Thursday, August 26, 2010

Satisfaction

HUGE game last night, complete with early offense, a dramatic home run, controversial umpiring, a last-ditch rally, and a near-riot with the Whitecaps surrounding and shouting at the umpires while the Lugnuts celebrated their 7-6 triumph.

Yeah, man.  I loved it.

Today's game looks like a mismatch, pitting Lugnuts right-hander Casey Lawrence in his 2nd MWL start against Whitecaps ace Jared Wesson.  Casey needs to get off to a good start against a Caps lineup that was held mostly at bay yesterday and still managed to score six runs on nine hits.

It's Pink Floyd Night in West Michigan, complete with Pink Floyd jerseys for the Whitecaps and a huge group of Lugnuts front office staffers attending.  I loved the idea of yesterday's Ronald McDonald House game... but let's just say that the jerseys weren't to anyone's liking.

Something I'm worried about:  Rosh HaShanah, the Jewish New Year, is on the first day of the playoffs this year.  If the Lugnuts make it in, I won't be your broadcaster for the first two games of the postseason.

But let's cross that bridge when we come to it.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Injury Updates

Spoke with Lugnuts Athletic Trainer James Gardiner, Esq., yesterday.  Among the nuggets gleaned:
  • C A.J. Jimenez is done for the year due to a tear in his elbow.  He's back in Florida right now.  Surgery is required.  Cross your fingers.
  • RHP Nestor Molina is going to be just fine and could be back very soon.
  • Ditto RHP Ryan Tepera, who should be back shortly.
  • And, not to be forgotten, 1B/3B Randy Schwartz is able to be activated anytime the Lugnuts decide they require his hitting services.

Cracking Mini-Bats and Schooling Prospects

John Lott of Toronto's National Post was in town over the weekend to see the Lugnuts up close.  Here's his first article, a spotlight piece on Sal Fasano.

Great game last night!... that I didn't see.

It was my annual game re-creation broadcast, a tribute to the way baseball broadcasting used to be done.  Of course, back in those days they didn't use computers to help pass along the information -- and they weren't stymied by internet frustrations (which we had all night long), but hey!  Another year, another game re-creation!

To take you behind the curtain:  I cracked mini-bats together to simulate the crack of the bat, and I slapped a ball into a glove to simulate a pitch hitting the catcher's mitt.  Every year, hopefully, I should be able to get this game re-creation more and more authentic.

It was also a successful and satisfying 10-5 victory for the Lugs, featuring a balanced offense and fine pitching (not including the 1st, 2nd, and 9th innings).

Meanwhile, West Michigan finally lost a game.  12-game winning streak - over!  There's a tie for the playoff race again.  Things look promising for the rest of this series - they're taking on Fort Wayne, and the Lugnuts get two more contests with South Bend.

But then the Nuts have to go to Fort Wayne for four games, and... there's a long way still to go.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A Much-Needed Day Off

Yesterday was the final day off of the regular season -- and, thankfully, it was at home.

This is an intriguing Lugnuts team right now.  The lineup is a mix of solid experienced hitters with Ochinko, Glenn, McElroy, and Ahrens, who are going to have mostly solid days; young high-ceiling guys like Marisnick, Crouse, and Hobson, who are going to have some great days and some poor days; and enigmas like Fuenmayor, Jackson, and Eiland, who I have no idea if they're going to be productive or not on a day-to-day basis.

With the starting rotation:  I really enjoy watching Hutchison pitch, I'm interested to see whether Sever can keep up his recent effectiveness (despite not striking anybody out), I'm wary of Shopshire and Field's yo-yo behavior, and I believe Smith really should be pretty good as the year goes on.

The bullpen, frankly, doesn't have a closer.  It's not Steve Turnbull, or at least not at the moment.  It's not Casey Beck, especially not against Fort Wayne.  It's not Brian Slover, who is consistently throwing two schizophrenic innings every outing -- one of those innings is excellent, and one of those innings is the opposite.  Maybe it's Aaron Loup, who's looking terrific recently, or maybe Danny Barnes will step in.

But, no, this isn't a good bullpen right now.  Not compared to the better teams in the division.

And yet... this still might be a playoff team...

Monday, August 9, 2010

Falling Apart

There's no rosy way to put it.

These have been painful games for the Lugnuts.

A six-game losing streak looks bad on paper but the way it has occurred has been even worse, with poor pitching, shaky fielding, shoddy baserunning, and nonexistent hitting (with the exception of Kevin Ahrens and the rare solid day from a Ryan Schimpf or a Brad Glenn).

Time for pride and heart to come to the forefront.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Lightning Rods

Brief opinions on divisive/controversial topics:
  • Baseball needs instant replay.  Good riddance to "human error."
  • Pete Rose should be elected to the Hall of Fame.
  • So should Shoeless Joe Jackson.
  • Induct Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens into the Hall of Fame together -- but induct Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker together first.
  • Get rid of the Designated Hitter.
  • Baseball games are only slow to members of the media and umpires... but a game should never start past 7:05 p.m.
  • Michael Lewis' Moneyball is completely overrated.
  • I'm anti-BCS, as any reasonable person should be.
  • ESPN covers Brett Favre, LeBron James, Duke, Yankees/Red Sox, Dallas Cowboys, and Notre Dame football waaaay too much.  (Wait, that's not a controversial opinion at all.)

Thursday, August 5, 2010

It's a Hoodoo

I've decided:  The TinCaps own the Lugnuts, pure and simple.  That's all.

