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.

Sep 132010
 

Two years ago, Potomac faced an 89-win team that led the league in offense (5.46 runs per game) and outslugged them 35-15 to win the Mills Cup. This year, they’re facing the same challenge against the 81-win, 5.31-runs-per-game Winston-Salem Dash. Can they do it again?

The odds are stacked against them. During the regular season, they only beat them eight times in 20 games. Four wins in the first half, four wins in the second. Four wins at home, four wins on the road

It’s tempting to say that the much-improved offense can stand toe-to-toe with them but take a look at the last seven meetings:

Date Where Result
July 22 @W-S Lost, 4-5
July 23 @W-S Lost, 12-13
July 24 @W-S Won, 7-2
July 25 @W-S Won, 13-3
Aug 20 @Pot Lost, 8-9
Aug 21 @Pot Won, 9-2
Aug 22 @Pot Lost, 8-9

These meetings coincide with the offensive resurgence of the P-Nats, and demonstrates the universal truth of when you get good pitching, you usually win. Well, tell that to the Kinston Indians, who lost 3-2 and 2-0 before falling 10-5 in 10 innings to get swept in the Southern Division semis for the Mills Cup. That five-run outburst in extras is what Potomac needs to fear, especially after blowing an 8-2 lead to lose 9-8 on August 20.

If there is any hope, it’s the lack of familiarity that Winston-Salem has with the top three projected starters for Potomac, Danny Rosenbaum, Trevor Holder and Jimmy Barthmaier. Rosenbaum has never faced them, Holder as only pitched 3⅔ innings as a reliever, and Barthmaier pitched five scoreless innings against them on August 20th. The same cannot be said for any of Winston-Salem’s likely starters, which are reported to be Steven Sauer and Dylan Axlerod for Games 1 and 2, with Terry Doyle and Nathan Jones likely to follow, though not necessarily in that order.

Without further ado, here’s the breakdown, starting with the schedule…
Game 1 at Winston-Salem, Sept. 13 at 7 p.m.
Game 2 at Winston-Salem, Sept. 14 at 7 p.m.
Game 3 at Potomac, Sept. 16 at 7:03 p.m.
Game 4 at Potomac (if necessary), Sept. 17 at 7:03 p.m.
Game 5 at Potomac (if necessary), Sept. 18 at 6:35 p.m.

And here are the pitching matchups, as reported by the Winston-Salem Journal and predicted by yours truly…
Game 1 Danny Rosenbaum (3-2, 2.09) vs. Stephen Sauer (8-10, 4.89)
Game 2 Trevor Holder (3-3, 4.09) vs. Dylan Axelrod (8-3, 1.99)
Game 3 Jimmy Barthmaier (4-1, 3.62) vs. Terry Doyle (8-8, 3.71)
Game 4 Marcos Frias (7-5, 5.69) vs. Nathan Jones (11-6, 4.08)
Game 5 Danny Rosenbaum (3-2, 2.09) vs. Stephen Sauer (8-10, 4.89)

And — don’t underestimate this, it matters big-time — the weather forecasts…
Game 1 – 78° and clear
Game 2 – 81° and clear
Game 3 – 78° and clear
Game 4 – 76° and chance of rain (20%)
Game 5 – 73° and clear

Projected Starting Lineups
POTOMAC
2B Dan Lyons (.221/.352/.306 , 1HR, 13RBI)
C Derek Norris (.235/.419/.419, 12HR, 49RBI)
DH Bill Rhinehart (.254/.328/.466, 14HR, 51RBI)
1B Tyler Moore (.269/.321/.552, 31HR, 111RBI)
LF Jamar Walton (.302/.309/.453, 1HR, 11RBI)
3B Robby Jacobsen (.223/.296/.352, 6HR, 37RBI)
SS Jose Lozada (.256/.307/.390, 6HR, 34RBI)
RF Nick Moresi (.236/.283/.342, 1HR, 24RBI)
CF Chris Curran (.226/.296/.305, 1HR, 17RBI)

