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September 17, 2011 – Bandits Win Midwest League Championship

The Quad Cities River Bandits had amassed a 6-0 playoff record to this point in the 2011 season. They needed one more win against the Lansing Lugnuts to secure their first Midwest League championship since 1990.

A crowd of 2,425 was on hand, which would have been fairly small by regular season standards. However, the playoffs in the minor leagues are a tougher sell. This was the second highest attended game of any in the MWL playoffs. The atmosphere was one of the best I’ve seen at Modern Woodmen Park. The fans were loud and into the game and wanted to see them win a championship. The fans were also encouraged to wear black, to match the jerseys the Bandits would be wearing, and most people did.

Trevor Rosenthal was the starting pitcher for the Bandits. He was coming off a complete game shutout in the previous round. That scoreless streak ended quickly though as Rosenthal allowed a double to Michael Crouse, and the Lugnuts got him around on a sacrifice bunt and a sacrifice fly in the top of the first inning.

The Bandits immediately came back with two runs of their own in the bottom of the first inning. Kolten Wong led off with a single. Oscar Taveras and Cody Stanley also singled. Intermixed were some productive outs that moved up the runners.

They used the same formula in the second inning. This time Colin Walsh singled before being advanced by productive outs. Then Wong drove him in with a single. The Bandits now led 3-1. In the bottom of the 6th, Geoffrey Klein hit a solo home run to put the Bandits up 4-1.

Rosenthal settled in and did now allow another run until the top of the 7th. He exited the game after allowing two hits to start the seventh inning. Those runners would come around to score. Rosenthal’s final line was: 6IP, 5H, 3R, 3ER, 2BB, 7K. The Bandits’ lead was cut to 4-3.

In the bottom of the 7th inning, Wong led off with a walk. He was sacrificed to second by Ronny Gil. Then, Oscar Taveras was intentionally walked. Jonathan Rodirguez drove in Wong and Taveras with a double. The Bandits now led 6-3 and the championship was six tantalizing outs away.

The score would stay 6-3 until the top of the 9th inning. Dean Kiekhefer was once again brought in to close out the game as he had done several times already in the playoffs. Things got tense in the top of the 9th. He walked two batters early in the inning to bring the tying run to the plate with one out. He got Crouse to flyout for the second out. Jake Marisnick then singled to load the bases. Now the go-ahead run was at the plate. Marcus Knecht made everyone’s heart stop beating for a moment when he lifted a fly ball to left, but it ended up being a fairly routine fly ball for Colin Walsh to end the game.

Quad City Times – Champion Bandits never lost sight of goal

Quad City Times – Bandits Win Midwest League Championship

My Photos:

Unsung Hero Of The Season: Manager Johnny Rodriguez

The job done by Bandits’ manager Johnny Rodriguez may have been underappreciated. The more I followed the team, the more it was clear he had the trust of all his players and they wanted to win for him. The featured image at the top of this post says it all.

It’s probably easy to overlook minor league managers. They don’t have to deal with the same level of media scrutiny and also don’t have the same kind of pressure to win as an MLB manager. However, it is arguable that the job is tougher in a number of ways for a minor league manager, especially at the lower levels like this.

First, they don’t have a whole team of coaches to help them. They typically have a pitching coach, hitting coach and trainers. That’s about it. Other specialist coaches will show up to work with players from the parent club sometimes. The bulk of the coaching though is on the manager.

Second, minor league managers have very young players to coach. There are players as young as 18 or 19 that are not only working to move up the ranks of the minor leagues but in many cases they are also adjusting to living on their own for the first time. If they are from a foreign country, they may have language challenges and all the other cultural challenges that come with that. Rodriguez did a great job with Oscar Taveras who had all of these challenges facing him.

Finally, there are all the “normal” challenges of being a minor league manager. They have to ride the bus around the country with their players to all of these games. They have to coach third base! They have to fill out the lineup and know when to make pitching changes. Looking through these box scores made me appreciate how good Rodriguez was at lineup and pitching changes.

Rodriguez was recognized by the Cardinals, too, when he moved up to manage the Palm Beach Cardinals the following season. He’s still in the Cardinals’ organization. He managed the State College Spikes of the New York-Penn League this season.

