Sunday, April 25, 2010

This just in...

The Lansing Lugnuts are the best hitting team in the Midwest League.

I don't know if this is true or not, but the statistics say it's so.

The Lugnuts are first in batting average (.279), first in hits (171, 15 higher than the next best team), first in total bases (255), tied for first in doubles (43), and first in stolen bases (28).

They've already knocked out 18 hits in two separate games, one of them last night's wild 9-8 10-inning win over Dayton.  Even more impressive, they're winning games without Mark Sobolewski or Brad Glenn in the starting lineup, perhaps their two best hitters this year.

The defense still isn't great.  The pitching hasn't been spectacular.  The starters are starting to get hurt -- Matt Fields and Dave Sever were each put on the DL the last two days.

But they're winning games -- seven of their last eight, as a matter of fact.  Win today and it'll be another sweep for the hottest team in the Midwest League.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Tis the Season for Sweeps

And here I thought that May and November were sweeps months!

The Lansing Lugnuts have begun their season with four straight series ending in sweeps.  They lost three games to Dayton, won three in Great Lakes, lost three at home to Lake County, and then won three against Bowling Green.  In other words, this Lugnuts team is worse than the Dragons and the Captains and better than the Loons and the Hot Rods...

But they just might be better.

Keep April 19 fresh in your mind, the date that A.J. Jimenez and Brad McElroy arrived in town from Florida.  This team is better with them, especially offensively.  The next step has been shoring up the starting rotation, which went 0-2 in the season's first nine games -- and then earned victories in all three games against Bowling Green.

The team is loose right now, a combination of focused and enjoying themselves.  Brad Glenn is among the league's best hitters.  Mark Sobolewski is swinging a confident bat.  Kenny Wilson is getting on base with regularity.  The bullpen has been pretty good too, with a few vulnerable moments against the Lake County Captains getting in the way of a higher superlative.

Now let's see how they do here in Fort Wayne.

Starting lineup tonight for the Lugnuts:

Kenny Wilson, CF
Oliver Dominguez, 2B
Mark Sobolewski, 3B
Brad Glenn, RF
A.J. Jimenez, C
Kevin Nolan, SS
Sean Ochinko, 1B
Balbino Fuenmayor, DH
Eric Eiland, LF
Dave Sever, RHP

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Sunday Sunday

It's a gloriously sunny day in Midland, Michigan, as the Lugnuts and Loons open up the home schedule for Dow Diamond.

Both teams are tired.  The Loons returned from South Bend at 1 a.m. last night.  The Lugnuts pulled in from Dayton at 3:45 a.m.  Me, I finally got to sleep past 5 a.m. -- and then woke up at 10:30 in order to shower, eat breakfast, and catch the noon bus to the ballpark.

Tough series in Dayton, losing each game by a run.  On the bright side, the team competed to the end in each game.  The next step is shoring up that defense.  I've already started to post the highlights from the season.  Check them out here.

Next up:  posting the pre-game interviews.  I've already talked to Sal Fasano, Ryan Schimpf, Brad Glenn, and Eric Eiland (to be aired today), and so I'll get those up on the website for you to enjoy at your leisure.

Chad Jenkins makes his first professional start this afternoon for Lansing.  The #1 pick is an easy-going good-natured guy, but you can tell he's nervous (and rightfully so, right?).

Happy 22nd birthday, Ryan Schimpf!

Finally, three Lugnuts hit safely in each game of the Dayton series.  Any guesses?  Eric Eiland, Sean Ochinko, and Kenny Wilson.  Wilson and Ochinko both get the day off today, along with Balbino Fuenmayor.

The starting lineup this afternoon against Great Lakes right-hander Will Savage:

2B Ryan Schimpf
CF Chris Hopkins
SS Kevin Nolan
RF Brad Glenn
DH Ryan Goins
LF Eric Eiland
3B Mark Sobolewski
1B Jon Talley
C Karim Turkamani
SP Chad Jenkins

Friday, April 9, 2010

Thoughts on Opening Night

1.  Kenny Wilson is becoming a tremendous defensive center fielder.  There were a couple of smoked fly balls by the Dragons that Kenny chased down with relative ease.

2.  Starter Ryan Shopshire (5 innings, 7 hits, 5 runs) looked off for much of the night.

3.  Relievers Nestor Molina and Dustin Antolin were equally masterful.  Two perfect innings with three strikeouts for each of them.  Impressive.

4.  Eric Eiland quietly put forth an excellent evening, supplying three hits and some fine catches in left field.

5.  Ryan Schimpf can hit.  He'll be my pre-game interview today.

Elsewhere on the farm...