Key Bench/Platoon Players:
C/DH – Sean Rooney (.258/.320/.400, 3HR, 22RBI)
IF – Sean Nicol (.288/.344/.390, 0HR, 9RBI)

WINSTON-SALEM
LF Kenny Williams Jr. (.252/.306/.365, 33R, 0SB)
CF Jose Martinez (.242/.295/.347, 5HR, 24RBI)
3B Jon Gilmore (.312/.349/.394, 5HR, 80RBI)
1B Seth Loman (.292/.379/.514, 25HR, 88RBI)
DH Ozzie Lewis (.300/.358/.440, 10HR, 56RB)
RF Nick Ciolli (.375/.390/.600, 1HR, 5RBI)
C Jason Bour (.302/.376/.570, 6HR, 26RBI)
2B Andrew Garcia (.253/.318/.381, 9HR, 70RBI)
SS Greg Paiml (.272/.350/.380, 0HR, 10RBI)

Key Bench/Platoon Players:
OF – Brandon Short (.316/.365/.491, 15HR, 79RBI)
C – Luis Sierra (.293/.343/.418, 5HR, 41RBI)

Obligatory Prediction
Love to be wrong on this one, but Winston-Salem in five games

Sep 082010
 

For the second time in three seasons, Potomac will be taking part in the Carolina League playoffs. For the first time since 2007, the Frederick Keys are returning. It’s being dubbed as the Battle of the Beltways — though Frederick is nearly 30 miles away from 495 — by the Keys for Games 1 and 2, while Potomac will host Game 3, and Games 4 and/or 5, if necessary.

In the overall standings, the two teams are separated by just a game and a half, but it’s a nearly a ten-game swing in each half. In the first, Frederick won 41 games to Potomac’s 31, while in the second, Potomac won 39 to Frederick’s 31. Advantage, Potomac, right?

Yes and no.

It may sound trite, but clichés are what they are because they’re true just often enough: In a short series, anything can happen, and the last two times Frederick appeared in the playoffs, they limped in with second halves not unlike this one… and then went on to win the Mills Cup.

Frederick holds the season-series edge at 11-9, but broken down by halves it’s 8-2 in favor of Frederick in the first, 7-3 in favor of Potomac in the second. The visiting team has won 13 of the 20 matchups. Both teams have had big bats bumped up — Steve Lombardozzi and Mike Burgess for Potomac, Joe Mahoney and Xavier Avery for Frederick. But fortifications have come from opposite directions: demoted AA players have been the primary replacements for Potomac (e.g. Bill Rhinehart, Sean Rooney) while Frederick has promoted (Jonathan Schoop from Bluefield, Mychal Givens from Aberdeen).

On paper, this playoff series figures to be a slugfest, as the 38 combined runs scored in a late-season series suggests. Frederick, despite losing the likes Avery and Mahoney, still boasts the second-best offense in the Carolina League with 691 runs scored. Potomac, fueled by the hottest player in the Carolina League, if not the minor leagues (Tyler Moore), comes in at 3rd by that measure (665 runs) but is second in HRs and slugging percentage. Harry Grove field isn’t exactly Petco field when it comes to keeping the ball in the yard (third most homer-friendly in all affiliated minors, according the most recent three-year average conducted by the Baseball Think Factory).

But strange things happen in the playoffs, so about the only thing that could possibly surprise would be three or more games with 1-0, 2-1 or 3-2 scores.
Without further ado, here’s the breakdown, starting with the schedule…

Game 1 at Frederick, Sept. 8 at 7 p.m.
Game 2 at Frederick, Sept. 9 at 7 p.m.
Game 3 at Potomac, Sept. 10 at 7:03 p.m.
Game 4 at Potomac (if necessary), Sept. 11 at 6:35 p.m.
Game 5 at Potomac (if necessary), Sept. 12 at 1:05 p.m.

