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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Lava Flow for July

In July, the Volcanoes posted a good month on the field – going 15-5 despite a surprising series loss to the New New York Hypnotoads.  The Volcanoes swept the Southbound-leading SGP Warriors, and added 4-1 series victories against the Savannah Scorpions and Boulder Tree Huggers.  Combined with the July swoon (4-16) of the Bushwood Gophers, the Volcanoes opened up a 14-game lead in the Northbound division.  After 100 games the Volcanoes have a record of 66 wins and 34 losses, a pace three games ahead of the 2017 Volcanoes’ record of 63-37 at the 100-game mark.

The bigger news of July happened off the field for the Volcanoes, as they traded Mookie Betts, Carlos Rodon, Joakim Soria, Joc Pederson and Khris Davis to add Justin Turner, Charlie Blackmon, Rhys Hoskins, Michael Fulmer and Colby Rasmus.  It’s difficult to trade a 25-year-old outfielder on the way to an MVP season, but the players the Volcanoes picked up position the team nicely to make another title run in the last 60 games and then postseason of the 2018 season.

Looking at card values via runs created vs. righties and vs. lefties, the 2018 Volcanoes compare nicely to the 2017 Volcano team.  Looking at the offense:

 

2017 Volcanoes 2018 Volcanoes
vs Right vs Left vs Right vs Left
Votto 0.404 Votto 0.278 Bryant 0.325 Santana 0.271
Bryant 0.286 Broxton 0.252 Votto 0.419 Votto 0.418
Ortiz 0.457 Bryant 0.410 Turner 0.245 Turner 0.657
Sanchez 0.408 Flores 0.418 Blackmon 0.320 Blackmon 0.307
Cano 0.330 Ramos 0.339 Sanchez 0.240 Bryant 0.343
Betts 0.276 Ortiz 0.322 Cano 0.256 Lindor 0.234
Pederson 0.237 Cano 0.202 Hoskins 0.366 Marrero 0.266
Davis 0.201 Lindor 0.137 Lindor 0.153 Sanchez 0.243
Lindor 0.194 Suzuki 0.247 Taylor 0.242 Hoskins 0.457
       
Avg RC 0.310 Avg RC 0.289 Avg RC 0.285 Avg RC 0.355

 

The 2017 Volcanoes – led by a trio of 40 runs-created cards from Votto, Ortiz and Sanchez – have the edge, but the offense for the 2018 team was certainly bolstered by adding Blackmon and Hoskins.  With the addition of Turner’s .657 RC card vs. lefties, the 2018 Volcanoes hit lefties better than the 2017 team.  While the 2017 team met two lefty starters (Cole Hamels and Rich Hill) starting four out of the six World Series games, the 2018 team is not likely to see the same playoff parade of lefties.

Pitching-wise the 2018 Volcanoes have an edge on the 2017 team:

 

2017 Volcanoes 2018 Volcanoes
T vs L vs R T vs L vs R
Lester L 0.039 0.047 Santana R 0.044 0.071
Santana R 0.058 0.077 Cashner R 0.060 0.058
Lewis R 0.067 0.079 Fulmer R 0.069 0.039
Ross R 0.155 0.045 Hamels L 0.014 0.076
Triggs R 0.108 0.044 McCarthy R 0.061 0.082
       
Jansen R 0.014 0.000 Jansen R 0.043 0.000
Chapman L 0.000 0.006 Chapman L 0.013 0.046
Reed R 0.013 0.020 Neshek R 0.043 0.013
Dayton L 0.003 0.047 Claudio L 0.000 0.054
Smith L 0.069 0.041 Minor L 0.008 0.041
Ottavino R 0.081 0.003 Givens R 0.039 0.037
Broxton R 0.077 0.051 Gearrin R 0.039 0.041
Maurer R 0.035 0.090 Delgado R 0.035 0.103

 

The 2017 team used a strategy of JBGE (Just Barely Good Enough) starters backed up by elite bullpen cards.  Jon Lester was the team’s “ace” (with the quotation marks added because of his left-handed pitching status).  Lester was the only starting pitcher to pick up a win in the 12 postseason games of 2018.  Lester’s 16.2 IP in 4 starts (just over 4 IP per start) and his 5.40 era show how short his playoff leash was in 2017.  Jansen, Chapman and Reed were 5-1 in the 2017 postseason, pitching 34.1 of the team’s 108 postseason innings.  At the bottom end of the bullpen, Broxton (5.00 era) and Maurer (11.42 era) pitched 14 non-elite relief innings in the 2017 postseason.  Joe Ross made two starts in the 2017 postseason, and posted a 15.88 era.

