Gopher Holes for August

After their 4-16 fiasco in July, the Gophers bounced back with 12 much-needed wins in August to rekindle wild-card hopes in Bushwood.  Those hopes, however, will require a big finish by the Gophers in September and October, as Bushwood enters the final two months four games behind the wild-card threshold in a multi-team race.

Nonetheless, optimism returned to Bushwood in August, primarily on the strength of a 5-0 sweep of Tatooine and a 4-1 outcome vs West Atlanta.  Series vs. Satellite Beach (1-4) and Superior (2-3) did little to help the Gophers’ cause.

Bushwood’s bats were booming against the Rebels, with the Gophers scoring 45 runs in the sweep.  The only close game was a 6-5 10-inning affair.  Against the Crush, the script was flipped as all five games were decided by one run and the Gophers won four of them despite scoring just 16 total runs in the series.  The only loss was a 1-0 setback that saw Luis Severino outduel Yu Darvish.

For the season, the Gophers have enjoyed near-flawless defense at the key positions of second base and shortstop.  Dustin Pedroia (1e4) and Scooter Gennett (3e13) have committed a grand total of two errors at second (one apiece).  At short, Paul DeJong (3e17) and Adeiny Hechavarria (1e7) have divided playing time almost equally and combined for just eight miscues (six by DeJong).

In reviewing the 2018 draft board, it could be concluded that the Gophers went 5-for-5 on their first five choices last March, based on the 120-game stats.  Top pick Ryan Zimmerman (No. 13 overall) has 36 homers and 96 RBIs to rank among the league leaders in both categories.  Next came DeJong (at No. 35 the first of Bushwood’s three third-round selections), and the shortstop is hitting .332 with 21 homers and 62 RBIs.  Catcher Austin Barnes came next at No. 39 and has been a perfect complement to Buster Posey behind the plate, hitting .265 with a .384 OBA.  The Gophers snagged reliever Yusmeiro Petit next at No. 43, and the righty has become one of the best closers in the league with 18 saves and a 2.24 ERA.  Finally, Gennett somehow fell to the Gophers in the fifth round at No. 69 overall.  Scooter is hitting .307 with 15 homers for Bushwood this year while leading the NL in real-life hitting for the Reds.

September looms as a critical month for the Gophers, who certainly need a winning record to remain in the hunt.  And things started off on the wrong foot as the cellar-dwelling Hypnotoads just took 3 of 5 from Bushwood in early September play.  The front-running Volcanoes, the wild-card contending Bums and the rebuilding Tree Huggers round out the slate for the month.

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Lava Flow for August

In August play the Volcanoes matched their July record, reposting a 1- win month.  The Volcanoes were dominant against the Titans (5-0 record), very good against West Atlanta (4-1 record) and took series victories against Destin and East Cobb (3-2 against each).  A significant improvement for the Volcanoes in August play was their record against left-handed starters.  From March through July, the Volcanoes posted a record of 13-11 against lefties.  After adding Justin Turner, Charlie Blackmon and Rhys Hoskins at the trade deadline the Volcanoes were a sparkling 6-1 against lefty starters in August play.  Batting stars in August play were Justin Turner (.352 avg, 15 RBIs), Chris Taylor (5 HR’s, 16 RBIs) and Kris Bryant (.436 OBP, 18 runs scored).  Stepping down to #2 in the batting order (with Kris Bryant now manning the leadoff slot), Joey Votto led the Volcanoes in August with 18 RBIs.  The starting pitching was strong in August play, with Ervin Santana, Andrew Cashner and Michael Fulmer each posting 3-1 records, and Brandon McCarthy returning from a 3-month vacation to post a 4-0 record.  For the season, McCarthy has allowed 30 runs in 66 IP – with 10 runs allowed in one disastrous April start against the Hypnotoads (that team again!).

Emphasizing the “team” nature of this season, for a team that leads the league in home runs and runs, the Volcanoes do not have a player in the top 5 in either home runs or runs batted in, and for a team that leads the league in fewest runs allowed and wins, the Volcanoes do not have a pitcher in the top 5 in either ERA or in wins.

In September play, the Volcanoes face three road series, visiting Bushwood, Applegate and Dyersville while the Bombers of Bismarck make their first visit of the season to Margaritaville.  The Volcanoes are 10-10 in 2018 play against these teams, taking 3-2 series victories against Dyersville and Bismarck while posting 2-3 series losses against Applegate and Bushwood.

