Benchwarmer Baseball Offseason

Since none of my teams won their divisions, we’re finally to the part of the offseason where things get interesting again. I guess the one postseason highlight was my team Vega$ Chickabooms won their 2nd place tournament, which will get them some extra cash. Now I get to find out how well I set myself up for the next season.

This is what happens in this first part of the offseason:

  • We got all the cash we will get until opening day to re-sign players.
  • Players new salaries come out, and will go higher or lower based on how they did last season.
  • We can only carry over up to 28 players. You have to decide which ones to keep. You have to carry over ones you already signed to contract extensions.
  • We can make trades until 12/25, which is the deadline to have selected which players you are carrying over.

So this is kind of where my teams stand. All of them are in pretty decent shape compared to previous offseasons. I might actually be figuring out this Benchwarmer Baseball thing. A couple of them are in excellent shape and have a chance to greatly improve.

East Village Howlers

This team is one that is in really good shape to improve. After keeping the players that I want to keep, the should have around $16000 in cash left over.

This team avoided $3000 in salary increases by signing Carlos Correa and Chris Carter to contract extensions. I also avoided another $800K increase on Shawn Kelley. Another nice things about this team is several other cheap players who could really outperform their salaries:

  • Alex Bregman is still a bargain at $285.
  • David Peralta was injured most of last season, and his salary decreased by $900K. So he’s a nice depth player that is a bargain now.
  • Jordan Zimmermann’s salary decreased by over $2000, and so he is now a bargain, and a decent candidate to bounce back.
  • This team has Alex Cobb, whose salary is $377. If he bounces back at all from Tommy John surgery he could also be a nice player to have.

The nice thing about these players coming back from injury is that they have nice upside with little risk. If they don’t bounce back, I can just cut them. This team also has a few prospects that could graduate and help quite a bit. These are Jeff Weaver, Guillermo Heredia, Austin Meadows, Carson Kelly and a couple others.

This team finished 63-87. So they need a lot of things to go right. They are in a great position though to make a big signing or two this offseason. The $16000 they have to spend could land a couple really nice players, and still leave them with cash leftover heading into the season to make adjutments, which is something I failed at last season. If not, they could always trade and take on salaries of players that other teams are not planning to re-sign.

Vega$ Chickabooms

This team went 76-74 and won the second place Al Gore tournament in their league. This team should also be in pretty good shape to improve this offseason. I was able to avoid over $2300 in salary increases by extending Wil Myers. When you add up the salaries of the players I plan to keep, they should end up with almost $13000 to use to improve. Also, they will be getting an extra $1000 for winning that tournament

Like East Village, this team has Alex Bregman and Alex Cobb who are really cheap and should outperform their salaries. Another player this team has is Greg Bird. I traded for him at the deadline last year thinking this team had no shot at making the playoffs. His salary is only $144 and he could easily outperform that.

This team could use a big bat in the outfield, and another solid starter. They could be a pretty dangerous team since they are already starting from a higher floor than my other teams.

New New York Mets

This team is in the worst shape and will be the toughest one to improve. They went 65-85 last season. It was largely due to two of the team’s best players struggling. Dallas Keuchel had a really tough season and Jose Abreu struggled the entire first half.

This team’s biggest strength is starting pitching. They have Max Scherzer, Dallas Keuchel and Jose Quintana. I need to figure out how to put a better lineup together around them. Their biggest hole is at third base. I may try to make a trade this offseason for a third baseman. This team should have around $9000 left to sign players. This is not as much as my other teams, and could be less after the final salary adjustments are made. That’s why it will be tougher to improve this team.

This team also does not have quite as many young, inexpensive players as the others. Aledmys Diaz is the best one, and he was signed to a contract extension. The others that could contribute are Luke Weaver, Carson Kelly, and Guillermo Heredia.

I think this team’s best shot is to make a couple small moves this offseason to try to make some modest improvements. Then see early in the season if there are some free agents that get off to a good start, and sign them. That’s how this team won their division 2 years ago. If that doesn’t work, it may be time to blow this team up and rebuild.

