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.

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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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Gopher Holes for June

After stumbling out of the gate with only eight March wins, the Gophers righted the ship with double-digit win totals for three consecutive months (14-6 in April, 10-10 in May and 12-8 in June) to reach the midway point with 44 wins.  The successful first half has sparked postseason hopes around Bushwood for a team that looked no better than middle-of-the-pack after the draft. Although the addition of quality starter Jacob deGrom bodes well for the second half, the Gophers over-used numerous key players in the first half —  among them SP Justin Verlander (113%), SP Yu Darvish (124%), CF Kevin Kiermaier (115%) and OF Chris Young (118%) — so the club will be relying on some lesser players to make up the difference in the second half. … No Gophers appear among the league leaders on offense.  RF George Springer leads the club with a mere 10 homers, and Kiermaier and 2B Dustin Pedroia share the RBI lead with just 40.  Springer (.208) and SS Asdrubal Cabrera (.205) got hot in June to hike their averages above the Mendoza Line.  But Cabrera, who smacked 23 homers for the Mets last year, has only four for the Gophers.

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Gopher Holes for April

Jeremy Hellickson

Buoyed by a fanciful 14-6 April showing, the Gophers happily reached the season’s quarter pole with a 22-18 record.  With 4-1 series victories over Superior, Savannah and Satellite Beach, April was certainly a month to remember in Bushwood. In checking the 40-game stats, the Gophers feature over-achievers galore on the pitching side of the ledger, but plenty of room for improvement the at the plate.  Despite a mediocre-at-best staff on paper, Bushwood’s team ERA of 3.40 through 40 games ranked second in the league (trailing only Dyersville’s 3.24 but much better than the league average of 4.11).  … For starters, check out Jeremy Hellickson, who fortunately slid to the Gophers in the third round of March’s draft.  The righty is 5-1 with a 3.04 ERA. He has pitched well in all seven of his starts so far and has won his last five in a row entering May.  Fellow righty Trevor Bauer (2-5) hasn’t enjoyed the offensive support Hellickson has, but his ERA stands at 3.72 and he has logged at least five innings in all eight of his starts.  Even lefty Martin Perez, Bushwood’s No. 6 starter, has a respectable ERA of 3.98 through four starts. … And the bullpen, boosting a cumulative ERA of 2.07, is crawling with overachievers, including Alex Claudio (0.00 ERA), Delois Guerra (0.96), Hansel Robles (1.11), Sam Dyson (1.23), Nate Jones (1.96) and David Phelps (2.20).  … Offensively, however, it is another story.  Bushwood’s primary lineup will never be described as fearsome, but these stats suggest it is woefully inept.  With a team OPS of .688, the Gophers are next-to-last in that key category and well off the league average of .744. … Everyday RF George Springer is the worst offender, hitting just .159 with 3 homers and 10 RBIs and an OPS of just .513 (vs. .816 in real life).   Other culprits include second-round pick Aledmys Diaz (.213/2/7/.616), Steve Pearce (.196/4/12/.631) and Denard Span (.177/1/5/.523).  … Only two Gophers are bucking this glum trend at the plate:  CF Kevin Kiermaier and C Buster Posey. Kiermaier, known more for his glove than his bat, is Bushwood’s No. 9 hitter yet somehow leads the team in RBI with 21, including three that came on game-winning squeeze bunts.  And Posey, who normally gets a great card and still overachieves, is doing it again despite a modest card, hitting .290 with an .836 OPS.  Against lefty starters, however, the baffling team-wide slump continues, as the Gophers are just 5-9 vs. lefties despite a loaded lineup. … Future watch:  Although the Gophers have settled into the middle of the pack in the early-season Yahoo standings, Bushwood fans are enthused about the home run power displayed by waiver draft pickup Joey Gallo so far with the Rangers.  Alas, the Rangers have demoted star-crossed prospect and fellow Gopher Jurickson Profar to the minors after a poor start.  Meanwhile, top pick Nomar Mazara falls in the middle entering May, having cooled off considerably after opening the season on fire with the Rangers. … Checking the standings, Bushwood stood two games behind the front-running Volcanoes in the Northbound race entering May.  And the Gophers were able to inch a little closer by taking 3 of 5 from Margaritaville to open May play.  Hoping to extend their unlikely streak of four winning series in a row (after losing 3 of 4 April series), the Gophers face Tatooine, West Atlanta and Destin later this month.

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Gopher Holes for March

Martin Prado

In going 8-12, Bushwood lost Game 1 of all four series, which made it seem like they were playing catch-up all month long. … In Game 1 against Springfield, the Topes set the tone by putting up five first-inning runs against Verlander in an eventual 6-5 loss. More misery followed as Springfield won the next three games by narrow margins before the Gophers averted the sweep with a 9-1 victory against lefty Dallas Keuchel. … Both of Bushwood’s victories against Dyersville came in extra innings, with the go-ahead runs in each scoring on a squeeze bunt by Kevin Kiermaier. In the series against the Treblemakers, the Gophers hit .196 and failed to homer. … Verlander got two starts against Applegate, but Bushwood lost both games. The Gophers’ other victory over a lefty came in a 12-2 game against the Clips’ Drew Pomeranz. … After Ian Kennedy dropped the opener against SGP, the Gophers prevailed in three of the next four games, all tight contests … Martin Prado hit an even .500 for the month (21 for 42) … Albert Pujols hit just .200 but provided 7 homers and 14 RBIs. … Third-round pick Jeremy Hellickson went 2-1 with a 2.63 ERA in four solid starts.

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Gopher Holes for March

A staple of league newsletters in the 1980s and ’90s, team notes are back! If you have team notes you’d like to submit for your club each month, e-mail Gary.

GOPHER HOLES:  The Gophers had plenty of heroes in March en route to a 15-5 record, but let’s give the nod to slick-fielding 3B Scott Rolen as team MVP for the month.  Rolen hit .356 with a team-high 7 homers and 14 RBIs.  His OBP was .441 and his slugging was .831 … With 5 homers and 14 walks in 26 ABs, DH Jim Thome actually trumped Rolen in average (.385), OBP (.600) and slugging (1.044) in part-time duty … RF Delmon Young collected 11 doubles on the month to grab the league lead … Top pick Buster Posey debuted with a disappointing .220 average … With a league-low 3.43 team ERA, the Gophers’ new-look pitching staff passed its first test.  The set-up tandem of Brandon Lyon (14.1 IP) and Rafael Soriano (6.1 IP) combined to toss 20.2 innings without allowing an earned run … And long reliever Justin Masterson logged 19 innings with an impressive 1.89 ERA … Top starter Tim Hudson (4-1, 2.81 ERA) and Mat Latos (3-0, 2.22 ERA) worked 6 or more innings in all nine of their starts … In a 5-0 sweep of Detroit, the Gophers outscored the Dogs 37-9.  Utility guy Emilio Bonafacio went 5-for-5 in one game against the Dogs, catapulting him to a .538 month (7-for-13) … The Gophers’ April schedule includes early showdowns against Superior (16-4) and Margaritaville (14-6).  The Gophers will make one small roster adjustment for April, replacing lefty Travis Wood (1-2, 7.80 ERA) with righty Rick Porcello as No. 5 starter.