Aug 222013
 

Rained-Out-2012The second ten-game win streak for Potomac came to an end with a rain-shortened 3-1 loss in five innings to Winston-Salem.

Starter Paul Demny took the loss for the second time in six starts since his demotion from Harrisburg. He gave up all three runs (two earned) on four hits, three of which went for extra-bases. The difference came in the two-run fourth as Kevan Smith took the 24-y.o. Texan deep with a solo shot to right-center with one out while Joshua Richmond connected for the second double of the game with two outs to build a 3-0 lead.

Rain began to fall in the top of the 4th but a double play ended things quickly in the bottom of the 4th and Demny retired the side in order in the top of the 5th. Brandon Miller led off the bottom of the fifth with a triple and came in to score on a groundout to short. Cutter Dykstra struck out to end the inning, which also ended his 29-game on-base streak.

Play was halted after the 5th and the game called 92 minutes later.

The loss combined with Lynchburg’s eighth straight win keeps Potomac’s magic number at six to clinch the Carolina League North division again. Both Frederick and Wilmington have been eliminated from the second-half title race. The Hillcats lead the Keys by eight and the Blue Rocks by 10½ games in the overall standings that determine the second playoff team in the event of a double-half winner.

Potomac, however, still has good incentive to beat the Dash tonight and tomorrow, as Winston-Salem’s best chance of making the playoffs is to beat out Salem for the best overall record behind Myrtle Beach, if the Pelicans can win both halves (they lead the Red Sox by 1½ games after a 5-0 win last night). The P-Nats have won just once in six games at BB&T this year and would play the deciding games there in the event of both teams making the Mills Cup Finals.

Tonight, Brett Mooneyham makes his High-A debut after earning a promotion with a 8-2, 1.88 mark since the Sally League All-Star break. He’ll be opposed by Myles Jaye (7-6, 4.66) for Winston-Salem.

Aug 192013
 

Admittedly, this is a week or two late — perhaps even unnecessary as the only drama is mostly how they’ll make it, not who — but with two weeks to go in the regular season, let’s take a look at the playoff chances for all seven affiliates anyways and continue the annual tradition.

For the fourth straight summer, the Nats will have multiple teams make the postseason. This is a far cry from the summer of 2009, when just three teams had winning records (G-Nats, P-Nats, Chiefs) and none made the playoffs. This year, five of seven should break the .500 mark, three are already in the postseason and a fourth is just a half-game out of first place.

Let’s take a look…

SYRACUSE
Unfortunately, 2009 was the last winning season for the Chiefs, which should come as no surprise to those in the know as AAA nowadays is more of a taxi squad than the last rung on the ladder. The pitching, to be kind, has been spotty. The offense has been too reliant on the long ball and drives to the mailbox (unwilling to walk). There’s still chance to finish at or above .500, but that will require an especially strong finish (11-3 or 12-2).

HARRISBURG
For fans of the big club, the narrative is awfully familiar. This team can pitch and prevent runs. They have real difficulty scoring on a consistent basis. They’ve been in or near 1st place since mid-June, but the gap between 2nd and 3rd is just two games. Guess who the Senators play seven times over the next two weeks? The third-place Richmond Flying Squirrels. There’s always hope that Jimmy Van Ostrand and Steve Souza Jr. can get healthy and return to the lineup, but even with them, the team has struggled. This is the pennant race to watch because it’s all-or-nothing, in-or-out.

POTOMAC
This is perhaps the most complete Potomac team ever, with one rather notable exception — the bullpen. Over the course of season, as they’ve proven, it’s irritating but not fatal. In a short series, it can be devastating — especially in the first round, though it would take a near miracle to lose the second half with a magic number of eight with 14 to play. In the finals, Potomac wouldn’t have home-field advantage, which could be problematic as they’re much better at home vs. the road (45-19 vs. 32-28). That’s not presuming an upset in the first round isn’t possible, either.

HAGERSTOWN
The past couple of Suns teams could really hit, but they didn’t have the pitching to match. This year, they do. Like the P-Nats, they’re already in as the first-half winner. Unlike Potomac, Hagerstown is battling to win the second half (currently tied with West Virginia, their most likely opponent in the first round) but has proven it can win on the road (35-26) as well as at home (38-26). The Suns and Power don’t play each other the rest of the way, and the Suns have a much more favorable schedule (eight at home, seven on the road; .411 opp. W%) than the Power (four at home, eleven on the road; .495 opp. W%), but stranger things have happened.

