Midwest League

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:

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.

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:

Rafael Furcal - Getty Images

August 27, 2011 – Bandits lose 12-6, Cards lose 7-0

Pirates 7, Cardinals 0

On this date in 2011, the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the St. Louis Cardinals 7-0 at Busch Stadium. Brad Lincoln threw six shutout innings for the Pirates to earn his second career win. The Cardinals were limited to seven hits. Chris Carpenter had a poor outing for the Cardinals. He allowed six earned runs over five innings. In the fourth inning the Pirates had three doubles and a single to score four times. The loss dropped Carpenter’s record to 8-9.

This was a low point really of the Cardinals’ season. The loss dropped their record to 69-64. They were now 10 games behind the Braves for the Wild Card spot, and 10.5 behind the Brewers in the National League Central Division. Technically, the Cardinals were further back in the standings two days earlier. That day the Braves beat the Cubs to maintain a 10.5 game lead in the Wild Card race. However, losing to a team behind them in the standings when they had Carpenter on the mound to fall to 10 games back is a pretty bad loss.

So, the Cardinals were 10 games back with only 29 games left on the schedule. The Braves’ magic number to clinch the Wild Card over the Cardinals was 20. The Cardinals also still trailed the Giants and Diamondbacks by two games and five games, respectively.

Burlington Bees 12, Quad Cities River Bandits 6

I attended this game in 2011. It was the first River Bandits game I had been to in over a month. The 6,630 in attendance did not get to see a great game. The Bees scored three runs in each of the first three innings to take a commanding 9-0 lead. Josh Whitaker had three hits including his 17th home run of the season for the Bees. Kolten Wong sat out this game. Oscar Taveras was a bright spot. He went 3 for 5 with two doubles and a run scored. The loss dropped the Bandits’ record to 76-54.

A Brief Look Back At When A-Rod Played In The Midwest League

One weekend in April 1994 I was home from college for the weekend with one of my college friends. My dad took us to opening day at John O’Donnell Stadium to see the Appleton Foxes play the Quad Cities River Bandits.

Everyone even then was aware of the hype surrounding Alex Rodriguez. He made his professional debut with the Foxes that day. We watched all his at bats. We got to see his first pro hit, which I believe was a simple ground ball that found a hole.

A-Rod ended up playing 65 games for the Foxes and put up a .984 OPS before moving up. Impressive for an 18 year old in the Midwest League. In Appleton A-Rod was teammates with Raul Ibanez, who was overshadowed despite being four years older than him.

The picture above is from this article, which is a flashback article from the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers (formerly the Apppleton Foxes). Go read it, it’s an excellent article. Here is a part of it:

The Appleton Foxes are taking batting practice during a chilly, overcast afternoon at Goodland Field.

Alex Rodriguez is at shortstop when a sharply hit ball glances off the top of his glove and bounces into left field.

The error delights coaches Delwyn Young and Juan Eichelberger.

“Hey, Bootsie!” Young yells.

“We got him that time!” Eichelberger adds, standing on the mound.

Rodriguez grins.

Whatever complications he finds off the field, baseball is still just a game. A game he enjoys.

“I think I am still a kid and that’s what makes it fun for me,” Rodriguez said. “Baseball’s just coming out and having a good time for three hours and at the same time having a chance to entertain people.”

But the three hours open to public view are only part of the picture of Rodriguez’s life.

He just plain stands out.

The Seattle Mariners assigned the 18-year-old Rodriguez to the Class A Foxes in his first full pro season for several reasons, according to Jim Beattie, the Mariners’ director of player development.

One of the, Beattie said, is that “Appleton is a nice, cozy town. It’s easy to get around. We think he will find it comfortable there.”


In other words, quiet, slow, out of the limelight.

But trying to tuck the top pick in the 1993 June free-agent draft away – in Appleton or anywhere else – is like a circus keeping the elephant in a field down the road. Everybody still knows it’s there.

Basically, a media circus has been following A-Rod everywhere he went since he was about 17 years old. I can only speculate what impact that can have on someone’s personality. Some players handle it better than others. It’s a lot to ask of such a young person.

A number of things he did over the years were disappointing, the steroids being the worst. He brought a lot of the media scrutiny on himself. At least when it came to his professional life, the place he seemed most comfortable by far was on the field.


Teoscar Hernandez Homers In Astros Debut

Teoscar Hernandez completed a 4 1/2 year journey from rookie ball at age 18 to the Majors at age 23 by homering in his MLB debut. In all, he went 2 for 5 with a walk as the Astros beat the Toronto Blue Jays 5-3 in Toronto.

When the underperforming Carloz Gomez was designated for assignment this week, it opened up an outfield slot. Hernandez earned the callup by putting up a .865 OPS in 38 games at AAA Fresno this season.

Hernandez joins former teammates Carlos Correa, Tony Kemp, Vincent Velasquez, Lance McCullers, and Chris Devenski as players that have all graduated to the Major Leagues from the 2013 Quad Cities River Bandits team that won the Midwest League title. He was a big contributor to that River bandits team. He batted leadoff most of the season and scored 97 runs in 123 games, and had a .763 OPS.

