Tuesday, March 24, 2009

San Jose = Cinderella?

It's an age-old story, and one with even more meaning this time of year, with the NCAA tourney grabbing headlines. After a miserable start, the Scorpions are now window shopping for glass slippers and are one step away from the title.

It's been a long haul for the squad, through the winding path of all wild card teams with big dreams. This was a team that almost punted after losing its first ten games of the season, and going 13-14 in April. Rumors had team star Carlos Pena on the trade blocks, but instead management saw opportunity despite the sluggish start to the year, and managed to trade for Mark DeRosa and Brandon Webb in order to make a stretch run. Webb went 7-2 after the trade, and carried the team to the playoffs while helping to save a somewhat beleaguered bullpen.

In the WC round, the Scorpions matched up against a tough Meridian squad with a similar regular season record. In a seesaw game 1, Ryan Doumit came on against Meridian closer Matt Capps with San Jose down a run 6-5 and down to their last out with a man on base. Doumit came through in the clutch with a 2-run jack that sent the home fans into a frenzy. Game 2 saw Doumit continue his torrid regular season (1.053 OPS) by going 3 for 3 and DeRosa go 3 for 4 with 3 RBI to lead San Jose to a 2-0 series edge with a 6-3 win. After a Game 3 loss on the road where Vlad Guerrero smashed 2 homers for the Trojans, Roger "The Pincushion" Clemens tossed a complete game shutout and Josh Bard hit a PH 3-run homer to close out the series and advance San Jose to the Silver LDS round.

In the LDS, San Jose squared off against a Montreal squad that finished a scant 1 game behind the Scorpions in the regular season. The Sunsets took game 1 in spectacular fashion, scoring 3 runs to erase a 5-3 deficit in the top of the 9th inning. Moises Alou went 2 for 3 with a HR and 3 RBI to lead the way, and the heretofore untouchable Manny Delcarmen took the loss. Game 2 saw the home team mount a furious rally in the bottom of the 9th, down 4-1, but we came up just short for a 4-3 final. Derek Lowe notched the “W” with 7 strong innings of work.

The Scorpions then donned their road jerseys and made the trek to Montreal to try stop the Sunset steamroller. Game 3 featured a pitcher’s duel with Joe Blanton and Daisuke “Dice-K” Matsuzaka going toe to toe with neither starter giving an inch. In the top of the 9th, San Jose managed to eke out a run off the Montreal bullpen as pinch hitter Jayson Werth singled home the only score of the ballgame. Blanton lasted 8 innings and gave up just 5 hits and no walks. Delcarmen was back in form to close Montreal out in the 9th. In Game 4, the San Jose bats came to life in the 4th inning, putting up 6 runs against Sunsets starter Carlos Zambrano, and the team held on for a 7-3 victory. Webb went the distance in the win, and just like that, the series was even at two games apiece. In Game 5, the Sunsets took a 5-0 lead in the bottom of the 7th and held on for a 6-2 win, with Lowe once again providing 7 strong innings of work. DH Jonny Gomes drove in 3 runs on 2 hits to help the Montreal cause.

With a 3-2 lead in games, the series went back to San Jose and the tension was palpable. In games 3 & 4 in Montreal, San Jose sparkplug Reggie Willits had been beaned in the 1st inning in each game and knocked out each time, and the Scorpions crowd was calling for retaliation on their home turf. That set the stage for an ugly game in every sense of the word. Sunset had struck first blood, and San Jose was down 5-1 in the 5th inning when Country Joe Blanton came high and tight to Macier Izturis, who couldn’t avoid the 91-mph heater and went down hard after it caught him on the earflap. The dugouts exchanged angry words and but Blanton managed to settle down and retire the side. In the bottom half of the inning, Chris Snyder was at the plate for San Jose with two men on when Chad Billingsley cut loose a fastball that hit Snyder square in the back. Both dugouts emptied, but after a huddle the umpiring crew determined that there could be no intent on Billingsley’s part to hit Snyder and therefore load the bases. A couple of singles cut the lead to 5-4 and chased Billingsley from the game, accompanied by catcalls from the partisan crowd. In the 6th inning, the Scorpions rallied for 4 runs on a gland slam by Carlos Pena to grab a 8-5 lead. San Jose would add 2 more in the 7th for a seemingly commanding 5-run margin at 10-5, but the bullpen almost gave the game away in the 9th as Montreal pushed 4 runs across the board before Delcarmen came in to put out the flames, and San Jose hung on for a 10-9 win to force a game 7.