AUBURN
After two 45+ win seasons in 2011 and 2012, the 2013 edition may not win 30 and could very well end up with the New York-Penn League’s worst record. Is this significant? Probably not. The previous two editions were older and drafted from higher rounds. Aside from a select few (e.g. Jake Johansen, Austin Voth, David Napoli), the pitching has been atrocious and the hitting has only been marginally better. They’ll be eliminated by week’s end. Most folks are interested to see if anyone gets the bump from the juggernaut in…

GCL NATIONALS
…Viera. They clinched a playoff berth 10 days ago, so the only drama is whether or not they’ll not set the record for the best winning percentage in GCL history (1994 Kansas City, 47-12). The playoffs are short — basically a one-game play-in between the top division winner versus the fourth-best, with #2 playing #3 and then a best-of-three between the two winners. Quick: Who won the 2012 GCL title? If you knew the answer without Googling, please wear sunscreen and make sure you’re getting enough vitamin D.

DSL NATIONALS
They were eliminated this weekend (just six of 35 teams make the playoffs), but as noted in this morning’s News & Notes, they have a chance to surpass last year’s 38-32 record and barring a collapse, will post a winning record for the second consecutive season. It’ll be discussed more in the season reviews, but that’s really, really not bad when you consider where the Nats’ Dominican operations were just four years ago.

Aug 302012
 
Team Yesterday Today Probable Pitchers
Syracuse Won, 3-2;
Won, 7-5
@ Charlotte,
7:15 p.m.
Lannan (8-11, 4.58) vs.
Carroll (3-6, 5.15)
Harrisburg Lost, 3-2 @ Richmond,
7:05 p.m.
Broderick (2-0, 4.24) vs.
Fitzgerald (7-8, 3.20)
Potomac Lost, 6-2 @ Carolina,
7:15 p.m.
Gilliam (1-1, 4.66) vs.
Cooper (8-7, 3.83)
Hagerstown Lost, 4-0 @ Greensboro,
7:00 p.m.
Rauh (3-2, 3.93) vs.
Heaney (0-2, 5.79)
Auburn Won, 6-4 @ Mahoning Valley,
7:05 p.m.
Pineyro (3-1, 3.21)
Merritt (3-4, 4.02)

Syracuse 3 Charlotte 2 — GAME ONE
• Duke (W, 15-5) 5⅔ IP, 7H, 2R, 2ER, 0BB, 4K, HR
• Garcia (SV, 12) 1IP, 1H, 0R, 0BB, 0K
• Walters 2-2
• Teahen 2-3, R, RBI

The Chiefs broke a 0-0 tie with two in the 5th and tacked on one in the 6th to take the first game, 3-2. Starter Zach Duke won his 15th game with both Knights runs allowed on seven hits with no walks and four K’s. Christian Garcia worked the last of the 7th and kept Charlotte off the board for his 12th AAA save. Zach Walters and Mark Teahen combined for four of the eight Syracuse hits, which included Eury Perez extending his hit streak to 16 games while stealing his 20th base as a Chief.

Syracuse 7 Charlotte 5 — GAME TWO
• Maya 4IP, 6H, 4R, 4ER, 2BB, 5K
• Arnesen (W, 3-3) 1IP, 1H, 0R, 0BB, 0K
• MacDougal (SV, 2) 1IP, 0H, 0R, 0BB, K
• Brown 2-3, R, 3B, BB, RBI
• Valdez 2-4, 2R, 2B, HR, 2RBI

Syracuse scored seven times in the last three innings to overcome a 4-0 deficit and sweep the doubleheader with a 7-5 win. Starter Yunesky Maya got knocked around for four runs on six hits and two walks over four innings. Erik Arnesen got the win and Mike MacDougal the save as each tossed a scoreless inning in relief. The Chiefs racked up 11 hits, with Jesus Valdez homering and Mark Teahen driving in three. Eury Perez went 2-for-5 to push his streak to 17 games amd raise his average to .331 in 40 games with Syracuse.

Richmond 3 Harrisburg 2
• Perry 6IP, 5H, 2R, 2ER, 3BB, 6K
• McCoy (L, 7-3) ⅓ IP, 3H, R, ER, 0BB, 0K
• Tucker 2-3, R, BB
• Lozada 1-3, R

The sun rises in the east and sets in the west… and the Sens lose by one run. Might not be what you learned in school, but it sure seems that way as Harrisburg dropped a 3-2 ballgame in Richmond, losing by a single run for the 24th time in 2012. Pat McCoy took the loss by giving up a run on three hits in the 7th, a half-inning after Harrisburg tied the game at 2-2. Starter Ryan Perry gave up two runs on five hits and three walks while striking out six over six innings but got the no-decision. Jonny Tucker singled twice and walked once to lead the Harrisburg offense.

