Sep 112014
 

2014-Mills-Cup-Championship
After a wire-to-wire run in the regular season, the 2014 Potomac Nationals got it done in the postseason with a 5-1 victory over the Myrtle Beach Pelicans to capture the Mills Cup Championship Series, three games to one.

Unlike four years ago
, the eventual outcome was apparent early. The first inning to be exact. Tony Renda got the rally started with a one-out walk, which looked like it might go for naught when Shawn Pleffner weakly flied out to left on a first-pitch swing.

Then Mills Cup MVP John Wooten singled to right, sending Renda to third to bring up veteran outfielder Randolph Oduber. Luis Parra couldn’t groove his fastball past the Aruban, but was able to drop a couple of lollipop curves to work the count to 2-2. The third time was not the charm, as Oduber was waiting on that sucker and smashed it over the left field fence for a 3-0 lead.

Hector Silvestre, the lone Potomac pitcher to win twice in the playoffs, faltered in the 2nd, giving up a double to start the frame. The Sea Rats did him a favor and unwisely tried to advance to third on a smash back to the Dominican southpaw, who threw over to get the runner and the first out. He would give it back with a walk to the next batter. After a popup to the no. 8 batter, the Pelicans’ 17-y.o. shortstop Michael De Leon delivered again with an RBI single to cut the lead to 3-1.

Silvestre gave up two more hits in the 3rd but got help from 3B Khayyan Norfork who called his own number for the unassisted putout at third base to end the inning. The 21-y.o. southpaw then retired the next nine batters in a row, finishing with a flourish as he struck out the side in the 6th.

His final line: 6IP, 5H, 1R, 1ER, 1BB, 6K

Meanwhile, Potomac responded to the lone Myrtle Beach run in the bottom of the 2nd with a leadoff double by Stephen Perez and an RBI double by Pedro Severino to reclaim the three-run advantage. They put on single runners in the 3rd and 4th innings, two in the 5th, and another in the 6th but could not score.

Just as he started the P-Nats’ scoring in the 1st, Renda finished it in the 7th. The All-Star second baseman tripled to lead off the inning, then trotted in as fellow All-Star Pleffner singled to short center to push the P-Nats lead to the eventual outcome of 5-1. The big fella would steal second and take third on Oduber’s second hit of the night, a single to right. Norfork, however, would get doubled up to end the inning and Potomac went in order in the 8th.

Manny “Doble Nacionales Codo” Rodriguez took over for Silvestre in the 7th and spun two perfect innings. Though not a save situation, ace reliever Gilberto Mendez was called upon in the 9th close things out and completed the string of 18 straight Pelicans retired with a popup sandwiched between two strikeouts, the last one on a check swing to create just the slightest anticlimax.

The win was the third league championship (2008, 2010) since the team became an affiliate of the Washington Nationals in 2005 and the fifth in franchise history (1982, 1989). The three titles are also the only ones won by a Nationals affiliate north of Florida, a distinction that Hagerstown can take away by winning the South Atlantic League. Game Three of that best-of-five series resumes tonight at the Muni, with hot prospect Reynaldo Lopez scheduled to pitch for the Suns.

Sep 102014
 

The Potomac Nationals rallied from a 7-2 deficit with ten unanswered runs to take Game Three, 12-7 and a 2-1 lead in the of the Mills Cup Championship Series.

And, believe it or not, it all started with a little bit of hustle.

After taking a 2-0 lead on John Wooten’s second HR of the series, a two-run shot over the LF wall with two outs in the 1st, the mood at the Pfitz went from jubilation to despair less than two innings later as the Pelicans chased starter Matt Spann on the eighth hit he allowed, a two-out grand slam that turned a 2-1 lead into a 5-2 deficit.

Kylin Turnbull came on and was immediately greeted with a sharp single to left, and a two-run dagger off the bat of twelv…er, 17-y.o. Michael De Leon to make it 7-2 in favor of the Sea Rats. He would get the final out on a lineout to short, but like the health club after the holidays, things were not looking pretty.

