Gopher Holes for April

When Kike Hernandez was still on the board at pick No. 25 at the big March draft in Scottsdale, the Gophers were delighted. Judged by some predraft analysts as a first-round talent, the Dodgers handyman looked like a perfect fit for Bushwood. With 422 at-bats, outstanding power, tremendous versatility and a nicely balanced card, Kike was a no-brainer pick for a team that desperately needed help at second base and in the outfield. Forty games into the season, however, the Gophers are still waiting for the real Kike to show up. With a .174 average and a .591 OPS, the underachieving Hernandez ranks as one of the many reasons that the Gophers are just 16-24 at the 40-game mark.

Speaking of underachievers, don’t forget about ace pitchers Jacob deGrom and Justin Verlander and slugging outfielders Joey Gallo and George Springer. DeGrom (2-4, 6.12 ERA) and Verlander (3-4, 5.75 ERA) have been roughed up so often it is almost criminal. And we figured that Gallo couldn’t hit any worse than he did last year (.174 with 32 homers), but we were wrong (.143 with 7 homers — on pace for 28). Springer is building on his career-long underachieving rep with the Gophers, hitting just .203 with only three homers. Even veteran catcher Buster Posey, a traditional overachiever, has slipped below the Mendoza line at .196, perhaps due to exhaustion. Posey has started all 40 games behind the dish this season for the Gophers.

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Gopher Holes for March

With three genuine aces in the rotation for the first time in 40 years, the Gophers, a team traditionally built around offense, has a different look for 2019.  Sadly, the results fell well short of the expectations for two of the three aces in March.  Jacob deGrom went 1-2 with a 4.76 ERA over five starts, and Justin Verlander was hit even harder, going 2-1 with a 6.99 ERA in his five outings.  Thankfully, Trevor Bauer held up his end, going 3-1 with a 1.61 ERA in four starts.  The Gophers, however, went only 6-8 in their aces’ 14 starts for the month, which ain’t gonna cut it.

The bullpen, which features solid arms but lacks a true closer, had a nightmarish opening month.  The pen routinely blew leads and completely imploded at least once per series.  Relievers with inflated ERAs include Ryan Pressley (11.05), Jordan Hicks (9.00), TJ McFarland (6.75) and Steve Cishek (5.25).  Long reliever Mike Montgomery bucked that trend, however, posting a 1.56 ERA over 17.1 innings and notching four saves (all of the nine-out variety).  Overall, however, the Gophers went 0-3 in extra inning games.

Offensively, the under-achievers outnumbered the overachievers.  There was George Springer at .167, second-round draft pick Kike Hernandez at .158, Joey Gallo at .143 and Isiah Kiner-Falefa at ,087.  SS Paul DeJong earned hitter of the month honors, with 7 homers and 15 RBIs, hitting .357 with a .905 slugging and a 1.254 OPS.  Ryan Zimmerman’s stats were even better in part-time duty:  hitting .393 and slugging .893 with an OPS of 1.326.  First-round pick Jesus Aguilar led the squad with 17 RBIs but hit just .200.

The Gophers finished in a dead heat on the monthly run-differential column, scoring and allowing 96 runs.

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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Gopher Holes for September

The Gophers enter the final month of the season taking dead aim at one of the two remaining wild-card playoff berths, but it won’t be an easy chore with six other teams still very much in the running.

Coming off an 11-win September that featured a 4-1 series victory over front-running Margaritaville and a 3-2 triumph over the contending Beach Bums, it was the cellar-dwelling Hypnotoads and Tree Huggers who prevented the Gophers from making a real move in the standings.

First it was middle nephew Jason who guided the lowly Toads to a 3-2 series victory over Uncle Dave, posting solid victories in Games 2-4 while limiting the Gophers to just five runs in the three middle games. Then eldest nephew John opened Bushwood’s final series of the month with three narrow victories. Fearing a season-wrecking sweep, the Gophers needed a game-winning two-run homer from Joey Gallo with two outs in the ninth inning to salvage Game 4, then squeaked out another 4-3 triumph in the finale to avert disaster, conclude a thrilling series and earn a winning month.

