Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Hits, Hits, Hits and More Hits

Let us start with how great a day it was yesterday. If you notice the ball is actually out of David Rollins' hand and on its way to the plate in this picture.



Now onto to the Lugnuts offense which has WOKEN UP.

Here are some of the eye-popping offensive stats from last week:

The Lugnuts scored 59 runs on 92 hits for a .371 (92-for-248) team batting average during their seven-game homestand in which they went 6-1.

As a team last week, Lansing walked more than they struck out (39 BB, 37 K).

Against Lake County, Lansing had a hit in 29 of their 33 offensive innings in the four-game set.

Check out these individual numbers from the homestand…

Jon Berti  9-for-26, 4 RBI, 5 runs, 3 stolen bases 
Markus Brisker 6-for-16 (.375) 3 RBI 
Andy Burns  10-23, 4 RBI, 7 runs, 5 extra-base hits 
Chris Hawkins 11-for-26, 5 RBI, 6 runs 
K.C. Hobson 10-for-23, 7 RBI, 7 runs, 8 BB, 5 extra-base hits 
Shane Opitz  10-for-17, 6 RBI, 5 runs, 5 extra-base hits 
Carlos Perez 12-for-26, 4 RBI, 9 runs, 4 extra-base hits, game-winning walk-off double on 5/23 vs. DAY
Kevin Pillar 12-for-30, 4 RBI, 2 extra-base hits

Also...

The Lugs have beaten Dayton ten times this season and are 12-0 in the last 12 meetings between the two squads going back to the playoffs last season.

The Cleveland Indians’ top rated prospect Fransciso Lindor, who is just 18 years old, is 3-for-29 against Lansing, but batting .319 against the rest of the league.

The defense struggled a bit last week; the Lugs committed 12 errors over the seven-game homestand.

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Jesse Hernandez is the Lugnuts hottest pitcher. He has matched his career-high of seven innings pitched in each of his last three starters allowing just three runs, 12 hits and three walks over those 21 innings.

Anthony DeSclafani and Noah Syndergaard’s line from their last two appearances during the homestand do not look very good, but do not be alarmed; It was really only one bad inning in each of those outing… Just a little rough patch.

By the way Syndergaard has not walked a batter in his last two outing spanning 7 2/3 innings.

Justin Nicolino looked great the last time out. That curveball is really coming along. It looks much tighter than it did earlier this season.

The bullpen has been good in the last 12 games -- 43 innings pitched, six earned runs for a 1.25 ERA.


This road trip should be a good one because the Hot Rods and the Silver Hawks are both battling for the second place playoff berth behind the Lugnuts.

We are in Bowling Green now for a three-game series after a wonderful eight-hour red-eye bus trip. We pulled in at 6:00 a.m. central time this morning. One of the ways I passed the time was by watching “Cowboy vs Aliens.”  The movie title itself sounds terrible, but I really like it. Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford are both bossy cowboys that kill aliens. Again, it is not a sci-fi channel, made-for-TV type film, its good… I promise.

Finally, Jesse and Big Lug got into the hitting mood along with the team but instead of having a desire to hit balls with bats, they wanted to hit me with their fists the other day while we were on-air. 








Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Lake County, Food and Mother Nature

The Lansing Lugnuts and Lake County Captains were the two hottest teams in the Midwest League entering the three-game series this past weekend.

The Captains suffered through a 10-game losing streak in the early part of the year. After they lost back-to-back games on April 21st and April 22nd Lake County went 17-7 before Saturday’s series opener against the Lugnuts and hadn’t lost back-to-back games since.

The Lugnuts had a record of 16-8 in that same span.

So Jesse and I had high expectactions for this series and they were met as Lansing took two of three on the road and gave Lake County their first back-to-back losses in about a month.

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The series was dominated by pitching. The combined score was Lansing: 5 Lake County: 3. 

Blake McFarland tossed four scoreless innings on Saturday. Do not be surprised if we see McFarland, a career starter in college and in the pros before this year, in the starting rotation at some point this season. 

Since Jesse Hernandez allowed 13 hits and four runs in 5 1/3 innings against Dayton on May 11th, Hernandez has thrown 14 innings and allowed two runs in two starts. In both starts he matched his career-high with seven innings pitched. 

Sancholino combined on a shutout in the second game of the series, it was the fifth time this year Aaron Sanchez and Justin Nicolino have combined to shutout their opponent. 

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Lansing had committed 20 errors in 12 consecutive games entering the series against the Captains.


They snapped that streak with a pair of errorless games to start the three-game set. They went 33 consecutive innings without committing an error until they had two defensive miscues in the 11th inning of the finale that allowed the Captains' walk-off run to score.  

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Offensive Notes:

Kevin Pillar went 1-for-11 in the series but he mashed the ball. He hit the ball right on the screws in almost every at-bat and frankly just had some bad luck.