Turnbull set the Pelicans down in order in the 4th, putting up a badly needed zero after a quashed rally in the bottom of the 3rd. Mike McQuillan got thing going in the of the 4th with a leadoff double, while Stephen Perez plated him with a single to center to make it 7-3. After a walk to Khayyan Norfork, Pedro Severino laid down a sacrifice bunt to set up 2nd and 3rd with one out for Isaac Ballou.

Ballou cashed them both in with a triple to right to pull the P-Nats to within two at 7-5. Tony Renda, who had gotten thrown out at third to end the third, missed his shot at redemption with a groundout to third.

Shawn Pleffner followed with a high-hop grounder to the 3/4 hole. Like most first basemen, Pleffner isn’t going to win very many footraces, but he did win this on against Pelican starter Sam Wolff for an RBI infield single that made it 7-6.

That little bit of hustle set up Wooten, who jumped on Wolff for another two-run shot to put Potomac ahead 8-7 and knocked the Myrtle Beach starter out of the game.

Buoyed by the lead, Turnbull followed his zero in the 4th with one in the 5th. And the 6th. And the 7th. And the 8th. The 24-y.o. got the win with just the two runs allowed — HR in the 3rd — over five and a 1/3rd innings with one walk and eight K’s. Jake Walsh danced around a double and a two-out walk in the 9th to close it out for the 12-7 win.

Potomac will try for its third Carolina League title in five seasons with Hector Silvestre (1-0, 1.29) taking the hill against Luis Parra (1-0, 1.59). Silvestre did not face the Pelicans during the regular season while Parra was the winning pitcher for Myrtle Beach in an 8-6 victory over Potomac on July 29th.

Aug 182014
 

If Potomac clinches both halves, the proper thing to do is to send a “Thank You” to Carolina.

That’s because the Mudcats lost to the P-Nats for the ninth straight time on Sunday night by a 7-6 score. Combined with yet another loss by the Hillcats, Potomac now leads the Northern Division by three games with two weeks left to go.

By no means of course, has it been easy. All three games this weekend were one-run decisions, which even Harold Reynolds could tell you means that just one break or play that had gone other way could have reversed the outcome.

Early on, it certainly looked like Carolina was about to get some semblance of payback — overall, it’s been 15 of 19 games won by
Potomac — as they jumped on Matt Swynenberg for three runs in the 1st on a single-triple-double-error sequence with two outs.

Following a 1-2-3 bottom of the 1st, the Mudcats loaded the bases in the top of the 2nd with a single and two walks before hitting a long flyball to deep center that Isaac Ballou ran down for the third out.

Potomac went in order again in the 2nd, but got things going in the bottom of the 3rd. IF Khayyan Norfork caught his counterpart at 3B napping with a perfectly placed bunt for the first P-Nat baserunner. Brandon Miller and Pedro Severino both walked to get the bases tipsy.

After a nifty snag of a popup by the Mudcat dugout, Tony Renda steered one into right for a 1-0 score. Carolina got pinch-hitter Estarlin Martinez (no word on why Pleffner was lifted) to strike out, Randolph Oduber got the Homer Simpson RBI with a HBP, then Stephen Perez laced one into right-center for a two-run single and a 4-3 P-Nats lead.

Swynenberg worked through the 4th, retiring the last seven batters for an uneven performance of three runs (two earned) on four hits and two walks. Potomac added one more in the 4th, two more in the 5th to open up a 7-3 lead.

The game seemed in hand when Bryan Harper took the hill in the 9th — following two and 2/3rds scoreless relief from Cody Davis, who got the win — having retired three of four batters faced by way of the K, beginning with a whiff that stranded two in the 7th.

Give credit to the Mudcats, as they loaded the bases with two singles and a walk to chase Harper, then unloaded them against Jake Walsh with a walk and a single before Walsh got his bearings and retired the next three batters for the save, his first at High-A.

It’s their last scheduled off day today before Potomac begins a stretch of 17 games in 14 days — all against the rest of the Northern Division. They’re in the driver’s seat, though, leading Lynchburg by five in the loss column with four games left (this Tuesday through Thursday), Wimington by five with five games left (next Tuesday through Friday), and Frederick by seven with eight games left.

