It’s unusual, but hardly unheard-of, for a team to have many hits in a particular game but few runs. It seems that every week or so a team will have a linescore of 1 run on 11 hits, or 2 runs on 14 hits, or something similar. It’s much more unusual for both teams in a game to have fewer runs than their hit totals would suggest, but that happened in last night’s 2-1 Norfolk win over Scranton Wilkes-Barre. The Tides had two runs on eleven hits, the Yankees one run on nine hits.
The Tides’ didn’t score more runs primarily because manager Gary Allenson, serving as the third base coach, was overaggressive and because the Yankees’ outfielders had good arms. The Tides scored one run in the fifth inning on a double, a walk, and a single; even though the inning ended with a double play, that’s still efficient. And in the bottom of the ninth, the Tides scored the winning run on a single, wild pitch, and walk-off double; that’s efficient also (and, had it been necessary, the Tides might have scored more runs, likely flattening the run-hit ratio somewhat.)
However, the Tides had two runners thrown out at the plate. The first runner should never have been sent. With one out, catcher John Hester and center fielder Matt Angle singled. They advanced to third and second, respectively, on a balk. Tyler Henson lofted a fly ball to fairly shallow right field, and Greg Golson made the catch. For some reason, Allenson sent Hester, a catcher, to try to score after the catch. Golson made a competent throw and Hester was out by several feet. The second runner thrown out at the plate also probably should not have been sent home, although it wasn’t as bad a decision. Ryan Adams singled and was sacrificed to second. With two outs, Angle slapped a line drive single to left field. While Adams isn’t quite as slow as Hester, he’s not fleet of foot; yet Allenson sent him, probably because left fielder Jordan Parraz hadn’t yet picked up the ball. When Parraz did so, he fired a line drive strike to home plate; there was almost no arc on his thrown. Adams was out by a few feet.
So, that’s four wasted Norfolk hits that produced zero runs, because of overaggressive coaching and good throws. Scranton also had three runners retired on the bases, all of which were caused by baserunning errors.
In the first inning, with one out, Scranton’s Greg Golson and Mike Lamb singled. On a 3-2 pitch, Golson broke for third too early; the pitcher stepped off the rubber and started a 1-6-5 pickoff/caught stealing. Jesus Montero singled two pitches later; but, because Golson wasn’t on base, no runs scored. The next batter flied out to end the inning. No runs, three hits. In the third inning, Golson led off with an infield single. On a hit-and-run, Lamb flew to right field. Golson was deked by shortstop Nick Green and continued running, not knowing Lamb hit a routine fly. Golson was easily doubled off first base by Rhyne Hughes. (Side note – that was Hughes’ second outfield assist in 69 career outfield games.) Finally, in the seventh inning, Luis Nunez singled and was thrown out trying to stretch it into a double. Those plays explain why five of Scranton’s hits produced no runs. Greg Golson’s bad baserunning cost Scranton 1 run and possibly the game.
Sunday was Father’s Day, and since my stepdaughter is busy with summer school, I was able to “celebrate” Father’s Day by working the Buffalo-Norfolk game. Unfortunately, the game was miserable. The Tides lost, 16-2, in a game that was called after seven-and-a-half innings because of rain.
The game was every bit as miserable as the score indicated. Steve Johnson, the Tides’ starting pitcher just promoted from AA, was apparently intimidated by the Bisons hitters. He walked seven in 3 1/3 innings and helped put the Tides in an 11-0 hole. Then, in the top of the eighth inning, the Tides distinctive, 330-lb relief pitcher Jose Diaz walked three more Bisons while giving up the final five runs. There is nothing quite as tedious as batters drawing walks in a nine-run ball game.
Despite the lack of excitement in the game itself, two players provided an entertaining and interest contrast. Tides left fielder Kyle Hudson was entertaining to watch because of his hustle and all-or-nothing attitude; Bisons catcher Raul Chavez was entertaining to watch because of his “why bother” attitude.
Now I’m not really being critical when I describe Chavez’ attitude is “why bother.” First off, Chavez is a 38-year-old catcher, presumably continuing to play ball because there’s nothing more lucrative to do. Bill James once described Jim Sundberg as “not all that fast before he caught 1000 games”; I’m guessing that Chavez is the same. And Chavez has been around, and knows that there’s very little point in expending energy hustling to first on routine fly balls. We in the press box were wondering just how slow Chavez was, but he generally hit lazy fly balls each at bat, and he trudged toward first base after each one. It didn’t much matter, because all the fly balls were caught. As they are 99% of the time.
On the other hand, Kyle Hudson is the most entertaining player I’ve seen in several seasons. He’s not very GOOD, mind you, mostly because he’s been promoted too quickly (he really belongs in A-ball.) But he knows his limitations and makes every play as if it’s going to be his last. When he hits a routine ground ball, as he often does, he races toward first base as if Ray Lewis is chasing him. In the outfield, he tries to make every play he can, featuring all or nothing dives after line drives. He makes about 80% of those catches, but when he misses it usually ends up as a double or a triple. We know we’re going to see a great effort and sometimes an amazing play.