Weird things happen when these teams play each other.

Surprise flash floods leading to game-winning wild pitches.

That sort of thing.

Today, after a resilient Lugnuts offense fought back from 2-0, 3-1, and 4-3 deficits (well done, Kevin Ahrens, A.J. Jimenez, Sean Ochinko, Ryan Schimpf, and Jake Marisnick), it was a seven-run 7th inning featuring a hit parade against Brian Slover and Nestor Molina.

So let's talk about something else instead:

Ryan Schimpf.

Schimpf went 2-for-4 today with a single, a triple, an RBI, and a run scored.  Those base hits raised his batting average... to .229.

He's been, frankly, disappointing.  He would tell you the same.

Schimpf's monthly splits (batting average, on-base pct., slugging pct.):

April - .257, .398, .443
May - .245, .333, .412
June - .145, .299, .242
July - .247, .272, 455

First things first:  Ryan was simply awful in June.  No getting around it.

Wait.  Look at that drop in the on-base percentage in July.  He'd been doing so well at getting on base early in the season despite a sub-par batting average.  In July, however, Ryan Schimpf walked only twice while striking out 26 times.

Twice.

In April, Ryan had three games with two walks apiece -- and another game where he walked three times (and also had a two-run double).

I think that tells you all you need to know about what happened to him this year.  He's out of whack at the plate and it's entirely in his head, same as the TinCaps are in the Lugnuts' head.

I'm of the opinion, then -- and I've heard this from someone else as well -- that Schimpf is going to be just fine... as soon as the season's over.  He needs to get away from the low batting average, get away from the Midwest, and get back to a comfort zone where he can put back his swing and his confidence back together.  Then, next year, we'll see the real Ryan Schimpf, the one who pounds the ball all over the place.

But maybe... maybe we'll still see hints of the real Schimpf, the LSU star, the scout's delight, before the year's done.

There's time left, after all.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Good Heavens

Are the Lugnuts laughing after that 5-0 defeat?

No, probably not.

I'm in a good mood, though.

There was no Lugnuts offense whatsoever, there was embarrassing umpiring, and there was an awesome tape-measure home run by Fort Wayne's Jason Hagerty.  What can you do after a game like that except laugh, shrug your shoulders, and head to bed?

This wasn't a heartbreaker.  This was a thrashing.  Tip your cap to the TinCaps and come back tomorrow.

Fort Wayne is now 8-4 against the Lugnuts this year, winning seven of the last nine meetings.  Are they a good team?  Hey, they're not bad.  Probably as good as Kane County.  They just own the Lugnuts right now, pure and simple.  Jason Hagerty looks like a superstar.  Nate Freiman is roping line drives all over the place.

Hey, nine more games to go against the Padres farmhands.  We'll see if anything changes.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Cracks in the Pavement

It's tempting to be unreasonably optimistic after every victory and unreasonably pessimistic after every defeat.

Still...

There are a lot of small reasons to be concerned after this loss.

There is one large reason not to be concerned.

The large reason first:  The Lugnuts were tired today.  It was a long busride back from Bowling Green and the team was just going through the motions out there.  Let's see how things go when the squad has a chance to sleep in their own beds for a full night.

Now the small notes of concern:

Ryan Tepera isn't right and neither is Casey Beck.

A winning team needs strong pitching.  The Lugnuts aren't getting strong pitching, at least not from the whole staff.  Egan Smith has had two poor outings in a row, as has Tepera, as has Matt Fields.  I'm not sold on Ryan Shopshire turning the corner.

That leaves Dave Sever (a consistent 6 innings/3 runs sort of guy) and the bullpen.

Who's good in the bullpen right now?

Nestor Molina.
Maybe Aaron Loup.
Brian Slover half the time.
Matt Wright most of the time.
Not Casey Beck right now.
Not Steve Turnbull right now.

The offense is carrying this team.  That can't last, not if this team wants to keep on winning.  They're going to need to win some games 2-1, not 10-9.  They're going to need Turnbull and Beck and Slover, and they're going to need Tepera and Fields and Shopshire.

Monday, August 2, 2010

An August Resolution and a Prediction

It had been entirely too long since a post, and so I'm making a resolution:  at least one post every day this month. Let's see if I can make it happen.

It's going to be a fun pennant race this year with Lansing, Fort Wayne, and Bowling Green vying for the last two playoff spots.  Currently the Nuts and the TinCaps are tied with the Hot Rods two games back.

Who's in the driver's seat?

Well... today is the last game between the Lugnuts and the Hot Rods in the regular season.  The remaining games for each team:

Lansing - 11 games vs. Fort Wayne, 7 games vs. Dayton, 6 games vs. West Michigan, 4 games vs. Great Lakes, 3 games vs. South Bend, 3 games vs. Lake County.

Fort Wayne - 11 games vs. Lansing, 8 games vs. Bowling Green, 6 games vs. West Michigan, 3 games vs. South Bend, 3 games vs. Great Lakes, 3 games vs. Lake County.

Bowling Green - 8 games vs. Fort Wayne, 7 games vs. South Bend, 6 games vs. Great Lakes, 6 games vs. Lake County, 3 games vs. Dayton, 3 games vs. West Michigan.

The clear advantage, looking at that schedule, goes to the Lugnuts.  The two worst teams in the division are Dayton and South Bend; the Lugs get 13 games against them while Fort Wayne and Bowling Green only get six.