One night, two no-hitters highlights historic March

Heading into the I-75 League’s 39th season, the record book showed 17 no-hitters. That means many years passed without a single no-hitter being thrown.

We won’t have to worry about that in 2018, as we’ve already had two no-hitters that not only occurred in the same month, but were rolled on the same night.

On March 28, Margaritaville Manager John McMillan announced that three pitchers had combined to hurl the first no-no in Volcano history, and moments later, Satellite Beach Manager Steve Nieroda shared the news that Alex Cobb had done the same for the Brawlers. Needless to say, two no-hitters on one night had never before occurred in league history.

Margaritaville’s no-hitter, a 12-0 blowout of Boulder, ended in dramatic fashion, as the Tree Huggers’ Eric Thames rolled a SI * 1-15 with two outs in the ninth, only to pluck a 16 to end the game.

That came off Joakim Soria, who entered in the eighth and stuck around for the ninth when both managers realized for the first time that history was pending. Boulder had loaded the bases with walks in the first inning off Margaritaville starter Dinelson Lamet but failed to score. Jed Lowrie reached via a hit-by-pitch in the fourth. Randall Delgado relieved Lamet and pitched two hitless innings while Margaritaville’s offense continued to feast on Boulder pitchers Johnny Cueto and Jeff Hoffman. Along the way, Boulder was missing a trio of 1-15 ballpark homer chances.

But when it was all said and done, the Volcanoes had their combined no-hitter, fanning nine and walking three.

Cobb’s no-hitter for Satellite Beach was nearly even more historic, as a sixth-inning walk by Tatooine’s Jason Kipnis was the only blemish on what was nearly a perfect game. Cobb struck out 10 while going the distance in the 3-0 win. Like Boulder, Tatooine also missed three ballpark homer chances in the game.

The no-hit victories helped both Margaritaville and Satellite Beach to 13-win months, a month notable for the fact that 10 of the league’s 15 teams got off to double-digit win totals, including every team in the Northbound Division and four of the five teams in the Westbound Division. Leading the way was Bushwood with 14 wins, a feat accomplished despite playing three of its four series on the road. Tatooine managed a 10-win month despite going 0-5 in the Satellite Beach series that included the no-hitter, winning its other series 3-2, 4-1 and 3-2.

 

Lava Flow for March

After 2018’s “Dream Season,” there were a couple holes to patch in Margaritaville. We said good-bye to David Ortiz’s MVP season of 45 HRs and 136 RBIs, and Wilmer Flores’ 17 HRs in 151 lefty-mashing at-bats. We also penciled in greatly reduced roles for Jon Lester (76 IP, 2.45 era after his trade-deadline pick-up) and Wilson Ramos (34 HRs and 95 RBIs).

The draft filled some holes in the outfield (Chris Taylor, Mitch Haniger), in the starting staff (Dinelson Lamet) and the bullpen (Mike Minor, Mychal Givens, Cory Gearrin). How would the offense measure up to 2018’s 996 runs and 314 HRs? Is there enough pitching in Margaritaville for a 2018 playoff run?

March provided some optimistic answers to those questions. In winning 13 and losing 7, the Volcanoes led the league in runs scored (122), home runs (38) and fewest runs allowed (73). Leading the offense again was Joey Votto, slashing .392/.473/.658 while scoring 21 runs and driving in 11. Kris Bryant had 7 HRs and 16 RBIs while Gary Sanchez (now a full-time catcher after his rationed 2017 at-bats) hit 6 HRs and led the team (and the league) with 19 RBIs.

While the offense continued to produce runs, March’s biggest surprise was the effectiveness of the Volcano pitching staff. It is still a bullpen-led group (3.83 ERA for the starters, 2.82 ERA for the relievers) with its 73.1 IP second only to Superior’s 75 bullpen innings. Lamet was a nice draft-day pickup, going 2-1 in his 4 March starts, and on the front-end of Margaritaville’s first-ever no-hitter. Brandon McCarthy and Cole Hamels proved their trade-worthiness, going 6-0 in their eight March starts. After going 22-16 in one-run games in 2017, the Volcanoes played nine one-run games in March, going 4-5. In a league that has gone sac-bunt crazy (113 attempts for the league in March play), the Volcanoes were the only team NOT to attempt a sacrifice bunt. The Volcano defense continues to be a strength, converting 82% of their x-chances (third in the league).

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Gopher Holes for March

There was great joy throughout Bushwood in March as the Gophers posted a league-best 14-6 record in the opening month of the I-75 season.  The Gophers got started with an epic 3-2 series victory over the Paperclips face-to-face at the draft.  The season opener was a tense 15-inning affair won by Bushwood 2-1, followed by a 13-inning 7-6 loss in Game 2.  Lady Luck smiled on the Gophers for their next two series — 4-1 triumphs over Dyersville and East Cobb that truthfully could have gone either way.  Finally, the Gophers and Warriors split the first four games of the last series before Jacob deGrom pitched Bushwood to a 5-3 victory in the finale and a 14-6 ledger.

For the month, deGrom went 4-0 in four starts despite a so-so 4.34 ERA.  All-purpose reliever Yusmeiro Petit made a great first impression, going 2-1 with five saves and a 1.27 ERA over 21.1 innings.  At the plate, center fielder Kevin Kiermaier hit .367 for the month, catcher Buster Posey hit .338 with four homers and 12 RBIs, while new first baseman Ryan Zimmerman had 16 RBIs.  Zimm, Joey Gallo and George Springer shared the team HR lead with five.  Meanwhile, highly limited slugger Teoscar Hernandez expended 28 of his 88 ABs and hit just .179 with three homers, and second baseman Dustin Pedroia hit a sluggish .180.

In a surprising and troubling stat, the Gophers hit into a whopping 27 DPs as a team while turning just 15 for the month.  Given the fact that Bushwood often employs 1 fielders at second, third and short (Pedroia, Kyle Seager and Adeiny Hechavarria), one might expect to see the opposite DP differential.

After playing three road series in March, the Gophers are looking forward to three home sets in April.  The Bombers, Scorps and Titans will all visit Bushwood this month.  A five-game set at Satellite Beach against the fast-starting Brawlers rounds out the April slate.

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