It’s a cliche that Kyle Hudson plays the game the way it should be played; he gives his all on every play. But there’s a case to be made for Raul Chavez; if you’ve only got so many ergs in your body, why waste them on long shots? It may not look good, but Raul Chavez is a 38-year-old AAA player. It works for him.
Thirteen International League teams come to play series in Norfolk every season. Ten – the six teams in the IL North Division and the four teams in the IL West Division – currently visit for one four-game series. The other three – the Tides’ fellow residents in the IL South Division – make three or four visits, playing a total of ten or eleven games in Norfolk.
There are some visiting teams I look forward to seeing more than others. I like to see Durham, the AAA affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays, and Rochester, the AAA affiliate of the Minnesota Twins, because they usually have several exciting prospects. I like to see Louisville, the AAA affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds, because I lived in Cincinnati for three years and I still follow them. I’m neutral about most of the rest of the teams, but there are two teams I really hate now – the Buffalo Bisons and the Gwinnett Braves. I’ll post why I hate Gwinnett when the G-Braves come back, but today is devoted to the Buffalo Bisons.
From 1969 through 2006, the Tides were the AAA affiliate of the New York Mets. During most of the fourteen seasons that I lived here and the Tides were the AAA Mets’ affiliate, the Mets were an absolutely horrible partner. They would routinely shuffle players in and out of Norfolk with little regard for how they would affect the Tides; they would trade AAA veterans away from Norfolk even if they were key players; and they would almost always trade their interesting minor-league players away before they got to Norfolk. Essentially, the Mets were an arrogant organization, assuming that the Tides should consider themselves lucky to be affiliated with the Mets. This tendency hit rock bottom in 2006, when the struggling Tides asked the Mets to provide them with better AAA veterans, and the Mets presented them with the 40-year-old Jose Offerman. After that season, the Tides explored an affiliation with another team, and the Mets didn’t care until they realized that a PCL team was their only other option. Then the Mets pulled out all the stops to stay with Norfolk. After the Tides affiliated with the Orioles, the Mets lied and said they preferred New Orleans all along. After two years in New Orleans, the Mets affiliated with Buffalo. And, lo and behold, the Mets suddenly signed top AAA free agents for the Buffalo team. As a result of all this (and 1969), I hate the Mets, and therefore I hate Buffalo – at least as long as the Mets are their parent club.
Buffalo is making their annual visit to Harbor Park this weekend. Although I can’t overtly cheer for the Tides or against their opponents, I’ll be gladder when the Tides beat Buffalo than when they beat almost anyone else.
Andrew Miller started for Pawtucket Wednesday. A few times a season, there’ll be a player, usually an ex-major-leaguer or a former top prospect, whose name I’ll recognize or remember. I’ll then look at the roster and be shocked at how young he is. The one that comes first to mind is Fernando Tatis. In 2006, my first year as a datacaster, Fernando Tatis played for Ottawa. I had remembered that Tatis had come up with the Rangers in the mid-1990s, was traded to the Cardinals and had a big year for them, and then got traded to the Expos. He was a disappointment with the Expos and had been released. I saw Tatis was playing for Ottawa, looked at the roster, and was shocked to learn that his age was only 32. Based on my remembering of his past, I had thought he had to be 35 or 36.
(Note – Tatis’ big year with the Cardinals was 1999, when he claimed to be 24.)
Andrew Miller is the same thing. Andrew Miller has been a top prospect for what seems to be forever. He was a top draft pick of the Tigers a few years ago out of college, was one of the top players the Tigers sent for Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis, and has never really made it. When I saw that he was on Pawtucket, I figured he had to be another overage top prospect hanging on – but then saw that he had just turned 26. How could this be? He had to at least be pushing 30.
Actually, there’s more. Miller made 20 big league starts in 2008 and another 14 in 2009. I had thought that he had spent most of his time in the minor leagues, and if he had made the big leagues, it was for a couple-game cameo. Granted, he’s been terrible in the big leagues, but he’s been there long enough to log almost 300 innings.
This could mean almost anything. I could mean that I don’t know as much about baseball as I’d like to think I do. It could mean that as I get older, I lose track of the speed of time. It could mean that we’re tracking minor leaguers so early, and with such detail, that our minds aren’t giving them a full chance.
It’s too early to write off Andrew Miller. He’s 26. The most-similar pitcher to Andrew Miller at age 26, according to baseball-reference.com, was Arthur Rhodes. Rhodes was in his sixth major-league season at age 26, in 1996. He’s still active in the big leagues today, at age 41.
The difference between casual baseball fans and dedicated cranks like me is that a crank can be excited by a mediocre game. Everyone can get drawn into a tense pitchers’ duel between two dominant aces. A game with lots of sharply hit balls and great defensive plays, every one seemingly preserving the game, has obvious appeal. Last night’s Pawtucket – Norfolk Tides game, which the Tides won 4-3 in thirteen innings, wasn’t like that. Most of the game was not played well — not played really badly, either, but just plain mediocre.