Clip Files for August

Applegate went 13-7 in August to push its record to 75-45, outscoring its opponents 111-77 and outhomering them 35-21. … At 75-45, the Clips’ win percentage is exactly what it would be predicted by Bill James’ wins predicted formula, based on its runs scored and runs allowed. … In August Applegate had the same number of homers as it did doubles. Aaron Judge smacked seven homers, scored 17 runs and drove in 15 while hitting just .187. Willson Contreras also drove in 15 runs, but he did it in 44 at-bats compared to Judge’s 75. Josh Donaldson chipped in with six homers in 41 at-bats, including three in one game. Neil Walker hit .390 on the month and leads the Clips’ regulars in batting at .309 on the season. He hit .400 vs. Savannah and .455 vs. Destin. … Ken Giles and Luis Garcia were bullpen workhorses, with each hurling 17 1/3 innings. … A five-game sweep of New New York keyed the profitable month; in that series the Clips outscored the Hypnotoads 43-19 and outhomered them 13-5 while hitting .315. … But against South Grand Prairie, which presents matchup problems for the Clips, Applegate scored just 14 runs on 33 hits (.191) as the Warriors took a 3-2 series win. The two wins came in Game One on a 12th-inning walkoff homer by Brian Dozier, and in Game Three thanks to some late lightning off Max Scherzer by Judge, Donaldson and Dozier. … The Clips improved their stunning record against lefties to 24-4 (.857). … Judge is now up to 32 homers on the year but needs 20 homers in the last two months to tie his real-life 52 for the Yankees last year.  Judge is slugging just .454 (was .627 for the Yankees) and Strat calculates his WAR at 3.4; it was 9.5 for the Yankees. … Every one of the Clips’ starting pitchers has an impressive record: Drew Pomeranz (8-3), Jhoulys Chacin (8-2), Stephen Strasburg (10-4), Jimmy Nelson (9-3) and Kyle Hendricks (8-5), but the Clips’ vaunted bullpen has an unexplainable 23 losses, second-most in the league behind New New York (26). Lefty ace Andrew Miller and closer Blake Parker are tied for the team high in losses with five each. … Chacin is 8-2 but lugging a 5.21 ERA, as his ERA has never recovered from a 15-run beatdown at the hands of Savannah in May. He has only one loss since then, coming this month to South Grand Prairie. … Applegate’s team ERA of 3.94 leads the league through 120 games, just a smidge better than Margaritavlle at 3.95. Applegate has given up the fewest homers in the league at 126. Meanwhile, offensively the Clips have bashed 200 homers, trailing only Margaritaville in that category (at 201). … As a team, Applegate has drawn 543 walks, which is 66 more than the second-place Volcanoes.

Worse Than the ’62 Mets? Hypnotoads Practically a Lock

After a 3-17 August, the New New York Hypnotoads are on pace to post a 160-game record for futility that will eclipse that of the 1962 New York Mets, considered the worst team of the Modern Era.

Those Mets went 40-120 (.250) and finished 60 1/2 games out of first place.

The Hyp-no-wins stand 26-94 (.217), and already have been eliminated from divisional championship consideration at 42 games behind. They need to go 15-25 in order to finish ahead of the Mets, which seems extraordinarily unlikely considering they haven’t won more than five games in a month all year.

The top of the Southbound Division remains infinitely more interesting, as the reluctant Scorpions keep winning games despite the efforts of their front office to dismantle the team. Savannah and South Grand Prairie are deadlocked at 68-52 with 40 games to play. That tandem also holds down the third and final wild-card position at this point.

At 81-39 and with a 17-game lead, Margaritaville is making a mockery of the Northbound Division “race.” After limping to a four-win August, last-place Tatooine carries a “tragic” number of 2 into September play — any combination of Margaritaville wins or Tatooine losses adding up to 2 will eliminate the Rebels from the divisional title race. And if you’re curious, Margaritaville needs to go 35-5 to attain 116 wins and match baseball’s regular-season record, held by the 1906 Chicago Cubs and 2001 Seattle Mariners.

Then there’s the Westbound Division, where Applegate has posted double-digit win totals each month this season and Superior weathered a winless series against Margaritaville in August to cling to a three-game deficit behind the Paperclips. But in September it’s the Clips’ turn to likely get bludgeoned by the Volcanorpions. Superior does hold down the first wild-card spot, followed by division mate Satellite Beach.

Last-place Boulder is a whopping 35 games back of Applegate but did post a 10-win August to leap from 30 wins to 40 wins — although four of those wins came at the expense of New New Yuck.