The 2018 team has better starters, with three good righties – Santana, Cashner and Fulmer – at the top of the rotation.  Cole Hamels and Brandon McCarthy are better options at the #4 starter slot than either Joe Ross or Andrew Triggs.  The 2018 bullpen also features elite cards at the top of the bullpen – Jansen and Chapman return and are joined by Neshek.  The ability of the 2018 team to throw lefty innings should be a big advantage – as Chapman, Claudio and Minor provide the potential for 21 lefty relief IP in a seven-game series.  At the bottom of the bullpen Givens and Gearrin are a significant upgrade over Broxton and Maurer.

While Margaritaville is sad to see Mookie Betts go (and we’ll be even sadder once the 2019 season kicks off), we look forward to the possibility of another Northbound division championship, and hope for another deep playoff run and a return to the I-75 World Series.

Top 15 for 2019

There will be a stunning lack of big bats and big arms available in the 2019 draft at this rate. Our top 15 players available list includes 11 guys who will be carded for the first time. With the 2018 trade deadline looming, here’s a look at the potential top 15 players available in next year’s draft:

1. Ronald Acuna Jr., LF, Atlanta, R/R, 20: Amazing five-tool player whose power is still developing (nine homers in 193 ABs). Regarded as game’s best outfield prospect, has great range, but has yet to record an assist. Doesn’t walk much, so pedestrian OBP holds down his OPS: (.264/.325/.477/.802).  Projects as a 3(-1)e11.

2. Gleyber Torres, 2B, N.Y. Yankees, R/R, 21: Hit 15 homers in his first 225 at-bats, sports a .289 average and an .889 OPS. Mashing extra hard against lefties (1.043) and acceptable against righties (.826). Probable AL Rookie of the Year. Projects as a 2e26.

3. Shohei Otani, P-DH, L.A. Angels, L/R, 24: Strat’s first two-way player will let some lucky team save a roster spot as a limited starter and part-time DH for 2019 with the potential to make an even bigger contribution in future years. Owns a 1.14 WHIP on the mound in 49 innings but is recovering from an injured pitching elbow. At the plate, in 163 ABs, the lefty hitter struggles mightily against southpaws, but is crushing righties (.314/.386/.636/1.032), against whom he has hit all nine of his homers.

4. Juan Soto, OF, Washington, L/L, 19: Sweet swinger who can hit to all fields, hit for average, hit for power, is sporting a 1.000 OPS number. Hits lefties (.385) and righties (.291). Great batting eye, has 38 walks in his first 203 ABs. Not a great defensive player. Frontrunner for NL Rookie of the Year. Projects as a 4(0)e6.

5. Jesus Aguilar, 1B, Milwaukee, R/R, 28: Has burst onto the scene with 25 homers in 291 at-bats while also hitting for average (.289/.367/.605/.972). Well-balanced against both LHPs and RHPs. Projects as a 3e7.

Eduardo Escobar

Escobar

6. Eduardo Escobar, 3B, Arizona, S/R, 29: Former Bomber is a doubles machine (37 in 368 at-bats) for Twins, just acquired by D-backs. Splits favor him vs. righties: .282/.338/.576/.915. Can play short and second, has just four total errors in 97 games. Projects as a 3e8 at third base; also eligible at 2b, ss and LF.

7. Walker Buehler, RHP, L.A. Dodgers, R/R, 24: Let the Ferris Buehler jokes commence if you like, but Buehler has posted a 1.10 WHIP in his first 12 games (11 starts). Teams are hitting just .231 off in 62 innings. First-round draft pick in 2015 (24th overall) out of Vanderbilt.