The hitting was bad, with lots of lazy fly balls and routine grounders. The defense was fair, with two or three good plays balanced by just as many sloppy errors. The best thing to be said about the pitching is that it wasn’t bad enough to be overcome by the mediocre hitting.
Pawtucket probably feels that they deserved to win. They probably feel their offense was better — they scored their three runs on a three-run home run by Brent Dlugach. In the tenth, the lead run was thrown out at the plate when the runner on third base broke on contact; the ball was a medium-speed grounder right at the shortstop.
The Tides’ offense was more lucky than good. The Tides’ three-run fifth inning featured one hit, a well-placed (but hardly well-hit) single. Pawtucket made two errors in the inning — Dlugach fumbled a grounder on a hit-and-run play and pitcher Kyle Weiland made a pickoff attempt at first base with no first baseman covering the bag. There was a balk in that inning. The winning run scored on a single by Rhyne Hughes, who had struck out in his previous five at-bats and not been pitched a ball in the last two of those.
If Pawtucket had played well, then I could agree that they were done in by bad luck. But they didn’t play well, they were just as mediocre as the Tides. If you’re not playing better than your opponent, then you can’t say you deserve to win. At least not if you want credibility.
Although I get to see a lot of Norfolk Tides games during a season, it’s unusual that I will see an entire four-game series against a specific opponent. I can’t work any non-holiday weekday afternoon games because I have a day job that pays the bills, allowing me to work as many games as I do. Baseball Info Solutions requires that I enter the games I work for them within 48 hours; hence, I can’t work games on two consecutive weekdays after I work a game for BIS.
However, this past Memorial Day weekend the schedule broke well and I saw all four games of the Tides series against the Columbus Clippers. The Clippers had the best record in the International League – three games better than the second-best record – and the Tides had the worst record in the International League – four games worse than the second-worst record. On its face, this should have been a series of blowout victories for Columbus. But this four-game series proved to be four of the most entertaining games I’ve seen.
Game 1 featured strong starting pitching from Columbus’ Zach McAllister and Norfolk’s Chris Jakubauskas. Lonnie Chisenhall slugged a mammoth home run over the deep right-center field fence, into the teeth of a strong wind. Norfolk tied the game immediately on a soft line-drive single, a well-executed sacrifice bunt by Kyle Hudson – the best technical bunter I’ve ever seen – and a single up the middle that trickled through the infield. The game may have turned on a fielding position decision in the top of the tenth. With the bases loaded, one out, and catcher-playing-designated hitter Paul Phillips batting, Norfolk chose to play the infield in halfway. Phillips hit a ground ball up the middle. With the infield at normal depth, the ball would have been turned into an inning-ending double play; but instead the shortstop couldn’t make the play and the ball was a run-scoring hit. Cord Phelps followed with a bases-loaded double, and Columbus won 5-1.
Brian Matusz, on a rehabilitation assignment, was the Tides’ starter in Game 2. Matusz had been promoted directly from AA to the major leagues, and his start Friday night was the first time that he had ever pitched in Norfolk. Even though Matusz wasn’t as sharp or as overpowering as some would have thought, he still struck out seven batters in five scoreless innings. Meanwhile, Kyle Hudson beat out a bunt for a single in the third inning. The next batter, Matt Angle, sacrificed. Hudson kept running toward a temporarily-undefended third base and scored when the throw to third was wild. In the sixth, Matusz gave up two quick singles and was replaced by Pat Egan, who was greeted with a game-tying single. In the seventh inning, Hudson tried to make a diving catch of a line drive hit down the left-field line and failed; the hit was a triple. Columbus put the game out of reach later that inning on Cord Phelps’ two-run double. The final score was 5-2.
The outstanding pitching continued in Game 3. Columbus got a run in the top of the first inning off Mitch Atkins on a two-out double followed by a two-out single. After that, Atkins pitched into the seventh inning without giving up a run. Columbus’ starter Jeanmar Gomez retired the first twelve Norfolk batters and didn’t give up a run until the sixth inning. Columbus put several runners on base, but the Tides turned three double plays to help keep the Clippers from scoring. The Columbus bullpen prevented Norfolk from any threats until the bottom of the 13th inning, when the Tides won the game on a Matt Angle single, a sacrifice, an intentional walk, and a bloop single by Josh Bell.
Neither starting pitcher was effective in Game 4. Tides’ starter Jason Berken, a struggling Orioles relief pitcher on a low pitch count, couldn’t find the strike zone consistently and walked four batters in 2 2/3 innings. He was relieved by Chris George, a swingman who was victimized by the hot Cord Phelps and some shaky defense. Clippers’ starter David Huff couldn’t miss Tides’ bats consistently; he gave up five runs on ten hits in four innings and was helped when the Tides’ third-base coach inexplicably sent Brandon Snyder home when the relay man was already holding the ball. After the starters left, once again the bullpens continued to shut their opponents down until the tenth, when the amazing Mr. Phelps (who drove in nine of the Clippers’ 17 runs in the series) ripped a two-out single to give the Clippers a 6-5 lead (and ultimately a 6-5 win.)