Gopher Holes for May

Righty Taijuan Walker enjoyed a spectacular debut month for the Gophers, going 2-0 with a 0.66 ERA in four starts, including a complete game victory over the division-leading Volcanoes. Walker gave up just 19 hits and two runs over 27.1 innings. The Gophers won three of his four starts, the only loss coming in a tough-luck 3-1 setback vs. the Rebels, Walker’s former team.

For the month, the Gophers broke even at 10-10 to reach the 60-game plateau at 34-26, five games behind the Volcanoes in the Northbound. Bushwood went 3-2 at Margaritaville and vs. Destin, but slipped to 2-3 vs. Tatooine and at West Atlanta. After winning 6 of the first 8 games of the month vs. Margaritaville and Destin (and grabbing a comfy lead in Game 9 vs. the Bums), the Gophers had visions of grandeur. But the club’s luck changed abruptly, with the Gophers limping through a 4-8 stretch to close the month.

Crummy game of the month: The turning point came against the Bums in that Game 4. Destin skipper Ken Crawford was already in a bad frame of mind after three quick losses. But the Bums showed signs of life in the fifth inning of Game 4, rallying for five runs against Yu Darvish to grab a 6-4 lead. Destin ace Chris Sale was struggling, and when he hit George Springer with a pitch to open the bottom of the fifth, Crawford pulled the lefty in favor of Addison Reed. False move. Reed promptly walked Buster Posey and Ryan Zimmerman, then allowed a grand slam to Austin Barnes to lose the lead and fall into endurance. For good measure, Shin-Soo Choo followed with a solo shot to put the Gophers up 9-6 and push Crawford over the edge. He decided to leave his tired reliever on the hill to absorb further punishment, but a funny thing happened. Reed settled down and tossed 2.2 spotless innings, and the Bums struck for two runs in the eighth and three more in the ninth to notch an unlikely 11-9 victory. Ryan Braun’s two-run homer got the Gophers sweating in the eighth, and Carlos Correa’s 3-run bomb in the ninth off elite reliever Steve Cishek finished them off in the ninth.

Cishek had a month to forget, repeatedly losing leads and getting lit up regularly despite a card to die for. His ERA climbed from 0.96 at the outset of the month all the way up to 6.06 by month’s end.

As a team, the Gophers’ offense fell flat in May, scoring 3 runs or fewer in 11 of the 20 games overall, including 4 of 5 vs. the Rebels. Against the Crush, the Gophers dropped three games in a row after winning the first two, scoring just 8 total runs in the three losses.

Overall, the home run has not been kind to the Gophers. The Gophers have been outhomered as a team 83-91. Despite playing their home games in a stingy home run park, only two teams in the league have allowed more homers than Bushwood (97 by Satellite Beach and 104 by New New York). Ace Justin Verlander has allowed 18 homers and Darvish has given up 16.

Overachievers: First-round draft choice Zimmerman is among the league leaders in homers (19) and RBIs (47) through 60 games. And closer Yusmeiro Petit is 4-1 with 12 saves and a sterling 1.82 ERA.

On the other hand, Springer’s underwhelming season continues to cause concern throughout Bushwood. His average dipped to .181 and his OPS sits at .649 (vs. 889 in real life). With a run differential of plus-8, the Gophers should consider themselves lucky to be eight games over .500.

Looking ahead to June, the grizzled Gophers square off against the league’s young guns, facing the three Renbarger brothers and rookie skipper Kevin Gergel. It will be the first meeting of the year vs. Boulder and New New York, while Dyersville and East Cobb will being trying to improve on their 1-4 marks vs. the Gophers.

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