Thursday, May 30, 2013

Winning, and then Losing

Let's start with some reading material:

  * with pictures:  29 Reasons Minor League Baseball is the Best
  * without pictures:  The Peculiar Case of MLB Prospect Development
  * TinCaps broadcaster Mike Couzens discovers that Fort Wayne loves me

Meanwhile, in Miami....

Mike Redmond was the Lugnuts' manager in 2011.  He is currently the skipper of the Marlins, and this is the sort of year he's having:

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During their last homestand, the Lansing Lugnuts went 7-0.  They are currently 0-5 during the current 10-game roadtrip.  The reasons for the turnabout:

1.  Tougher competition.  The Lugs faced the Eastern Division's worst two teams at home before opposing the first and third place teams in the division on the road.  It's tough to win against the league's best.

2.  Lack of offense.  Lansing scored four runs in the three-game sweep at South Bend, and then scored just one run in the defeat last night in Fort Wayne.  Over the last three days, the Lugs are batting 3-for-22 with runners in scoring position.  It's tough to win without runs.

3.  Bullpen woes.  The relievers were the strength of this team during the eight-game winning streak, but Fort Wayne has scored 10 runs against the relief corps in the first two games of the current series (including seven combined runs in the bottom of the eighth inning).  It's tough to win without a reliable bullpen.

On the bright side:

1.  Ben White is pitching well.  In his first three starts:  10.1 IP, 19 hits (in 53 ABs, a .358 average against), 10 runs allowed.  In his last three starts:  16.2 IP, 15 hits (in 57 ABs, .263), 4 runs allowed.

2.  Daniel Norris is continuing to progress.  The second batter he faced yesterday walloped a home run waaaay over the wall in left, and the TinCaps proceeded to load the bases.  That, as it turned out, was the only earned run scored against him in four innings.  (The 'Caps scored an unearned run off a double play in the third, and this should not be held against him.)  Plus:  6 more strikeouts, thanks to nasty off-speed stuff.

3.  Gustavo Pierre is notching hits by the bushel.  Since May 15th, four three-hit games and three two-hit games, raising his average from .250 to .302.  Plus:  He drew a walk on May 25th!

One more game to go in Fort Wayne, and then it's off to Dow Diamond to take on the Great Lakes Loons.  It's been an up and down sort of first half, and I can't say I'd be surprised if the rollercoaster ride continues.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Hail to thee, Marshall Thundering Herd

I just took a look at this website's page views -- and realized, to my amazement, that there are a ton of folks checking in!

Heck, if that's the case, I can't let you down and just put up one post a week then, can I?

Speaking of Ian Kadish, he and fellow Marshall product Arik Sikula have been awesome recently.  To wit:

Kadish has faced 28 batters in May and has struck out 14 of them.  He struck out the side on May 4th, whiffed two in a perfect inning on May 8th, K'd four batters in two innings on May 10th, and then punched out four more in two perfect innings on May 13th.  This season, Ian Kadish has recorded 25 strikeouts... and just three walks.  In May, the league's batting a mere .120 against him.  In total, right-handed batters are hitting just .154 against him.  Dominance.  Batters, beware... the fastball.  Kadish is not afraid to challenge with his heat.

And Arik Sikula has been even better.  On May 2nd, Sikula allowed a two-run homer to Beloit's Mitch Haniger.  It is the only hit in 24 at-bats against him this month.  On the other hand, it accounted for two runs, which is one more run than Arik allowed in all of April.  The total numbers:  19.1 innings, 3 runs, 24 strikeouts, .115 average against.  Batters, beware... the curveball.  It can arrive in any count.

Since I'm on the subject of strikeouts and relief excellence and unhittability and things of that nature, I suppose I could mention Wil Browning here.  But he didn't go to Marshall, so we'll leave him for another day.

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Have you bought The Baseball Thesaurus yet?  If you have, bring it to the ballpark and I'll personally inscribe it for you.

Around the Nest, now on iTunes!

Big news!

"Around the Nest," our weekly talk show (Fridays, 5:00-5:30 p.m.) with the radio voices of the Blue Jays' minor league system, is now available for subscription on iTunes.

Tell your friends!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Ode to the great Balbino

There was a time when writers and broadcasters came up with athletes' nicknames.  This may have been their job, or they may have merely thought that this was their job -- since writers and broadcasters have egos just as large as the players they cover -- but they certainly set their minds in motion to the task.  So it was that Joe DiMaggio became "Joltin' Joe" and "The Yankee Clipper," Stan Musial became "Stan the Man," and Willie Mays became "The Say Hey Kid."

