Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Duluth Advances: Home Sweet Home

by Michael Swanson

Ask the ‘87 and ‘91 Twins. Ask the ’01 Diamondbacks. And now ask the 2008 Dukes. I know it is only a divisional series, but ask all these teams how important it is to have home field advantage. The Duluth-Superior Dukes (106-56) won the divisional series over the East Lyme Crush (103-59), four games to three. This series was one of the closest series I have been a part of. One at bat could have changed the whole thing.

The games were hard fought and all but one statistic was the same.

Batting Average: D-S .254, EL .250.
Runs Scored: 30 each.
Doubles: D-S 12, EL 14.
Strikeouts by pitchers: D-S 37, EL 41.

I could go on. The one stat that jumps out at you are the homeruns. East Lyme connected 7 times while the Dukes were able to crush 14 times.

The big guys really came through! Justin Morneau led the Dukes hitting 4 homeruns and hitting in 7 runners. Albert Pujols hit 3 balls out of the yard and had 8 rbi, while Alex Rodriguez also connected 3 times but hit only 4 runners in. Beltran had 3 for the Crush.

Game 1:
The Crush got on the board right away in the first as Derek Jeter scored on a wild pitch. The Dukes came back in the bottom of the first plating 4 runs with the big hit from Morneau on a 3-run homer. Eventually the Crush tied the game 4-4 in the seventh on a single by Carlos Beltran. Alex Rodriguez then hit the game winning homerun in the bottom of the 8th off Joel Zumaya(0-1). The winning pitcher Mariano Rivera(1-0) pitched two innings and gave way to Joe Nathan to earn his first save.

Game 2:
The Dukes scored first in the bottom of the second with a Justin Morneau homerun. By the bottom of the fifth, East Lyme had built a lead of 3-1. The lead did not last long as in the bottom half of the inning, Duluth-Superior scored 3 runs. The big hit was a 3-run smash by Albert Pujols. The Dukes would go on to score 2 more runs to win 6-3 and to take a commanding lead of 2-0 in the series. The winning pitcher Freddy Garcia gave up 9 hits in 5 innings. Jon Rauch, Darren Oliver and finally Joe Nathan(save #2) needed to help out with 4 strong scoreless relief innings.

Game 3:
The next 3 games belonged to the crush. The crush took a 4 run lead in the first inning of game 3 and never looked back. Connor Jackson plated two runners with a first inning double and Mark Derosa had a solo shot in the 8th. The final score, 7-2 and East Lyme was back in it. Greg Maddox was the winner and Lackey was shelled for 9 hits and six earned runs in only 5 2/3 innings of work.

Game 4:
Again East Lyme got a four run inning but this time they had to wait until the 7th inning. The Dukes were enjoying a 3-2 lead thanks to two homeruns and three runs batted in by Alex Rodriguez. Carlos Beltran’s two run homer in the bottom of the 7th was the big blow and helped East Lyme to tie the series at 2-2.

Game 5:
Chris Young and C.C. Sabathia fought for 7innings and the game was still up in the air until the last out was recorded. Down 3-1 in the top of the ninth the Dukes sent up Tadahito Iguchi with one out. Iguchi bombs one off reliever D. Reyes to make the score 3-2 and then with two out and the tying run on first, Reyes is able to close the door by getting Randy Winn to fly out and secure a 3-2 game lead for the Crush. Other homeruns hit were Cuddyer(2nd) and Carroll(1st).

Game 6:
Game 6 pits Erik Bedard and Freddy Garcia and the Crush erupt with two first inning runs on a two-run bomb by Carlos Beltran(2nd). The Dukes not to be outdone comes back in the bottom of the 1st with two of their own to tie the game. The Dukes busted the game open when they were able to score four more runs in the third. Cuddyer was the star of the game: in the top of the third inning he robs Juan Rivera of an extra base hit, then in the bottom hits his 2nd double of the game to hit in his 2nd run of the game. East Lyme pecked away at the 6-2 lead the Dukes had scoring one in the fifth and two in the seventh. Joe Nathan was called on again to shut the door on the Crush and did just that. Nathan struck out Derek Jeter and Russell Branyon to end the game and force a game 7 in this Divisional series.

Game 7:
Game 7 starters were Greg Maddux and John Lackey. The first inning was exciting as Derek Jeter starts off with a base hit and eventually scores on Barry Bonds. Swanson was heard saying, “If you would have told me that our pitcher would hold Barry Bonds to a batting average of .048 in this series, I would have laughed in your face. Our pitchers pitched great to keep him off the board.”

The bottom of the first saw the Dukes score two with Pujols’ 4th homerun of the series. The Dukes would go on to score one in the second on a homer off the bat of Iguchi(2nd). Two more runs would be scored in the 4th inning and another in the 7th. In all the Dukes hit 3 homeruns and 4 doubles in this game and win the game 6-2 and the series 4-3. Lackey(1-1) was the winner and Greg Maddux(1-1) the losing pitcher.

