I had a scheduling conflict during the Norfolk portion of the home-and-home split series between Durham and Norfolk, and so didn’t see either game. This was an odd part of the schedule; the Tides finished a home series with Pawtucket; had an off-day; traveled to Durham for two days; and, then returned to Norfolk for two days before heading up to Pawtucket.
On the surface, there doesn’t appear to be a good reason for splitting the Durham “series”. Before the Richmond Braves moved to Gwinnett County, Georgia, the Tides and Braves would often split multi-game series between the two cities. Norfolk and Richmond are about ninety minutes apart, and the teams could save on hotel accomodations by returning home after every game — and by not having consecutive games in the same city, neither team would be significantly disadvantaged. But Durham is sufficiently distant from Norfolk that they couldn’t commute.
This was driven by the schedule requirements. The most important day in terms of setting up a schedule is July 4. Every International League team is guaranteed a home game on either July 3 or July 4, to allow for patriotic, crowd-drawing fireworks displays. Some teams, including Norfolk, insist on a July 3 game and refuse a July 4 game because there are so many competing fireworks shows in the area. Others are less concerned. But that does mean that July 3 must be a travel day.
For the most part, the International League schedule is also driven by four-day series. Each team plays every out-of-division team eight times, four games at home and four on the road. To minimize travel, all four games are played in a single series. This year, July 4 is a Wednesday — and the All-Star break begins Monday, July 9. That means that there are five games to be played July 4-8 — which pretty much forces intradivisional play (a two-game series followed by a three-game series.) Ultimately, in order to get the schedule to work with the right number of home and road games, Durham and Norfolk had to play back-to-back home-and-home two-game series.
The Tides earned a come-from-behind 6-3 win on Sunday in another game of the type the Tides have struggled to win. After the Tides took a 1-0 lead in the third inning, Scott Podsednik gave the Pawsox a 2-1 lead in the top of the fifth with a two-run homer. But the Tides immediately responded with three runs in the bottom of the fifth, with the last two coming on a two-out double by Jamie Hoffmann, immediately followed by a single by Miguel Tejada. Tides’ starter Brad Bergesen was effective aside from the Podsenik home run, and Stu Pomeranz was effective over the last 2 1/3 innings, although not the dominant Pomeranz we had grown accustomed to.
It was a tough game from a datacaster’s standpoint. The Tides’ third-inning run was helped by a slow grounder hit by Ty Kelly to first baseman Lars Anderson, with a runner on first base. Anderson looked to second base, decided that he couldn’t force the runner at second, and turned and threw to the pitcher covering. The throw was in back of the pitcher, who couldn’t hold onto it and find first base. Kelly was safe. The official scorer originally called the play a base hit for Kelly, reasoning that Anderson didn’t have a good angle on the throw. He decided to look at a replay and concluded that Anderson had a better angle on the throw than he originally thought and that a good throw, which would have retired Kelly, would only have required ordinary effort. As a result of his changed decision, I had to revise the game log, which I did during a between-inning break. After the game, both the Norfolk and the Pawtucket coaching staffs explained that the play was not as easy as it looked from the press-box level and so the call was ultimately un-reversed.
Mike, the Tides’ official scorer with whom I work most often, takes his job very seriously and is conscientious. He appreciates that teams have different angles on plays and accepts that they will request clarification and review of his decisions. He has no problem with it if they do it politely. Of course, every visiting team thinks that the official scorer is in cahoots with the home team to make the home team look good. Mike is my friend, and one of the reasons he is my friend is precisely because he doesn’t manipulate the calls — he believes in the integrity of the game.
Saturday’s 8-4 Tides win over the Pawtucket Red Sox was the kind of game the Norfolk Tides would typically lose, especially over the past few seasons. The Tides jumped on Pawtucket starter Justin Germano for four runs in the first inning, capped by Ronnie Paulino’s two-run double to the right-center field wall. They added two more runs in the third on newcomer Brandon Waring’s first AAA home run, a two-run fly just into the left-field picnic area.