And here are the announced matchups, per MiLB.com…
Game 1 Danny Rosenbaum (3-2, 2.09) vs. Oliver Drake (6-6, 4.36)
Game 2 Trevor Holder (3-3, 4.09) vs. Ryan O’Shea (7-8, 3.84)
Game 3 Jimmy Barthmaier (4-1, 3.62) vs. Zach Clark (2-3, 5.25)
Game 4 Marcos Frias (7-5, 5.69) vs. Luis Noel (3-2, 6.18)
Game 5 TBD vs. TBD

And — don’t underestimate this, it matters big-time — the weather forecasts…
Game 1 – 78° and clear
Game 2 – 76° and clear
Game 3 – 76° and clear
Game 4 – 76° and clear
Game 5 – 81° scattered t-storms (40%)

Projected Starting Lineups
POTOMAC
3B Dan Lyons (.221/.352/.306 , 1HR, 13RBI)
C Derek Norris (.235/.419/.419, 12HR, 49RBI)
RF Bill Rhinehart (.254/.328/.466, 14HR, 51RBI)
1B Tyler Moore (.269/.321/.552, 31HR, 111RBI)
DH Sean Rooney (.258/.320/.400, 3HR, 22RBI)
LF Jamar Walton (.302/.309/.453, 1HR, 11RBI)
SS Jose Lozada (.256/.307/.390, 6HR, 34RBI)
CF Nick Moresi (.236/.283/.342, 1HR, 24RBI)
2B Francisco Soriano (.198/.319/.302, 1HR, 10RBI)

FREDERICK
CF Kyle Hudson (.260/.348/.304, 40SB, 83R)
LF Bobby Stevens (.256/.354/.350, 4HR, 39RBI)

CF Xavier Avery (.280/.349/.389, 28SB, 73R)
LF Kyle Hudson (.260/.348/.304, 40SB, 83R)
RF Ronnie Welty (.282/.349/.464, 18HR, 82RBI)
3B Billy Rowell (.275/.348/.408, 11HR, 61RBI)
2B L.J. Hoes (.278/.375/.368, 3HR, 44RBI)
1B Tyler Townsend (.284/.385/.552, 3HR, 14RBI)
SS Pedro Florimon Jr. (.288/.361/.423, 4HR, 33RBI)
C Brian Ward (.199/.322/.254, 2HR, 30RBI)
DH Jonathan Schoop (.238/.273/.381, 0HR, 3RBI)

Update: Potomac’s radio broadcaster, Will Flemming, is reporting via Twitter that Xavier Avery has been reassigned from Bowie to Frederick

Obligatory Prediction
Potomac in four games.

Aug 222010
 

The Winston-Salem Dash reasserted themselves as the class of the Carolina league with a 9-8 victory (and a series win) over Potomac today. But with a four-run eighth and the tying run being cut down at the plate in the ninth to end the game, Potomac let it be known that this may not be the last time these two teams meet in 2010.

The allure of a rehabbing pitcher is a great marketing tool to draw casual fans to a minor-league, but regular readers of this space already know that rehab starts are overrated. This Sunday was no exception.

Despite the threat of rain, Yunesky Maya took the mound in Potomac and looked every bit the pitcher who hadn’t faced experienced professional hitters in more than a year. And make no mistake: This Winston-Salem team can hit. As a team, they’re averaging a line of .287/.351/.432 in a league where the median is .260/.330/.386

Maya’s command was spotty, but he got hitters out the first time through the lineup while fiddling with both his pitches (fastball, slider, curve) and his arm angle (overhand and three-quarters). At times his motion was fluid, but more often than not, he was slow and deliberate. The most impressive of his pitches was his curve, which he threw at two distinctly different speeds.

The second time through the lineup, the Dash took advantage of Maya’s rust as the first six batters reached base in the fourth inning before he retired the No.9 hitter by strikeout, as the Dash scored five runs on five hits and two walks during the inning. The fifth inning wasn’t any better, as the cleanup hitter smacked a long solo HR to right field and the second batter walked before he was lifted with no outs by manager Gary Cathcart.

