Thrills await during 20-game sprint to the wire

With 20 games to go, there is plenty of excitement ahead of us on many fronts:

* Savannah and Springfield are tied for first in the South. The winner will take the division; the loser might not even make the playoffs, as they are three games behind the wild-card leaders.

* Iowa and Michigan right now are leaders in the wild-card clubhouse and headed for their first postseasons in their brief franchise histories.

* The North Division has begun to separate, with the South Grand Prairie Warriors opening up a two-game lead and the Applegate Paperclips tumbling below the .500 mark. Margaritaville is in a classic ‘tweener position; the Volcanoes are just 2 behind the division lead; they hold down a wild-card berth at the moment, but could get knocked out entirely with Bismark (1GB) hot on their heels.

Check out how the ‘wild-card’ standings look right now;  the top three teams with the best records apart from the division champions make the playoffs:

CHATFIELD 94 46 .671
S.GRAND PRAIRIE 76 64 .543
* SAV/SPR 71 69 .507
IOWA 77 63 .550
MICHIGAN 75 65 .536
BISMARCK 73 67 .521 1
* SAV/SPR 71 49 .507 3
DESTIN 70 70 .500 4
APPLEGATE 69 71 .493 5

* tied for division lead and 3 GB in wild-card race

Ten players who will be unlimited in 2015 under new rule

David Ortiz had just 518 at-bats in 2014 for the Boston Red Sox, which would have left him well short of the 550 level needed to achieve unlimited status in the I-75 League next year under the rule we’ve played with through the 2014 draft.

But this season, we voted in this rule:

Players who accumulated 550 or more actual at-bats or 600 or more actual plate appearances (effective starting the 2015 season) shall be unlimited in the League.

So the handcuffs are off the Chatfield Choo-Choos, who can trot Ortiz out as much as they want next year, thanks to Ortiz having accumulated 602 plate appearances. That includes 75 walks, 3 hit-by-pitches and 6 sac flies. Sacrifice bunts also contribute to a player’s plate-appearances total.

Here are the 10 players for 2015 who would have fallen short of unlimited stature had our previous rules of 550 at-bats been in effect, but now are unlimited because they attained 600-plus plate appearances. (This list is unofficial.)

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State of the Expansion Franchise: Destin

Last in a five-part series reflecting on our 2012 expansion.

There’s no truth to the rumor that at the Destin Beach Bums’ home stadium, turnstiles have been replaced with revolving doors.

Even though that would be appropriate for the expansion franchise that has seen more turnover than any other, both on the field and in the front office.

Debuting in 2012 under GM Rick Lackey as the English Pigdogs, the club has wheeled and dealed and cut with reckless abandon, and now sports just three remaining players out of 40 who were part of the organization prior to it playing its first game less than three years ago.

Now known as the Destin Beach Bums, the club remains in search of an identity as it is reshaped yet again under new manager Mark Gergel, while lurking on the fringe of playoff contention.

Freddie Freeman

Freddie Freeman

Destin Beach Bums Roster Evolution

Players acquired pre-2012: 40
Players dealt away: 17
Players cut: 20
Still Pigdogs/Beach Bums: 3  — OF John Jay, SS J.J. Hardy, P Nathan Eovaldi.

2014 record: 59-61 (.492)
2013 record: 62-98 (.388)
2012 record: 62-98 (.388)

Face of the franchise: Freddie Freeman

Fast Fact: An abysmal record within its division — 10-25 — doesn’t bode well for a playoff bid with 25 games still to play against North clubs. Destin is 49-36 (.576) outside the division.

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State of the Expansion Franchise: Michigan

Part IV of a five-part series reflecting on our 2012 expansion.

The Michigan Moneyballers will forever be known as the club that passed on Mike Trout and instead selected catcher Alex Avila with the first overall pick in the 2012 Draft.

Trout is already a legend at age 23, and he’s helping carry the Iowa Cyclones to what looks to be their first playoff berth this year. Avila was cut by Michigan manager Ken Crawford after the club’s 2013 season.

But the Moneyballers aren’t feeling that bad for themselves. They dealt shortstop J.J. Hardy to Chatfield that first winter in exchange for Adam Jones, who has turned out to be a pretty fair center fielder of his own. Jones leads this year’s Moneyballers in homers (15) and RBI (73) through 120 games as Michigan holds down one of the three wild-card spots with 40 games to play.

