Lava Flow for June

June play continued the odd journey of the Volcanoes through their 2019 season. The Volcanoes posted their season-best 12-8 record, and at the end of the month found themselves tied for first place in the Northbound division. For the season, the Volcanoes have allowed more runs (436) than they have scored (399), yet have won more games (41) than they have lost (39). The Volcanoes have hit better against righties (.800 OPS) than against lefties (.764 OPS) yet have a better record against lefties (12-6) than against righties (29-33). The Volcanoes have batted with the bases loaded a league-leading 73 times and while their overall OPS is .792, with the bases loaded they have hit to a .914 OPS, leading to a league-leading 61 runs from bases loaded situations.

(The Hypnotoads lead the league in bases-loaded OPS with 1.012, but have only batted with the bases loaded 56 times, producing 52 runs).  Applegate’s (.608 OPS) and Bismarck’s (.545 OPS)  batters have turned to jelly with the bases loaded.

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Margaritaville repeats as I-75 League World Champs

The turning point came in the seventh inning of Game Four.

To that point, Applegate had taken a 2-1 lead in the series and was up 3-0 through six innings. The Paperclips were nine outs away from taking a commanding 3-1 series lead. Starter Kyle Hendricks had allowed just one hit over six shutout innings.

Then, the dam broke.

Joey Votto singled and Justin Turner homered, cutting Applegate’s lead to 3-2 and bringing Hendricks’ night to a sudden close. Lefty Justin Wilson came on to face Charlie Blackmon, but Blackmon singled. Righty Fernando Rodney spelled Wilson and retired Gary Sanchez and Domingo Santana, but allowed Blackmon to steal second. The Clips decided no more messin’ around and called on lefty ace Andrew Miller to face Robinson Cano, but Cano laced a game-tying single. The very next batter, Francisco Lindor, blasted a two-run homer and in the blink of an eye, the Clips were down 5-3. Margaritaville had stifled the Clips’ momentum.

That inning ignited a Volcanic eruption that saw Margaritaville score 11 runs in Game Five (an 11-5 win), seven runs in Game Six (an 8-7 loss in 11 innings) and 10 runs in the decisive Game Seven, a 10-2 anticlimactic blowout that gave Margaritaville its second World Championship in a row.

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Clips to employ ‘secret weapons’ in desperate bid to upend Volcanoes

It’s Applegate vs. Margaritaville for the 2018 I-75 League World Championship, coined by some as “The Mismatch of the Century.”

No. 2 seeded Applegate fought back its longtime rivals, the sixth-seeded Bushwood Gophers, taking four out of five Pennant Series games to advance, while the top-seeded Volcanoes mashed No. 4 seeded Superior in five games as well, outscoring the Titans 37-14, to earn a chance to defend their league title.

But while record-wise, a matchup pitting a 106-win team against a 101-win team might seem like a juicy duel, Applegate Manager Gary Kicinski reiterated a midseason sentiment: “We have no chance. At least — not employing conventional weapons.”

Kicinski noted that since the trading deadline, the Volcanoes are 14-1 against the Paperclips and Titans, the teams with the second- and third-best records in the league. Margaritaville swept the Clips in a five-game series in September, the Titans in a five-game series in August, and just concluded the four-out-of-five playoff landslide against Superior. “They have future Hall of Famers up and down their lineup. They have the best of the players they drafted, and the best of the players Savannah drafted. It’s like one against two.”

But, all is not lost. By receiving special dispensation from the league commissioner, the Clips were able to make a pair of offseason off-the-books trades to acquire the key components they’ll need in order to have any chance at all of not getting their doors blown off.

Applegate has acquired Manager Dave Renbarger from the Bushwood Gophers in exchange for a bag of chocolate donuts, and manager Jason Renbarger from the New New York Hypnotoads in exchange for naming rights to something that is More More Sensible.

Dave Renbarger guided the Gophers to an improbable 11-4 record against Margaritaville this season, while Jason Renbarger skippered the worst team the planet has ever seen, one that went a historically bad 36-124, to a 3-2 series win over the Volcanoes in July. Dave will be in the third-base coaching box during the World Championship for Applegate and Jason will coach first.

“We know that John McMillan will manage his club differently against us in the postseason than he did against those teams during the regular season,” Kicinski said. “All of his top players will be active and the rules are different in the postseason.

“But if some of that Dave and Jason karma doesn’t rub off on us… we have no chance.”

Take that, millennials: Veteran managers fill Final Four slots

The Canadian Football League plays for the Grey Cup. Given the four teams still alive in this year’s I-75 League playoffs, should we be calling our trophy “The Greybeard Cup”?

Four managers with a zillion years of experience remain alive in pursuit of our 39th championship, after original franchise managers Dave and Mike Renbarger piloted their clubs to five-game series victories in the Division Series round of play.

Dave’s Bushwood Gophers, who survived a Game 161 tiebreaker with Dyersville to earn the sixth seed and a shot at No. 3 seed South Grand Prairie, rode a pair of victories from ace Justin Verlander to advancement. Mike’s Superior Titans came in with the No. 4 seed and dispatched Savannah in five games, after the Scorpions had lost their own division-title-tiebreaker Game 161 with South Grand Prairie to settle for the fifth seed.

That sets up semifinal rounds featuring:

  • #6 Bushwood vs. #2 Applegate
  • #4 Superior vs. #1 Margaritaville

In addition to Dave and Mike Renbarger being two of the league’s five managers who remain in the league from its 1980 debut, they are tied with six league World Championships earned in 39 years. Applegate’s Gary Kicinski, who is another of those five, although he did take a four-year hiatus, has three World Championships to his credit and is looking for a fourth. Margaritaville’s John McMillan has been in the league 16 years and is the defending champion with consecutive 106-win seasons on his resume.