Of course, the highlight of the month was the four wins vs. Margaritaville that only served to slow down Grid’s march to the division title. Jacob deGrom got things off on the right foot against the slugging Volcanoes, twirling a phenomenal two-hit shutout in Game 1, while notching 12 strikeouts. Parker Bridwell and Taijuan Walker continued to hold the Volcanoes in check (with great assistance from the bullpen) in subsequent 4-2 and 4-3 victories. In a sensational pitchers duel between Dinelson Limet and Yu Darvish, the Gophers lost a 1-0 heartbreaker in Game 4. In the finale, Bushwood rallied from an early 5-0 deficit to post a thrilling 6-5 victory, with Paul Dejong‘s two-run double in the seventh providing the winning runs.

Likewise, the series vs. the Bums included some rare feats, including three 10-inning games in a row, the Gophers blowing a 8-1 lead in the eighth inning of a 9-8 loss and the never-before-seen-or-heard-of accomplishment of blowing an 11-run lead in the eighth inning and then getting up off the mat to win it in 10, 13-12. (Yes, that all really did happen in this series, and if you don’t believe me, then just ask Mark Gergel.)

Believe it or not, the exact same bullpen that gave up zero runs in 19 innings vs. Margaritaville turned around and gave up 15 runs in 19.1 innings vs. the Bums. Go figure.

As a result, the Gophers find themselves in the middle of a group of seven teams contending for the final two wild-card spots. With the loser of the Westbound Division race between Applegate and Superior pretty much assured the first wild card, the following teams all remain in the hunt for the two other wild cards entering October play. They are: South Grand Prairie (78 wins), Satellite Beach (76), West Atlanta (75), Bushwood (75), Destin (74), Bismarck (72) and Dyersville (72). SGP is also still within striking distance (three games) of front-running Savannah in the Southbound.

Though facing dwindling usage situations at several positions, the Gophers look forward to the challenge of the October slate, featuring the Volcanoes again along with division foes Bismarck, East Cobb and Tatooine. “It’s October, and it’s all hands on deck,” said Gophers skipper Dave Renbarger. “The way I look at it, the playoffs have already started. It’s win or go home starting right now.”

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.

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.

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Gopher Holes for June

Ahhh, June.  What a month it was.  The Gophers won all four series back in June, going 4-1 vs. the Toads and Treblemakers and 3-2 vs. the Huggers and Juice.  That 14-6 record gave Bushwood a 48-32 record at the season’s halfway point.  That’s a cool .600 winning percentage and just three games behind first-place Margaritaville in the Northbound standings.

Alas, the dog days of July are now upon us, and the Gophers have crashed and burned.  First there was the 0-5 series vs. Savannah, when Bushwood managed only eight runs total in five games.  Then came today’s 1-4 showing vs. the Bismarck, in which the Gophers cranked up their mighty offense to the tune of 12 total runs.  What is next for the boys from Bushwood, you ask?  Applegate and SGP are on deck, with Gary and Garth no doubt licking their chops.

Meanwhile, back to the salad days of June, when the offense was clicking.  The Gophers actually scored 17 runs in one game against Dyersville and 44 runs in one series against the Toads.

Interesting first half stat:  The Gophers, despite having just the seventh-highest scoring team in the league, were the only team in the league to avoid being shut out over the first 80 games.  (Alas, Bushwood has been blanked twice already in July).

In another streak that will be difficult to extend, the Gophers managed to avoid a losing month in the first half, going 14-6 in March and June and 10-10 in April and May.

Welcome back:  Long lost starter Parker Bridwell made a triumphant return to the rotation in June.  The Gophers’ No. 6 starter, Bridwell made three starts back in March then spent the next two months on the inactive list before resurfacing in June to start four times.  The Gophers won all four games, and Bridwell, again relegated to the cab squad for July, has some season stats worth boasting about.  He is 3-0 with a 4.19 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP for his seven total starts, and he went the distance in all three of his wins.  The righty has 78 innings remaining for the second half but is only scheduled to get three more starts the way the Gophers’ second-half rotation currently lines up.  So if anyone is in the market for an unbeaten starter with lots of usage for the last three months, please inquire within.

Speaking of the trade deadline, the Gophers’ dormant offense would seem to need a shot in the arm.  Recently acquired OF Josh Reddick could still provide a boost, but he has done little in his first 10 July games in Bushwood.  In the bullpen, another lefty arm could come in handy down the stretch.

Including the dismal July results, the Gophers are currently 49-41 and obviously losing ground in the Northbound and wild-card races.  So the pressure is on to bounce back strong over the remaining 70 games and make the playoffs for the first time since 2015.