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.

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Lava Flow for March

After back-to-back 106 win seasons and I-75 World Series Championships, the Volcanoes entered 2019 with high hopes. Reality for 2019 is perhaps best summed up in this comparison: in 2018 Kris Bryant had 6 ballpark diamonds on his card vs righties, and Kenley Jansen had 0 ballpark diamonds on his card vs righties – in 2019 Kris Bryant has 1 diamond on his card vs righties, and Kenley Jansen has 8 ballpark diamonds on his card vs righties. Offensive home runs down, home runs allowed up is never a good recipe for winning baseball. That recipe played out in March. While the Volcano offense scored 107 runs (good for 4th in the league), Volcano pitchers allowed a league-high 125 runs and 42 home runs. Highlights in March play included Francisco Lindor breaking out of his season-long 2018 slump to bat .354 with 8 HR’s and a 3rd in the league 20 RBI’s and Freddy Peralta’s 1.80 era and 2-0 w/l record across 9 relief appearances.

With the Volcano pitchers determined to play “home run derby” through the 2019 I-75 season, perhaps more interesting for Volcano fans is following their potential talent for the 2020 I-75 season. With “Three Up / Three Down” we can report on three Volcanoes who are performing well in their 2019 MLB stats, and three Volcanoes who are lagging behind expectations in their 2019 MLB performance.

Three Up:
Julio Urias – The Volcano’s second round draft pick in the 2017 draft had his future put on hold with shoulder surgery in the 2017 MLB season. Urias pitched 4 regular season innings in the 2018 MLB season (earning him the coveted “double void” card), and 7 postseason innings for the Dodgers. Facing an innings limitation entering his age-22 season in 2019, Urias appeared destined to begin the season in the Dodgers’ bullpen. With Urias pitching as perhaps the Dodgers best starter in spring training, and with injuries to Hill and Kershaw, Urias found himself in the Dodgers April starting rotation. Urias responded with a gem in his first start, shutting the Giants out on 3 hits (in 5 innings) with no walks and 7 strikeouts. Perhaps most encouraging of all, Urias’ velocity hit 98 mph – higher than his velocity pre-2017 injury. The ace-level ceiling for Urias is back “on.”

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40th draft just the icing on the cake for milestone convention

At Strat Central in Scottsdale, Ariz., eight of the league’s 15 managers gather around a cake marking the start of the I-75 League’s 40th season.

The I-75 League kicked off its fourth decade on March 2 with an annual convention that not only featured an action-packed player draft, but also commemorated the staying power of a league that is blasting into its fourth decade.

One of the oldest continuously operating Strat-O-Matic baseball netplay leagues in the country, the I-75 League begins its 40th season with five managers who were there on Day One back in 1980, and three more who are second-generation managers.

Eight managers convened at Draft Central in Scottsdale, Ariz., for this year’s festivities, which have included golf, spring training games and some incredibly good fortune at the gaming tables.

Seven more managers participated via the Internet for the six-hour draft, which was paused halfway through for a pizza break and was celebrated afterward with cake and accolades.

The level of scouting and analyzing and mock drafting has escalated to the point where the first round came off just about as predicted, with Destin manager Mark Gergel selecting Ronald Acuna Jr. with the first pick and many other predicted picks immediately following suit.

Gergel earlier in the day had played a winning hand at a local casino that netted four figures in payout, then kindly treated the group to our mid-draft pizza.

League officers and founding managers Dave Renbarger, Mike Renbarger and Gary Kicinski were on hand for the occasion, while fellow originals Steve Hart and Steve Bizek participated remotely.

Former manager Ken Crawford helped moderate the draft, keeping time, tracking time outs and helping Gergel’s Beach Bums make the more difficult choices after the Acuna no-brainer.

Divergent strategies quickly became apparent, with teams like defending World Series champion Margaritaville, rebuilding West Atlanta and newcomer Greendale snapping up prized prospects.

Meanwhile, the second generation of Renbarger managers — John, Ryan and Jason — as well as several other strong teams, went all-in on efforts to complete the puzzle pieces that they hope will lead to postseason glory right here, right now.

There won’t be room at the postseason party for all who hold those aspirations, however, but just about every manager is eager to get the 2019 season underway to see exactly who’s got what it takes to capture our treasured trophy in our milestone 40th season.

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OK, are we 40? Or 39?

cake.

So, we were born in 1980, this is 2019… are we 39, or 40?

From an age standpoint, we are 39. We are celebrating our 40th draft and start of our 40th season.

If you think about it, you don’t “turn” 1 year old until you’ve completed 1 year of life.