Carolina 6 Potomac 2
• Hill (L, 0-1) 6⅓ IP, 6H, 4R, 4ER, 0BB, 4K, HR
• Holland ⅔ IP, 1H, 0R, 0BB, 0K, 1-1 IR-S
• Sanchez 3-4, R, 2B, 2SB (24,25)
• Ramirez 1-3, R, 2B

A pair of two-run rallies by Carolina in the 7th and 8th innings was the difference as Potomac fell, 6-2. Taylor Hill fared much better in his second High-A start, pitching into the 7th inning but took the loss. He was charged with four runs on six hits but no walks and four strikeouts over six and a 1/3rd innings. Adrian Sanchez paced the P-Nats offense with two singles, a double, and two stolen bases. The loss combined with a Wilmington win lowered the tragic number to one, meaning the next Blue Rocks win or the next P-Nats loss will eliminate Potomac from the postseason for the first time since 2009.

Greensboro 4 Hagerstown 0
• Jordan (L, 3-3) 5IP, 7H, 4R, 4ER, 0BB, K, HR
• Kreis 1IP, 0H, 0R, 0BB, K
• Miller 1-2
• Montilla 1-3

Hagerstown’s six-game win streak was stopped cold with a 4-0 shutout in Greensboro. The Suns were held to just four hits and three walks, two of which were drawn by veteran 1B Brett Newsome, the sole Hagerstown batter to reach base twice. Taylor Jordan took the loss, giving up all four Grasshopper runs on seven hits over five innings, walking none and striking out one. The magic number to clinch remains at four as second-place Hickory won while third-place West Virginia lost.

Auburn 6 State College 4
• Hudgins 1⅔ IP, 4H, 3R, 2ER, 2BB, K
• Davis (W, 4-1) 3⅓ IP, 3H, R, ER, 0BB, 2K, 3-0 IR-S
• Henke (H, 5) 3IP, 2H, 0R, BB, 6K
• Self (SV, 12) 1IP, 1H, 0R, 0BB, 1K
• McQuillan 3-4, 2R, 2B, 2-3B, BB, 2RBI
• Miller 1-3, 2B, 2BB

If there’s a tragedy to the NYPL this season, it’s that a very good team is going to be on the outside looking in when the postseason starts. For now, that’s the Batavia Muckdogs, which won its fifth straight and 40th overall (.580 W%) but remains two games behind the Auburn Doubledays, which won its fourth straight with a 6-4 win over the State College Spikes. Will Hudgins struggled in his first SS-A start, giving up three runs (two earned) on four hits and two walks over an inning and a 1/3rd. Cody Davis stranded the bases loaded in the 2nd and went three more frames to get the win. Leadoff man Mike McQuillan only stopped at first the two times he drew walks, doubling once and tripling twice to pace the Auburn offense, which scored only six runs after 28 in the previous two games. The Doubledays magic number is now six with seven games to play. In the event that Batavia overtakes Auburn, the Doubledays would need to finish ahead of current wild-card leader Brooklyn (which has the same 42-27 mark) to earn the fourth playoff spot, as the Cyclones hold the head-to-head tiebreaker with a series sweep earlier this month. Roster moves: LHP Andrew Wall placed on the 7-Day DL (strained calf); RHP Robert Benincasa activated from the 7-Day DL.

Aug 232012
 

After falling behind 7-3 after three and a half innings, the Potomac Nationals took advantage of four errors and four wild pitches to score the last five runs in a 9-8 win in extra innings.

The comeback began in the 8th, Potomac down 8-4, with a Stephen King double to the right-center gap that might have been a triple. Adrian Sanchez followed with a slow tapper to second that got past the first baseman for a hit and an error and the fifth Potomac run. After Sanchez got caught stealing, Ricky Hague blistered a ball to short that Carolina shortstop Ronny Rodriguez decided to backhand for the second error of the inning. Matt Skole ripped a single to right, which the the rightfielder booted for the third error of the inning and the second P-Nat run, as Hague scored all the way from first.

In the 9th, after hitting the leadoff batter (Steve Souza Jr.) then striking out the next two batters, a two out walk drawn by J.P. Ramirez set up King to deliver another double, with pinch-runner Francisco Soriano easily scoring from first to tie the game at 8-8.

The comeback was completed in the 10th as Skole lofted his second opposite-field double to left, took third on a groundout, and scampered home when Fabio Martinez hit the backstop — the one without the glove behind home plate — as the wild pitch thudded with a report loud enough to be heard over the roar of the crowd.

The improbable comeback masked what was an otherwise awful debut by Taylor Hill, who gave up seven runs on eight hits and two walks over three and 2/3rds innings, including three doubles and a long home run by Rodriguez. Three of the runs were unearned, with two errors by Skole and a couple of misplays by Souza in his fifth game as a centerfielder as a pro, but the balls were hit hard because they were up and/or over the plate.

Ryan Demmin, Adam Carr, and Neil Holland combined for six and a 1/3rd innings of one-run relief, with Demmin surrendering the run (a home run by Anthony Gallas), Carr dispatching the Mudcats on six pitches in the 7th, and Holland striking out five over the last three innings for his sixth “W” of the season.