Notable stats:
Pujols: 3 HR’s, 4 2B’s, 8 RBI, .333 BA.
Morneau: 4 HR’s, 7 RBI, .192 BA.
AROD: 3 HR’s, 4 RBI, .261 BA.
D. Oliver: 5 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 3 K’s
Nathan: 3.2 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 7 K’s

Carroll: 7 RBI, .381 BA.
Beltran: 3 HR’s, 9 RBI, .370 BA.
C. Jackson: .360 BA.
Jeter: .333 BA., 4 SB’s, 6 runs scored.
Bonds: 1-21, .04 BA.

Tuba growlings

The New York Giants better win the championship this year, because it will be a while before the franchise (to be renamed the Chuckanut Bay Tubas at the completion of the postseason) sniffs the playoffs again.

I inherited a team with a lot of expiring contracts and decided to play out the rest of the season and then rebuild. Sure enough, I just got done with the roster decisions and the Chuckanut Bay Tubas will only have 18 players under contract (plus two amateurs) heading into free agency, plus matching rights for Miguel Cabrera.

The Tubas have a ton of holes, and don't figure to be active players in free agency as it would require a monster budget to fill them all. The Tubas will only have two starters, two relievers, no catcher, no third baseman (unless Cabrera's best offer is matched), and very offensively challenged players at second base and shortstop. Indeed, it's time to get young, plug holes via secondary free agency and hope that new GM David Dick is good at assessing young talent.

Monday, February 25, 2008

BRASS 2008-09 Off-Season Begins Tonight

The league year ends tonight at midnight and we move, administratively, into the 2008-09 league season (our 19th).

Below is the off-season schedule of activities that we will be following this year. Please note that it differs modestly in a few places from the schedule outlined in last year's constitution version. The changes are to allow contract decisions to occur with a fully accurate bank account update, to calibrate key activities to weekends, to avoid having free agency fall on Easter weekend or my business trip the following weekend and to wrap the Draft before Mother's Day.

This year's schedule was trickier than usual. So please save and use this schedule as the official off-season schedule.

February 26: New League season begins. Trade freeze begins.
February 27: I will send out the roster file for contract decisions and roster cuts process.
March 1: Contract decisions and cuts are due back to me.
March 7: I will report signings, cuts, provide a free agent list and bid forms, provide revised rosters with pre-free agency bank accounts.
March 13: Free Agent bids are due.
March 15: I will send out the League Changes voting ballot. Henry sends out League Awards ballot. March 15: Free Agency process begins.
March 21 (or earlier): Free Agency process concludes.
March 25: Free Agency report is sent, league changes and league awards ballots are due.
March 27: Open trading period begins.
April 15: League changes results are reported, league awards voting totals reported.
April 18: Trade Freeze begins.
April 20: 30-man protected lists are due before the draft.
April 25: The Draft begins at 7 pm, ET.
May 9: The Draft concludes.
May 10: Open Trading period begins.
May 15: Draft report due.
May 25: Secondary Free Agency process begins. Player list and bid files sent out.
May 30: Secondary Free Agency bids are due.
June 7: Secondary Free Agency results reported.
2008-09 season begins in September.

I Zinc Ve Have Sometink to Proof, Yes?

...he says in his best Colonel Klink voice.

This past season, aside from the perennial strong performance from the East Lyme club, the Zinc division did not enjoy a lot of success. Let's look at the status for each team moving into free agency (and sorry if I missed some transactions - there have been a few!).

Cream City:
The Pirates battled but ultimately lost out for the worst record in the league. They fought the good fight though! Now after a complete rebuild they look poised to take the division if the dice fall their way a bit.

Key acquisitions: Frank Thomas, Russ Springer, Joe Saunders, Shane Victorino, Reynel Pinto, Mark Teixeira, Aubrey Huff

Key departures: Ryan Shealy, Cory Sullivan, Xavier Nady, Ryan Doumit, Francisco Cordero, Carlos Villanueva, Hideki Matsui, Chris Young (OF)

SPs: AJ Burnett & Rich Hill headline this group, which slots Jeff Francis, Ian Snell, and Daniel Cabrera into the 3-4-5 roles. This is a reasonable and balanced rotation which should match up fairly well with most teams.

Bullpen: The loss of Cordero will hurt some, but Accardo,Valverde, B Wagner, and the newly acquired Springer provide plenty of quality innings.

Hitters: The Teixeria trade really sets up this lineup nicely, which now has a power SW bat to complement a strong leadoff bat in B Roberts, and an OF studded with talent youngsters like Victorino, Jeremy Hermida (likely DH), BJ Upton and Corey Hart, along with veteran CF Aaron Rowand. JJ Hardy and a platoon of Wilson Betemit and Brandon Inge round out the IF, leaving C as the only spot with real question marks.

Summary/projections: The Pirates will sport an above-average offense, solid defense, and sufficient starting pitching to make a strong playoff run. The bullpen should be able to hold on most leads. I look for 88-92 wins here.