8. Miguel Andujar, 3B, N.Y. Yankees, R/R, 23: Leads AL rookies in hits and total bases (44 in 343 ABs, including 30 doubles). Only 16 walks to go with .294/.328/.499/.826. Splits show power vs. lefties, high average vs. righties. Projects as a 4e14.

9. Brian Anderson, RF/3B, Miami, R/R, 25: Likely to achieve full-time status with 400 ABs already. Hits for average equally well vs. lefties and righties and gets on base: (.285/.364/.418/.782). Former third-round pick from University of Arkansas.  Projects as a 4(+1)e2 right fielder and a 3e19 third sacker.

10. Austin Meadows, OF, Pittsburgh, L/L, 23: Not a great arm but has all of the other tools. Former first-round pick, ninth overall, out of high school. Showing more power against lefties in limited sample but hitting for average against both. Overall hitting .298/.333/.477/.810. Projects at 3(+1)e10 and as a star stealer.

Nick Markakis

Markakis

11. Nick Markakis, OF, Atlanta, L/L, 34: Enjoying a career renaissance, hitting over .300 and plus-.380 on-base against both lefties and righties. On pace for his most homers since 2009.

12. Kyle Gibson, RHP, Minnesota, R/R, 30: Nothing spectacular here but with slim pickings for starting pitchers, the former Paperclip offers innings and solid numbers, a 1.21 WHIP (21 starts, 129 innings) and balanced splits (.653 OPS vs. LHBs, .655 vs. RHBs).

13. Lourdes Gurriel Jr., 2B, Toronto, R/R, 24: Hitting .308 in 133 at-bats with an .832 OPS and splits that favor him against RHPs: .330 average and .883 OPS. Seven homers. Projects as a 2e18.

14. Miles Mikolas, RHP, St. Louis, R/R, 29: Nice WHIP (1.07) in 124 innings, the problem is he could be one of those 9R guys as his splits are pronounced: Lefties hit .271 off him with a .693 OPS; righties hit .194 with a .495 OPS.

15. Max Muncy, UT, L.A. Dodgers, L/L, 27: Has 24 homers in 255 ABs, but is hurt by low average vs. RHPs (.249).  Has very nice on-base numbers both ways though: .438/.385. Projects at first base as his best position, 3e10; also plays 2b, 3b and OF.

Clip Files for July

Willson Contreras

Contreras

July had not been kind to Applegate in the last two years, as the Clips went 5-15 in 2017 after a 47-33 start, and 9-11 in 2016 after a 45-35 start. This time though the Clips took their 48-32 start and tacked on 14 more wins to climb to 62-38, now boasting the league’s second-best record after 100 games. … The month included a 2-3 record vs. West Atlanta, but then 3-2 vs. Bushwood, 4-1 vs. Superior in a showdown for divisional supremacy, and 5-0 vs. East Cobb. … Applegate outscored its foes 109-90 and outhomered the opposition a whopping 38-16. Timely homers with men on base (including three grand slams) was the big difference on the month as the Clips were handily outhit, 165-113, and Applegate hit just .220 as a team. … Aaron Judge clubbed eight homers and is now up to 25, still less than half of his real-life total of 52 for the Yankees last year, and his average is a weakly .207. … Willson Contreras was the big bat for the month, with six homers and a team-leading 16 RBIs and .407 average. … Byron Buxton went 0-for-23 in July. … One that got away: Applegate took a 5-0 lead into the bottom of the night vs. Bushwood in Game One of the longtime rivals’ series. But Ryan Zimmerman clubbed a three-run homer to make it interesting, Adeiny Hechavarria tied it with a two-run homer, and Scooter Gennett walked it off with a two-run homer off a dazed Blake Parker. But Applegate came back with a vengeance in Game Two of that series, falling behind 4-0, then scoring once in the seventh and four times in the eighth on a Jose Martinez grand slam to win 5-4. … Even more interesting though was Applegate’s Game One comeback win over Superior that saw the Titans take a 7-0 lead, but the Clips put up a 7-spot of their own in the fourth inning. Then the game went scoreless until the bottom of the ninth when Contreras walked it off with a three-run homer and a 10-7 win. … The charm continued in Game 2 of that series when, down 1-0 in the eighth inning, Applegate rallied for three runs, aided by a key single by Billy Hamilton off a lefty that drove in the lead run. Hamilton, by the way, has more homers (6) than doubles (5) … The Clips’ only loss to Superior was to lefty Rich Hill, ironic because the Clips are now 19-4 vs. lefties this year. … And Applegate’s Game One tilt with East Cobb was epic too. The Clips blew a 5-3 lead in the ninth and a 6-5 lead in the 10th before notching two in the 12th that Applegate was finally able to lock down for an 8-6 win. Joe Mauer homered, Judge tripled and Josh Donaldson hit a sac fly for those 12th-inning runs. … Applegate pitching held East Cobb to 30 hits in that series as the Juice hit just .180. Contreras had eight of his RBIs in that series. …