The win keeps Potomac’s playoff hopes alive, as they trail first-place Wilmington by three and a 1/2 games, second-place Frederick by three games (Lynchburg is also ahead of them, but in the event of a double-half winner, it’s the second-place second-half team that gets the berth).

The series concludes tonight with Alex Meyer (2-2, 2.35) taking the hill against Carolina’s Michael Goodnight (2-12, 4.73).

Aug 112012
 
Team Yesterday Today Probable Pitchers
Syracuse Lost, 6-0 @ Lehigh Valley,
7:05 p.m.
Duke (12-5, 3.81) vs.
Cochran (6-4, 4.58)
Harrisburg Lost, 5-0 vs. Binghamton,
7:00 p.m.
Rosenbaum (7-9, 3.79) vs.
A. Rodriguez (2-2, 3.14)
Potomac Lost, 6-0 vs. Winston-Salem,
6:35 p.m.
Grace (6-11, 5.93) vs.
Bassitt (3-2, 3.41)
Hagerstown Postponed @ Charleston,
3:05 & 7:05 p.m.
Hansen (2-4, 4.91) and
Jordan (0-2, 5.63) vs.
Gerritse (4-5, 3.89) and
Mitchell (7-9, 5.14)
Auburn Lost, 4-2 vs. Mahoning Valley,
7:05 p.m.
Mooneyham (1-1, 2.53)
vs. Lee (4-1, 2.30)
GCL Nationals Won, 2-1;
Won, 5-4
@ GCL Astros,
12:00 p.m.
TBD vs. TBD
DSL Nationals Lost, 3-2 vs. DSL Yankees1,
10:30 a.m.
TBD vs. TBD

Lehigh Valley 6 Syracuse 0
• Roark (L, 6-14) 6IP, 8H, 6R, 3ER, 0BB, K, HR
• Pena 2IP, 1H, 0R, BB, 2K
• Brown 2-4, 2B
• Negrych 1-4

The offensive outage for Friday night started at the top as the Syracuse Chiefs were held to three hits in a 6-0 shutout. Tanner Roark suffered his team-leading 14th loss, giving up all six runs (three earned) on eight hits, including a three-run HR in the 6th. Corey Brown and Jim Negrych were the only two Chiefs to hit safely, as Syracuse left on six runners total and hit into three double plays.

Binghamton 5 Harrisburg 0
• Perry (L, 1-3) 7⅓ IP, 6H, 4R, 4ER, 2BB, 2K
• Barthmaier 1⅔ IP, 2H, 1R, 0ER, 2BB, K, 1-1 IR-S
• Bloxom 1-3, 2B
• Goodwin 1-4

It was Star Wars night at Metro Bank Park, complete with folks dressed up as Jedi. However, they were not the only ones who weren’t going to score on Friday night as the Senators were held to just two hits in a 5-0 shutout. As Geoff Morrow pointed out on Twitter, Binghamton’s Mark Cohoon hadn’t had an outing with no runs allowed since April of 2011, a streak of 42 starts. Cohoon struck out 10 and walked one while going the distance. Justin Bloxom’s texas-league double to shallow CF in the 7th and Brian Goodwin’s line-drive single in the 9th were the two Harrisburg items in the “H” column. The loss was Harrisburg’s fifth straight, dropping the Senators to 6½ games behind Bowie. Jim Mora has the assessment of the odds of a third straight postseason appearance.

Winston-Salem 6 Potomac 0
• Ray (L, 4-9) 4IP, 6H, 6R, 4ER, BB, 5K, HR
• Demmin 3⅔ IP, H, R, ER, BB, K, HR
• Keyes 1-4, 2B

It was pretty much as bad as the box score looks Last Night In Woodbridge.

Hagerstown vs. Charleston — PPD
Rain washed out Game Three of the Suns-Riverdogs series on Friday night. It will be made up with a doubleheader today with first game at 3 p.m. and the second game at 7 p.m.

State College 4 Auburn 2
• Monar 4IP, 6H, 0R, BB, 6K
• Medina (L, 0-3) 3IP, 2H, 3R, 1ER, 0BB, 5K
• Renda 2-3, BB
• Marrero 1-3, R, HR, RBI

The six hits in Auburn matched the six hits tallied by Syracuse, Harrisburg, and Potomac combined. It was not, however, enough to get past State College, which got a game back in the Pinckney Division with a 4-2 win. Unlike the previous night, the Doubledays ‘pen faltered with four runs allowed over five innings. Silvio Medina took the loss, giving up three (one earned) over three innings on two hits. Starter Blake Monar scattered six hits over four innings, with no runs, no walks and six strikeouts. Tony Renda led the offense with a 2-for-3 night, while Chris Marrero homered and played six innings at first base.