Maya’s final line: four-plus innings, six runs (all earned) on seven hits, with three walks and four strikeouts.

Put in a 6-1 hole by a rehabbing pitcher, the Potomac offense did not, however, roll over. They would mimic their opponents in the sixth with a walk and four singles sandwiched around a strikeout by Jose Lozada, who smacked a would-coulda-grand slam for a very loud strike one, to cut the lead to 6-3.

Winston-Salem answered right back with three runs in the seventh to go back up 9-3. Like a punch-drunk boxer, the response would come late, in the bottom of the eighth. With one out, Lozada doubled, Jerome Walton singled to score him for a 9-4 tally, then Francisco Soriano walked to load the bases for Chris Curran.

Curran blistered a ball down the first base line that the first baseman was unable to handle — a questionable ruling as an error — but a play that sent home both Walton and Soriano to narrow the gap to 9-6. Sean Nicol’s infield single off Dash closer Tyson Corley would complete the four-run rally, Winston-Salem 9, Potomac 7 after eight full innings.

In the bottom of the ninth, Potomac would rally once again with one out. Sean Rooney doubled to left, Lozada singled to move him to third, and Walton singled to score Rooney. Soriano would fly to right, Lozada tagging to take third. A wild pitch sent Lozada scampering home for the possible game-tying run, but the catcher got a strong rebound and gunned it to Corley for the tag, the third out, and a 9-8 final in favor of the Dash.

The loss, combined with a Wilmington win in Lynchburg, reduces the Potomac lead back to 1½ games as the Blue Rocks come to town tomorrow for a three-game showdown. Trevor Holder is set to take the hill against Aaron Crow, the Washington Nationals No. 9 draft choice that went unsigned in 2008.

Aug 182010
 

Early last week, we looked at the playoff chances for the seven Nationals affiliates. The underlying tone was who and when for promotions that would qualify players for the Arizona Fall League, an exercise that has taken on greater meaning with a front office that promotes deliberately and carefully. Just how (much more) would the Potomac roster be gutted altered to meet this goal was the primary question; who would be backfilled from Hagerstown would be the secondary question.

On Monday afternoon, Michael Burgess got the call providing part of the primary answer. On Monday night, a scan of the Potomac box score provided a little more… Derek Norris and Tyler Moore were staying put. Last night, the secondary answer came when minor-league free agent Jamar Walton was assigned to Potomac and played right field in the second game of a doubleheader. Like a middle child, Potomac would have to achieve without advantage or favor.

Now that the other shoe has dropped, here’s a quick revisit of where the affiliates stand as we enter the home stretch…

SYRACUSE
Trailing Louisville for the wild card by 4frac12; games going into last night’s game, the Chiefs needed to sweep to have much of a chance of making a run. They lost. Most of the drama will be who gets the callup in September.

HARRISBURG
The infusion of Mike Burgess and Steve Lombardozzi can only help one of the system’s more lackluster offenses, but the trend of falling behind early continues to put more pressure on the bullpen, as witnessed last night. Still only out by two games, but no games remain against the team they’re trying to catch (Bowie) and there’s still seven games against Eastern Division powerhouses Trenton and New Hampshire.

POTOMAC
While not the narc-at-biker-rally beatings of years past, Potomac still has trouble winning in Kinston and has seen its lead dwindle to one in the past two days, thanks to three straight losses by one or two runs. They return home this weekend to play playoff-bound Winston-Salem, then Wilmington next week for three games. After that first-vs.-second showdown, the P-Nats take the road for eight games: three against first-half-winner Frederick and five against division-leading Salem. Meanwhile, after its series with Potomac, Wilmington goes to last-place Lynchburg for three then plays out the string with seven straight at home against Myrtle Beach and Frederick. It will basically come down to who’s the hotter team over the last 11 days of the season.