2010 Lugnuts Offensive Preview

Let's take the offense in stages, based on what I've heard and seen:

The catchers are Sean Ochinko, Karim Turkamani, and Jon Talley.  Ochinko's the best offensive player of the three, Turkamani's the best defensive player, and Talley's in the middle.  Talley will sometimes play first base or DH to get a left-handed bat in the lineup.  Ochinko is expected to be used at third base as the season goes on in order to diversify his skill set.

The first baseman is Balbino Fuenmayor, with Brad Glenn and Talley backing him up.  I expect Balbino to be deadly at the plate this year.  His bat has looked worlds improved from last season, there's no question.  Glenn is a newcomer, a legit slugger with a good eye for strike zone.  He'll mostly be seen in right field.

Second baseman Ryan Schimpf has a quick bat with plenty of life.  Lugnuts fans will look forward to his at-bats, I guarantee.  Hopefully, he won't be here the whole season.  The shortstop is Ryan Goins, slick in the field and solid at the plate.  Mark Sobolewski is the third baseman, looking to improve upon a subpar 2009 that was marred by injury.

The two back-up infielders are Oliver Dominguez and Kevin Nolan; haven't seen much out of either one yet, but looking forward to seeing if they'll seize the day here.

Besides Glenn in the outfield, there's a trio of speedy go-getters in Kenny Wilson, Eric Eiland, and Chris Hopkins.  None of them possess much in the way of power, but all of them have quickness in spades.  Wilson's the best defensively of the group and maybe the best offensively, too.  The more the three of them can get on base, the easier life will be for Messrs. Schimpf, Ochinko, Fuenmayor, et al.

Is it a terrific lineup?  Wouldn't go that far yet, but these guys are definitely going to score some runs this year.

Monday, April 5, 2010

An Early Look at the Lugnuts

I'm going to miss Clayton McCullough, Justin Mashore, and Dan McIntosh from last year, but this looks to be an excellent coaching staff this year.  Burly and amiable Sal Fasano is going to make a fine first-year manager; I'm a fan of a Antonio Caceres, who returns as pitching coach; and I've heard good things about coach John Tamargo, Jr., from my friend Tim Calderwood, who worked with John in Traverse City last year.

Add in a trio of capable hands in Athletic Trainer James Gardiner, Strength & Conditioning Coach Elliott White, and Video Coordinator Coulson Barbiche, and you have yourself a splendid crew.

The team should be good, too.

For one thing, they're an older squad -- the youngest player is outfielder Kenny Wilson, who was here last year.  The majority of the players are collegians, and collegians generally play well in the Midwest League.

The early look at the starting rotation should feature, in alphabetical order:  Matt Fields, Chad Jenkins, Dave Sever, Ryan Shopshire, and Ryan Tepera.  (I say alphabetical order because I fully expect Ryan Shopshire to be at or near the top of the rotation.)

I don't think I'm going out on too far of a limb when I say that much will be expected from these men.  Shopshire's the veteran of the team at just 24 and pitched impressively at the end of last year.  Jenkins was the Blue Jays' 1st round pick last year and #3 prospect in the system.  Fields dominated the Gulf Coast League to the tune of a 1.22 ERA with 54 strikeouts compared to just six walks in 51 2/3 innings.  Tepera was arguably better, limiting GCL batters to a staggering .150 average against him.  Meanwhile, Sever was the ace of the Auburn Doubledays.

Good looking crew on paper, simply put.

The bullpen will feature Steve Turnbull and Brian Slover at the back end, two right-handers with great stuff.  Turnbull's the closer, Slover the set-up man.  We'll see how everything else shakes out before them.  It's up in the air.

Tomorrow, a look at the offense!

National Holiday

Happy Opening Day!

I remember vividly, as a Maryland kid, listening to the radio in school as the Orioles' Mike Mussina battled the Royals' Kevin Appier year after year.

Opening Day brings joy and hope and happiness and no possible ill feelings.  If you lose on Opening Day, no worries -- get 'em the next day and get right back to .500.  If you win, it's glorious!  The lineup feels perfect and the season's possibilities feel endless.

The Lugnuts arrived into town last night -- I was on the bus to pick the team up along with Assistant General Manager Nick Grueser and Clubhouse Manager Joe Eisfelder.  It's a good crew, an older crew, and Athletic Trainer James Gardiner spoke highly of their characters.

Today they pick up their uniforms.  Tomorrow they work out and then get in their first practice on Jackson Field.  Wednesday is the Crosstown Showdown.  Thursday is Opening Day in Dayton, Ohio.

Let it begin.