Last year, I turned down a trade offer at the deadline for Max Scherzer. The problem was that the team making the offer did not have any good prospects that would be able to contribute this season. The prospects being offered were a couple years away. Trading Scherzer would be a way to rebuild, assuming I could get some good prospects that are nearly ready to contribute.

Pelee Island

This team is in great, great shape and should improve greatly this offseason. This team finished 74-76, so they are starting from nearly a .500 record. They avoided about $7000 in salary increases by extending the contracts of Rougned Odor, Aledmys Diaz, Addison Russell, Mark Trumbo and a few others. It may make sense to trade Diaz or Russell. They are both good enough to start at SS, but only one of them can. This team’s main hole again is at third base, like my other teams. So it may make sense to trade one of them for a third baseman.

That might not even be needed, though. It may be better to just sit on that depth, in case one gets hurt. There is also an outside chance that Diaz could play some games at third base, and become my third baseman. The Cardinals announced that Matt Carpenter will be the every day first baseman next season. Jhonny Peralta and Diaz will split time at 3B and SS. The Cardinals may go out and try to get a better defensive SS this offseason, which would push Diaz to 3B or 2B.

In addition, this team has Kyle Schwarber, whose salary is only $200. They also have Michael Conforto, whose salary is only $577. This team has a great young base to build on.

When you add up the salaries of the players I want to keep, it only adds up to $19400 or so. This team has $38024 to spend. So they will have over $18000 to spend. Again, the best path may be to just sit on this depth and cash and see what players become available.

The risk with that is that I need to spend at least $13000. Later in the offseason, the cash balances get cut down to $5000. You just lose any cash you have above that. So if the players available via free agency aren’t appealing, I may be forced into trading some of this cash for players on other teams.

This team has several decent starting pitchers such as Jeff Samardzija, Vince Velasquez, Ian Kennedy and others. It could really use an ace and a really good #2 though. That would be the other main priority. Again, it might be best to do this through signings rather than trading. But this team has so much depth and cash that they have tons of different ways they could improve.

Davenport Blue Sox

This team is in decent shape to improve, too. This team finished 71-79, and was still very much in contention at the trade deadline. I made a trade for Chris Sale to try to make a run at the division, but it did not work out. However, this team is still in decent shape, and looks a lot more formidable with Sale at the top of the rotation.

Rougned Odor, Addison Russell, Christian Yelich, Joc Pederson and Alex Bregman are all inexpensive players that should be quite good, and are the core of this team. This team still has an aging Miguel Cabrera, Carlos Beltran and Ben Zobrist as well. Dallas Keuchel could also rebound. This team also has a really nice set of prospects. Jorge Alfaro, Carson Kelly, Lewis Brinson, and more.

Finally, this team is in decent shape in terms of finances, too. They should have around $12000 to work with to sign players and improve. It’s not quite as good as Pelee Island but it should still be enough to sign a couple decent players and have some left over.

October 28, 2011 – World Series Game 7

The St. Louis Cardinals defeated the Texas Rangers to claim their 11th World Championship on this date in 2011. Game 6 is the one burned into everyone’s memory, but that game wouldn’t have met anything had they not won game 7.

Games 1 and 2 were tight pitchers’ duels which the two teams split. Albert Pujols hit 3 home runs in game 3 to lead the Cardinals to a blowout win. After scoring 16 runs in game 3, Cardinals were shutout in game 4 behind 8 1/3 shutout innings from Derek “Dutch Stache” Holland. The Rangers again held the Cardinals’ offense in check to win game 5 by a score of 4-2, which set up game 6.

Game 6 is probably the most mind-numbing game in a season full of mind-numbing games. I watched it at my Dad’s house. I will never forget David Freese’s triple to tie the game in the 9th inning, which is probably the most electric Cardinals moment in my lifetime. I also remember Jon Jay’s key hit in extra innings, and scoring the tying run because he was one of my favorite players. Lance Berkman of course drove him in with two strikes. Freese’s home run in the 11th inning is still somewhat surreal when I see it.