Aug 162014
 

After losing four straight to the resurgent Red Sox, the prospect of a fifth straight loss seemed quite possible as the P-Nats fell behind 5-1 after five and a half innings.

Matthew Spann had started but struggled through four innings, giving up three runs on a 2nd-inning HR and three hits total. He walked three and struck out three. Kylin Turnbull followed but was touched for single runs in the 5th and and 6th innings.

Then came the bottom of the 6th, in which Potomac jumped on the Carolina bullpen for five runs, having been stifled by Joe “I got my Dad’s 1970s haircut” Clevinger for five innings.

Isaac Ballou got things going with a leadoff walk. Tony Renda lined one into right, with Ballou taking third with no hesitation. Shawn Pleffner lifted a high fly to center that Renda judged would not be caught, enabling him to score all the way from first on the double.

A grounder to second pushed the big man to third while Stephen Perez laced one up the middle to plate Pleffner and send Clayton Cook to the bench in favor of Michael Peoples.

The power was not with Peoples but with John Wooten, who clubbed his second homer for the P-Nats to give them a 6-5 lead and atone for his sixth error that let the fourth Mudcat run score in the 5th.

Travis Henke, who’s often called upon when the game’s not on the line, responded to the pressure situation with two scoreless innings in the 7th and 8th, walking one and striking out three to earn his team-leading fifth hold.

Henke gave way to Gilberto Mendez in the 9th. Facing the heart of the Carolina lineup, Mendez mowed ‘em down in order — flyout, strikeout, groundout — to earn his 10th save in 12 chances.

The win, combined with a Lynchburg loss, puts Potomac back up a game in the Carolina League North while Carolina sinks to third place in the C.L. South, a half-game behind Salem which won its sixth straight.

The series continues tonight with Ian Dickson (3-8, 5.16) taking the hill against D.J. Brown (2-6, 4.57).

Aug 072014
 

Randolph Oduber homered twice, while Matt Spann put on just two baserunners over six shutout innings as Potomac rolled to its fifth straight win, 10-2 over Winston-Salem.

The Groovin’ Aruban drove in six runs total with a three-run blast off the scoreboard in left-center to highlight Potomac’s five-run 3rd, an RBI groundout in the 4th, and a two-run shot to right in the 8th. The six RBIs were a career-best in a single game for the 2010 32nd Rd. pick out of Western Oklahoma State College.

Meanwhile, Matthew Spann quietly and efficiently dispatched the Dash with nobody reaching second base as Keon Barnum, who rapped a clean single up the middle with one out in the 2nd, watched his teammates fly out twice. Zach Voight got plunked an inning later but was out two full strides as Tony Renda had to wait for him to slide before he could apply the tag.

The next ten Winston-Salem batters trotted back into the dugout as Spann would not let another runner reach. Spann would issue no walks and strike out four while earning his eighth win for Potomac and tenth win overall for the 2014 campaign.

Offensively, Ike Ballou was also a force for the Woodbridge nine, beginning with a two-run triple that preceded the Oduber bomb in the 3rd, then connecting for an RBI double in the 4th, and a single in the 5th. He would walk in his final plate appearance to finish the proverbial triple shy of the cycle while improving his line to .356/.396/.667 in his first 10 games at High-A.

The series concludes this afternoon as Ian Dickson (3-8, 5.27) faces off against top White Sox pick Carlos “Didn’t I Just Sign For You?” Rodon (0-0, 6.00). Potomac will then make the drive down I-81 to take on the Salem Red Sox for three over the weekend, then return to the Pfitz for three more next Tuesday through Thursday.

PLAYOFF OUTLOOK: Like an annoying neighbor, Lynchburg just won’t go away as the Hillcats have strung together three straight wins to remain three behind the P-Nats. Wilmington has fallen to five games back. Myrtle Beach has also reclaimed sole possession of first place in the Southern Division by a game over Winston-Salem, two and a half over Carolina.