GCL Nationals 2 GCL Astros 1 — GAME ONE
• Turnbull 1IP, 2H, 1R, 1ER, 0BB, 0K
• Hudgins (W, 4-3) 6IP, 5H, 0R, BB, 7K
• Piwnica-Worms 1-3
• Lippincott 1-2, BB, RBI, SB

The opener was a pitchers’s duel that saw the G-Nats edge the G-Astros, 2-1. Kylin Turnbull gave up the lone Astro run in his rehab appearance on two hits, but Will Hudgins shut ‘em down the rest of the way with six scoreless innings, allowing just five hits and one walk while striking out seven. Bryan Lippincott drove in the first G-Nat run with an RBI single in the 2nd while a walk, a stolen base, a groundout to second, and wild pitch plated the winning run in the 3rd.

GCL Nationals 5 GCL Astros 4 — GAME TWO
• Selsor 4IP, 4H, 2R, 2ER, 0BB, 4K, HR
• Peters (W, 1-0) 1IP, 0H, 0R, 2BB, K
• Foat 3-5, R, 2RBI
• Difo 2-4, 2R, BB

An error in the bottom of the 9th gave the G-Nats a 5-4 win in extra innings and a sweep of the doubleheader. John Peters got the win in relief with a scoreless 9th. Casey Selsor got the start and gave up two runs on four hits with no walks and four strikeouts. Matt Foat paced the offense with a 3-for-5 game, followed by Wilmer Difo’s 2-for-4 effort.

DSL Yankees1 3 DSL Nationals 2
• De La Cruz 3IP, 4H, 0R, 0BB, K
• Chavez 2IP, 3H, 0R, BB, 3K
• D. Ramos (BS, 1; L, 0-1) 1⅓ IP, 4H, 3R, 3ER, 2BB, 0K
• Marmolejos-Diaz 3-3, 2B, BB, RBI
• Bautista 2-4, R, 2B, BB

The DSL Yankees1 rallied for three runs in the bottom of the ninth to take this one, 3-2. David Ramos got the blown-save-loss with all three runs allowed on four hits and two walks over an inning and a 1/3rd. “Orange” Marmolejos-Diaz reached base four times with two singles, a double, and a walk while driving in a run to pace the 10-hit D-Nats attack.

Aug 072012
 

With roughly 2½ to 4 weeks to go in the regular season for the seven Nationals affiliates, it’s time for the annual assessment of playoff chances.

As noted in the comments, this time of year you’re just as likely to see folks proclaim that winning in the minors is overrated as you’ll see folks insist that it’s actually underrated. I can’t help but notice that it seems to be inversely proportional to the playoff chances of the writer’s favorite team or organization.

Obviously, player development is the most important objective of the farm system, even if I’m sure folks can come up with seemingly contradictory examples (*cough*, Carlos Alvarez, *cough*, Chien-Ming Wang, *cough*). As a prospect follower, I believe there is something to be said for playing an extra week or two of heightened competition. As a sportswriter, I love writing about the pennant chase. As a fan, I love playoff baseball.

For the third straight summer, we’re looking at multiple teams having a chance at postseason play. Without further ado, here’s a look at the odds for each affiliate…

SYRACUSE
Perhaps without the litany of injuries in Washington, the Chiefs might have had a chance at the playoffs with Corey Brown, Tyler Moore, and Bryce Harper in the lineup every day for another few weeks together. They’re still mathematically alive, as last September demonstrated that an 8½ game lead can vanish in a month. But with an elimination number of 21 with 28 games left, the odds are very slim. The Chiefs’ mission is keeping the potential call-ups healthy and ready for a September in DC.

HARRISBURG
A month ago, this team looked like a lock to make the playoffs, reeling off eight straight wins to begin July. They would then lose 10 of the next 11 and by month’s end fell from 1st place to 5th place in the E.L. West. They’re currently 4½ games out of wild-card contention and have eight (8) players on the DL, of which three (Chris Rahl, Jeff Kobernus, and Cameron Selik) are nearly certain not to return. Injuries and promotions (Eury Perez, Zach Walters) aside, the inability of the team to score in close ballgames and/or with runners in scoring position does not bode well for the team if it were to make it to the playoffs.

The good news is that they play their last 12 games against the two teams they’re chasing (Bowie, Richmond) but they have to make hay starting today against the Flying Squirrels. Ordinarily (see below), the talk would be about home-field advantage, but the Senators have played much better on the road (31-26) than at home (24-34) all season long. A similar showing in the six games against playoff contenders (Akron, Reading) in the next nine home games could make the last dozen overall merely an exercise in spoiling the hopes of their divisional foes.

POTOMAC
Potomac is fortunate in that the Carolina League chooses to have two four-team divisions despite having a balanced schedule. What this means it’s that it’s possible for a team to make the playoffs with a losing record or an inferior record to the other second-place if the balance of power happens to be in concentrated in one division, as it is this season and largely has been the past few seasons. There are 13 home games and 14 road games left for Potomac, and nine games left against the two teams they’re trying to beat out for the wild card. There are no more games against first-half winner and first-place Lynchburg.

