of the series coming up against Monterrey? Any thoughts on the Sultans?
JH: Well, they were in the series last season too, so they're a good team. They've got some good hitters. But I'm still feeling confident. We have a good team, too, and I like our chances. I'm looking forward to the challenge.
TBDN: You're a candidate for the Cy Young Award, as our two of your teammates (Jim Arnold and Bert Price). Do you guys have any discussion about it and about who should win?
JH: No, not at all. We're focused on Monterrey right now. If I win, great. If Jim or Bert wins, that's great too. I'd rather win the World Series than the Cy Young Award.
TBDN: Any predictions for the series?
JH: Nope. I'll leave that to you guys.
TBDN: Javier, thanks for your time and good luck in the series.
JH: No problem.
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
American League Championship Series
#2 Monterrey Sultans vs. #1 Milwaukee Manic Maulers
Season series: 5-5
All-time series: 11-9 Milwaukee
Preview: The top two teams, certainly in the AL and possibly in all of baseball, square off for the right to go to the World Series. This series has been in the making for a full season, as it looked like this would be the ALCS for season 1 before Nashville bounced the top-seeded Maulers. Both teams have so much talent in all phases of the game. Both lineups are sound, both rotations are good, and both bullpens are solid.
Prediction: I felt the two teams were pretty even, so I was going to use the season series to help me decide. I'll go with the team I picked in the preseason to win it all in what should be an epic series. Monterrey in 7.
National League Championship Series
#6 Chicago Cubs vs. #1 Fargo Dirtbags
Season series: Fargo 7-3
All-time series: Fargo 14-6
Preview: I knew from day 1 of the season that the NL North would be strong. I wouldn't have predicted that two NL North teams would be in the NLCS, but here we are. The Cubs, a bit of an upstart team yet a quality outfit nonetheless against the Dirtbags, the team that established themselves as the best NL team early on in the season. The Cubs are going to have to hope that the old saying "good pitching stops good hitting" doesn't apply in this series, as the key matchup will be Sean Simpson and the rest of the Cub offense against Javier Henriquez, Jim Arnold, Sammy Pierce, and company on the Fargo pitching staff.
Prediction: To paraphrase a saying from a different sport, offense sells tickets but pitching wins championships. Fargo in 5.
Saturday, July 5, 2008
# 5 Nashville Sounds vs. #1 Milwaukee Manic Maulers
Season series: 5-5
All-time series: 11-9 Milwaukee
Preview: This series will showcase the two frontrunners in the AL MVP race, Milwaukee 1B Burt Stevenson and Nashville 2B Gregg Black. Both are amazing talents, but the difference in offense is Milwaukee's depth- Black may be the league's only 40-40 man, but Nashville doesn't have anyone else who drove in 100- Milwaukee has two (Andre Eckenstahler and Luis Martinez, both of whom also hit .300). The Manic Maulers were the only team this season to score 100 runs. On the mound, Milwaukee also seems to have an advantage with Cy Young candidate Vin Solano and Woody Hiller, who combined for a 45-9 record. Quinton Hughes could be the best closer in both leagues. Nashville's staff pitched well enough to win in round one, but has been inconsistent during the regular season. Do they continue, or revert back to the form they showed for the first 162 games?
Prediction: With so many advantages in the lineup and in starting pitching, it's hard to see Nashville coming out of this series a winner. They're a quality team and will fight up until the last out, but I'm going to have to pick against them here; I think Milwaukee is just too much. Milwaukee in 4.
# 3 Louisville Legends vs. #2 Monterrey Sultans
Season Series: 6-4 Louisville
All-time Series: 10-10
Preview: Should be a good series, as these have been two of the premier AL franchises from the beginning of season 1. Both teams have deep lineups, although Monterrey may be a touch better as they have a bit more speed in their lineup and could still score runs if there's a power outage. Monterrey's advantage should be on the mound, as all 5 starters posted ERAs less than 4. Max Jacquez won 20 games and Philip Allensworth won 19. Louisville only had 2 starters with an ERA under 4: Albert Herzog, who was only 14-7 but had a great 2.92 ERA and Tom Beltran, who was 11-11 with a 3.72. Louisville has a solid rotation, but I like Monterrey's better. Both teams have had solid bullpens this season.
Prediction: Louisville advanced over Toledo due in large part to their pitching. I think pitching is the reason they'll bow out to the Sultans, although they most certainly should make it interesting and could pull the mild upset. Monterrey in 5.