Players like Correa and McCullers justifiably got most of the attention back then, but players like Hernandez and Velasquez were also excellent. In the minors, players like that are the difference between an average roster and a deep, good roster.

Hernandez also has speed which helps him on the basepaths and in the field. He stole 151 bases in the minors and was caught stealing 47 times. He is projected to be a slightly above average fielder and baserunner.

Hernandez’s challenge will be in keeping his strikeout numbers down, while keeping his hard contact up. He succeeded in doing that at Fresno this season, when he had only a 15.6% strikeout rate with a slugging percentage of .500. However he has struggled with this at times. Last season at AA Corpus Christi the rate was 24.5% and back in 2013 with the Bandits it was 23.9%. Fangraphs projects him to have a 23.4% strikeout rate in the Majors.

Fangrahs had this to say about him prior to this season:

Hernandez isn’t far away from being a five-tool outfielder, with pitch recognition and plate discipline representing the only areas of improvement needed to get him there. Granted, those are very difficult skills to improve, especially as you face continuously better competition climbing the minor league ladder. He managed to cut his strikeouts in Double-A last season. Unfortunately, it came at the expense of his quality of contact, a tradeoff that was too much to put up decent numbers.

He will most likely find a happy medium between the two to keep his strikeouts somewhat in check while maintaining his ability to drive the ball. However, that puts him more in the platoon/below-average starter range, especially with his defense being fringy for full-time center-field duty.

Here is a link to video of yesterday’s home run.

Photo Credit: Dilip Vishwanat / Getty Images

August 12, 2011: Cardinals win 6-1, Bandits fall 5-2

The St. Louis Cardinals beat the Colorado Rockies 6-1 on this date in 2011. Kyle Lohse pitched well, going six and one-third innings and only allowing one run. Jason Motte and Kyle McClellan held the Rockies scoreless the rest of the way.

Most of the offense was provided in the sixth inning. The first six batters all reached base, on four singles, a double and an intentional walk. David Freese drove in three runs in the game and Lance Berkman reached base four times, on a double and three walks. The win improved the Cardinals’ record to 64-55. They were four games behind the Milwaukee Brewers for the division lead, and six games behind the Braves for the National League Wild Card lead.

CBS Sports – Pujols, Freese powers Cardinals past Rockies

ST. LOUIS — Kyle Lohse responded to getting bumped in the rotation with a strong outing. He wasn’t about to criticize manager Tony La Russa’s decision.

“I’ve felt fine physically,” Lohse said after working into the seventh inning in a 6-1 victory over the Colorado Rockies on Friday night. “Tony’s going to set the matchups the way he wants, and I’m ready whenever he wants me to be ready.”

Albert Pujols followed up a 4-for-4 game with two hits and the go-ahead RBI, and David Freese had two hits and three RBI, two of them in a five-run sixth that chased Aaron Cook (2-7). Matt Holliday returned after missing two games with a lower back injury and had an RBI double, while Lohse contributed his first Busch Stadium RBI in nearly two seasons.

Burlington Bees 5, River Bandits 2

The Burlington Bees beat the Quad Cities River Bandits 5-2 on this date in 2011. The Bees spoiled a great start by Bandits’ pitcher Boone Whiting. He struck out 10 batters and walked none over seven innings, and allowed two runs on four hits. The Bandits’ bullpen allowed three runs in the top of the eighth, which was the difference in the game.

Michael Swinson and Kolten Wong sat out this game with an injuries. They were both placed on the disabled list the next day. Wong had been on a torrid streak as described in the article below. Their roster spots were replaced Edgar Lara and Joey Bergman. Oscar Taveras went one for two with a double and two walks. The Bandits’ dropped to 68-48 on the season.

Quad City Times – Bees’ rally stings Bandits

Two Quad-Cities lineup regulars were placed on the disabled list Friday, but it was an eighth-inning rally by Burlington that stung the River Bandits the most.

“It was a tough one, but I have confidence in our pen. I have confidence that they’ll figure it out, and we’ve showed over the last six days that we can score runs,” Quad-Cities pitcher Boone Whiting said after the 5-2 Midwest League loss at Modern Woodmen Park.

The Bees broke a 2-2 tie with three unearned runs in the top of the eighth inning after Quad-Cities turned the bullpen after Whiting struck out 10 and did not walk a batter while scattering four hits over a seven-inning start.

Jose Crisotomo drove home the deciding run, slicing a single up the middle to score Nino Leyja, who had reached on a one-out error by shortstop Ronny Gil.

The River Bandits played without second baseman Kolten Wong and outfielder Michael Swinson on Friday.

Wong, the Cardinals’ first-round selection in the 2011 draft, will miss anywhere from 10 days to two weeks with a hamstring injury he suffered while sliding after hitting an eighth-inning single in Thursday’s game against the Bees.

“Nothing is pulled, but there is some tightness and we will be cautious with it,” River Bandits manager Johnny Rodriguez said.

Wong regularly filled the leadoff spot on the River Bandits’ lineup card and a .415 over his last 10 games raised his batting average .327 through 40 games with Quad-Cities.