Adam Jones

Adam Jones

Michigan Moneyballers Roster Evolution

Players acquired pre-2012: 34
Players dealt away: 10
Players cut: 18
Still Moneyballers: 6  — OF Peter Bourjos, 1B Brandon Belt, P Homer Bailey, CF Adam Jones, P Ricky Nolasco.

2014 record: 64-56 (.533)
2013 record: 67-93 (.419)
2012 record: 60-100 (.375)

Face of the franchise: Adam Jones

GM Style: Charts R Us — Michigan has more than twice as many sac bunt attempts as the league’s No. 2 team, and also leads the league in hit-and-run attempts.

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State of the Expansion Franchise: Satellite Beach

Part III of a five-part series reflecting on our 2012 expansion.

The Satellite Beach Brawlers were the fastest expansion team out of the chute in 2012, with 69 wins, but have hit a big-time speed bump in their third season.

With a lineup that ranks last in the league in offense and first in the league in errors, Satellite Beach is a non-factor in this year’s pennant race, but still sees promise on the horizon.

Justin Upton

Justin Upton

Satellite Beach Brawlers Roster Evolution

Players acquired pre-2012: 34
Players dealt away: 6
Players cut: 22
Still Brawlers: 6  — IF Marco Scutaro, 3B Edwin Encarnacion, P Brandon Beachy, IF Brett Lawrie, C Wilson Ramos, OF Justin Upton.

2014 record: 45-75 (.375)
2013 record: 67-93 (.419)
2012 record: 69-91 (.431)

Face of the franchise: Justin Upton

GM Style: Draft and Develop — The Brawlers make deliberate draft selections, prefer to trust their judgment and wait for them to pan out.

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State of the Expansion Franchise: Iowa

Part II of a five-part series reflecting on our 2012 expansion.

With 40 games to play in their third season in the league, John Renbarger’s Iowa Cyclones stand the best chance of any expansion team to earn a playoff berth.

The Cyclones have put themselves in such a position by being the most active of the four expansion teams in the trade market, adhering to a specific drafting strategy and offensive concept, and lucking into Mike Trout.

Mike Trout

Mike Trout

Iowa Cyclones Roster Evolution

Players acquired pre-2012: 37
Players dealt away: 18
Players cut: 15
Still Cyclones: 4  — OF Mike Trout, C Salvador Perez, OF Jayson Werth, 1B Ryan Howard.

2014 record: 68-52 (.567)
2013 record: 67-93 (.419)
2012 record: 60-100 (.375)

Face of the franchise: Mike Trout

GM Style: Off the charts — Iowa likes to roll the dice. It has attempted just one sac bunt all year — a successful squeeze by Jason Castro — and 8 hit-and-run maneuvers. It has not intentionally walked a single player.

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A look back at our 2012 expansion

Part I of a five-part series looking back at the 2012 expansion draft.

“And with the 217th pick in the 2012 Draft, the English Pigdogs select…. Nathan Eovaldi.”

History does not record whether anyone proclaimed, “Good pick!” or cursed and muttered, “I was just looking at him.” More likely, most of the league had stopped paying attention since they were done drafting. After Eovaldi, only five picks remained.

Nathan Eovaldi

Nathan Eovaldi

Yet Eovaldi is notable as one of just 19 players among the four expansion teams who was selected or acquired prior to the 2012 season and remains with his original club as our 2014 season winds down. That’s 19 out of 145 players — just 13%. Eovaldi was the latest player chosen to hold that honor.

That’s right. In less than three full seasons, 87% of the players who were originally drafted or acquired by the four expansion teams prior to Opening Day 2012 already have been cut or traded.

In this five-part series, we look back at the league’s expansion plans at the time and examine the status of each of the four clubs that came into being that year — the Iowa Cyclones, Michigan Moneyballers, Satellite Beach Brawlers and English Pigdogs, now known as the Destin Beach Bums.

If the goal of the structure of the expansion draft was to allow the clubs to build for the future, the player turnover seems to indicate either a flaw in the plan or an impatience on the part of the new franchise GMs. But does that even matter?

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