A critical and probably underrated hit in that game was when Allen Craig homered off of Derek Holland in the bottom of the 8th inning. If Holland had shut out the Cardinals that inning, he may have pitched the 9th inning. He was the one pitcher who had shut down the Cardinals all series, except for this one inning. Instead of a 3 inning save for a championship, Neftali Feliz pitched the 9th inning and the rest is history.

All of that was game 6 though. This post is about game 7. My Dad had put his name into the lottery to buty tickets from the Cardinals before the World Series started. He was selected to buy tickets for game 7. The strangest thing was not knowing if there was even going to be a game 7 until nearly midnight the night before. After celebrating Freese’s home run, I remember telling my dad, “Well, I guess I better go pack!”

I took Friday afternoon off from work, and we drove down Friday afternoon. We stopped in Hannibal on the way down, and there were other Cardinals fans stopped at the same gas station, heading for the same destination. We got to the game about an hour before it was supposed to start. Sitting around us were families from all over the Midwest. There were a couple Rangers fans sitting in front of us. They were very cool, and everyone was great to them as well. People just talked baseball with them.

I was nervous that Chris Carpenter pitching on 3-days rest was not a good idea. The fears seem justified early on, when the Rangers scored 2 runs on back-to-back doubles by Josh Hamilton and Michael Young. The Cardinals immediately got the two runs back in the bottom of the first on a double by David Freese, that guy again. I remember the girl sitting behind us saying that the Cardinals were wearing the Rangers down with these constant comebacks. If that was true, I can’t blame them. It would take enormous mental strength not to get worn down by it.

The Cardinals added to the lead in the third inning on another solo home run by Allen Craig. In the bottom of the fifth inning, perhaps the mental fatigue started to set in for the Rangers. Scott Feldman came into the game in relief and walked Criag an hit Pujols with a pitch. The runners advanced on a groundout. Freese was then intentionally walked to load the bases. Yadier Molina then drew a walk to score a run, and then Rafael Furcal was hit by a pitch to score another run. The Cardinals had a 3-run lead and the mood in the stadium was giddy.

Maybe the most surreal moment I’ve ever seen at a game was in the top of the 6th inning. Nelson Cruz came up with one out and hit a towering fly ball to left field. The crowd went silent for a few moments as the ball sailed toward the left field wall. We were sitting in the upper deck in left field, and the left field wall was the one blind spot for us of the field. The ball disappeared from our view, and I had assumed it was a home run. I remember thinking “Here we go again”, with the way all of the games had been so back and forth. Then suddenly all the other sections in the stadium roared. No one in our section cheered, we were all just kind of dumbfounded. Then they replayed the catch on the video board and then our section cheered.

In the seventh inning, the two Rangers fans sitting in front of us left. People congratulated them on a great season, but I would not be confident until the final out was recorded. Things got a little less tense as Molina drove in another run to make it a 6-2 in the bottom of the seventh. Lance Lynn redeemed himself with a scoreless eighth inning, and Jason Motte threw a scoreless ninth to win the game.

We stayed in our seats to watch the trphy presentation and interviews. Once that was all done we headed out of the ballpark. I was high-fived by 100 random strangers. It was the wildest thing I’ve ever seen, hundreds of people all high-fiving each other and all seemed so releived and excited. It took us forever to get out of downtown. Everyone was honking and yelling. I think we got back to the hotel at like 2AM.

Of course, I will always be a Cardinals fan, but the 2011 season and getting to see them win the World Series in person will probably never be topped. Anything they win after this will be gravy.

One weird, random observation. The tickets for the World Series each featured a picture of a generic player. Games 1 and 3 were of a pitcher. Games 2 and 4 were of a hitter. Games 5 and 6 were of a fielder starting to track a fly ball. Game 7 was of a fielder reaching up to catch a ball. The picture for game 7 is in the same exact pose as Allen Craig when he robbed that home run. Concidence? Skip Schumaker said of the championship, “It was destiny, there is no other way to explain it.