(As an aside, I first saw Justin Germano on his way up in 2002, pitching for Fort Wayne in the Midwest League at Kane County. The Kane County starting pitcher was Dontrelle Willis. I next saw Germano start in 2006, my first year of datacasting, when he started for the Louisville Bats. Germano has made 113 starts in AAA and has a 43-35 career AAA record.)
Back to the present. Pawtucket began a comeback, stringing four singles to produce two runs in the fifth inning. They closed the gap to 6-3 with run in the seventh. Jose Iglesias led off the eighth with a well-executed bunt single. Kevin Youkilis, down on a rehabilitation assignment, hit a ground ball to shortstop, a nearly tailor-made double-play ball, that rolled through Blake Davis’ legs for an error, putting runners on first and third with no outs. Those of us familiar with the Tides knew what was coming next — a big inning, leading to a Pawtucket lead or (worse for us) a tie game with several extra innings on tap.
But no. Lars Anderson hit a ground ball just to the right of second base, and Carlos Rojas fielded it cleanly and flipped it to Davis covering second base. Davis touched the bag with his foot and threw the ball to Joe Mahoney, doubling up Anderson. Although Iglesias scored the Red Sox’ fourth run on the play, the rally had fizzled and the momentum shift stopped.
And in the bottom of the eighth, Lady Luck smiled on the Tides. With two out, Lew Ford blooped a Texas Leaguer in front of the Pawtucket right fielder. Blake Davis smacked a low, hard line drive inches inside the third-base foul line for a double. And with runners on second and third, Jamie Hoffman placed a soft fly ball just far enough into right field so that the first baseman couldn’t catch it, just close enough to the foul line so that the second baseman couldn’t catch it, and just shallow enough into the outfield that the right fielder couldn’t catch it. Two runs scored and the game was clinched.
While Friday’s game was a planned bullpen game for the Tides, Saturday turned into an unplanned bullpen game. Starting pitcher Steve Johnson left the game after two innings with a strained groin, and four Tides relievers nursed the game to its conclusion. No Tides pitcher deserved the win; the official scorer awarded the win to Pat Neshek, who faced only five batters and allowed an inherited runner to score. Not that there were any better options.
I worked games on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday this past weekend, and have only now found time to share my thoughts on the games. Because the Tides’ pitching staff has been wrecked with injuries and promotions, Friday’s game was a “bullpen game”, in which the Tides didn’t have a rotation starter ready and counted on three or four pitchers normally in relief to get through the game. And the Tides’ offense was in a state of flux, with three recently-added players in the lineup. In fact, the newest Tide Lew Ford — the Lew Ford who had played with the Twins in the mid-2000′s — was welcomed on Miguel Gonzalez’ first pitch, which Greg Golson slammed to deep center field. Ford was apparently unprepared for the lighting situation, and looked lost for several moments before tracking the ball down near the warning track.
There wasn’t a lot of offense, and so even though the game didn’t take very long (2:21) it went at a leisurely, rather than frenetic, pace, and so I could notice several unimportant but fun details.
- The Tides put two runners on base in their first inning and four runners on base in their second inning, leaving five runners. In the other sixteen half-innings, both teams combined to put eight runners on base (six for Charlotte, only two for the Tides). Four scored — all for Charlotte; two were left on base — one for each team; one was caught stealing and one was doubled off second base on a line drive. To repeat — seven runners were left on base in the game — five in the first two Tides half-innings and two otherwise.
- In one at-bat, Charlotte’s Josh Phegley fouled off six consecutive pitches. In the rest of the game, Charlotte batters fouled off nine total pitches.
- Tides starting pitcher Miguel Gonzalez breezed through the first three innings, retiring the side in order each time. In the fourth, he gave up a double – single – home run to the first three batters. Although he retired the next two batters — including Phegley’s twelve-pitch at-bat — Gonzalez had reached the end of the line and Richard Zagone was brought in to relieve him. Zagone was outstanding, pitching five innings of two-hit, no-walk, shutout ball. For some reason, with two outs in the top of the ninth, the Tides decided that they just had to remove Zagone, who had retired the last five batters on nineteen pitches. They brought in Miguel Socolovich, who gave up a home run on his second pitch.
