Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Hero time

This was how the 2013 Midwest League All-Star Game ended...




Your hero:  Lugnuts outfielder Dalton "Pony" Pompey!

It was a dramatic game, too, with the Western Division rallying in the ninth against the dominating Eastern Division closers for Fort Wayne and South Bend, Roman Madrid and R.J. Hively.  Box score

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Now we're 2nd half-bound!  My All-Star Break was spent relaxing, bowling, mini-golfing, and visiting Potter Park Zoo.  In just a little while, however, I'll be on a bus to Bowling Green, Kentucky, as the Lugnuts embark upon their second semester of 70 games.

Put the key into the ignition, and start 'er up.  Two more postseason berths remain available in the Eastern Division -- and, more often than not, the hottest team in the second half walks away with the trophy at season's end.


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Have you purchased The Baseball Thesaurus yet?  Bring yours to the ballpark and I'll sign it for you.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Breakout Player Alert: Kramer Champlin

This is 6'6 Lugnuts pitcher Kramer "Champ" Champlin.

He's taller than this in real life.

Background of a Champ:  Kramer went from Olympia High School (WA), where he also played quarterback, to Western Nevada College, where he threw a no-hitter in his first start, to Arizona State University, where he led the Sun Devils in complete games.  He was drafted by the Blue Jays in the 33rd round of the 2011 draft, proceeding to pitch in the Gulf Coast League and Northwest League in 2011 before spending all of 2012 in Lansing.  He began this season on the Lugnuts' Disabled List.  Once he came off the DL, Champ was relatively reliable in his initial relief outings, excepting a four-run outing on May 6th and surrendering five runs on May 29th.

The Breakthrough Occurred...  when May turned June.  On June 3rd, Kramer twirled a perfect inning against Great Lakes.  Two days later, he tossed 2 1/3 perfect innings against Fort Wayne, earning a spot-start on June 8th at West Michigan.

This was the only baserunner Kramer allowed in that game:



The final line:  7 inn., 1 hit, 0 runs, 10 K's, earning Kramer the honor of MWL Pitcher of the Week.  After all, in that week's span, Kramer Champlin had faced 32 batters -- and retired 31 of them.

Here's Ben White interviewing Kramer and catcher Seth Conner about the game.

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How has Champlin become so effective?  From our simplified view in the broadcast booth, he's using every pitch, pitching from ahead (in consistent 0-1, 0-2, and 1-2 counts), and then finishing the batter off without nibbling around.

From his perspective,

 - He's using his change-up more.
 - He's changed his delivery of his slider, giving it far sharper break.
 - His control, especially of his fastball, has been much better.

If this keeps up, watch for the Blue Jays to offer Champ a new challenge before too long.


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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.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Everything has a beginning, and everything has an end...

... but right now we're smack dab in the middle of the Lugnuts' domination of the Great Lakes Loons.  Sunday's win improved the Lugs to 9-1 against Great Lakes this year.

This could very well turn around any day -- like, say, tonight -- but it's certainly been fun.  When the Lugs blew their 5-0 lead in the 6th inning, I still had perfect confidence that the team was going to find a way to win.

And then Kevin Patterson homered, and that was that.  Ballgame.

Still, it's worth remembering that Minor League teams never remain the same over the course of the season, even if some of the players stick around from start to finish.  Everyone's working, growing, and improving.  Injuries rise up.  There are promotions, demotions, and possible trades.

The Lansing Lugnuts at the start of June are currently a middle-of-the-pack Eastern Division team, clearly worse than South Bend and Fort Wayne, clearly better than Great Lakes and Lake County.

Come July and August, expect the tune to have changed.

Courtesy - Scott Mapes, Lansing Lugnuts
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Quick!  Name the pitcher in the picture to the right.

It's Arik Sikula, who converted his sixth save of the season to lock up the win Sunday.  He was a multi-sport athlete growing up in West Virginia, the fourth of four boys.

After attending Marshall University, where he majored in Accounting and Finance, Arik was drafted in the 36th round of the 2011 draft by the Blue Jays.  This is his first year in the Midwest League.

Here's his Baseball-Reference page.

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Speaking of relievers, I was all set to write an entry dedicated to Wil Browning, who had been so lights-out through April and May.

The basic gist of the piece:  "Wil Browning hasn't been promoted yet to Dunedin... but he should be soon," or something of that sort.  I was convinced, you see, that Wil had mastered the Midwest League level and was ready for a new challenge.  But this road trip has brought unexpected events. An appearance after giving up three runs at Fort Wayne, the Mississippi native allowed four runs at Great Lakes, and his ERA has jumped from 0.36 to 2.63.

(Not to be outdone, previously spotless southpaw Efrain Nieves was touched up a bit by the Loons the next day.)

I believe wholeheartedly that Wil will right the ship before long and return to his previous untouchable self, but it's a worthy reminder that:  1) though baseball's a game, it certainly isn't easy, and 2) it doesn't matter who you are, everyone slumps during the season.

Just remember Yogi Berra's alleged quote:  "Good pitching beats good hitting -- and vice versa."


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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.


Saturday, June 1, 2013

Follow the Leader, Lugnuts edition

Leading off...

Here's the latest edition of Around the Nest, in which all of the Blue Jays minor league broadcasters talk about the system, via jaytalkin.blogspot.com.

And here's the magnificent entrance of the Lugnuts' bullpen on CBS Sports (via Slavko Bekovic video!):



Backstory:  Beginning recently, a segment of the Lugnuts bullpen (excluding Tucker Donahue and Wil Browning, who are far too cool for this) has begun walking down to the pen before each game in single-file fashion.  The leader of the line, which changes each day, determines everything that the group does -- be it an odd, meandering journey, rubbing strength and conditioning coach Jason Dowse's head, or bows to outfielder Chris Hawkins.  When they reach the bullpen, they stand side by side before sitting in unison.

It is glorious.

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The Lugnuts defeated Great Lakes 5-3 last night, ending a six-game losing streak and improving to 1-6 during the current road trip.

Minor League baseball, it is repeated over and over, is about development... but no one likes losing.

The Lugs are now 7-1 against the Loons this year and a combined 19-6 against Great Lakes, Lake County, Dayton and West Michigan.  (Lest you think that this makes the Lugs a powerhouse:  The ballclub is 0-14 against Fort Wayne, South Bend and Bowling Green.  It's a pretty clear dividing line.)

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Dig those shades!  -  photograph by Scott Mapes

Baseball is supposed to be tough, right?

You're looking at Efrain Nieves, a left-hander in the Lugnuts bullpen.  Including yesterday's blank frame, Nieves has now worked 10 1/3 scoreless innings while allowing five total baserunners (three hits and two walks).  Dominance, and it's all looked pretty darn easy.

He's a lefty, he throws sidearm, he has command, and he has some pretty wicked breaking stuff.

Hey, just a man doing his job, right?

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My first book, "The Baseball Thesaurushas made its way to the MLB Fan Cave!
Have you bought yours yet?  Bring it to the ballpark and I'll personally inscribe it for you!