This is significant because the Carolina League has not only reverted to a best-of-three for the first round, but a double half winner gets to host all three potential games. The first-half winner gets the choice of whether to host Game One, with the other team hosting Game Two and the potential Game Three. That’s a strong incentive to not mail in the second half as a certain Baltimore affiliate has in recent years. Should the P-Nats rally to win the division, as it did in 2011, the Hillcats might do well to gamble on opening in Woodbridge and having at least two chances to win in Lynchburg.

HAGERSTOWN
Hagerstown has been in contention all season long and has been hitting all season long, but the pitching has been unreliable. Fourteen different pitchers have made two or more starts for the Suns. Two starters have been sent up to Potomac (Alex Meyer, Nathan Karns), along with the team’s All-Star closer (Aaron Barrett). The replacements have had mixed success, but if this team is going to make the postseason, it will have to what it has done all season long and outslug its mound mistakes.

The Suns have had the more traditional home-road split — 36-18 at the Muni, 30-30 on the road. Fourteen of its last 25 are at home, and 19 of those 25 games are against divisional opponents. Like Potomac, they have no more games against the current first-place team, West Virginia, and just three more against the team that they’re tied for second place with (Hickory). Unlike Potomac, they do have a chance to knock back the first-half winners (Greensboro), if they make a run at winning both halves, though they’ll have to do it on the road. Overall, things look good to get to the playoffs, but getting past the first round is far less certain.

AUBURN
The Doubledays have been in the driver’s seat for the Pinckney Division all season long. They hold a 3½ game lead over second-place State College and have a favorable schedule (15 of 29 at home) the rest of the way. The problem is that with both rounds being best-of-three, it doesn’t matter how well they’re playing now. It’s how well they’re playing a month from now. Say what you will about them being one of the oldest teams in the league, though the gap between them and the league average is probably smaller than you might think (21.8 vs. 21.1 for the bats, 21.7 vs. 21.3 for the arms).

GCL NATIONALS
A four-game win streak has brought them under 10 games behind in the GCL East and to seven back in the wild card race, but this team only gets to the postseason as spectators.

DSL NATIONALS
The D-Nats have been a slightly better than .500 team for most of the season with a team that’s at league average for pitcher age and below league average for hitters. Unfortunately, in the DSL there are half-a-dozen teams that are .556+ (a.k.a. a 90-win team) and roughly the same number that are sub-.383 (a.k.a. a 100-loss team).

Jun 032012
 

It's time to see if the P-Nats can take this show on the road.

With eight masterful innings by Robbie Ray, Potomac completed a three-game sweep of Lynchburg with an 8-0 shutout.

The southpaw allowed just two hits and a walk over eight innings while striking out nine, flirting with a no-hitter for two and 1/3rd innings before Randolph Oduber got turned around on a flyball that fell in for a triple.

Ray retired the next seven just as easily, then gave up a clean double to base of the LF wall to quash any what-if ramblings about a no-hitter.

Working fast, keeping the ball low, and using both sides of the plate, Ray was in command from start to finish — and did it against one of the better offenses in the Carolina League.

Meanwhile, the offense picked up where it left off the night before, making the Hillcats pay for each and every mistake (and even overcoming a couple of their own), using the long ball once again. An error, sacrifice, and another error on a double-steal plated the first Potomac run while Zach Walters went deep (again) for his third HR in five at-bats to give Potomac a 3-0 lead after one.

Back-to-back singles by Kevin Keyes and Randolph Oduber opened up the 2nd inning, but a botched bunt by Blake Kelso erased Keyes at third for the first out. Manager Brian Rupp ordered another double steal but Oduber was gunned down trying to advance on grounder to short for the second out.

But strange things happen in A-ball, such as Rick Hague following those two miscues by lofting a high flyball to RF that seemed destined to be caught or fall foul by the Potomac bullpen. Instead, it somehow went out on a clear and not-too-windy Sunday for another home run, and a 6-0 Potomac lead.

Hague registered five RBI for the game, a season-high for any P-Nat thus far this season, while going 2-for-4 and scoring twice. He drove in the seventh run with an RBI single in the 4th and beat out a double-play ball for the eighth final Potomac tally in the 6th.

The win sliced the Hillcats’ lead to just 2½ games over the Blue Rocks and 3½ games over the P-Nats.

As caption suggests, winning at the Pfitz has not been the team’s problem this year, as their 18 home wins (in 29 games) leads the Carolina League. But on the road? Just six (out of 24).

If Potomac is going to continue this win streak of four games, and make a run at the division title, they’re going to have to play this way in Maryland and in the Carolinas over the next two weeks. And they’re going to need some help. That’s because they have no more games left against Lynchburg (4-8 against) or Wilmington (2-4 against) and just one more home series, a five-game tilt next weekend against Salem.