Last night’s Norfolk Tides 5-0 loss to the Charlotte Knights was the least memorable game of the season to date. The Knights scored single runs in five different innings. The Tides did mount two threats; the first ended when Buck Britton hit a squib in front of the plate and Ronny Paulino was out in a rundown; the second ended when Jai Miller struck out on a pitch in the dirt.
Twenty-five years ago, the Norfolk Tides drew an average of about 2500 fans per game. I’m sure that average was spiked upward with large crowds on special occasions, and the typical game probably featured 1000-1500 people in the seats. The circumstances of last night’s game were ideal for low attendance — it was a Wednesday night while school is in session; it had been raining — sometimes heavily — off and on for the previous day and a half; and the game had originally been announced as a doubleheader and then reverted to a single game. It was the “old days” of minor league baseball — a few hundred fans, sitting in groups of two or ten scattered around the park. The official attendance was 2500 or so, but that included all season-ticket holders whether they came to the game or not.
There was no buzz of background conversations. No vendors hawking goods in the aisles. Every cheer and chant echoed throughout the park. During the between-inning “Stihl blower race”, I could actually hear the leaf blowers in medium-deep left field from my seat between the third-base dugout and home plate. We could hear the on-deck batter settling his cleats into the ashes. I don’t even know if there were any cheers at the end of the Crab Shuffle.
Sometimes, when I am stuck in a parking lot for twenty minutes or I must forego a soft-serve ice cream because I’ll be stuck in a concession line for an inning, I think that it would be nice if every game were played in front of a few hundred well-behaved diehard fans intently following every play. OK, the attendees last night weren’t diehard fans following every play, but there were only a few hundred of them, and the game experience was worse. I’d rather have the excitement of a large crowd, even if it means I can’t go to the bathroom or if I have to breathe exhaust fumes for a while. Baseball games are more fun when there are more fans attending.
Because of injuries, extra-inning games, and roster rules, the Baltimore Orioles left the Tides shorthanded as the Tides moved on from Louisville to Indianapolis. So, the Tides had three new players in their lineup in Sunday’s game. Those three players — infielders Bobby Stevens and Ty Kelly, and pitcher Rick Zagone — were promoted not from AA Bowie, but from High-Class-A Frederick. Why would the Orioles promote players from High-A to AAA, instead of from AA?
There are several possible reasons. A couple of those reasons relate to the Bowie team itself. Three of the Orioles’ top prospects — Manny Machado, Jonathan Schoop, and L.J. Hoes — are playing in Bowie. Those three players aren’t ready for AAA, and the Orioles probably didn’t want to strip Bowie of the rest of their players. Second, Bowie itself was hit by the roster rules. The Orioles designated Bowie infielder Zelous Wheeler for assignment, removing him from the 40-man roster but making him ineligible to play for Bowie. Since they were already short of infielders, it would be pointless to strip Bowie of infielders and have them be shorthanded.
Some of the reasons may be geographic. Frederick was at home, while Bowie was on the road at Richmond. It’s easier to get from Frederick to Indianapolis than Richmond. It’s about an hour’s drive from Frederick to Dulles airport, from which there is probably a direct flight to Indianapolis. There are fewer, if any, direct flights from Richmond to Indianapolis; the nearest hub to Indianapolis is Cincinnati, a 90-minute drive; if there are no flights from Richmond to Cincinnati then they’d have to fly to Chicago, a 3-hour drive. If you need to get players to Indianapolis in a hurry, it’s easier to do so from Frederick (Washington, DC) than Richmond.
Finally, the different league structures and competitiveness concerns may have influence their decision. The Carolina League in which Frederick plays uses a split-season format in which first-half and second-half champions qualify for the playoffs. Frederick is in last place in its division with virtually no chance of winning the first half; taking players from them doesn’t affect their post-season chances. Bowie’s Eastern League doesn’t use a split-season format; the top two teams in each division qualify for the playoffs. So, Bowie has to be competitive all season to make the playoffs. Playing short-handed for even a short period of time may eliminate Bowie from contention — and with Machado, Schoop, and Hoes at Bowie, it’s important to have Bowie play as many meaningful games as possible.