Final Thoughts On the River Bandits’ 2011 Season

This was the most fun I had to that point following the River Bandits. You just had a feeling they would find a way to win every game, especially the last month or so of the season and playoffs when they really got on a roll. We got to see them play in Busch Stadium in May. My wife and son got to go on the field during the Home Run Derby, and we got to host the MWL All-Star Game. We also won a suite for a game, which was the first time I got to see a game from a suite in this ballpark. Then of course there was the memorable playoff run. In the following years we’d get to see so many players from this team make it to the major leagues and become regular MLB players, if not stars. Carlos Martinez, Trevor Rosenthal, Kevin Siegrist, Kolten Wong, Oscar Taveras, and Seth Maness. I’ve even enjoyed seeing some of the role players make it to the majors like Greg Garcia, Colin Walsh, Cody Stanley, and Dean Kiekhefer. Oscar Taveras’ tragic death was heartbreaking, and I wrote about there in this post.

Here are some more photos of the celebration from the Quad City Times:

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Lumberkings Advance To Midwest League Finals With 1-0 Win In 11 Innings

The Clinton Lumberkings and Cedar Rapids Kernels met in game three of their Midwest League Division Championship Series with a chance to move to the Midwest League Finals on the line. The Kernels won game one 9-3. It was an uncharacteristic lopsided loss for the Lumberkings, who allowed the fewest runs in the Midwest League this season. The Lumberkings bounced back and won game 2 by a score of 6-1. Game three ended up being a low-scoring battle, which is more like what I had expected from these two teams.

Innings 1 Through 7

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Nick Neidert

Nineteen-year-old Nick Neidert got the start for the Lumberkings. He was coming off of a win over the Peoria Chiefs where he threw 7 shutout innings in the Lumberkings’ first playoff game. Recent Harvard graduate Sean Poppen got the ball for the Kernels. Poppen had earned the win over the Lumberkings on the last day of the regular season by throwing 3 shutout innings in relief.

Both pitchers were superb. Poppen grinded through five scoreless innings. He only had 3 strikeouts but he pitched around 3 hits and 1 error. He was replaced after 87 pitches. Neidert was a bit more efficient, throwing seven shutout innings on 89 pitches. Neidert had 9 strikeouts and no walks and only allowed 3 hits.

Neidert got some big help from shortstop Rayder Ascanio. In the fifth inning, Travis 
Blankenhorn led off with a double. He advanced to third on a wild pitch. The infield was brought in for a play at the plate. J.J. Fernandez hit a hard grounder in the hole between second and third base. Ascanio made a diving catch, jumped up and looked the runner back to third before throwing out Fernandez at first. The infield stayed in for the next batter. Nelson Molina then hit a line drive to Ascanio’s left, and he made a running catch for the second out. Neidert got Jaylin Davis to strike out looking to end the inning.

The Lumberkings threatened to score in the bottom of the seventh. James Alfonso drew a walk with one out. Then Ricky Eusebio singled. Ascanio grounded out to the second baseman for the second out, but the runners advanced to second and third. Michael Cederoth then struck out Chris Mariscal to end the inning. Neither team could get a hit with a runner in scoring position.

Had I Seen This Game Before?

It was around this time that I started having déjà vu. The game started to remind me of last year’s Midwest League playoff series between the Kernels and the Quad Cities River Bandits. In 2015, the River Bandits had the best record in the Midwest League. This season, it was the Lumberkings that had the best record. The Kernels eliminated the River Bandits in a very similar game to this one. That game (which I wrote about here) went 11 innings. The score was tied 1-1 all the way until the 11th, when the Kernels broke through on some extremely well-placed ground balls and fielding miscues and by the River Bandits. All game, both teams got outstanding pitching and struggled to get a hit with runners in scoring position. The Kernels ultimately won that game 3-1 and ended up going to the finals before being eliminated. It felt like we could be heading towards another improbable Kernels win.

The 9th Inning and Extras

The Kernels mounted a scoring threat in the top of the 9th inning. Casey Scoggins led off with a single. Luis Arraez walked between flyouts by Christian Ibarra and Zander Weil. With two outs and two on, Matt Walker replaced Joey Strain on the mound for the Lumberkings. Walker threw a wild pitch and the runners advanced to second and third. Walker then intentionally walked Blankenhorn to load the bases. Walker finally got Fernandez to fly out and strand the bases loaded.

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Alex Jackson

Alex Jackson led off the bottom of the 9th with a double for the Lumberkings. Rafael Fernandez then pinch hit for Ibarra. Fernandez laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt. The winning run was now on third base with 1 out. The Kernels brought in the infield. Alfonso grounded out to the second baseman for the second out. Ascanio popped out to the shortstop to end the threat. The game moved into extra innings.

In the top of the 10th, Ascanio made another outstanding play. Nelson Molina hit a bloop into shallow left field. Ascanio sprinted back and made a diving catch to rob Molina of a leadoff single. Walker did allow 1 walk in the inning but that was all.