WILD-CARD STANDINGS

 

DIVISION LEADERS W L Pct. GB
MARGARITAVILLE 81 39 .675
APPLEGATE 75 45 .625
SAVANNAH 68 52 .567
S. GRAND PRAIRIE 68 52 .567
WILD-CARD RACE W L Pct. GB
SUPERIOR 72 48 .600 +4
SATELLITE BEACH 69 51 .575 +1
SAV/SGP 68 52 .567
BUSHWOOD 64 56 .533 -4
DESTIN 63 57 .525 -5
DYT/WATL 61 59 .508 -7

Gopher Holes for July

From Monty Python via YouTube

As we enter the home stretch of the 2018 I-75 season, the Gophers are taking their cues from the unmatched bravery shown by Monty Python’s battle-scarred Black Knight.  Despite suffering four substantial wounds during a bloody July, the Gophers fully intend to patch themselves back together and fight on to experience a glorious return to the playoffs and (dare we say) the Holy Grail of a league championship this fall.  While lesser teams might be tempted to retrench when their limbs start flying, the Gophers will stay true to their oft-repeated motto:  “Never surrender; never retreat.”

After such a nightmarish July, the valiant Black Knight himself would be proud.

A 2-3 series vs. Applegate?  “Tis but a scratch.”

Matching 1-4 series vs. Bismarck and SGP?  “I’ve had worse.”

An almost incomprehensible 0-5 sweep vs. once-powerful Savannah?  “Just a flesh wound.”

Admittedly, the Gophers’ bleeding was profuse during that 4-16 ordeal, coming on the heels of a successful 48-32 first half.  And some observers may view continuing the fight vs. a foe as formidable as the newly fortified Volcanoes as foolhardy and an exercise in futility.  But the Gophers stubbornly refuse to run and hide.

Continue reading

With 60 games to go — is there any point?

We imagine the conversation that changed everything went something like this…

Ring, ring.

GRID: “Hello, hi Steve!”

HART: “How did you know it was me?”

GRID: “You’re calling me on the direct hotline we established last year after the David Ortiz trade…”

HART: “Oh yeah, that’s right. I understand you’re making Mookie Betts available and I want to make an offer.”

GRID: “I’ve been expecting your call! And I accept!”

HART: “Wait, you haven’t even heard what I’m offering.”

GRID: “I know based on our last six trades in 20 months that you will make me an offer that I will find acceptable.”

WILD-CARD STANDINGS

 

DIVISION LEADERS W L Pct. GB
MARGARITAVILLE 66 34 .660
APPLEGATE 62 38 .620
SAVANNAH 56 44 .560
WILD-CARD RACE W L Pct. GB
SUPERIOR 61 39 .610 +6
SATELLITE BEACH 58 42 .580 +3
SGP/DBB 55 45 .550
WEST ATLANTA 54 46 .540 -1
BUSHWOOD 52 48 .520 -3
BISMARCK 50 50 .500 -5

HART: “Thank you for those kind words. So I want to offer you Charlie Blackmon…”

GRID: “Charlie Blackmon, perennial .300 hitter, reigning NL batting champion, for Betts? I accept! Pleasure dealing with—”

HART: “Hold on. I’m also offering Rhys Hoskins…”

GRID: “Hoskins, eh? No. 18 pick overall in this year’s draft? Guy with the 18-homer in 170 at-bat season and 1.014 OPS card? Hmm…. I like Hoskins but because he’s limited I think I’ll take Blackmon.”

HART: “You don’t understand — they’re both in the deal.”

GRID: “Both? I get Blackmon and the 25-year-old Hoskins? Currently with 21 homers and fifth in the NL with 70 RBIs? I accept.”

HART: “Hold on, I’m not done. I’m also including Michael Fulmer in the deal.”

GRID: “Michael Fulmer? He has one of the top starting pitcher cards this year! He was eighth in the majors in 2017 with a .644 OPS. He had a 1.15 WHIP last year. He’s better than any starting pitcher on my staff. He’s in the deal too??? I accept! I accept!” Continue reading

Lava Flow for July

In July, the Volcanoes posted a good month on the field – going 15-5 despite a surprising series loss to the New New York Hypnotoads.  The Volcanoes swept the Southbound-leading SGP Warriors, and added 4-1 series victories against the Savannah Scorpions and Boulder Tree Huggers.  Combined with the July swoon (4-16) of the Bushwood Gophers, the Volcanoes opened up a 14-game lead in the Northbound division.  After 100 games the Volcanoes have a record of 66 wins and 34 losses, a pace three games ahead of the 2017 Volcanoes’ record of 63-37 at the 100-game mark.