#4 Atlanta Bandits vs. #1 Fargo Dirtbags
Season series: 7-3 Fargo
All-time series: 11-9 Fargo
Preview: The Bandits pulled what most would consider an upset in round 1 and dethroned the defending champion Sacrifices. Their reward is the team that I would consider the worst matchup for them, and not simply because Fargo led the NL in wins. The reason is that Atlanta and Fargo are similar teams, in that they don't score a lot of runs but can shut down offenses, and Fargo does both better. Fargo's offense is average/slightly below average, but it's deeper than the Atlanta lineup. And while Alex Sanchez, Cory Schneider, and Larry Springer are good starting pitchers and completely shut down Salem in the first round, they're no match for Javier Henriquez, Jim Arnold, and Sammy Pierce. Fargo also has more options in the bullpen.
Prediction: Atlanta's been on a great run and deserves their appearance in the second round. But it goes no further. Fargo in 3.
#6 Chicago Cubs vs. #2 Arizona Diamondbacks
Season Series: 7-3 Cubs
All-time Series: 11-9 Diamondbacks
Preview: This is another matchup of two teams built very similarly. Basically, everyone in both lineups can hit; Arizona may have a little more firepower with Oswaldo Johnson, Eddie Greer, and Willis Petrov. Sean Simpson had a great season for Chicago and will soon be mentioned in the same company as Johnson. Arizona also has more speed on the basepaths, led by Justin Hernandez's 99 steals. Arizona would seem to have the advantage on the mound as well with Kane Grahe and Brandon Small combining for 37 victories, but Miguel Benitez and Doc Buhner pitched back-to-back gems against Houston in Round 1, so I'd say it's about even.
Prediction: This series should definitely see more runs than Fargo/Atlanta. Not really sure why, but I'm thinking Chicago in 5. One more prediction: now that I've picked his team and all my predictions are wrong, the commish will try to run me out of the league (please don't!).
Tuesday, July 1, 2008
#4 Anaheim Chiles (86-76, AL West champs) vs. #5 Nashville Sounds (88-74, AL South Wild Card)
Season series: 5-5
All-time series: Nashville 11-9
Preview: As good as these teams are offensively, I think it will come down to whichever team pitches better. Nashville has a deep lineup in terms of power hitters and Anaheim has speed in front of big-time slugger Alex Vazquez. Both teams have question marks in the pitching department. Nashville's starting staff is very shaky- even veteran ace Ham Bruske checked in at 10-11 on a good team. Anaheim's starting pitching behind Ajax Drabek and Roland Casey is probably better; their question mark is at the end of the game, as Alex Brantley had a horrible year.
Prediction: When in doubt, pick the team with starting pitching. Anaheim in 5.
#3 Louisville Legends (94-68, AL East champs) vs. #6 Toledo Mud Hens (85-77, AL North wild card)
Season series: 7-3 Louisville
All-time series: 15-5 Louisville
Preview: As good as Ernest Montgomery and the Legends are offensively, the rebuilt Mud Hens are probably better at the plate. Toledo had 5 guys with over 95 RBIs this season on their way to the second most runs in the AL. So why does Louisville dominate this series? Well, in part because Toledo (then Pawtucket) was putrid last season, but also because the Louisville pitching staff seems to find a way to limit Toledo's offense: in 6 of the 7 Toledo losses they scored less than 5 runs.
Prediction: I know this goes against my reasoning for picking the Anaheim/Nashville series, but my gut says A. Not all the top seeds will win and B. Toledo's offense is going to break through against the Legends pitching staff. Toledo in 4.
#4 Atlanta Bandits (84-78, NL East champs) vs. #5 Salem Sacrifices (93-69, NL West wild card)
Season series: 6-4 Salem
All-time series: 13-7 Salem
Preview: Atlanta was a team that seemed to be a year or two away and wound up winning the division. Even the most avid Bandits fans are probably scratching their heads as to how exactly that happened, as they scored 44 fewer runs than they allowed. But they won the games down the stretch that they had to win. Their reward is the defending World Series champs in the first round, who have both more offensive weapons and the dynamic duo of Salmon and Dunwoody. Atlanta has a good, if less heralded, rotation with Alex Sanchez, Cory Schneider, and Larry Springer; all had very good years.