After the huge buildup, Game 7 turned into a laugher quickly as the home team scored almost at will against Dice K, putting up 9 runs in the 1st 4 innings of play. Pena, completely quiet in the series until his clout in Game 6, confirmed that he had found his power stroke by sending two more balls over the wall, good for 4 RBI on the day. Webb absolutely dominated from the mound, tossing a complete game shutout on 125 pitches, striking out 10 in the process & giving up just 4 hits & a walk, and San Jose moved on to the LCS with a convincing 12-0 win.

In the LCS, San Jose was matched up against a Duluth-Superior squad that it had dominated during the regular season, winning all 7 games. But in the LCS, fond San Jose memories of the season sweep were quickly erased as the Dukes took the 1st two in San Jose. Albert Pujols and Erik Bedard starred for D-S in Game 1, a 6-2 win, and in Game 2 the Dukes scratched out a 3-2 win behind 3 innings and 6 Ks from their 2-headed bullpen monster of Joe Nathan and Mariano Rivera.

Once again, the Scorpions needed some magic on the road, and Game 3 did not disappoint as WC hero Doumit and LDS hero Webb contributed epic performances. Doumit set the tone with a Grand Slam in the 1st, and he went on to pound the Dukes pitching for 3 hits, 2 dingers, and a jaw-dropping 7 RBI. Webb once again went the full distance, this time needing just 120 pitches, giving up 1 earned run and 7 hits on the day against 7 Ks. Game 4 was a back-and-forth battle that went to extra innings. In the 10th, pinch hitter Josh Hamilton hit an RBI single with the bases jammed that held up. Ryan Franklin got the win with 3 scoreless relief innings, and the series was tied at 2 games each. Game 5 was over quickly, as the Scorpions erupted for 5 runs in the 3rd and cruised to an easy 14-3 win. Mark Ellis was 3 for 3 with a Grand Slam and 5 RBI to lead the way for San Jose, and Blanton needed just 112 pitches to nail down the victory in a complete game effort.

Game 6 was close throughout, and after Webb went 7+ strong innings, the San Jose bullpen came on to preserve a 5-3 win. Ellis and Hamilton chipped in 2 RBI each to lead the way for the home team, and the San Jose fans held a raucous postgame celebration on the field with their team as they completed the comeback series victory and claimed the Silver League crown. Now we await the outcome of the Gold League to see if the glass slipper might actually fit...

Duluth-Superior Dukes Postseason Recap

The Dukes first opponent was the Cream City Pirates. The Dukes got off to a fast start in Game 1 scoring 5 runs in the first three innings. Alex Rodriguez had a 2-run homer in the first to keep the home town crowd quiet for the rest of the game. Five pitchers combined to beat the Pirates with Nathan finishing the job and a 5-2 victory and Duluth-Superior taking a 1 game to none lead.

Game 2 the Cream City Pirates dominated all game and whipped the Dukes 7-0. Shane Victorino was the star of the game as he went 3-4 and scoring 2 runs and knocking in one. Four Pirate pitchers combined for the shutout and Cream City and Duluth-Superior are tied at 1 game apiece.

With the series ties 1-1, the Dukes were feeling pretty good playing the next three at home. Game 3 saw the Dukes start right away scoring 3 runs in the first. Alex Rodriguez went 3-5 and was one of three Dukes to drive in two runs. The others were Justin Morneau and Albert Pujols. Chris Young pitched a gem going 6 innings while only giving up one earned run. The big three Rodriguez, Morneau and Pujols each homered in the game. The Dukes won 6-5.

Game 4 went to the Dukes to take a commanding 3 games to one lead in the series. Pirate pitcher Jeff Francis gave up seven walks in 3 and 2/3 innings pitched. Offensively, Michael Cuddyer came through with a bases clearing triple.

Game 5 saw a low scoring 3-2 11 inning Pirate win, each starting pitcher went 7 2/3 innings. Dukes pitcher Eric Bedard struck out 11 batters while walking only one. Alex Rodriguez hit his 3rd homerun of the series. B.J. Upton was the difference as he hit a game winning homer in the top of the 11th, his second of the series.

Game 6 in Cream City was another nail biter. The pitching matchup pitted Javier Vazquez and Rich Hill. Vazquez pitched in to the 8th on a two-hitter and striking out nine Cream City Batters. Rich Hill walked seven batters and was tagged with the loss. The Dukes went on to win game 6 and the series with a 2-1 score. Millar homered for the Dukes.

The Dukes were on to meet up with the San Jose Scorpions. The Dukes were on the road again for games 1 and 2.

Game 1 matched Eric Bedard and Barry Zito. Bedard pitched 6 strong innings striking out five batters. Bedard would be the winning pitcher as the Dukes outscored the Scorpions 4-2. Offensively the Dukes got big hits from Albert Pujols (2-4) knocking in three of the four runs scored. Scorpions’ Jimmy Rollins went 3-3 and two runs scored.