Allen Craig robs Nelson Cruz of a home run - Photo credit: Doug Pensinger Getty Images

Photo credit: Doug Pensinger

Here are the rest of the pictures I took from before, during and after the game:

Jon Jay catches a deep fly ball in game 6 vs the Brewers

October 16, 2011 – Cards close out Brewers

The St. Louis Cardinals faced off against their division rivals the Milwaukee Brewers. The rivalry had been simmering all season. It may have peaked back on August 2, when the Cardinals won a wild game involving controversy and ejections. After that, it seemed the two agreed to let their play settle things. This would be the final showdown.

Both teams were coming off of emotional 5-game series from the NLDS round. The Cardinals won a pitching duel for the ages 1-0. The Brewers had defeated the Diamondbacks 3-2 in 10 innings in game 5. They actually had blown a 2-1 lead in the top of the ninth. They finally rallied in the 10th to win it. The game-winning hit was by Nyjer “Beast Mode” Morgan.

The Brewers won game one of the NLCS 9-6. The Cardinals actually led this game 5-2 at one point before the Brewers rallied for 6 runs in the bottom of the fifth inning. Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder and Rafael Betancourt all homered for the Brewers.

The Cardinals evened the series 1-1 with a 12-3 blowout. Seven different Cardinals pitchers combined to only allow 3 runs in the game. Jon Jay had 3 hits, and Albert Pujols had 4 including a home run. Yadier Molina, David Freese and Nick Punto each had 2 hits.

The Cardinals took game 3 in a much tigher game. They scored 4 runs in the bottom of the first, and that was it. The Brewers got two runs back in the second and one more in the third, but were shut out the rest of the game for a 4-3 Cardinals win.

The Brewers evened the series 2-2 with a 4-2 win in game 4. The Cardinals lead the game 2-0 early before the Brewers chipped away and got ahead. Randy Wolf threw 7 innings for the Brewers allowing the 2 runs on solo home runs by Allen Craig and Matt Holliday.

The Cardinals won game 5 by a 7-1 score. Jaime Garcia only pitched 4 2/3 innings but only allowed the one run. The bullpen was perfect. The offense was provided by Matt Holliday and Yadier Molina who each had 3 hits. The Cardinals were one win from the World Series but would have to win it on the road.

Game 6 was a slugfest that the Cardinals won 12-6. Each team hit three home runs. The Cardinals built a big lead early, building a 9-4 lead by the third inning. The biggest blow was probably David Freese’s 3-run home run in the first inning. Freese had 3 hits, and Molina, Pujols and Holliday each had 2 hits. The win was punctuated by Jon Jay’s jumping catch at the center field wall in the bottom of the ninth inning.

The National League had won the All Star Game, so they were heading back to St. Louis for game 1 of the World Series.

Photo credit: Rob Carr, Getty Images

October 7, 2011: The Carpenter vs Halladay Game

The St. Louis Cardinals squared off against the Philadelphia Phillies in a playoff pitching duel that is still talked about today, and will be for some time.

The Cardinals forced this deciding game 5 by coming from behind to beat the Phillies in game 4. They trailed 2-0 after the top of the first inning, but then rallied to win 5-3. David Freese had a 2-run double in the 4th inning, and a 2-run home run in the 6th. That was the famous “rally squirrel” game.

Rafael Furcal led off the game. He worked a 2-1 count and then hit a triple to right-center field. The next batter was Skip Schumaker. He had the best at bat of the game for either team. He quickly got into an 0-2 hole. He then fouled off four pitches and took two more for balls. On the 10th pitch of the at-bat, he doubled into the corner to score Furcal. It was the only run scored the entire game.

Halladay then settled down and started dominating. He threw 8 innings total, and only allowed 4 more hits after those first two batters. He struck out 7 and walked 1.

