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.

Jul 072014
 

The good news is that if this series is indeed a preview of the 2014 Mills Cup, we’re in for some good baseball. The bad news is that that it wasn’t as close as the 2-0 win by Myrtle Beach would otherwise suggest.

This, of course, is not discredit the effort that Matthew Spann did in escaping multiple jams in his five innings of work as the southpaw stranded eight runners through four innings before the Pelicans broke through in the 5th for the first of their two runs.

But the reality is that on most nights, you’re not going to be able to put that many baserunners on and get out of it unscathed. Not at this level.

Four of ‘em were definitely Spann’s doing — or the umpire’s, if you were privy to the bellowing from Myrtle Beach batting coach Josue Perez prior to being ejected in the 8th — as he walked four, including two in the first inning.

Twice Spann loaded the bases with two outs, with three singles in the 2nd and a walk and two singled in the 4th. Spann’s fourth walk followed by a double set up second and third with no out. Tripp Keister did not elect to pull in the infield against power-hitting lefty Preston Beck, who indeed hit one sharply to second for the RBI groundout.

He did pull ‘em in for Royce Bolinger and Tony Renda, playing shortstop, threw out the runner at the plate for the second out then leapt high to catch line drive 7′ off the ground to end the inning. But the damage was done.

Potomac, who got three doubles out of its five hits, saw all three extra-base hits go for naught.

Stephen Perez led off the second with a ground-rule double that bounced a foot inside the foul line in right and over the fence but only got as far as third.

Pleffner led off the 4th with double to left-center but was called out for interfering with a grounder to third as he dodged the ball but got in front of the fielder for the inning’s second, rally-killing out.

Renda got to second with two outs on an opposite-field drive to right, prompting the Pelicans to go “old-school” and call for their closer, Jose Leclerc, before the 9th inning to face Pleffner instead of issuing an intentional pass to put the go-ahead run on base and let Justin Spenger, who had already retired Oscar Tejeda easily, do it again.

Leclerc fanned Pleffner and struck out two more in 9th for the un-Soriano save that secured the 2-0 win.

Potomac remains in 1st place with an 8-8 mark as they host second-place Wilmington for the next four. It’ll be Ian Dickson (1-6, 6.11) scheduled to face off against Luis Santos (1-1, 7.06).

Jul 062014
 

After pummeling the Pelicans for eight runs in the completion, the second game of the de facto doubleheader proved to be a pitcher’s duel that ended in the first “extra inning” as Steve Perez’s two-out single in the bottom of the 8th drove in Tony Renda for a 1-0 win.

Starter Austin Voth can’t quite catch a break as he pitched brilliantly for a third straight start but has just one win to show for it. He allowed just three hits over six shutout innings with no walks and seven strikeouts, which puts him to the Washington minors-leading total of 94 in 88⅔ innings.

In part, that’s because Potomac had not one but two runners thrown out at the plate in the 3rd. Estarlin Martinez was the first, making an ill-advised decision to score from third base on a ball hit to the third baseman while Perez was unable to score from first one batter later when Shawn Pleffner doubled into the left-field corner (though he made it close).

The P-Nats managed just two singles from the 4th to the 7th before the game-winning rally in the 8th. After a weak flyout by Martinez (who was quite busy on defense, catching six flyballs in right field over eight inning), Renda beat out an infield single and took second on a wild pitch. Perez delivered the game-winner with a single to right that was hit fast enough to get past the infielders but too slow for the outfielder to pick up and fire in to beat Renda.

The win went to Chris Manno, who struck out four over the 7th and 8th innings while walking one. Combined with a Lynchburg loss, Potomac returned to first place by a half-game over Wilmington, who will be in town next for four games tomorrow through Thursday.

Matt Spann (5-3, 4.45) gets the ball tonight against Andrew Faulkner (6-1, 2.35) in the series finale.