Quote of the Blog: In the words of Yogi Berra, “Ya gotta hit ‘em where the ain’t.”

Chris Hawkins was 0-for-his-last-18 two at-bats into the Lake County series, but went 5-for-11 in his final 11 at-bats in the three-game set. Although Hawkins has fallen into a couple of mini slumps this year he has quite remarkably kept his batting average above .300 throuhout the season.

After the season-opening three-game series against Great Lakes, Hawkins had a batting average of .200. He promptly recorded three hits in four at-bats in the fourth game of the season which put his average at .357 and it has not dipped below .300 since. 

For the record, his high water mark was a .368 average on April 21st.

Andy Burns is establishing himself as one of the top position player prospects on the Lugnuts. He is athletic enough to play great defense at third, short and second. He is also showing great power to both left and right field. He leads Lansing with seven longballs, he is second on the team with 20 RBI, fourth in the league with a .541 slugging percentage and second in the league with 22 extra basehits.

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The food at Classic Park is delicious. Their hot dogs are spectacular and have a garlic seasoned casing... they are really good.




I wanted to get the $20 “Moby Dick” sandwich that is bigger than Jesse’s head but there is no way I could broadcast after that monster. They even had a table on the concourse that was reserved for people to sit at and eat this beast of a sandwich.



The broadcast booth is quite tiny at Classic Park. 




Since I have returned from the Horizon League softball tournament, Mother Nature is 8-for-8 in gorgeous days. 



Now the Lugnuts welcome Dayton to Lansing for a three-game series. Its the first meeting in Michigan's state capital between the Lugnuts and Dragons. The Lugs are 7-0 against Dayton and have outscored them 49-16 this season. 





Monday, May 21, 2012

Life with the best team in the Midwest League

Anything that occurs regularly can be taken for granted.

This brings us to the 31-12 Lansing Lugnuts.

We don't know what tonight will bring, nor next week, nor next month. What we do know is that the Lugs have the second best record in all of the Minor Leagues, trailing only the 34-9 St. Lucie Mets.

Far from increasing arrogance or complacency, everyone around the team continues to react with enjoyment and amusement by the continued success.  Manager John Tamargo, Jr., just shakes his head and smiles.  Hitting coach Kenny Graham gives a laugh.  Pitching coach Vince Horsman folds his arms, his eyes hidden behind sunglasses, quietly (secretly) proud.

The reasons for success are plain to see:  On days that Aaron Sanchez and Justin Nicolino pitch, the Lugs are 8-1.  When David Rollins pitches, the Lugs are 7-2.  When Noah Syndergaard and Anthony DeSclafani pitch, the Lugs are 7-2.  Pitching, particularly when coupled with an air-tight defense, wins games.

(Amazing stats:  Justin Nicolino has 30 strikeouts compared to just 3 walks in 31 innings.  Aaron Sanchez  has a 0.58 ERA and is limiting batters to a .104 batting average.  Good heavens.)

So... are we taking them for granted yet?  Are we shrugging our shoulders at another save from Ajay Meyer?  Are we coming to expect nothing less than strikeouts and scoreless innings from the starting rotation?  Are we surprised when a day passes by without another Lugnuts' victory?

No, I don't think so.

I think fans, like the Lugnuts, are loving this, enjoying each win more and more, as the Lugs draw nearer and nearer to the postseason.

The magic number is 18 to clinch a playoff berth...



Saturday, May 19, 2012

TinCaps Tidbits and the End of an Era

Some notes from the Fort Wayne series, in which Lansing won two of three games:


The Lugs stole five bases in nine attempts (56%) in the three games against Fort Wayne.  However, Lansing is 77-for-90 in the stolen base department this year. They are successful 86% of the time… that is insane.

Javier Avendano and Brandon Berl are the two best arms out of Lansing’s bullpen.

The offense hit .279 in the series.  Some of the guys out in front…

*  Jon Berti reached 9 times in the three-game set
*  Andy Burns scored four runs and drove in three
*  Kevin Pillar had seven hits and a walk for good measure. (Fun Note: In the first two games of the series, Pillar reached safely in his final three at-bats.)
*  Chris Shaeffer hits the ball hard -- every time! He also knocked down a number of tough curveballs in the dirt and none of them trickled more than a foot or two away from him.
*  Shane Opitz has received very limited playing time, but when he is on the field his glove looks good and he looks comfortable at the plate.

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Quote of the Blog:
Me: Marcus [Walden] what kind of advice do you have for people who want to grow out a mustache like you?
Walden: If it’s blonde like mine… dye it.

Apparently the guys make fun of the blondeness of his ‘stach.


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A chapter of my Cubs fandom came to a close on Friday when Kerry Wood announced his retirement after a third of an inning out of the bullpen.

I was eight years old when KerryWood tossed what is arguably the most dominant pitching performance in MLB history.