Next up: a five-game set in Frederick that begins tomorrow, and includes a doubleheader on Tuesday that is likely to be Nathan Karns’s High-A debut. Matt Grace (2-6, 6.02) is slated the start in the series opener, opposed by the Keys’ Tyler Wilson (1-1, 3.00).

Sep 072011
 

Wait, haven’t I done this before?

For the second straight year, it’s Potomac vs. Frederick in the Divisional Series, and the “Battle of The Beltways” misnomer is back. As of 3 p.m., “The Game Is Still On” according to the Keys website.

Similar to 2008 for Potomac, the Frederick Keys have basically led wire-to-wire, winning 41 games in the first half and 39 in the second. [Insert snarky comparison about overaged team and only a couple of true prospects here]. Yes, Potomac did manage to catch them (*ahem*) to win the paper title of second-half champion, but because Potomac did not win the Northern Division outright (the two teams tied with 39 wins), Frederick gets the advantage of hosting a Game Five if one is necessary.

With a season series that went 10-10, that’s kind of a big deal. Or is it?

Frederick actually had a losing record vs. Potomac at home, going 5-8, the uneven split made possible by the series shift in April. Potomac actually won the last two series played there (July 6-8, August 26-28) two games to one.

What should have P-Nats fans worried is the lack of one Mr. Rosenbaum, who beat the Keys three times out four starts, including his final start for Potomac. What should have Keys fans worried is how they staggered to the finish line, winning just twice over the last 10 games, and three in a row to the last-place Wilmington Blue Rocks.

On paper, this shouldn’t even be close. Looking at the team stats in the aggregate, Frederick has the league’s best pitching, Potomac has the worst. The problem with that approach is that it ignores what everybody knows: It’s how the current roster is playing right now that matters most, not how the collective team has done over the past five months.

Unlike last year, I would not be surprised by a couple of 1-0, 2-1, or 3-2 scores in this series — even in the hittng-friendly confines of Harry Grove Stadium.

Without further ado, here’s the schedule, starting with the schedule…
Game 1 at Frederick, Sept. 7 at 7 p.m.
Game 2 at Frederick, Sept. 8 at 7 p.m.
Game 3 at Potomac, Sept. 9 at 7:05 p.m.
Game 4 at Potomac (if necessary), Sept. 10 at 6:35 p.m.
Game 5 at Frederick (if necessary), Sept. 11 at 2 p.m.

And here are the announced matchups, per MiLB.com…

Game 1 Paul Demny (10-10, 4.32) vs. Jacob Petit (7-0, 1.62)
Game 2 Sammy Solis (6-2, 2.72) vs. Richard Zagone (4-2, 2.97)
Game 3 Evan Bronson (5-5, 3.64) vs. Scott Copeland (3-2, 2.14)
Game 4 Adam Olbrychowski (5-7, 4.16) vs. TBD
Game 5 Mitchell Clegg vs. Nicholas Haughian (8-7, 3.67)

Projected Starting Lineups
POTOMAC
LF Francisco Soriano
2B Jeff Kobernus
DH Justin Bloxom
RF Destin Hood
1B Steve Souza
SS Zach Walters
C Sandy Leon
3B Jose Lozada
CF Eury Perez

FREDERICK
3B Dale Mollenhauer
2B Jonathan Schoop
SS Manny Machado
1B Aaron Baker
DH Michael Flacco
RF Jacob Julius
CF Miguel Abreu
C Brian Ward
LF Bobby Stevens

Obligatory Prediction:
Head: Frederick in Four
Heart: Potomac in Five

Aug 142011
 

The Potomac Nationals got just enough offense to not waste Paul Demny’s best outing of the year for a 3-2 win over the Myrtle Beach Pelicans.

Demny went eight innings, dominating seven of them, and gave up just two runs on five hits with no walks and four strikeouts. He only allowed two leadoff hits — a single in the 3rd, which he promptly erased with a 1-6-3 double play, and a double in the 8th. That double was followed by a triple to plate the first Pelican run, then a grounder to second to send in the final Myrtle Beach run.

After a disastrous stretch of road starts in July and early August (7R in Lynchburg over 1⅔ IP, 9R in Winston-Salem over 4IP, 5R in Salem over 4⅓ IP), the past two home starts have been just what Demny needs to regain some confidence. Even with a rainout today, he’ll likely start his next two games at the Pfitz, and can build on this run as the P-Nats slouch towards head for the playoffs.

Offensively, there’s still reason to worry. Like the night before, getting runners on was not a problem: Leadoff doubles in the 1st and 7th, one-out singles in the 2nd and 3rd, a leadoff walk in the 4th. But when you subtract leadoff hitter Archie Gilbert from the equation, that’s three less hits, one less run, and the only hit with a runner in scoring position.

Potomac would strand 10 runners, including runners on second and third in the bottom of the 7th, as neither Brian Peacock nor Steve Souza could deliver the killshot to turn a 3-0 game into a 5-0 game.