Aug 062014
 

Literally, the lights went out in the 8th. But figuratively, Brian Rauh was lights out for most of the night as Potomac tripled up Winston-Salem, 6-2.

The 23-year-old has had an up and down season thus far for Potomac, missing nearly two months from late April to late June, while shifting between starting and relieving over the last few weeks.

Thus, when he walked the first two batters in the 1st, his no-hit bid for three and a 1/3rd innings would almost go unnoticed. Courtney Hawkins, who’s venturing into Billy Rowell territory as he’s in his third season with the Dash but is only 21, broke it up with a one-out double in the 4th.

Rauh would let up his second hit in the 5th, and his third in the 6th, which came after his fourth walk to put runners on second and third with one out. A whiff (#4) and a lineout to third ended the threat and Rauh’s night.

Meanwhile, the offense broke out for three in the third. Dash pitcher J.B. Wendelken also hadn’t given up a hit, but that was over Estarlin Martinez got aboard with a swinging bunt single, followed by Pedro Severino’s first safety, then a two-run triple by Isaac Ballou. Tony Renda hit a flyball to medium center, which was deep enough for Ballou to, um, dash home with the third run.

Potomac got another run in the 5th, then two more in the 6th to extend the lead to 6-0 before Richie Mirowski had an adventuresome 7th as Winston Salem got to him for four flares/singles. A Stephen Perez error extended the inning and rendered one of the two runs given up unearned. Mirowski would strike out the side with a series of curves and changes.

As the pic shows, the stadium lights actually went out for 25 minutes in the bottom of the 8th, but the layoff didn’t affect the outcome as both teams put on a pair of runners in their final “ups,” but couldn’t push them across.

The Hillcats won to keep pace while the Blue Rocks dropped to four back of the P-Nats, who lead the C.L. North by three games. Tonight, it’s southpaw Matthew Spann (7-5, 4.65) against northpaw James Dykstra (2-0, 2.70) in game two of the series.

Jul 282014
 


Oscar Tejeda homered in the 1st to get Potomac on the scoreboard first, then homered in the 11th off the scoreboard for the last Potomac run and a 6-5 walkoff win to complete the three-game sweep of Carolina.

The HR also snapped a seven-inning scoring drought, as the P-Nats jumped out to a 5-1 lead after three innings while literally knocking out Mudcat starter Dylan Baker with a screamer back to the mound off the bat of Estarlin Martinez that bounded off what appeared to be the noggin as he crumpled in a heap by the mound. He walked off the field under his own power.

Meanwhile, Hector Silvestre made his 2014 debut for the P-Nats and turned in a quality start of three runs on six hits over six innings, but all three runs came via the longball with a solo blast in the 3rd and a two-run blast in the 6th. He would walk none and strike out six without issuing a walk, and left in position to win with a 5-3 lead.

Travis Henke would blow the save with two runs given up in the 7th to allow the Mudcats to tie it at 5-5. He would follow his Mr. Hyde inning with a Dr. Jekyll 8th before giving way to Jake Walsh, who pitched around baserunners in each of his three innings for htis third win in six appearances.

The win, which was the 13th in walkoff fashion, was also the fourth straight for Potomac. Combined with a Wilmington loss extends the P-Nats lead to two games in the C.L. North. The homestand continues with three against Myrtle Beach in a battle of the 2014 first-half champs. Dakota Bacus (3-5, 3.58) gets the ball for the P-Nats versus Chad James (1-1, 5.59) for the Pelicans.

Jul 262014
 


After a six-run top of the first, the Luftwaffe weren’t circling Woodbridge, but it sure looked like this wasn’t going to be Potomac’s night.

Instead, the P-Nats answered with four of their own, beginning with Isaac Ballou’s leadoff single in his Carolina League debut, and ending with an inside-the-park home run by Randolph Oduber as he launched a line drive that bounded off the glove of the Mudcat centerfelder on the warning track.

The comeback was made possible by Kylin Turnbull, who scattered six hits and walked none over four scoreless innings for his best outing of the season. He came on in relief of Brian Rauh, who was hammered for six runs (five earned) on five hits, including a grand slam.

