Halfway Home: Not What We Expected

Apart from Margaritaville’s league-leading 49-31 mark that tops the Northbound Division, is there anything about the I-75 League’s 2017 season that we really expected?

This year’s midpoint division leaders are Margaritaville, Applegate (47-33 to lead the West) and West Atlanta (44-36 to lead the South).

Last year they were Margaritaville, Boulder and New New York. All three of those teams made the playoffs, but Superior overtook Boulder with a 45-15 flourish in the final 60 games to win the division. Will that happen again this year? The Titans may be playing possum at 40-40.

The 80-game standings will also come as a major surprise to the deadly-accurate Breath-Alyzer rankings, which, while they correctly pegged the Volcanoes to rule the North, based on a survey of brain surgeons and rocket scientists, they have misfired to this point on the Crush (picked for third in the South) and the Paperclips (picked for last in the West).

But… it’s still early. The Paperclips may be 47-33, but they’re only two wins better than they were last year, when the schedule toughened and they collapsed in the second half (39-41), failing to make the playoffs.

With a 324 “current” rating in March, the Crush ranked 13th of 15 teams entering the season, but instead it leads its division and at 44 wins has the league’s fourth-best record.

And with a 12-win June, Bushwood (ranked fourth in the North by the deadly accurate) has thrown its hat into the playoff contender ring at 44-36, just three games back of the Volcanoes.

And clubs are already beginning to jockey for playoff position following a flurry of trades, mostly of the Renbarger-on-Renbarger variety, some kinky kind of Strat porn apparently.

Intriguing head-to-head matchups await in July as we creep toward the trading deadline. Will the surprise teams continue to surprise?

Lava Flow for May

It’s been a good start to the 2017 season for the Margaritaville Volcanoes, using an impressive offense to pace the league with 390 runs, 131 H’s and 35 wins through the season’s first 60 games. In the highly subjective Strat-generated awards voting, David Ortiz, Robinson Cano and Joey Votto rank 1, 2 and 4 in MVP voting, while batting respectively 3, 5 and 1 in the Volcano batting order. The Volcano pitching keeps many games close. The team with the most HRs through 60 games is Margaritaville with 131. Second place is Boulder with 107. Third place is whoever is playing the Volcanoes with 88. While the Volcanoes are last in the league with a 4.89 ERA, the fault is mainly the starting pitchers. Volcano starters have a 5.78 ERA, while the bullpen has a more respectable 3.36 ERA. The May trade adding super bullpen arm Addison Reed should further solidify the Volcanoes’ strength out of the bullpen. Helping to put a Band-Aid on their starting pitching is the Volcano defense. Springfield leads the league with a .854 x-out conversion percentage. Margaritaville is second at .810. Fueled by the 1-rated Robinson Cano at second base and the 1-rated Francisco Lindor at SS, the Volcanoes lead the league in inducing 76 ground ball double plays. With the strong-armed Wilson Ramos and Gary Sanchez behind the plate, the Volcanoes are also near the top of the league in allowing only 21 opponent steals. June’s showdown with Applegate matches not only the league’s best and second-best records (35 and 34 wins), but contrasting styles of play. The Volcanoes rely on the longball, outhomering the Clips 131 to 57 through the first 60 games, while the Clips bring the league’s third-lowest ERA (3.54) and third fewest HRs allowed (63). June also brings Margaritaville’s first matchup with in-division rival Bismarck, and rematches with pitching-strong Satellite Beach (league-leading fewest HRs allowed with 53) and Tatooine (second-best ERA at 3.52). Both Tatooine and Satellite Beach won the earlier series against Margaritaville 3 games to 2, but must now contest the rematches in batter-friendly Coors Field. The Volcanoes have hit 80 of their 131 HR’s at home, and have a .633 winning percentage at home (.533 on the road).