The bigger news of July happened off the field for the Volcanoes, as they traded Mookie Betts, Carlos Rodon, Joakim Soria, Joc Pederson and Khris Davis to add Justin Turner, Charlie Blackmon, Rhys Hoskins, Michael Fulmer and Colby Rasmus.  It’s difficult to trade a 25-year-old outfielder on the way to an MVP season, but the players the Volcanoes picked up position the team nicely to make another title run in the last 60 games and then postseason of the 2018 season.

Looking at card values via runs created vs. righties and vs. lefties, the 2018 Volcanoes compare nicely to the 2017 Volcano team.  Looking at the offense:

 

2017 Volcanoes 2018 Volcanoes
vs Right vs Left vs Right vs Left
Votto 0.404 Votto 0.278 Bryant 0.325 Santana 0.271
Bryant 0.286 Broxton 0.252 Votto 0.419 Votto 0.418
Ortiz 0.457 Bryant 0.410 Turner 0.245 Turner 0.657
Sanchez 0.408 Flores 0.418 Blackmon 0.320 Blackmon 0.307
Cano 0.330 Ramos 0.339 Sanchez 0.240 Bryant 0.343
Betts 0.276 Ortiz 0.322 Cano 0.256 Lindor 0.234
Pederson 0.237 Cano 0.202 Hoskins 0.366 Marrero 0.266
Davis 0.201 Lindor 0.137 Lindor 0.153 Sanchez 0.243
Lindor 0.194 Suzuki 0.247 Taylor 0.242 Hoskins 0.457
       
Avg RC 0.310 Avg RC 0.289 Avg RC 0.285 Avg RC 0.355

 

The 2017 Volcanoes – led by a trio of 40 runs-created cards from Votto, Ortiz and Sanchez – have the edge, but the offense for the 2018 team was certainly bolstered by adding Blackmon and Hoskins.  With the addition of Turner’s .657 RC card vs. lefties, the 2018 Volcanoes hit lefties better than the 2017 team.  While the 2017 team met two lefty starters (Cole Hamels and Rich Hill) starting four out of the six World Series games, the 2018 team is not likely to see the same playoff parade of lefties.

Pitching-wise the 2018 Volcanoes have an edge on the 2017 team:

 

2017 Volcanoes 2018 Volcanoes
T vs L vs R T vs L vs R
Lester L 0.039 0.047 Santana R 0.044 0.071
Santana R 0.058 0.077 Cashner R 0.060 0.058
Lewis R 0.067 0.079 Fulmer R 0.069 0.039
Ross R 0.155 0.045 Hamels L 0.014 0.076
Triggs R 0.108 0.044 McCarthy R 0.061 0.082
       
Jansen R 0.014 0.000 Jansen R 0.043 0.000
Chapman L 0.000 0.006 Chapman L 0.013 0.046
Reed R 0.013 0.020 Neshek R 0.043 0.013
Dayton L 0.003 0.047 Claudio L 0.000 0.054
Smith L 0.069 0.041 Minor L 0.008 0.041
Ottavino R 0.081 0.003 Givens R 0.039 0.037
Broxton R 0.077 0.051 Gearrin R 0.039 0.041
Maurer R 0.035 0.090 Delgado R 0.035 0.103

 

The 2017 team used a strategy of JBGE (Just Barely Good Enough) starters backed up by elite bullpen cards.  Jon Lester was the team’s “ace” (with the quotation marks added because of his left-handed pitching status).  Lester was the only starting pitcher to pick up a win in the 12 postseason games of 2018.  Lester’s 16.2 IP in 4 starts (just over 4 IP per start) and his 5.40 era show how short his playoff leash was in 2017.  Jansen, Chapman and Reed were 5-1 in the 2017 postseason, pitching 34.1 of the team’s 108 postseason innings.  At the bottom end of the bullpen, Broxton (5.00 era) and Maurer (11.42 era) pitched 14 non-elite relief innings in the 2017 postseason.  Joe Ross made two starts in the 2017 postseason, and posted a 15.88 era.

The 2018 team has better starters, with three good righties – Santana, Cashner and Fulmer – at the top of the rotation.  Cole Hamels and Brandon McCarthy are better options at the #4 starter slot than either Joe Ross or Andrew Triggs.  The 2018 bullpen also features elite cards at the top of the bullpen – Jansen and Chapman return and are joined by Neshek.  The ability of the 2018 team to throw lefty innings should be a big advantage – as Chapman, Claudio and Minor provide the potential for 21 lefty relief IP in a seven-game series.  At the bottom of the bullpen Givens and Gearrin are a significant upgrade over Broxton and Maurer.

While Margaritaville is sad to see Mookie Betts go (and we’ll be even sadder once the 2019 season kicks off), we look forward to the possibility of another Northbound division championship, and hope for another deep playoff run and a return to the I-75 World Series.