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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Lava Flow for May

If you played the Volcanoes in May, it might have seemed like Joey Votto was always on-base.  For the month, Votto was 33 of 76 (.434 BA) with 13 walks and 3 HBP (.527 OBP) and 5 HRs (.737 SA).  Votto was other-worldly in his destruction of West Atlanta.  Against the Crush, Votto was 14 of 19 (.737 BA) with 4 walks (.800 OBP) and 2 HRs (1.211 SA).  By simple addition (.800 + 1.211), Votto’s OPS vs the Crush was 2.011.  The Volcanoes took 4 out of 5 from West Atlanta, outscoring them 27-17.  By Strat’s Sabremetric calculations, Votto created 19.6 runs vs the Crush.  … Compiling a “not-so-good” May was Khris Davis.  Davis hit 13 HRs in March and April play, but posted 0 HRs in May (along with batting 13 for 76 – for a .171 average – and 30 Ks).  … Joe “Five and Dive” Biagini filled his role to perfection in May, going 3-0 in his 4 starts, pitching 20 innings and allowing 20 hits, 4 runs (3 earned) and 0 HRs to post a 1.35 ERA. … The league caught up to Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen in May as each allowed 3 HRs in 10 IP (for a total of 6 HRs allowed by the dynamic duo in the month).  … The Volcano bullpen has posted an ERA of 2.79 through the first 60 games, which is a big part of how the Volcanoes’ team ERA of 3.75 leads the I-75 league.  In bullpen usage, Margaritaville leads the league with 222.7 relief innings pitched, and with 189 relievers used.  The league average is 185.6 relief innings pitched and 145.6 relievers used.  On a per-game basis, the Volcanoes use 3.15 relievers per game to pitch 3.71 relief innings.  The Volcanoes use each reliever an average of 1.18 innings per game, which is below the league average of 1.27.  Satellite Beach has the quickest “reliever hook,” allowing their relievers to pitch only 1.12 innings on average.  The Volcanoes are the only team to use an average of more than 3 relievers per game. … Applegate and Bismarck are tied for second at 2.77 relievers per game, and Superior is foruth with 2.72 relievers per game.  The East Cobb Juice are the most reliever-averse team in the league, using only 110 reliever appearances (1.83 per game) to pitch 137.7 innings (2.30 per game).  Earl Weaver’s Seventh Law is, “It is easier to find four good starters than five.”  In Margaritaville, we have updated this to, “It is easier to find eight good relievers than four good starters.”

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Clip Files for May

Applegate’s 13-7 May, supports largely by a 5-0 sweep of Boulder, came with ace Stephen Strasburg sitting out the month, as Luis Perdomo continues to take turns giving Applegate starters a one-month rest. The Clips went 2-2 in Perdomo’s starts as he generated a fat 7.94 ERA. … Both Drew Pomeranz (1.96 ERA) and Jimmy Nelson (5.96 ERA) went 3-0 on the month. Applegate had entered the month with the league’s best team ERA, but gave up 111 runs (101 earned) for a 5.03 ERA and pushing the club’s season-to-date ERA above 4 at 4.09. … Fortunately the offense had its best showing, blasting 35 homers while hitting .293 and scoring 139 runs, nearly 7 per game. … The 111 runs allowed included 19 by Savannah in a Game Two rout of Jhoulys Chacin, who surrendered 17 and saw his ERA climb above 7.00. … Rookie catcher Jorge Alfaro saw his first action and responded with a team-high .432 month, collecting 19 hits in 44 at-bats. Josh Donaldson had the team highs in both homers (8) and RBI (18). … Aaron Judge had 5 homers and 16 RBI, pushing his yearly totals to 13 and 38, on pace for just 35 homers. … The heartbreak loss of the month came in Game Five to Satellite Beach. The Clips led 5-3 in the ninth in the rubber game of the series and with one out brought in Ken Giles to relieve Andrew Miller. Anthony Rendon and Eduardo Nunez singled and Edwin Encarnacion doubled both of them in to tie the game. After Cody Bellinger struck out, pinch-hitter Howie Kendrick doubled in Encarnacion for the walk-off win. … Applegate outscored the Tree Huggers 47-17 in their sweep, hitting .363 and holding Boulder to three runs in the first three games. The Clips had a 15-4 edge in homers and four of Judge’s five homers in May came in this series. … Lefty assassin Jose Martinez has 12 homers in 111 at-bats overall. Eleven of the 12 have come vs. southpaws. Applegate is 13-2 in games in which the opponent starts a left-handed pitcher. … Applegate has saves from six different pitchers.

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Lava Flow for April

May play saw the Volcanoes stumble against SGP (2-3), before rallying against NNY (3-2), ECU (4-1) and DBB (5-0). The 14-6 month gives the Volcanoes a 27-13 record on the season, three games ahead of their 24-16 record after two months of the 2017 championship season.

A surprise in the 2018 season has been the bullpen-led pitching staff, leading the league in allowing the fewest earned runs (150), fewest hits (302) and lowest batting average against (.228). The bullpen has been the backbone of the pitching staff, pitching 143 innings through the first 40 games, and compiling an ERA of 2.58 versus the 214 IP and 4.57 ERA of the starters.