The Lumberkings were retired in order in the bottom of the 10th. In the top of the 11th, Walker got two outs before allowing a walk. With Blankenhorn coming up, manager Mitch Canham opted to relieve Walker with Ronald Dominguez. Dominguez threw one pitch and got Blankenhorn to flyout to center field.

In the bottom of the 11th, the Lumberkings finally broke through. Logan Taylor led off with a single. Alex Jackson then crushed a line drive right at the center fielder for the first out. Rafael Fernandez then hit a well-placed ground ball through the left side for a single. The winning run was at second base with 1 out. Alfonso fouled out for the second out. It was now Eusebio’s turn. He fell behind in the count 1-2 before ripping a ball into the left-center field gap to win the game. He was only credited with a single because I think he was mobbed by his teammates before he could touch second base. Here was the celebration moments after the game-winning hit (Ascanio is the one running with the flag):

Final Thoughts

This was a great baseball game with very few mistakes on either side. Anyone who looks down at baseball in the low minors should take a peek at the box score of this game. Some of the better prospects for both the Twins and Mariners were going head to head. At this point in the season, most of the players have the equivalent of a full season of pro baseball experience, too.

Both managers did a great job. Jake Mauer and Canham both changed pitchers at the right times. Field positioning also played a big role in this game with shifts coming into play more than once. Bunting and knowing when to send runners were also critical at different times. The difference in the game was that one team finally got a hit with a runner in scoring position. On the game, the Kernels were 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position, and the Lumberkings were 1 for 9. There were 343 pitches thrown in this game. The one pitch that Dominguez threw earned him the win.

In the Eastern Division, the Great Lakes Loons and West Michigan Whitecaps are tied at 1-1 in their series. They play game 3 tonight to determine who will face the Lumberkings. Game 1 of the Midwest League Finals will be Wednesday in Clinton.

Here are some more pictures from the Kernels @ Lumberkings Game 3:

The Bandits celebrate Nick Longmire's home run to put them in the Midwest League finals. Photo from Stephanie Paluch at thebaseballlife.com.

September 11, 2011 – Bandits walk-off to Finals, Cards complete sweep of Braves

On this date in 2011, the Quad Cities River Bandits punched their ticket to the Midwest League Finals in dramatic fashion.

This game was set up by a complete game shutout by Trevor Rosenthal to win game one over the Kane County Cougars. The series was only a best two of three, so one more win and the Bandits would advance to the Midwest League finals.

Kevin David of the Cougars opened the scoring with a solo home run in the top of the second inning. The score would stay 1-0 until the top of the 5th when the Cougars rallied for three more runs. They got two walks, a triple and a sac fly to make the score 4-0.

Seth Maness relieved Bandits’ start Zach Russel to put out the fire in the top of the 5th. Maness threw 3.2 innings and only allowed one more run. Angel Franco hit a solo home run off Maness in the top of the 8th. At this point the Cougars led 5-0 and things looked bleak.

The Bandits got two runs back in the bottom of the 8th inning. Colin Walsh had the key hit – a double – which scored one run. He came around to score on a sac fly and a passed ball. Angel DeJesus held the Cougars scoreless in the top of the 9th. The Bandits trailed 5-2 heading to the bottom of the 9th.

Ronny Gil led off the bottom of the 9th with a walk. Chris Edmondson flew out. Then Jonathon Rodriguez and Cody Stanley each singled. The Bandits now trailed 5-3 with the winning run at the plate and one out. Nick Longmore was next to bat and he did this:

This home run was voted as #5 as the “Home Run of the Year” in minor league baseball on this site.

Cardinals Complete Sweep of Braves

In the Majors, the Cardinals beat the Braves to complete the series sweep.

They blew the game open in the fifth inning when they scored 5 runs. It was an ugly inning for the Braves that featured two hit batsmen and two walks. Albert Pujols drove in the first run with a single. Lance Berkman then drew a bases loaded walk. Yadier Molina capped the scoring with a 3-run triple.

The Cardinals would end up winning 6-3. The win pulled them to within 4.5 games of the Braves for the Wild Card spot.

Nick Punto celebrates his game-winning sacrifice fly. Photo: Chris Lee, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

September 9, 2011 – Cards walk off vs Braves

Coming into this game, the Braves’ record was 84-60 and the Cardinals’ record was 76-67. A win would put the Braves up by 8.5 games, and a loss would drop their lead to 6.5 games. This is one of many games you could look back on as a turning point.

The Braves scored two in the top of the first inning on hits by Michael Bourn, Brian McCann and Freddie Freeman.The Cardinals got one run back when they manufactured a run in the bottom of the first. A walk, a single and an RBI groundout by Matt Holliday made it 2-1.