As it happened, the new guys from Frederick – especially Rick Zagone — did well enough to give the Tides a 2-0 win on Saturday.
For decades, baseball fans have been accustomed to awarding a “win” and a “loss” to a pitcher in each game. I’ll be frank here and admit that I don’t know when or why the practice began. Awarding decisions makes sense when (1) it’s clear that one pitcher (usually a starting pitcher) is primarily responsible for his team’s pitching performance; and (2) there are a large number of pitchers on a team. In the very early days of baseball, when each team had one primary pitcher, that one pitcher would have received all the decisions and assigning wins and losses to that pitcher would be redundant. When games were scheduled more frequently, more starting pitchers became necessary and it made sense to determine which pitchers pitched in games the team won and which pitchers pitched in games the team lost. Over time, the number of pitchers in a game increased and it became less and less relevant to assign the responsibility for a win or a loss to one pitcher.
The Tides – Indianapolis game of May 4 illustrates the ludicrous unfairness of the current practice. The Tides won, 10-5; the losing Indianapolis Indians used three pitchers. Starting pitcher Justin Wilson was ineffective. He was given a 5-0 lead by his teammates, but surrendered three runs in the third inning and two in the fourth, leaving with the scored tied. The third pitcher, Jose Diaz, was utterly ineffective, surrendering four runs on three hits and two walks in one inning.
That leaves the second pitcher, Daniel McCutchen. McCutchen was clearly the most effective Indians pitcher — he pitched three innings and gave up one unearned run. But, he happened to have entered the game with the score tied and he happened to have given up the specific run that gave the Tides the lead — a lead they never lost. Thus, even though he was the pitcher least responsible for the loss, he was charged with the loss. This is manifestly unfair.
There is a growing realization that wins and losses, as they apply to individual pitchers, are no longer as useful in evaluating a pitcher’s effectiveness. From time to time, I will be posting my ideas on how the scoring rules should be changed so that wins and losses can be more fairly and usefully assigned.
I’ve been thinking about no-hitters a lot this season, for several reasons. There have been two no-hitters in the major leagues already this season. And, as you’ll see below, there have been a lot of games in which the Tides’ opponents have held them hitless for a fairly long period. In addition, the Tides have a promotion in which staffers throw nine “softie balls”, each numbered with a numeral from 1 to 9, into the stands. If a fan acquires the ball with the numeral corresponding to the batting-order position of the Tide who gets the first base hit, he or she wins a free something.
There’s a whole set of interesting theoretical and mathematical questions about the odds of a particular batting order position getting the first base hit, but they quickly become enmeshed in a quagmire of untestable assumptions and confusing probabilities. However, it’s equally interesting to look at the actual game results to see who gets that first hit. I’ve scored twelve games this season, and in the table below I’ve stated what batting-order position has gotten the first base hit.
A few observations. First, in four of their twelve games the Tides went hitless in their first turn through the order. Even without going through all the math, that tells me that the Tides, in Harbor Park, are not a high-average team. Second, only once have the Tides’ pitchers only once kept their opponents hitless through the first turn through the order. Third, only once has the #1 hitter for the Tides collected their first hit, and thus the holder of softie ball #1 has won only once. Even a superficial mathematical analyis reveals that the #1 hitter is more likely to get the first hit than any other lineup position.
Twelve games is a small sample, and there can be many reasons for these results. But it is true that the Tides have gone longer without hits than their opponents, and I suspect they’ve gone longer without hits in their games than most other teams. It will be interesting to see if this trend continues.
During the Tides 10-5 win over Indianapolis on Friday (May 4), the Tides radio broadcasters observed that Tides’ first baseman Joe Mahoney seemed to be adept at going the other way. Or, in other words, that left-handed hitter Joe Mahoney hit a fair number of balls to left field. That’s something I can check fairly easily with my scoresheets.