Wood’s line when he set the National League and rookie strikeout record in 1998:  9 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 20 K, 1 HBP.

The only base hit he allowed was an infield single on a 1-2 pitch to Brad Ausmus in the third inning.

The only other base runner was Craig Biggio, who was hit by a pitch -- but COME ON, that barely counts!  Everybody hit Biggio, who used to hang over the plate with that big elbow pad of his.

"Kid K" was the most iconic Cubbie during my time as a Cubs fan and he got what he deserved Friday afternoon:  A great day with his son under the sun, capped by a strikeout, a standing “O” and a curtain call.  His career epitomized what it feels like to be a Cubs fan.



It is as sweet as can be when the team has low expectations (Chicago had won just 94 games in 1997 and was just 16-15 before Wood’s 20-K game in ‘98). As a kid, that game came out of nowhere. I didn’t expect the Cubs to go on and win Game 163 that year over the Giants to advance to the playoffs.


It is also terribly bitter when the team pumps hope into you and falls short…


Bitter Memory: Game 7 NLCS vs Marlins. Wood:  L, 5 2/3 IP, 7H, 7ER, 4BB, 6K

See Game 7 NLCS above.


(For further reading see 2008 season when Chicago had the best record in the NL and were swept by the Dodgers in the NLDS)


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Kerry Wood struck out the final batter he faced on Friday, but the Cubs lost to the White Sox.


That final day, just like his career and Cubs fandom, was bittersweet. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

6 for 6

Very few players experience collecting six hits in a game.  Only six players in Midwest League history... before Saturday night.


Bravo, Kevin Pillar... your Midwest League Batter of the Week.

Here's the audio of all six base hits.

When Kevin returned to his locker after the game, he found a fire extinguisher waiting for him, courtesy of Kramer Champlin.

The Major League list is a little more heavily populated than the Midwest League list, though I'd like to know how many of those players achieved their sixth hit with a grand slam.

The best part about it is that, like a no-hitter, a six-hit game is a thrilling experience for teammates.  All of the Lugnuts were collectively awed and ecstatic.  They cheered for Kevin in the dugout, raved about him in the clubhouse, and chattered to one another and their families in the bus and the hotel afterward.  There's a feeling of sharing something special, something that spices up the gnawing grind of the season.

It should be pointed out that Kevin Pillar's beloved Lakers eliminated the Nuggets in Game 7 on Saturday night.  That topped off his day with a cherry on top.

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My interview with Pillar earlier this year.

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A day after his magnificent 6 for 6 game, Kevin Pillar went 0 for 5 yesterday.

That's baseball for you.  It exalts.  It humbles.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Lansing Lugnuts Podcast, Week 4

In our fourth Lugnuts Podcast of the year, Keaton and Jesse review the last week of games and chat with pitcher Aaron Sanchez.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Off day

From a fan's perspective, off days are just the worst, especially for fans of powerhouse teams like the 2012 Lansing Lugnuts.  A day off?  When it could be better spent racking up another win instead?  Awful.

I would go to sleep each night as a kid with the sounds of baseball humming through my radio.  An off day meant sports talk instead of Jon Miller's voice, with its familiar, comfortable humor.  Man, did I dislike off days.

(I did not like sports talk when I was younger.  It struck me as a lot of blathering and shouting about ridiculous things.  I warmed up slightly with Tony Kornheiser and ESPN's evening show in the 1990s featuring Tony Bruno, Chuck Wilson, Joe D'Ambrosio and Todd Wright.  Currently, I think that my younger self has gone back to being right, and the bad far outweighs the good.)

An off day for me now, though, is a godsend.

My sleep patterns are all out of whack from the School Days of last week, and we have another one coming up this week.  With me and the players, our energy levels have to be at their highest between the hours of 7 and 11 p.m. throughout the summer, right when everyone else is winding down.  Put us on the spot with a day requiring our energy levels to be highest between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. and it causes an unexpected afternoon nap that goes way too far into the evening and leaves me wide awake at 3 in the morning.  An off day lets me straighten all of that out, clean my apartment, pay my rent/bills, do a little grocery shopping, get in a workout (I haven't had a true workout since - oh, man, probably late February or early March), catch up at work (we're doing the 2012 Lugnuts baseball cards right now), and catch up with my friends and family.

Yes, in the end, a serene off day can get pretty busy.

This might sound strange, too, but I miss having a baseball game.  My workdays are long, just like the players (while they stretch and practice and drill, I'm preparing all of my materials), but I love the game.  There's something about baseball that's both relaxing and exhilarating:  In the same evening, I might be leaning about in my chair, laughing at something silly, and later standing up, leaning forward, my heart pounding.

The Lugnuts are 18-6.  There are going to be better days ahead, there are going to be worse days ahead, and there are going to be a couple more off days here or there.

I'm ready.