Credit Taylor Hone, Lansing Lugnuts
Both Balbino Fuenmayor and I joined the Lugnuts in 2009.  Balbino was just a kid, relatively -- 19 years old.  The Lugnuts athletic trainer at the time, Dan McIntosh, told me that Balbino would work as hard as anyone on the team in order to improve.  He had met the young Venezuelan the previous year, in the Gulf Coast League, and was impressed.

"The Great Balbino" nickname came quickly, a play off of Babe Ruth's moniker, "The Great Bambino."  He was big but baby-faced like Ruth.  His power was evident.  And the name... what a name!  Sit back and enjoy the sound of Bal-bi-no Fuen-may-or rolling off your tongue.

It is now four years later and Balbino Fuenmayor is still a Lugnut.  With the seasons' passing have come moments of hot streaks and glory for Fuenmayor -- and also moments of cold spells and frustration.  At times, I have heard the nickname get turned on itself, spoke with acrid sarcasm.  I understand; Fuenmayor received a hefty signing bonus from then-Toronto GM J.P. Ricciardi.  He was once ranked among the Blue Jays' top prospects.  He is no longer consider as such.  I grant you this.  If you're a Blue Jays fan, your attention has long since turned elsewhere.

If you're a Lugnuts fan, though, it is different.  Do you root for the Lugs to win?  Then you understand exactly what Fuenmayor means to this team.  To wit:  A 7-for-16 performance with two long home runs in Lansing's season-opening four-game series at Lake County.  The Lugs won the final three games, the last time that the team has been above .500 this year.  Hitless in 37 straight at-bats, as the Lugnuts sunk to the cellar.  A stint on the Disabled List, as the team's fortune grew worse.  And then -- off the DL.  A dramatic two-run homer to beat Beloit.  A game-breaking three-run triple to top Great Lakes.  Heck, you could chalk up significant moments in five of the Lugs' 11 wins this season to the Great Balbino.

Second baseman Christian Lopes is an honest to goodness prospect.  He hits safely nearly every single day.  I will not tell you that Balbino Fuenmayor is better than Christian Lopes.

I will tell you that when I see Balbino Fuenmayor in the clubhouse or the dugout before games, he has the same message.  It begins with a smile and a handshake (or a fist-bump).  It ends with the vow, "We're going to win today."  His sincerity is not to be doubted.

I have met Balbino's beloved wife.  I have met his beautiful baby.

I hereby confess my bias.

Regardless of what may come, Balbino Fuenmayor will always be Great to me.

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Have you bought The Baseball Thesaurus yet?  If you have, bring it to the ballpark and I'll personally inscribe it for you.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Two weeks into May

One blog entry to another, from April 18th... to today, May 10th.  As you can guess, Slavko and I have been slightly busy, conducting interviews, finalizing baseball cards, and a heck of a lot more.  We're currently working on transitioning to a new website, too.  Stay tuned.

Check out the updated interview archive.

Read my latest article for The Good Point.

As far as the baseball team is concerned, yes, there have been quite a few losses recently.  Maybe you've noticed.

The Lugs are currently 9-21.  They rank last in drawing walks, tied for first in striking out, last in ERA, last in saves, and first in wild pitches.  The offense has underperformed, the pitching has underperformed, and the defense has underperformed.

And now, the optimism:  A Midwest League team is not a Major League team.  As much as you would like the Lugs to win and I would like the Lugs to win, this team does not face the same pressure to succeed that, say, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim face.  (If the Angels keep losing, they might just be doubly disowned.)

Because of this, even when negative news comes up -- such as today's report from Gregor Chisolm that 18-year-old ace Roberto Osuna has been sidelined while potential Tommy John surgery is considered -- we can wish Roberto well while at the same time taking stock in these notes:

  • Wil Browning and Arik Sikula have become shutdown relievers.  If they keep this up, a Dunedin promotion won't be far away.
  • Dalton Pompey has blossomed at the top of the order, playing stellar (and graceful) defense in center field while adding extra-base pop to the other talents in his arsenal.
  • Christian Lopes keeps hitting and hitting and hitting.  Not bad for a 20-year-old in his first year in the Midwest League.

Let's stop there for now, but expect more positive notes to arrive in the weeks to come.

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Have you bought The Baseball Thesaurus yet?  If you have, bring it to the ballpark and I'll personally inscribe it for you.