Clip Files for May

Shawn Kelley

In going 11-9, Applegate outscored its May foes 92-62 despite being outhomered 22-20. Hard righty reliever Shawn Kelley was a workhorse in a month that saw a lot of righty-leaning lineups, hurling 17 innings and notching three saves. Fifth starter Tyler Chatwood went 3-0 with a 0.62 ERA and No. 1 starter Kyle Hendricks went 3-0 with a 1.85 ERA. Yasmany Tomas hit .396 in May with four homers and 13 RBIs. Josh Donaldson hit . 308 with five homers and 19 RBIs. … The Clips are 13-17 at home (where they have been outhomered 46-27) but 21-9 on the road (where they have outhomered their foes 30-17). … 10 of Applegate’s first 60 games have gone extra innings; the club is 4-6. … Byron Buxton hit .037 in May, striking out 16 times in 27 at-bats. … The Clips are giving up a ridiculous number of hits on gb 2B (x) rolls. Neil Walker and Greg Garcia, both 3s at the position, recorded outs on only 12 of 22 2B(x) rolls in May, and for the year now they are a combined 48 outs in 73 2B(x) rolls, just 66%. … Centerfielder Billy Hamilton, a 1e5, has committed four errors already. … Kole Calhoun, who hit 18 homers for the Angels last year in real life batting largely in front of Mike Trout, finally hit his first homer of the year for Applegate in the club’s 59th game rolled, despite having started every game. … Hamilton has 31 sacrifice hits. The major league record is 67. …

Got notes like these on your team and want to see them on the league webpage? E-mail them to me by the 4th of the following month…

Clip Files for April

Andrew Miller

After a 15-5 start, the Clips won barely half that many games in April, recording four 2-3 series for an 8-12 month that still left them as the surprising frontrunner in the stacked West Division, although by the thinnest possible margin. … April was not kind to the Clips’ bullpen as it endured five extra-innings games. Only Dyersville and Destin have logged more innings pitched so far than Applegate’s 369 in 40 games. … Middle-of-the-pack status in league batting average (eighth at .253) and ERA (seventh at 3.98) do not bode well. … Applegate pitchers are second in the league in strikeouts (behind Boulder) with 365. Stephen Strasburg leads the league in strikeouts per nine innings at 12.82. … Relief stud Andrew Miller has fanned 35 in 21 innings while allowing just seven hits and leads the league with 11 saves. … Another bad sign: Mopup man Jhoulys Chacin leads the team and is tied for fourth in the league in games finished with 14. … Billy Hamilton leads the league in sac bunts with 22, on pace for 88. The next two players combine have 25. Hamilton is also tied for the league in steals with 13. … Kole Calhoun is still looking for his first homer despite playing all 40 games. He hit 18 in real life. … First-round pick Willson Contreras, who hit .282 in real life, and veteran catcher Russell Martin, who hit .231 in real life, are both hitting .225 as they share catcher duties for the Clips. … Inactive in March, Wade Davis was brutalized in April (0-2, 8.74 ERA), allowing 12 hits, nine walks and 11 earned runs in 11 1/3 innings.

Got notes like these on your team and want to see them on the league webpage? E-mail them to me by the 4th of the following month…

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.

Got notes like these on your team and want to see them on the league webpage? E-mail them to me by the 4th of the following month…

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.

Got notes like these on your team and want to see them on the league webpage? E-mail them to me by the 4th of the following month…

Clip Files for March

Neil Walker

Hard to tell who was surprised more by Applegate’s 15-5 start to the season: Manager Gary Kicinski or the deadly-accurate Daft-Alyzer… Applegate went an unthinkable 10-0 on the road, sweeping the lowly Bismarck Bombers as well as defending league champion Superior Titans. … The Clips went just 3-3 vs. left-handed starters and a whopping 12-2 vs. righties. … Applegate held Bismarck to just four runs scored in its series, hurling two shutouts. … Applegate was 4-0 in one-run games as Andrew Miller notched eight saves. Miller, Ryan Buchter and Ken Giles combined to pitch 24 2/3 innings without allowing an earned run. Workhorse George Kontos also posted a 0.61 ERA in 14 2/3 innings, allowing just six hits. … Neil Walker might be one of those on-in-odd-years, off-in-even-years guys. He hit five homers in March after only hitting seven for the Clips in all of 2016. … Josh Donaldson carried the offense with a .308 average, seven homers, 15 runs scored and 19 RBIs. … Kole Calhoun had eight doubles while hitting .324. … The Clips outhomered their road opponents 17-3.

Got notes like these on your team and want to see them on the league webpage? E-mail them to me by the 4th of the following month…