Cardinals’ starter Edwin Jackson would settle down and not allow any runs the next five innings. Braves’ starter Randall Delgado would not allow any runs over the next four innings.

The score would stay 2-1 all the way until the ninth inning. In the top of the frame, the Braves scored a run on an RBI triple by Bourn off of Octavio Dotel. The Braves brought in Craig Kimbrel to close out the game in the bottom of the ninth.

Skip Schumaker led off with a single. Kimbrel then got Nick Punto to ground out and Gerald Laird to strikeout. Downt to their final out, Rafeal Furcal drew a walk. Ryan Theriot then pinch hit, and also drew a walk. The bases were loaded for Albert Pujols.

Pujols singled to drive in two runs to tie the game. There was a bobbled throw and Ryan Theriot tried scoring all the way from first on the single. He ran threw a stop sign and was thrown out at home to end the inning. The damage was done and Kimbrel’s streak of 25 consecutive saves was snapped.

Jason Motte threw a 1-2-3 inning in the top of the 10th. In the bottom of the 10th, Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman led off the inning with singles. Daniel Descalso pinch hit for David Freese and laid down a bunt. Skip Schumaker was intentionally walked, setting up Nick Punto with the bases loaded. Punto hit a sac fly to win the game, and the Cardinals celebrated by tearing off Punto’s jersey.

River Bandits Advance in Midwest League Playoffs

The night before, the Quad Cities River Bandits beat the Clinton Lumberkings 5-3 to advance to the second round of the Midwest League playoffs. They had won game one of the best-of-three series 9-5 the night before.

In game one, Oscar Taveras had three hits and three RBIs. Jonathan Rodriguez had five RBI, three of which came on a 3-run home run in the first inning.

On the mound, Boone Whiting got the win with this line: 6IP, 3R, 3ER, 2BB, 9K. Seth Maness, Aiden Lucas and Dean Kiekhefer allowed two runs over the last three innings to preserve the win.

The Bandits needs a comeback to win game two. Stefen Romero and Mike McGee each homered for the Lumberkings to give them a 3-1 lead. In the bottom of the sixth, the Bandits got a walk, two doubles and two singles to score three runs and go up 4-3. They also added an insurance run in the bottom of the 8th before Kiekhefer again closed out the game with a scoreless ninth inning.

Alex Jackson

Lumberkings Take Game One Over Chiefs

The Clinton Lumberkings rode pitching and defense to the Midwest League’s best record this year. Game one of their Midwest League playoff series against the Peoria Chiefs was more of the same.

Lumberkings starting pitcher Nick Neidert set the tone early. He retired the first six batters he faced in order, three via strikeout. The Chiefs threatened in the third inning when Leobaldo Pina and Carloes Torres singled to start the inning. Neidert got a double play and a strikeout to end the threat.

The Chiefs again got two baserunners in the fourth inning but were unable to drive any in. After that, the Lumberkings pitching was nearly perfect. The fifth through ninth innings the Chiefs only got one baserunner, a two out walk in the ninth inning.

Neidert ended up going 7 innings, and had 9 strikeouts, 1 walk and 3 hits. The Chiefs struck out 12 times in all. Magneuris Sierra went 0 for 4 with 4 strikeouts. He looked lost at the plate. Brian O’Keefe didn’t look much better. He went 0 for 3 with 1 walk.

The Lumberkings backed Neidert with great defense. Logan Taylor made two great plays back-to-back in the 5th inning. One he had to run and leap and turn and make a good through. The other was a diving catch to his left, and he had to get up and throw the batter out at first. In the top of the 6th, center fielder Ricky Eusebio robbed Eliezer Alvarez of a hit with a diving catch.

On offense, the Lumberkings peppered the Chiefs for 13 hits, all singles. The Chiefs seemed to be in jam almost every inning. Jake Woodford was able to struggle through 5 innings, allowing only 2 runs. In general Woodford and the Chiefs did a decent job of pitching out of jams or the score could have been a lot more lopsided. Four Lumberkings had at least two hits. Conor Hale led the way, going 3 for 3 with a walk.

The Lumberkings has 19 shutouts as a team during the regular season, and now one already in the playoffs. They allowed the fewest runs of any team in the Midwest League.

The task does not get any easier for the Chiefs tonight. The Chiefs have yet to announce their starting pitcher game two. The Lumberkings will send Luiz Gohara to the mound. Gohara is a 6’3″ lefty from Brazil. He had a 1.82 ERA in 69.2 IP this season for the Lumberkings.