HAGERSTOWN
Three straight wins have pulled the Suns out of the cellar, but with an elimination number of just 10 with ~19 games left, the team needs to go 13-6 just to finish .500 overall for the year.

VERMONT
The Lake Monsters lead the division by one game, but have been playing below .500 ball for nearly six weeks. There’s still a series left against the second-place Connecticut Tigers, but no games left against third-place Tri-City, who could potentially pass both teams in the standings. Still time left, but pitching, which was a strength early on, has become a weakness.

GCL & DSL NATIONALS
Both teams have been eliminated. The DSL Nationals can still finish above .500 but the GCL Nationals are playing out the string and whatever pride they may perceive in not finishing last in their division.

Aug 092010
 

While development is the key goal of the minors, real fans (or at least the season-ticket holders) do like to see some playoff baseball. For the first time in recent memory, there are more than one or two Nationals affiliates that could actually make the playoffs. This, we believe, is a nice byproduct of GM Mike Rizzo’s tendency to promote slowly and methodically versus the previous regime’s “pluck ‘em and who cares if it [fouls] ‘em” mindset behavior that ruined more than a couple of prospects.

Here’s a look at their chances…

SYRACUSE
Five or six weeks ago, this team seemed like it might be a lock to make the playoffs, buoyed by some kid pitcher, Stras-something-or-other. Since then, they’ve been in a tailspin going from first place to third place and falling to nearly 10 games back. But with a wild card, and seven games left against the two teams they’re chasing for it (Louisville and Buffalo), it’s still possible, but not very probable.

HARRISBURG
Winning eight straight will bring any team back from the dead, and Harrisburg is no exception. Though Danny Espinosa has already been promoted to AAA, an infusion of prospects from Potomac is imminent with the Arizona Fall League promotion deadline coming next week, and with Brad Peacock already a Senator, it’s likely that most of these “AFL promotions” will be batters — a weak spot for the Senators. That’s the good news. The bad news is that they’ve got no games left against Altoona and Bowie, the two teams in front of them in the Western Division, eight games against the Eastern Division’s top two teams. The Senators are 1½ games behind Bowie for 2nd place.

POTOMAC
Full disclosure to any first-time reader: I’m a season-ticket holder to Potomac. The rest of you know I’m no Pollyanna, so here goes… This team is coming off a seven-game road trip where they did what they had to do: make hay against the younger and weaker teams in Lynchburg and Myrtle Beach. They have to do the same this week against those same two teams to have a chance before (A) they lose their best players to the aforementioned AFL promotions (B) Wilmington comes to town on August 23-25. As of this writing, Potomac leads Wilmington by 1½ games. If they can extend that lead to three or four games by the time the Blue Rocks visit, they’ll have a decent chance before a much, much harder road trip — three against Frederick, five against Salem, which has the best overall record in the Carolina League.

HAGERSTOWN
Mathematically alive, but at 9½ games back with 27 games to go, it’s not happening. Most of the drama will be who gets the call to backfill the promotions from Potomac to Harrisburg.

VERMONT
The Lake Monsters began their schedule with a bang, winning 15 of their first 20, but have since gone 12-17 over the past 29 games. Like Potomac, they only have one series left against the second-place team, Connecticut. Like Harrisburg, they still have six games against one of the league’s powerhouses. Offense does not seem to be the problem, but pitching does. Three starters (Swyneburg, Jordan, McKenzie) posted ERAs of 6.55 or worse in July, so the adjustments they make over the next three starts or so will determine both whether or not Vermont makes the playoffs, and how deep they’ll go.

GCL NATIONALS
At 15-24, the GCL Nationals are 10 games back with three weeks left to play. Their elimination number is nine.

DSL NATIONALS
The DSL Nationals should be eliminated by the end of the week, but this is mostly a function that only six teams out of 34 make the cut. The DSL Nationals have been hovering near .500 for most of the year.