I’ve scored thirteen Tides’ home games this season, and I analyzed Mahoney’s plate appearances in those thirteen games. In the table below is a count of the number of batted balls first touched by each position — fortunately, there were no deflection hits.
|First Base||2||Right Fielder||3.5||Walks||2|
|Second Base||8||Center Fielder||4.5||Strikeouts||11|
There’s a certain loss of detail in the numbers; a ball fielded by the second baseman could be anywhere from deep in the hole between first and second to behind the second-base bag. Also, Mahoney hit one out-of-the-park home run that I recorded as being to right-center field; I arbitrarily assigned that as half to the right fielder and half to the center fielder.
There’s a difference in his hit locations between balls fielded by infielders and balls fielded by outfielders. Half of the ball fielded by outfielders were fielded by the left fielder; i.e. going to the opposite field. On the other hand, five out of every eight hits fielded by an infielder were at least potentially pulled; i.e. fielded by either the second baseman or the first baseman.
So the broadcasters’ comments had a least some truth; Mahoney has been taking a fair number of pitches to the opposite field. He’s been especially good at driving balls to the opposite outfield; he does tend to pull balls that remain in the infield. Since most base hits are on balls hit to the outfield, it’s likely that the broadcasters based their comments on Mahoney’s base hits; routine grounders to second are less memorable. It will be interesting to see if the trend continues.
One more point — Mahoney’s tendency to go the other way will probably hurt him at Harbor Park. Harbor Park hurts hitters with two exceptions — pure speed slap-hitters (like Kyle Hudson and Matt Angle) and left-handed dead-pull hitters. The party area in right field is 318 feet away down the right-field line before the fences fall back in front of the bullpen. Mahoney’s offensive totals may be depressed if he doesn’t learn to pull the ball down the line — which is also a skill that will help him in Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
There’s really no point in trying to sugarcoat it — last night’s Tides loss to Indianapolis wasn’t a very fun game to watch. Neither starting pitcher — Daniel Cabrera for Indianapolis and Chris Tillman for the Tides — were effective, and neither offense could deliver the big hits to put the game away. There were lots of baserunners, which led to the pitchers’ slowing the game down with looks at the bases and pickoff attempts.
The game was also sloppy, as the teams combined for five errors. One was an error only in the most technical of senses — a throw from the outfield bounced off the catcher, allowing a runner to move up from first to second. While the decision was correct, a less scrupulous official scorer could easily have justified a simple decision that the runner advanced on the throw. But the other four errors included a really wild throw, two missed catches of throws, and a misplay of a routine ground ball.
Despite the general lack of entertainment value, there were still a few things I’m glad that I saw:
- The Tides did make the bottom of the ninth inning exciting, helped by one of the missed catch errors. Trailing 6-3, Bill Hall singled. Ryan Adams hit what should have been a game-ending double-play grounder to second, but the shortstop failed to keep the throw in his glove. After a steal of third and a sacrifice fly, Jai Miller hit a drive to the left-center field fence that might have gone for a home run had it been pulled a hair more. But ex-Tide Jake Fox made a leaping grab of Xavier Avery’s chopper and beat him to first for the game-ending out.
- Miller hit one of the most impressive home runs I’ve ever seen a right-handed batter hit in Harbor Park. In the fourth inning, he drove a ball to the back of the left-field picnic area, a good 400 feet from home plate. But the picnic area is probably elevated 20 or 25 feet above the ground at that point, so the ball would have traveled further had the area behind the left-field fence been level ground.
- It’s always fun to see ex-Tide Jose Diaz – listed at 315 pounds on the roster — pitch. He pitched the eighth inning for Indianapolis and retired the side in order.
- Stuart Pomeranz made his second appearance for the Tides. In his first appearance, he struck out the side. In this appearance, he wasn’t quite as good — he pitched 2 2/3 innings, walked one, and only struck out 6. One of the other two batters fouled out, so of the 12 batters Pomeranz has faced, one has hit the ball in fair territory.