The decision went to Cody Davis despite giving up two runs over two and a 1/3rd innings, as he was the pitcher of record when Potomac rallied for for three in the 7th, highlighted by RBI doubles by Ballou and Stephen Perez and a run-scoring single by Shawn Pleffner.

Bryan Harper and his mustache came on in the 8th and locked it down with two perfect innings of relief for his second save.

With the win, Potomac improves to 18-15 in the second half, still tied with Wilmington for first place. Tonight, Ian Dickson (2-8, 5.61) gets the start, opposed by Michael Peoples (7-7, 4.57) for Carolina.

Jul 192014
 

Rockslide
For eight innings, there was a Star Trek convention on the Pfitzner stadium scoreboard — nothing but zeroes.

Austin Voth, who actually looked a little shaky early, did nothing to discourage the folks who want to Rhinehart him to Harrisburg with another seven scoreless innings. After giving up a 1st-inning single to Raul Mondesi and walking Jared Schlehuber in the 2nd, all he did is mow down the next 16 batters — striking out the side in the 4th.

The problem was, Wilmington’s Jonathan Dziedzic was nearly as good. Not as dominant, with four hits and a walk, but matched Voth zero for zero (Trekker for Trekkie?) until this became a battle of the bullpens.

Ian Dickson came on in the 8th and extended the retired batters streak to 19. Wilmington countered with veteran Blake Wood, who retired Randolph Oduber on a tapper back to the mound, then gave up a wall-scraping double to Khayyan Norfork.

Except Norfork missed first base, which Wilmington appealed so successfully that it didn’t even show up in the official box score play-by-play*.
* Not sure who to blame for that, but I haven’t seen something that egregious since the ’90s when an entire homestand was “rained out” during a drought in southern New Hampshire.

As you’ve no doubt inferred from the picture above, things fell apart rapidly thereafter. Estarlin Martinez tapped out to end the 8th. Wilmington led off the 9th with a single, got a sacrifice turned into a single, then a walk to load the bases. A sacrifice fly and a double brought ‘em all in for the 3-0 lead and eventual final score.

Potomac went in order in the 9th to lose for the fourth time in five games and fall out of 1st place, a 1/2 game behind Wilmington. The next six are on the road against the Salems, three in Virginia, three in North Carolina before the P-Nats return next Friday for six against the Mudcats and Pelicans.

Jul 172014
 

wheelscameoffthebus
As much as we like our boys to win, sometimes we’re reminded that they’re also here to learn.

At least that’s what the rational fan should be thinking after Wilmington rocked Pedro Encarnacion for five runs in the 5th to hand the P-Nats a 6-1 loss in the opener of the doubleheader last night in Woodbridge.

Encarnacion, who made four appearances — one abbreviated by rain — in the GCL over the last two weeks, looked good in his first inning of work, setting down the 2-3-4 batters 1-2-3 in the 4th on a pair of groundouts and strikeout.

But after a leadoff single in the 5th and a walk followed by a wild pitch, he looked rattled and pitched like, well, he was still in the GCL. A tapper to second was hit just slowly enough to score the go-ahead run. A triple down the right-field line sent in another. A swinging bunt scored the third Wilmington run.

Another single, this one also to right, plated the fourth run. After an aborted double-steal — Severino sniffed out, but couldn’t catch the runner at 3rd — Encarnacion rocked back and forth on the rubber for balk and another Wilmington run.

Raul Mondesi doubled to finish the binge, and Encarnacion finally got a popout. With a positive to lean on, manager Tripp Keister pulled the plug but the damage was done.

Of course, as the “1” in the linescore suggests, the Potomac bats were largely dormant — just five hits total and one walk, with the shutout avoided only when a wild pitch plated the tying run in the third.

The loss broke a modest four-game win streak, and another in the nightcap cut the P-Nats lead in the Carolina League North to just a 1/2 game over the Blue Rocks. Tonight, they’ll pick up where things left off last Thursday and then play a nine-inning game afterwards.