In game 2, Javier Vazquez kept his strong postseason going, getting seven strikeouts and allowing only one earned run. Joe Blanton also pitched well for San Jose going six innings. The winning run was scored in the 7th inning as Rafael Furcal doubled and stole third. With Furcal on third, Juan Pierre delivered the game winning RBI single. The Dukes won game 2 by a score of 3-2 and had a commanding 2 games to none lead in the series with the series coming to Duluth-Superior for the next three games…..How could we lose?

Game 3 saw the start of the Dukes bats go silent as the Dukes would only score 11 runs in the last four games. The Scorpions won game 3 by a score of 9-2. San Jose’s big hitter was Ryan Doumit hitting two homeruns, going 3-5 with 7 RBI. Others hitting homeruns were Willie Harris and Nate McLouth.

Game 4 was a little closer but same result, San Jose wins outscoring Duluth-Superior 4-3 in 10 innings. Travis Hafner hit his first homerun of the series. In the top of the 10th, Carlos Pena walked, Hafner doubled him to third. Jimmy Rollins was intentionally walked to load up the bases. Josh Hamilton the singled in the eventual game winner. With the series now tied at two, the Dukes were feeling pretty down.

Game 5 was a laugher and the San Jose bats really woke up torturing the Dukes inning after inning totaling 15 runs on 12 hits. Dukes pitchers allowed 8 walks and four hit batters. Joe Blanton went the distance for the Scorpions allowing only five hits while striking out six batters. Mark Ellis had a grand slam homerun to start off the slug fest.

Game six capped off San Jose’s four game streak and end the series. San Jose won 5-3. The key at-bat was Josh Hamilton’s double in the fourth innings plating two runners. Winning pitcher Brandon Webb won his fourth game of the postseason. Webb finished the series with a 2.19 ERA.

Some notable Dukes stats:

Team Batting Average: .213
Homeruns (12 games): 10
Opp. Homeruns: 14
Stolen Bases: 14
Dukes batters hitting above .250: ONE-Alex Rodriguez
Dukes batters K’s: 78
Dukes pitchers K’s: 113

Dukes' Dominance

The Duluth-Superior Dukes find themselves in quite a quandary. A rough season or two may be in their future.

After seasons of 112-50 in 2006-07 and 106-56 in 2007-2008, the Dukes were picked as preseason favorites to come out of the Silver League to challenge the Plainsfield team. The Dukes did win the Copper division but with only a 95-67 record.

Consider the years their players have had in the “real” major leagues.

We aren’t talking just run of the mill players but high dollar contract players saw a lot of time on the disabled list.

Take a look.

Tim Hudson, $12.1M, pitched only 142 innings. Not all that bad one might say. The problem….of the four remaining starters totaling a little more than $28M, he has the most innings pitched.

Chris Young, $1.2M, was signed to a U1 contract this year mainly because he is so injury prone, a broken nose, strained arm. He amassed a total of 102 innings.

Brad Penny, $10M, he had to have pitched hurt all year. Penny pitched only 95 innings and his stats were horrible. 6.27 ERA and a 1.63 WHIP, striking out only 51 batters in those 95 innings.

And then there is Erik Bedard, the one my real favorite team (Seattle Mariners) just had to trade for. His contract is $4.8M and I am going to get a whopping 81 innings out of him. He did strike out 72 batters though, so hopefully I will get quality there.

Rafael Soriano was hurt most of the season too. Soriano was a huge part of the Duke bullpen this last year. One of the strong areas the Dukes have is their bullpen. “I knew if we had the lead after 6 innings and we turned it over to the bullpen, I knew we had the win,” manager Mike Swanson said. Soriano totaled 14 innings last year for the Braves.

My injury bug does not stop there though. My offense was hit as well too.

Rafael Furcal was able to get in 163 plate appearances before his season was done. My cost: $10.8M. He did hit well before the injury. His batting average is equal to that of his Dukes teammate (well teammate for now) .357.

Another Duke to get injured was Mike Cuddyer. Cuddyer was released from his contract with the Dukes because of the shortage of money. Cuddyer was able to get 274 PA’s last year but not enough to warrant a long term contract from the Dukes.

Other players that saw reduced playing time was Juan Pierre $10.5M. In his limited 397 PA’s he was able to steal 40 bases and still was unable to become a fulltime outfielder for the Dodgers.

Tadahito Iguchi saw a reduction in playing time as well, which forced the Dukes to release him.
The Dukes have only 20 players under contract before the free agency period and have only $2.7M to spend.

Players like Justin Morneau, Albert Pujols and Alex Rodriguez may have to be traded to keep this team afloat.