My photos:

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Benchwarmer Baseball: Half The Game Is 90% Pitching

A dominating pitching performance is the closest thing to a guaranteed win in Benchwarmer Baseball. Here are the rewards for a dominant pitching performance:

  • A complete game by a starting pitcher subtracts 0.25 runs taken off your opponents’ final score.
  • For a game where your pitchers combine to allow zero earned runs, then a whole run is subtracted from your opponents’ final score.
  • If your starting pitcher throws a complete game shutout, two runs are subtracted from your opponents’ score.
  • A complete game no-hitter is minus three.
  • A perfect game is minus four.

Obviously you can’t build a team around trying to get no-hitters and perfect games. However, building a team around dominant pitching is difficult but not impossible.

In games where my teams had pitching dominant enough to earn one of the above rewards, they have gone 30-5. In two of the five losses, the opposing team also had one of the above rewards in their score, offsetting mine.  In games where my opponents had one of these rewards, my teams have gone 3-41 (yes I’m painfully aware my teams have been out-pitched this year).

The rewards for these performances are huge because they come off your opponents’ total score, not just their raw score. For example, for your offense to offset one of the -2 rewards, you’d have to raise your raw batting score by 4. This is because your team’s batting score gets averaged with the other team’s already good pitching score before this extra reward is subtracted. The pitcher still gets credit for the strikeouts, earned runs allowed and the normal parts of the pitching score. If they throw a complete game or allow zero earned runs, odds are the rest of their score is quite good as well.

There is no equivalent to this for batting scores. For example, there is no “bonus” if a player hits three home runs in a game. Obviously three home runs will help your score a lot but there is no extra added-on reward for it like there is for a dominant pitching performance. This is probably done to balance out the two. Obviously, your pitching score can’t get much below zero without these rewards. Whereas for hitting, there is no real limit. The rewards for dominant pitching kind of bring the two back into balance.

Last year I was able to build a team around dominant pitching. Calfornia Whip (now New New York) have Dallas Keuchel and Max Scherzer. Keuchel won the Cy Young Award and Scherzer was nearly as dominant. I was able to round out the rest of the rotation and bullpen with good enough pitchers to make it an excellent pitching staff. My offense was a bit below average but was able to provide enough offense that the team went 88-62 and won their division by 11 games.

This year Keuchel has really faded and Scherzer has had a slight decline. When you are relying on dominant pitching – not just good pitching, but dominant pitching – a small change can make a big difference. This team has faded and is below .500 now. Keuchel and Scherzer aren’t the only reason why this team has struggled, but they are probably the biggest reason.

Because of the way pitching is rewarded I would say it is probably not possible to win 90 games without at least one ace in Benchwarmer. I’m sure there are exceptions but probably not many.

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September 2, 2011 – Reds Win Wild Game Against Cardinals

On this date in 2011, the St. Louis Cardinals sent Chris Carpenter to the mound to face Johnny Cueto and the Cincinnati Reds. With a pitching matchup like that a pitcher’s duel seemed likely, but the game turned into a slugfest.

The Reds jumped on Carpenter in the second inning. The scored five runs on fix hits. Jay Bruce capped the inning with a two-run single. Carpenter then settled down and worked three scoreless innings after that.

The Cardinals got two runs back in the bottom of the second inning on two walks and two singles. They got their third run on a single by Yadier Molina in the third inning. They tied the game in the fifth after Rafael Furcal hit a home run, which was followed by two singles and a fielder’s choice.

Todd Frazier hit a solo home run in the top of the sixth inning to give the Reds a 6-5 lead. David Freese matched him with a solo home run in the bottom of the sixth.

Yonder Alanso hit a 2-run home run in the top of the seventh to put the Reds up for good. Juan Francisco hit a 3-run home run in the top of the ninth also. That was too much for the Cardinals to overcome. They did score a run on Aroldis Chapman in the bottom of the eighth inning on two walks and a single. Matt Holliday homered in the bottom of the ninth but the Reds held on to win 11-8.

The Cardinals were 8.5 games behind the Brewers in the Central Division and also 8.5 games behind the Braves for the Wild Card.

In The Minors: River Bandits 4, Lumberkings 1

This was a game I attended. The win improved the River Bandits’ record to 80-55 on the season. Kolten Wong was 1 for 3 with an RBI. This dropped his batting average to .344.

Jonathan Rodriguez, Chris Edmondson, and Colin Walsh each had two hits.

Anthony Ferrera started the game. He threw six innings, and only allowed one earned run on four hits. Dean Kiekhefer pitched a scoreless ninth inning to earn his eighth save.