As brilliant as he was, Chris Carpenter out-dueled him. Carpenter threw a complete game shutout. He only allowed 3 hits, and no walks. Oddly, he only struck out 3 batters. He threw 110 pitches in the gem.

The Phillies threatened in the bottom of the fourth when Carpneter hit the leadoff batter with a pitch. Shane Victorino singled with two outs. The two runners were stranded when Carpenter got Raul Ibanez to flyout.

Victorino had also doubled in the second inning and was stranded. The only other Phillies hit was a single by Utley in the bottom of the 6th inning, but Utley was caught stealing.

The game ended with Ryan Howard grounding out to the second baseman. Howard injured his Achilles’ tendon coming out of the batter’s box and was unable to run to first. Howard ended up missing the next season as well recovering from the injury. It was a brutal way to end such a great game, even if you are a Cardinals fan.

You can watch the entire game here:

AP Photo/Mel Evans

October 2, 2011: Cards come back to win game 2 vs Phillies

The St. Louis Cardinals lost game one of the National League Division Series to the Phillies 11-6. The Phillies had a chance to push them to the brink of elimination in game two.

They got off to a good start by taking a 4-0 lead after two innings. Chris Carpenter was starting on short rest and it looked like a bad decision by Tony La Russa. He pulled Carpenter after three innings. The Cardinals’ bullpen came up big, throwing six shutout innings the rest of the game.

The Cardinals rallied for three runs in the top of the 4th inning to get back into the game. Lance Berkman led off with a walk. With one out, Yadier Molina singled. Ryan Theriot doubled in a run, and then Jon Jay singled in one more. Rafael Furcal singled in the third run and Jon Jay was thrown out at home trying to tie the game. Jay went in hard trying to dislodge the ball but Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz held on for the out.

The Cardinals finally did tie the game in the top of the sixth on a double by Theriot and a single by Jay. They took the lead in the sevethn on an Allen Craig triple, and a single by Albert Pujols. Jason Motte retired the Phillies in order in the bottom of the ninth to earn the save. The series was tied 1-1.

Box Score

Video Highlights

September 28, 2011 – One Of The Craziest Nights Of Baseball Ever

Four teams came into the last game of the season vying for two playoff spots. In the National League, the St. Louis Cardinals and Atlanta Braves came into this final game of the season tied for the Wild Card spot. The Braves were on a four game losing streak, and their magic number was stubbornly stuck at two. Likewise, the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays came into the game tied for the American League Wild Card spot. Both the Braves and Red Sox were trying to avoid epic collapses, having led their races by 8.5 games and 9 games earlier in September.

The complicated thing was that none of these teams were playing each other. None of them controlled their own fate – they had to win and hope the team they were tied with lost. If both won or both lost, then there would be a one-game playoff. So all four teams were forced to scoreboard watch. The four key games on tap were:

  • Philadephia Phillies @ Atlanta Braves (6:10 Central start)
  • Boston Red Sox @ Baltimore Orioles (6:10 Central)
  • New York Yankees @ Tampa Bay Rays (6:10 Central)
  • St. Louis Cardinals @ Houston Astros (7:05PM Central)

This was a Wednesday night. My dad and I got together at Buffalo Wild Wings where we could watch all four games simultaneously. It was a good choice. I just remember shifting attention from game to game as each reached a critical point.

How The Games Unfolded

Bizarrely, even though the Cardinals vs Astros game started an hour later than the other three games on the East Coast, it was the first game to end. It took them only 2 hours and 20 minutes to defeat the Astros 8-0. Chris Carpenter was brilliant, throwing a complete game 2-hitter. He had 11 strikeouts and only one walk for a 93 game score. David Freese provided some offense with two doubles and three runs scored. Allen Craig hit a solo home run in the ninth inning. Otherwise it was a balanced offensive attack with ten different Cardinals getting hits, with most of the damage done in the top of the first inning when they scored 5 runs.