Four rule proposals enacted that take effect in 2019

The I-75 League will switch to Maximum Level rules for its 40th season in one of two big changes enacted by managerial vote in early December.

Nineteen rule proposals were on the ballot but only four were passed. After a history of playing with Super Advanced Rules, the league will switch to Maximum Level rules for 2019 for the first time, with only “bunt for a base hit” enabled among the many Max Rules options:

The switch to Maximum Level also brings balks/wild pitches/passed ball ratings back into play after the league had not utilized those features in recent years. The rule was voted in on a trial basis and expires after the 2019 season unless a new vote is passed to extend it or amend it.

Another rule of significant impact voted in was the application of a 105% rule in setting at-bat and innings pitched limits for all players. Previously players were limited to their actual at-bat or innings pitched totals, except for hitters who had attained 550 ABs or 600 plate appearances — those players had been unlimited. But not any longer. So tracking of all players’ limits throughout the season will be required, which potentially will lead to more “saving at-bats” situations, player substitutions, longer games, yada yada.

Who benefits? All pitchers and all hitters with less than 550 at-bats, as they get an extra 5% tacked on. The more at-bats or innings pitched you have, the more you get added on. Continue reading

Meet new manager Luke Walsh

Luke Walsh is about to undergo some big changes in his life.

He’s days away from completing his undergraduate degree at Iowa State in civil engineering, having taken the scenic route through college (5 1/2 years to complete his studies). The Iowan will be moving to the Denver area to take a job with WSB Engineering, where he will be designing community areas.

Luke Walsh

Luke Walsh

Why not throw in joining a Strat league?

Luke, 24, joins the I-75 League in time for our 40th season. He’ll replace Kevin Gergel, manager of the East Cobb Juice, who dropped out after one year due to other time commitments.

Luke is a big sports fan, particularly the NFL and MLB, and has become an active fantasy player. So active that he’s even launched a fantasy football podcast (Fantasy Blueballs — listen on Soundcloud, Google Play, or Apple podcasts). He participated in drumline at Iowa State, where he met Dyersville manager Ryan Renbarger and got his introduction to Strat-O-Matic.

In addition to playing and listening to music, Luke also enjoys other forms of entertainment, including movies, and his selection of a team name — the Greendale Zealots — is a hat tip to two of his interests. Greendale comes from the television show Community, which was set on the campus of a fictional Greendale Community College and aired on NBC and Yahoo! for six seasons. Zealots is a reference to a song off the album of one of Luke’s favorite artists, Childish Gambino.

Judging from the photo he passed along above, he’s also a fan of HBO’s Game of Thrones.

With all that going on, who has time for classes???

Luke’s baseball loyalties reside with the St. Louis Cardinals, and his fondest memory dates way back to the 2011 World Series, and particularly to David Freese’s Game Six heroics.

His present-day faves include pitcher Carlos Martinez and outfielder Harrison Bader. “CarMart unfortunately can’t seem to shake injury troubles, but when he is healthy and on he’s a blast to watch and can throw with the best of them,” says Luke. “Bader is hard-working and has the grit, attitude and talent to be a strong point of the team for years to come. Really looking forward to his growth.”

We’ll be looking forward to Luke’s growth as a novice Strat manager as well. Welcome to the I-75 league!

Margaritaville repeats as I-75 League World Champs

The turning point came in the seventh inning of Game Four.

To that point, Applegate had taken a 2-1 lead in the series and was up 3-0 through six innings. The Paperclips were nine outs away from taking a commanding 3-1 series lead. Starter Kyle Hendricks had allowed just one hit over six shutout innings.

Then, the dam broke.

Joey Votto singled and Justin Turner homered, cutting Applegate’s lead to 3-2 and bringing Hendricks’ night to a sudden close. Lefty Justin Wilson came on to face Charlie Blackmon, but Blackmon singled. Righty Fernando Rodney spelled Wilson and retired Gary Sanchez and Domingo Santana, but allowed Blackmon to steal second. The Clips decided no more messin’ around and called on lefty ace Andrew Miller to face Robinson Cano, but Cano laced a game-tying single. The very next batter, Francisco Lindor, blasted a two-run homer and in the blink of an eye, the Clips were down 5-3. Margaritaville had stifled the Clips’ momentum.

That inning ignited a Volcanic eruption that saw Margaritaville score 11 runs in Game Five (an 11-5 win), seven runs in Game Six (an 8-7 loss in 11 innings) and 10 runs in the decisive Game Seven, a 10-2 anticlimactic blowout that gave Margaritaville its second World Championship in a row.

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