In the Bushwood-South Grand Prairie tussle, the Gophers prevailed twice in matchups featuring Verlander and Warriors ace Max Scherzer, once in a blowout (Game One, 11-1) and once in a nail-biter (Game Four, 1-0). Verlander went 2-0 with a 0.63 ERA. Jesse Winker provided the offensive support, hitting .636 with four homers and a double. The Warriors’ only win came in Game Two by a 4-3 count.

Superior too rode some studly starting pitching to its series victory as Cory Kluber pitched a complete-game five-hit shutout in Game One (3-0) and went the distance again in the Game Five clincher, a 6-3 win. Bryce Harper hit .563 in the series with two homers, three doubles, six walks and seven RBIs. Savannah’s win came in a Game Three matchup of lefties, thanks to great bullpen work in relief of James Paxton and a four-run rally in the seventh for a 6-5 win.

Bushwood and Applegate split their 10 regular-season games, while Margaritaville had its way with Superior, winning eight out of 10.

Gopher Holes for October

Ryan ZImmerman

Zimmerman

The Gophers didn’t remotely resemble a playoff team during the club’s disastrous 4-16 showing in July, but Bushwood was able to right the ship over the last three months.  That fast finish included a 12-8 August, an 11-9 September and a 13-7 October, just enough wins to earn a share of the final wild card.  It took a 5-3 victory over Dyersville in Game 161 to stamp Bushwood’s playoff ticket.

Ryan Zimmerman‘s contributions to the squad were enormous.  The slugging first baseman, selected with the 13th overall pick of the March draft, hit .299 with 46 homers and 122 RBI to earn team MVP honors.  Bushwood’s pitcher of the year also joined the team in March.  Yusmeiro Petit — the club’s third-round selection (No. 43 overall) — was a reliable closer who logged 93 high-leverage innings, collected 23 saves and went 10-4 with a 3.00 ERA.

Petit outperformed high-profile starters Justin Verlander (14-8, 4.73) and Jacob deGrom (16-8, 4.55).  Tajuan Walker (3.74) was Bushwood’s lone starter to post a sub-4 ERA.  Yu Darvish (6-12, 4.70, 39 homers allowed in 32 starts) was a major disappointment.

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Margaritaville duplicates 106-win total; Game 161s settle two playoff berths

The Big Prize was long-ago largely settled, that being league best record and No. 1 playoff seed, which Margaritaville sewed up awhile ago.

But there was plenty of drama elsewhere as the I-75 League wrapped up its 39th season and set the stage for playoff clashes:

  • Bushwood and Dyersville finished tied for the final playoff spot when the Treblemakers exploded for a 15-win October to match the Gophers’ 88-win total. But Bushwood captured the playoff game 5-3 thanks to 6 2/3 hitless bullpen innings, ending Dyersville’s season and allowing Bushwood to claim the No. 6 playoff seed.
  • Savannah and South Grand Prairie tied for the Southbound Division title at 90-70, resulting in a one-game playoff, won by the Warriors 4-1, as Max Scherzer and two relievers held the Scorpions to three hits. SGP was awarded the division crown and a No. 3 seed, while Savannah settled for a No. 5 seed.
  • In the Westbound Division, Applegate won 4-out-of-5 against Superior and went on to a 15-win month. The Clips needed almost all of those wins as Superior went 12-3 in its remaining games to finish just three back of the Paperclips. Superior collected a No. 4 seed and division champ Applegate, by virtue of its 101 wins, secured the division crown and first-round bye.

Margaritaville racked up 106 wins for the second year in a row and will use its first-round by to await the winner of No. 5 Savannah vs. No. 4 Superior.

Applegate will take on the winner of No. 6 Bushwood vs. No. 3 South Grand Prairie.

At the other end of the spectrum, the New New York Hypnotoads set a futility record with a three-win October that resulted in a 36-124 record, obliterating the league record of 114 losses and even topping the modern major league loss record of 120 set by the 1962 New York Mets.

Superior’s Avisail Garcia won the league batting title at .349. South Grand Prairie’s Giancarlo Stanton clubbed 61 homers and drove in 141 runs to win both of those titles.

Bismarck’s Zack Greinke was the league’s only 20-game winner; he finished second in the ERA race to Superior’s Corey Kluber (2.39). Destin’s Chris Sale whiffed 301 to win the strikeout title.

Lava Flow for October

Joey Votto

Votto

With 13 wins in October, the Volcanoes reached 106 wins for the second consecutive year.  The matching 106-win seasons invite comparison between the 2017 and 2018 Volcano versions.  Each team led the I-75 league in runs scored – the 2017 team with 996 runs; the 2018 team with 971 runs.  The “new” Volcanoes were better at preventing runs – the 2017 team allowed 756 runs; the 2018 team allowed 678 runs.  By “Pythagorean” math (a team’s won-loss percentage is approximated by the formula runs scored squared divided by the sum of runs scored squared and runs allowed squared), the 2017 team exceeded their forecast by five games (101 forecast wins, 106 actual), while the 2018 team lagged their forecast by one game (107 forecast wins, 106 actual).  David Ortiz led the 2017 team with 130.9 runs created (and won the mythical I-75 league MVP award voting).  Ortiz’s void was more than filled by Joey Votto, who led the 2018 team with 162.7 runs created (and who also won the mythical MVP award voting).  Both teams led the league in home runs: 314 for the 2017 version; 272 for the 2018 version.  Over two seasons, the Volcanoes have hit 586 home runs.

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