After the win, the Cardinals stayed in the clubhouse in Houston to watch the Philles @ Braves game. If the Braves won, the Cardinals would have to fly to Atlanta for a one-game playoff. If the Phillies won, the Cardinals would fly to Philadelphia for game one of the National League Division Series.

This article has a good timeline of some of the other key events of the night:

10:23 p.m.: Evan Longoria hits a three-run homer to bring Tampa Bay to within 7-6 of the Yankees.

10:26: St. Louis completes an 8-0 trouncing of Houston and repairs to clubhouse televisions to watch the Braves.

10:47: Dan Johnson, hitting .108 — a number (without the decimal) considered sacred in many Eastern religions but an outright travesty in baseball — hits a game-tying home run for the Rays when they are down to their last strike.

10:58: The Red Sox resume their game in Baltimore after a long rain delay, a delay that now makes sense as the baseball gods setting this game aside for a bit — like allowing the dough to sit before baking — so that the Boston and Tampa Bay games could crescendo minutes apart.

11:28: Hunter Pence of Philadelphia, with the ugliest of swings producing the ugliest of hits, squibs a broken-bat single to put the Phillies ahead of the Braves, 4-3 in the 13th inning.

11:40: Freddie Freeman of Atlanta grounds into a double play, ending the game and eliminating the Braves.

11:59: Nolan Reimold of Baltimore, with the Orioles down to their last strike, ties the game with a ground rule double off Boston closer Jonathan Papelbon.

12:02: Robert Andino wins the game for Baltimore with a single. The Red Sox, as it turns out, have three minutes to live.

12:05: Longoria hits a home run off Scott Proctor to win the game for Tampa Bay.

There are some key details left out of the above timeline though. The Yankees built their 7 run lead with a grand slam by Mark Teixeira in the top of the second inning. Terixeria homered again in the top of the fourth.  Then Andruw Jones added a solo shot in the top of the fifth to put the Yankees up 7-0. Having such a big lead, the Yankees decided to pull many of their starting players to rest them. Curtis Granderson, Derek Jeter, Nick Swisher and Teixeira were all replaced in the lineup with subs in the sixth and seventh innings. The Yankees had already clinched the division, so they were resting their players for the playoffs with the game seemingly in hand.

Dan Uggla gave the Braves a 3-1 lead over the Phillies with a 2-run home run in the bottom of the third inning. Right before Uggla hit the homer, Michael Bourn was thrown out trying to steal third base, or it would have been a 3-run homer.

The Red Sox threatened in the top of the ninth, getting three baserunners on an error, a single and a walk. However, Jim Johnson got out of the jam by getting Ryan Lavarnway to ground into a double play.

They posted the final score of the Red Sox @ Orioles game on the scoreboard in Tampa while Evan Longoria was at the plate. He had to step out of the batter’s box due to the crowd reaction to that Orioles score. Moments later, he hit a home run to win the game 8-7.

Insane Facts From This Night

This was the first time the Yankees had blown a 7 run lead in the 8th inning or later since 1953, according to this article.

The Red Sox were in first place on September 3rd, and had a 99.6% chance of making the playoffs. They were 9 games ahead of the Rays. Similarly, the Braves were 8.5 games ahead of the Cardinals in early September.

The Rays’ win percentage was down to 0.3% when they were down 7-0 in the eighth inning.

Check out these insane factoids about Dan Johnson:

Dan Johnson joined the Rays in 2008, and hit two home runs that season. The first of them was a game-tying blast against Jonathan Papelbon in this game.

Johnson played for the Yokohoma BayStars in 2009.

He returned to the Rays in 2010 and hit the grand total of seven home runs; one of them was a walkoff against the Red Sox.

Johnson has played with the Rays sparingly in 2011, and he’s hit only two home runs all season. The first was a ninth-inning shot that turned a 7-6 deficit into a 9-7 lead, and the Rays recorded their first victory — one they would desperately need, as things turned out — after opening the season with six straight losses. Johnson’s second home run of the season came in the bottom of the ninth inning in the Rays’ last victory, and pushed their chances of winning from less than five percent to more than fifty percent.