Prediction: Salem just has too much for the upstart Bandits. I think Atlanta's starting pitching is good enough to take a game, but I don't see them scoring enough runs to end the reign of the champs. Salem in 4.
#3 Houston Riverdogs (92-70, NL South champs) vs. #6 Chicago Cubs (88-74, NL North wild card)
Season series: 6-4 Houston
All-time series: 14-6 Houston
Preview: Quick, what's the only NL team to win back-to-back division titles in The Bigs? That's right, ladies and gentlemen, Houston. They survived both a name change and ownership change to land in the playoffs again. Chicago, like Toledo, was a terrible team in season 1 but rose from the ashes to make the playoffs. This will probably be billed as a battle between Houston's Brian Satou and Chicago's Sean Simpson, but that's mostly to sell seats and TV ads. To figure out who's going to win this, we're going to have to dig deeper. Satou and Miller would seem to give the Riverdogs an advantage on offense, but Chicago scored more runs due to their depth in the lineup, aided by mid-season pickups Denny Moss and DeWayne Castillo. If, however, we see pitching duels, the advantage would probably favor Houston, as they can throw Matty Eusebio and J.R. Guerrero at least 3 of the 5 games and have Tex Howell finish.
Prediction: If Stephen Tucker was healthy I'd probably take the Cubs. As it stands, Houston could have the starting pitching advantage in every game, and that's tough to overcome. Chicago's offense is good, but not that good. Houston in 4.
Topping the list is Gregg Black, who also won the award in Season 1. Right there challenging Black for the award is Burt Stevenson! Who will the owners decide between the two? The next three are very good in their own right, but really pale in comparison to these two.
Vin Solano is the odds on favorite with a 23-2 record, a WHIP of 0.97 and and ERA of 2.09. Although there are 4 other good candidates, Vin pitched the best IMHO.
Kenneth Graves heads a great list after being called up at the end of last season he stayed with the club for season 2 and posted an impressive 18-5 record.
James Dixon also had impressive numbers and one of the reasons the Chiles are in the playoffs. He will one day probably secure the SS position but spent the season as a roving utility man and RF.
Jared McMahon a shut down closer with a 2-4 record and 41 saves in 46 opportunities.
Josh Gant had a good season despite having a manager that couldn't decide where to let him pitch. Sporting a 14-5 record and 3 saves in 10 opportunities with 11 starts.
Al Carrasco is a prototypical Gambler, power and can play multiple positions mostly LF and RF.
Quinton Hughes chimes in with a loss and 48 saves in 54 opportunities.
Jared McMahon posted a 2-4 record and 41 saves in 46 tries.
Larry Stokes had one loss and 39 saves in 43 tries. Was not utilized as just a 9th inning man makes his stats just as impressive.
Wesley Cora posted a 5-6 record with 38 saves in 40 tries. Has tendency to blow extra inning games.
Osvaldo Johnsonwas last years MVP just like Black. However didn't play as many games as last season but put up almost he same numbers if not a little better in some categories and is the best maybe IMHO.
Did the pitching/defense in the NL improve so much that the next 3 on the list, though not cream puffs, actually took a step back in their dish ability. Averages were up, but production was down. Which brings me to the last one on the list whose numbers really improved but is on the same team as Osvaldo, Eddie Greer. Playing in his shadow, or maybe the other way around, probably helps each other be better.
Javier Henriquez starts this bunch off with a 22-6 and 3 CGs. Pretty impressive for a 22 year old.
Jim Arnold is a great complement to have on the same team with a 23-5 record but no CGs. Maybe KJ will tell ya which one to vote for.
Matty Eusebio with a 16-5 record and 4 CGs. Does a pitcher with the better offense win the award? That is what this boils down to with these 3.
Alex Sanchez leads the list with a record of 17-10 in 35 starts with very impressive numbers and at the tender age of 24.
Sean Simpson had a great year at the dish, but IMHO is not really suited for a full time 2B and will probably be relegated to the OF in future years. He will soon compete for that coveted MVP award.
Dude Huskey with 0-5 record and 51 saves in 58 tries. Pretty impressive for a non-playoff team.
Tex Howell with a 1-0 record and 35 saves in 36 tries in 45 games. Very
impressive numbers for an 11 duration guy.
Vic Trevino with a 0-3 record with 39 saves in 44 chances.
Trevor Watson with a 5-3 record and 37 saves in 41 chances and 57 appearances.
Bert Price with a 7-6 record with 38 saves in 41 tries in 59 games.