East Lyme:
The top dog in the division last season may be sorely challenged to hold onto that status in 2008-2009. With its cash stash dwindling and some key players aging, East Lyme made a few moves to get younger and cheaper while not drastically harming its talent base. Two future HOFers are gone in Bonds & Maddux but at least Bonds is easily replaced.

Key acquisitions: Woody Williams, Dave Weathers, Chad Qualls

Key departures: Barry Bonds, Greg Maddux

SPs: The East Lyme rotation will be led by two of the top LHs in all of baseball, Erik Bedard & CC Sabathia. The rest of the rotation will feature some combo of RHs Williams, Bonser, Wakefield & Vargas and maybe a FA or two.

Bullpen: New acquisitions Weathers and Qualls will play key roles here, as will returning vets Bob Howry, Damaso Marte, CJ Wilson and Joel Zumaya.

Hitters: Jack Cust looks to take over the DH duties from the departing Bonds, and joins Derek Jeter, Nick Markakis, Luke Scott, and Carlos Beltran to form the backbone of the Crush lineup. The infield will feature ROY Ryan Braun and Mark De Rosa as well as up & comer 1B Conor Jackson.

Summary/projections: This is an offense that will not have trouble scoring runs, though infield defense leaves something to be desired at this point, and SPs beyond the top 2 are weak. This looks like a team that will score runs and hold onto most leads due to a deep bullpen, but will lose a few blowouts as well against better pitching. I see an 85- to 90-win season here.

San Jose (updated for Sizemore trade):
Like Cream City, the Scorpions are looking for a turnaround, but in this case it may still be another year off. The new blood injected into the franchise will help, but free spending of cash in order to acquire players and picks may hurt the club in free agency.

Key acquisitions: Joe Blanton, Carlos Pena, Josh Hamilton, Manny Delcarmen, Ryan Church, Randy Johnson, Kevin Correia, Andrew Brown, George Sherrill, Ryan Doumit, Mark Ellis, Barry Zito, Jacoby Ellsbury, Ron Villone, Mike Lamb, Cory Snyder, Randy Wolf, Chuck Lofgren, PNC Park

Key departures: Grady Sizemore, Fausto Carmona, Brian Bannister, Vernon Wells, Jeff Clement, Humberto Sanchez, Carlos Villanueva, Chad Cordero, Kevin Millar, Nick Punto, A Otsuka, Tom Gordon, Carlos Silva, Rudy Seanez, Scott Baker, Chris Ianetta, R Springer, J Lopez, McLouth

SPs: The Scorpions lacked a true #1 SP after dealing Carmona for a big bat, but the acqusition of Blanton will help some. So now Blanton, Zito and Bush will serve as the mainstays of the rotation, then mix & match with the Unit, Wolf, Correia, and whatever scraps can be found in free agency.

Bullpen: Springer was dealt, but replaced soon after by the live young arm of Manny Delcarmen. Manny will join Gregg, Janssen, Sherrill, Brown and Villone to make up a deep and talented bullpen which fits the home park nicely.

Hitters: Pena, Grady Sizemore and Jimmy Rollins made up the heart of the lineup along with platoon RFer Hamilton, but Sizemore was moved in a deadline deal to improve pitching and acquire picks. In the short term he'll be replaced in the lineup with Church vs RH and Logan vs LH, which will weaken the OF defense to a 3 in CF (Hamilton) but should not hurt the offense much. The C platoon of Doumit & Snyder should be productive enough, and Mike Lamb & J McDonald will do the same at the hot corner. Rent-a-player Ellis will turn a lot of DPs with Rollins as a partner. The club holds signing rights to other players at multiple positions, so free agency will also have a bearing on the final lineup spots of LF/DH/3B.

Summary/projections: The addition of Blanton and Johnson to the SPs makes it a deeper and more talented group, capable of keeping games close, and the bullpen is back to being a strength with the addition of Delcarmen. If the final lineup spots are filled with league average or better bats, the offense should be productive enough to win some games. This looks like an 84-88 win team if the final holes are filled reasonably via FAs & the draft.

The Seariders are waiting for a new swell to come in but that swell may take a while to build. Finances and talent that is a ways from maturing have dictated another year of rebuilding for this club.

Key acquisitions: Chris Capuano, Charlie Haeger, Clay Hensley, Humberto Sanchez, Carlos Silva, V Wells, Tom Gordon

Key departures: Barry Zito, Jacoby Ellsbury, draft picks

SPs: This team acquired much-needed cheap innings in its last deal and Silva and Capuano headline a group that will just tread water until reinforcements (Gio Gonzalez, an improved John Danks?) are ready.

Bullpen: Some reasonable upside with Aardsma, Jorge Sosa, and Luke Hudson, but off years for some of this group made things tough on their owner.

Hitters: Aside from Aaron Hill, not a lot to look at here. Hatteberg will provide his usual strong OBP, but youth & power are lacking at nearly every position. I anticipate some restocking via the draft.

Summary/projections: Another 50-55 win season coming here, and possibly worse as the division rivals are stronger. 2010 maybe better?