Stellar in the bullpen so far have been Kenley Jansen (0.73 ERA) and Aroldis Chapman (0.84 ERA). Since being drafted with picks #23 and #30 in the 2nd round of the 2012 draft, Jansen and Chapman have pitched 713 1/3 innings for the Volcanoes, giving up 534 hits and 297 walks while striking out 1,029, and recording 210 saves and an ERA of 3.22.

The Volcano offense is led by the 1-2 punch (they normally bat first and second) of Joey Votto (.350/.447/.541, 40 runs, 16 RBIs) and Kris Bryant (.338/.457/.629, 40 runs, 35 RBIs). Khris Davis has moved out of his 2017 left field platoon with Ichiro Suzuki and responded with a team-high 13 HRs and second-on-the-team 30 RBIs.

The Volcanoes continue to “lead” the league with zero sacrifice bunt attempts. Earl Weaver’s “Fifth Law” – “If you play for one run, that’s all you’ll get” is inscribed in capital letters in the Volcano dugout. Playing for the big inning, the Volcanoes lead the league with most games with 10+ runs scored (10).

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One night, two no-hitters highlights historic March

Heading into the I-75 League’s 39th season, the record book showed 17 no-hitters. That means many years passed without a single no-hitter being thrown.

We won’t have to worry about that in 2018, as we’ve already had two no-hitters that not only occurred in the same month, but were rolled on the same night.

On March 28, Margaritaville Manager John McMillan announced that three pitchers had combined to hurl the first no-no in Volcano history, and moments later, Satellite Beach Manager Steve Nieroda shared the news that Alex Cobb had done the same for the Brawlers. Needless to say, two no-hitters on one night had never before occurred in league history.

Margaritaville’s no-hitter, a 12-0 blowout of Boulder, ended in dramatic fashion, as the Tree Huggers’ Eric Thames rolled a SI * 1-15 with two outs in the ninth, only to pluck a 16 to end the game.

That came off Joakim Soria, who entered in the eighth and stuck around for the ninth when both managers realized for the first time that history was pending. Boulder had loaded the bases with walks in the first inning off Margaritaville starter Dinelson Lamet but failed to score. Jed Lowrie reached via a hit-by-pitch in the fourth. Randall Delgado relieved Lamet and pitched two hitless innings while Margaritaville’s offense continued to feast on Boulder pitchers Johnny Cueto and Jeff Hoffman. Along the way, Boulder was missing a trio of 1-15 ballpark homer chances.

But when it was all said and done, the Volcanoes had their combined no-hitter, fanning nine and walking three.

Cobb’s no-hitter for Satellite Beach was nearly even more historic, as a sixth-inning walk by Tatooine’s Jason Kipnis was the only blemish on what was nearly a perfect game. Cobb struck out 10 while going the distance in the 3-0 win. Like Boulder, Tatooine also missed three ballpark homer chances in the game.

The no-hit victories helped both Margaritaville and Satellite Beach to 13-win months, a month notable for the fact that 10 of the league’s 15 teams got off to double-digit win totals, including every team in the Northbound Division and four of the five teams in the Westbound Division. Leading the way was Bushwood with 14 wins, a feat accomplished despite playing three of its four series on the road. Tatooine managed a 10-win month despite going 0-5 in the Satellite Beach series that included the no-hitter, winning its other series 3-2, 4-1 and 3-2.


Lava Flow for March

After 2018’s “Dream Season,” there were a couple holes to patch in Margaritaville. We said good-bye to David Ortiz’s MVP season of 45 HRs and 136 RBIs, and Wilmer Flores’ 17 HRs in 151 lefty-mashing at-bats. We also penciled in greatly reduced roles for Jon Lester (76 IP, 2.45 era after his trade-deadline pick-up) and Wilson Ramos (34 HRs and 95 RBIs).

The draft filled some holes in the outfield (Chris Taylor, Mitch Haniger), in the starting staff (Dinelson Lamet) and the bullpen (Mike Minor, Mychal Givens, Cory Gearrin). How would the offense measure up to 2018’s 996 runs and 314 HRs? Is there enough pitching in Margaritaville for a 2018 playoff run?

March provided some optimistic answers to those questions. In winning 13 and losing 7, the Volcanoes led the league in runs scored (122), home runs (38) and fewest runs allowed (73). Leading the offense again was Joey Votto, slashing .392/.473/.658 while scoring 21 runs and driving in 11. Kris Bryant had 7 HRs and 16 RBIs while Gary Sanchez (now a full-time catcher after his rationed 2017 at-bats) hit 6 HRs and led the team (and the league) with 19 RBIs.

While the offense continued to produce runs, March’s biggest surprise was the effectiveness of the Volcano pitching staff. It is still a bullpen-led group (3.83 ERA for the starters, 2.82 ERA for the relievers) with its 73.1 IP second only to Superior’s 75 bullpen innings. Lamet was a nice draft-day pickup, going 2-1 in his 4 March starts, and on the front-end of Margaritaville’s first-ever no-hitter. Brandon McCarthy and Cole Hamels proved their trade-worthiness, going 6-0 in their eight March starts. After going 22-16 in one-run games in 2017, the Volcanoes played nine one-run games in March, going 4-5. In a league that has gone sac-bunt crazy (113 attempts for the league in March play), the Volcanoes were the only team NOT to attempt a sacrifice bunt. The Volcano defense continues to be a strength, converting 82% of their x-chances (third in the league).

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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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