Some insane stats from You Can’t Predict Baseball:

Seven of the Red Sox last 10 games were against the Orioles, and they went 2-5 in those games.

The Red Sox were 77-0 when leading after 8 innings coming into this game. Now 77-1. Also, Robert Andino had burned Papelbon and the Red Sox before:

On September 20, the Orioles trailed 5-4 in the eighth inning with two outs and the bases loaded at Fenway, against Papelbon. Andino hit a three-run double, and the Orioles won 7-5. On September 26, Andino hit an inside-the-park home run to expand the Orioles’ lead from 3-2 to 6-2.

Other Sports Don’t Produce The Same Kind Of Drama

Days like this are why baseball is still the best sport. There is no equivalent to this in any other sport. The only one that comes close is the first two days of the NCAA tournament. That is a bit different though. With the NCAA tournament, each team controls their own fate. Win, and you advance, or lose and you are out. What happened on 9/28/2011 was more uncertain than that, and produced a lot more drama as a result. The fate of the four teams involved was partially at the mercy of how other games turned out. They had no control over how those other games ended. Win, and you still had to hope another team lost to advance. Otherwise, you could be headed for a one-game playoff with a very uncertain outcome. Likewise, your team could lose, and still get another shot if that other game turned out in your favor.

The fact that none of the teams ended up tied at the end of this night is surprising enough. Exactly how that happened is incredible, unbelievable or whatever other word you can think of. You could not have scripted the twists and turns of fate on this night if you tried.

The other reason baseball is unique is because there is no way to just run out the clock. You have to make a play to end the game. The Yankees couldn’t take a knee to run out the clock on the Rays. Baseball is situational. Every play happens within a context within the game. Then on top of that, these games were unfolding within the context of the entire season. The Rays’ entire season was one strike away from ending.

Here is a video with highlights recapping many of the key plays from the night:

Molina and Chambers celebrate - Photo from Getty images: Jeff Curry

September 24, 2011 – Marmol Blows Epic Save

Five days prior to this the Atlanta Braves lost to the Florida Marlins in bizarre fashion. The Braves led 5-4 in the bottom of the ninth. Craig Kimbrel was on the mound and got the first two outs. Chipper Jones then lost a high bouncing ground ball in the lights. Omar Infante then hit a walk-0ff 2-run home run to beat the Braves 6-5. That loss dropped the Braves’ wild card lead to a 1/2 game, but they rebounded to win two of their next three games, and cut their magic number to clinch the Wild Card spot down to 3.

The Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals met in St. Louis on this day in 2011. The Cubs got an early 1-0 lead on three singles in the top of the first inning. That was all the offense the game would see until the ninth inning. Rodrigo Lopez held the Cardinals scoreless over six innings. Likewise, Kyle Lohse settled down after that first inning and did not allow another run through seven innings.

The ninth inning was bizarre. The Cubs brought in Carlos Marmol to try to save the game. He got Lance Berkman to fly out. Then Matt Holliday singled. Tyler Greene pinch-ran for Holliday and stole second base. The ball hit Greene as he was sliding into second and went into center field. He was able to take third on the play. The tying run was on third with one out.

David Freese then struck out swinging. Yadier Molina drew a walk. Adron Chambers pinch-ran for Molina. Skip Schumaker then drew a walk to load the bases. Ryan Theriot pinch-hit and drew yet another walk, forcing in a run to tie the game. Then with Rafael Furcal batting, Marmol threw a wild pitch and Chambers scored the winning run.

This was the second time Marmol had blown a save against the Cardinals this season. The first was back on June 5th.

The Braves’ lost 4-1 to the Washington Nationals, so the Cardinals’ elimination number stayed at three.

Here is video highlights of the bottom of the ninth:



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:

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


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.


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

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.