With Nelo and Smoker used the night before, Marcos Frias was called upon to close out the 9th and delivered the win and earned the save, working around a leadoff single and finishing strong with two strikeouts.

The win keeps pace with Frederick, which won its 30th game of the second half and its fourth straight, keeping the division deficit at four games. A loss by Lynchburg extended Potomac’s lead to six, lowering the magic number to clinch a playoff spot to 17.

Should the rain hold off, Cameron Selik (4-8, 4.33) is scheduled to start this afternoon against Justin Grimm (3-2, 3.55).

Aug 042011
 

Some of you may have noticed how we’ve keeping tabs on where the affiliates are in the standings with each recap. This, of course, has led to some snarkiness in certain lower levels (OK, the GCL) but the more holistic view is that for the second straight summer, we’re looking at the possibility of multiple teams making the playoffs.

Obviously, player development is the first and foremost goal of the farm, but there is something to be said about playing in the postseason, no matter what the level. Harrisburg, for example, has several players from the 2010 Carolina League championship team and we’d like to think that they’ve learned what it takes to grind out a pennant race. Potomac and Hagerstown have younger, more age-appropriate squads and making the playoffs can only help to instill a winning attitude that many accuse the organization of lacking.

In any case, here’s a look at each affiliates chances down the stretch…

SYRACUSE
On paper, this team should have done better via its pitching, with the likes of Yunesky Maya, Craig Stammen, J.D. Martin, and Ross Detwiler — all touted as possible #5 starters coming out of spring training. The lack of offensive prowess is not as surprising, as this system is indeed lacking with position player prospects at the upper levels. Last year’s roster-filling 4As (e.g. Jason Botts, Chase Lambin, Pete Orr) were simply a little better than this year’s. Maybe we’d be singing a different tune if there were a half system and we thought that Brad Peacock and Tom Milone would be sticking around, but neither seems to be the case.

HARRISBURG
Yes, they’re currently tied for first place, and have been there for all but one day since May 24. But the question is whether or not they can withstand the loss of their leadoff man (Steve Lombardozzi) their ace pitcher (Brad Peacock) and their cleanup hitter (Bill Rhinehart). They’ve gotten some decent replacements by way of buying Leonard Davis from the Can-Am League and taking Tim Pahuta off the taxi squad disabled list, along with two new prospects (Erik Komatsu, Danny Rosenbaum). Tanner Roark has been pitching better of late, and Shairon Martis may very well be pitching below his true level, but Senators fans have to be holding their breath because further losses seem not only possible, but maybe even inevitable. I’ve heard their current left fielder’s pretty good.

POTOMAC
It may be a bold statement in the midst of all this team’s problems, but this team will make the playoffs. That’s more because of the format than anything else. As long as they hold onto second place in the second half, they’re in. With a six-game lead and only three games left against the third-place team (Wilmington, at home 8/23-25), and a seven-game lead over the fourth-place team with four games left (in Lynchburg, 8/30-9/2), that seems like a decent chance. Whether or not they’ll do anything in the playoffs is another story entirely. Frederick would be their first-round opponent, and the two teams meet once more on August 26-28. They’ve split the six games played in the second half, both teams taking two-of-three on the road.

HAGERSTOWN
Something to consider is that a lot of these guys were on the 2010 Vermont squad that nosedived. Will they learn from that experience or repeat it? Another problem is that it’s questionable that Robbie Ray and A.J. Cole are going to be allowed to pitch for very much longer. If that’s the case, then this team is going to have to make like the 2002 Angels and mash their way to a title. It’s also a very tight race in the Sally League North, with four teams within three games of first place. Fortunately, the Suns still have five games apiece left against Hickory (tonight in NC, 8/22-25 in MD) and Lakewood (9/1-5 in MD) and four against Kannapolis (in NC, 8/18-21) and, thus, some control over their own destiny.

AUBURN
Like the Sally North, the Pinckney Division of the New York-Penn League is tightly bunched with four teams within two games of first. Unlike the Sally, there’s a wild card option, but five teams are within three games in that race. The good news is that they have 12 games against last or next-to-last place teams. The bad news is that they have no more games against Williamsport but seven against Mahoning Valley and four against Jamestown, which means the Crosscutters could ease past the Doubledays and let the other divisional foes beat up on each other. The Williamsport schedule is also quite favorable, with 19 games against sub-.500 foes still left to play.

GCL Nationals
Could be eliminated by the end of the weekend. Even with 28-year-olds pitching in middle relief. Just sayin’…

DSL Nationals
Like last year, they’ve been hovering near .500 for most of the season. They’re 5½ games behind with 17 games left, so mathematically they’re alive, but they’re 7½ games back in the wild-card race so unless they rip off a long winning streak against the teams in their own division, it’s over.