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.

Lava Flow for June

If you played the Volcanoes in June, it might have seemed like Joey Votto was always on-base. For the month, Votto was 33 of 79 (.418 BA) with 14 walks and 1 HBP (.505 OBP) and 6 HRs (.722 SA). By Strat’s sabermetric calculations, Votto created 29.6 (of the Volcano’s total 110.9) runs in June. While the Volcanoes “created” 111 runs in June, they actually scored 101 runs. The Volcanoes left 155 runners on base in June, with 49 left on base in the Applegate series alone. Margaritaville won 12 games in June (4 against Tatooine, 3 against Bismarck and Satellite Beach, 2 against Applegate). The Volcanoes welcomed five new players in June: Andrew Cashner, Pat Neshek, Alex Claudio, Domingo Santana and Jarrod Dyson. The quintet of ex-Scorpions underwhelmed in their Volcano debuts. Cashner was 1-1 with a 7.25 ERA; Neshek was 1-1 with a 4.25 ERA (and 5 HRs allowed – 4 HRs to the Bombers); Claudio was 2-0 with a 4.91 ERA, Santana batted .183 (13 for 71) with a .326 OBP and .408 SLG. Dyson batted .290 with 2 HRs – a walk-off win against the Paperclips and a walk-off win against the Brawlers. The walk-off HR saved the Volcanoes in June play, as Chris Taylor added a 3-run walk off against the Rebels and Joey Votto’s 11th inning walk-off capped a comeback from 4 runs down in the 9th inning of game 5 against the Rebels. The walk-offs contributed to a 7-1 record for the Volcanoes in 1-run games in June play, offsetting a .260 team batting average, and a 5.05 team ERA in June play.

Disappointing so far has been Francisco Lindor’s batting. For the Indians in 2017, Lindor slashed 81 extra base hits (44 doubles, 4 triples and 33 home runs). For the Volcanoes in 2018, Lindor has slushed his way to 28 extra-base hits (18 doubles, 1 triple and 9 home runs). Lindor’s Volcano slugging is 132 points below his Indian slugging (.373 vs .505) and his OPS is 171 points below his Indian OPS (.671 vs .842). With his 2L card, Lindor has been surprisingly particularly pathetic against left-handed pitching. Against lefties, Lindor is 15 for 73 (.205 avg), with 2 doubles and 1 home run (.274 slugging) for a total OPS of .575.

With 51 wins at the halfway pole, the Volcanoes are on pace to win 102 games. In 2017, the Volcanoes had 49 wins through 80 games, and ultimately won 106. The 2017 team had scored 513 runs and allowed 433 runs through 80 games, the 2018 team has scored 435 and allowed 347. Through the first 80 games of 2017 David Ortiz hit .304 with 31 doubles and 27 HRs, scoring 57 runs and driving in 73. Big Papi’s bat is obviously missed, with the Volcanoes scoring 80 fewer runs. By deploying a deep bullpen the Volcanoes cut their runs allowed by 86 runs. So far in 2018 the Volcano bullpen has pitched 310 innings, and is on pace to pitch 620 bullpen innings. The 2017 team had a total of 522 bullpen innings pitched.

Clip Files for June

Jorge Alfaro

Alfaro

The Clips’ front office can’t come to an agreement on whether the club is underachieving or overachieving. While its 48-32 mark at the season’s midpoint was built somewhat on a favorable early schedule, the Clips have established a 96-win pace without much contribution from slugger Aaron Judge, who has only 25 extra-base hits to this point (8-0-17), on the heels of 79 extra-base hits last year (24-3-52) for the Yankees. … Regardless, Applegate posted a 14-6 June and the Clips outscored their opponents 116-77. … The Clips packed their active roster with limited sluggers Nicky Delmonico and Jorge Alfaro, hoping to rack up wins against teams that were struggling this year. The strategy worked, with Alfaro hitting .367 and driving in a team-high 20 runs. He hit five homers and used up 49 of his limited ABs. For the year, Alfaro is hitting .398 in 93 at-bats. His catching counterpart, Willson Contreras, benefited from the extra rest, but still led the Clips in hitting in June at .458. … Brian Dozier slugged a team-high six homers, including a 10th-inning solo blast in Game Five against Dyersville that enabled the Clips to win that series, 3-2. … Interesting tidbit from Game Three of that series: After Applegate jumped out to a 6-0 lead in the first inning (keyed by an Alfaro grand slam), Dyersville began the bottom of the first by pinch-hitting for limited leadoff man Michael Conforto. … The Dyersville series also saw the Clips turn a 5-4-3 triple play in the fourth inning on a lomax roll — one inning after a one-out lomax roll ended Dyersville’s bases-loaded threat in that inning too. The Treblemakers still won the game, 3-1. … Applegate’s 4-1 series win over Tatooine was highlighted by a 7-5 Game Four win in which the Clips were down 5-1 starting the eighth inning. … Applegate likewise went 4-1 at home vs. Bismarck, losing only Game Five, 7-5, leaving 18 runners on base. Applegate hit .324 that series and Judge had his only good series of the year with three homers and six RBIs. Judge does have a league-leading 80 walks in 80 games. …  Matt Chapman, spelling a limited Josh Donaldson at third, hit .412 with two homers and eight RBIs. Delmonico hit .545 and Alfaro .500. … The Clips walked off to victory in Game Two on a 2b (x) roll that went for a 1B** with Chapman up, runners at second and third, one out and the infield in in the 9th to win 4-3. … In its toughest battle of the month, Applegate invaded Margaritaville and reeled off wins in each of the first three games before suffering one-run walkoff losses in Games Four and Five. A seesaw Game Four saw Margaritaville surrender leads of 3-0 after three innings and 4-3 and 7-6 in late innings; Applegate coughed up a 6-4 lead in the eighth and saw the Volcanoes walk off in the ninth on a bases-loaded single by Kris Bryant off ace closer Blake Parker.  Kyle Crick was the victim in the ninth inning of Game Five; after the Clips scored two runs in the top of the ninth on a Billy Hamilton homer to tie the game 3-3, Jarrod Dyson led off the home half of the inning with an equally unexpected long ball to win it 4-3 for Margaritaville. Every game in the series was decided by one or two runs. … Stephen Strasburg had a good month, going 3-0 with a 1.09 ERA that included the club’s only complete-game outing of the year, coming against the Volcanoes. … Fernando Rodney was a bullpen workhorse, pitching 23 2/3 innings and notching a 3-1 record with a 2.28 ERA. … At the 80-game mark, Applegate is 16-3 in games in which the opposition starts a left-handed pitcher. Jose Martinez has 11 of his 13 homers against southpaws. … Applegate trails Superior now by one game in its division and trails only the Titans in best run differential in the league (+96 for Applegate, +104 for Superior)… The Clips have returned to the top of the team ERA standings after their solid June, checking in at 3.94. They have allowed the fewest homers in the league at 89 and trail only Margaritaville in homers hit (135-127)… The Clips also have a healthy lead for most team walks at 379. …