Sep 172010
 

The action came early, but the suspense lasted all night long as the Potomac Nationals edged the Winston-Salem Dash 2-1 to win the 2010 Carolina League Championship.

Facing the most potent lineup in the Carolina League, nobody (*ahem*) thought that a pitcher’s duel could be possible in this series, much less the deciding game. But baseball is a game that both defies and fulfills expectations in ways that can be sensed, but never predicted.

Francisco Soriano led off the bottom of the first with a walk, took second on a grounder to third, took third on a grounder to second. Up came Tyler Moore, who drove in Soriano with Texas-Leaguer to left field for the first run of the game. Two innings later, Soriano would triple down the right field line and score on a tapper to first off the bat of Bill Rhinehart for a 2-0 lead that Potomac would build on methodically as the night would progress.

They did not.

There were baserunners in every single inning from the 4th to the 8th, most notably a one-out bomb by Tyler Moore to deep right-center, but against the most potent lineup in the Carolina League (or at least the most potent that they could face) the 2-0 lead seemed far too close for comfort.

Sure enough, Winston-Salem answered the second Potomac run in inglorious fashion, a tapper back to the mound that starter (and winner) Marcos Frias bounced off the shoulder of Jon Gilmore for a two-base error. Cleanup hitter Seth Loman cashed in the opportunity with a sharp single to left that cut the deficit to 2-1 — what you know to be final score, but the crowd of nearly 2,000 did not.

Frias would pitch five innings total, allowing the lone, unearned Winston-Salem run, on four hits and no walks, while striking out four. Joe Testa would follow him with a 2⅔ innings of hitless and scoreless relief, walking one and striking out two. Zach Dials would follow for a four-out save, finishing the 2010 postseason with his second save and a 1.29 ERA.

The win secured Potomac its second championship in three seasons, but one that was far more satisfying to see than the previous because it was so unforeseen and so unlikely, given the offensive struggles in the first half and the tendency of the front office to demote rather than promote to replenish the roster.

And for a few, there’s the hope of more… heading to Harrisburg next season, and perhaps Syracuse the year after. But for some, this is the pinnacle of their professional baseball career, if not the end of it in affiliated baseball. As they did in 2008, some will snort and sniff about the advanced age of this team and dismiss their success. And those folks… well, you can just kiss my ass because damn, it was fun to watch.

Sep 172010
 

The error that started the sixth drew a collective groan from the hundreds that braved the wet weather in Woodbridge. Though the Potomac nine were ahead 3-2, these diehards knew that the Dash can bang even when they start with a whimper. Sure enough, a sharp single to left and perfectly placed bunt loaded the bases with nobody out.

Veteran pitcher Jimmy Barthmaier had been struggling with his control, walking three in the previous five innings when he had walked just seven in nine regular-season appearances. Carlos Martinez started throwing in the bullpen and the fans were calling for Cathcart to put him in.

A popup to short got the first out, but the fans still wanted Carlos. Drew Garcia, who had singled twice in the previous two at-bats, got caught looking on an inside fastball. With the long, lean Dominican standing in the bullpen, hands on his hips, Barthmaier induced a popup to shallow right field. In the fourth, that flare found grass, but this time it landed in second-baseman Francisco Soriano’s glove for the third out. Barthmaier strode off the mound in triumph.

The energy carried into the bottom of the sixth, where Potomac rallied for three runs on two singles, two sacrifices, two wild pitches, and two stolen bases to take a 6-2 lead. It would prove to be enough, as the P-Nats would go on to win by a 10-2 count and take the series lead at 2-1, one win away from their second Mills Cup in three seasons.

Solo home runs by Bill Rhinehart and Jose Lozada in the first and second innings respectively gave the P-Nats an early 2-0 lead. The rain, light but steady, was enough to make folks worry if these longballs would eventually count. It had delayed the game 27 minutes and was quite visible on any ball skipping on the grass, an eight-inch plume of water spinning above it.

Rhinehart would lead all hitters with three RBIs on his homer and an eighth-inning double. Lozada would score three times while walking twice and Sean Rooney was the third P-Nat to collect multiple hits, including a fourth-inning triple to the wall in right-center that sent in Tyler Moore, who had been hit by pitches twice, to give the P-Nats the 3-2 lead.

Marcos Frias takes the hill tonight with the hopes of clinching his second playoff series in as many starts, opposed by Nathan Jones for the Winston-Salem Dash. Frias is 2-0 with a 1.53 ERA in his last three starts (17⅔ IP, 15H, 4BB, 14K) while Jones is 1-0 with a 2.16 ERA (16⅔ IP, 11H, 9BB, 11K) over the same stretch.

Sep 152010
 

The tables were turned on the Winston-Salem Dash as the Potomac Nationals used both the long ball and the big inning to twice overcome one-run deficits for a 5-3 victory. The win evened the Carolina League championship series at 1-1, which will resume tomorrow night in Woodbridge.

Trevor Holder was the stopper for the second time in as many starts with 5⅓ innings pitched, with two runs allowed on eight hits, no walks, and five strikeouts. Zach Dials got the win in relief, allowing hits to the first two batters he faced in the sixth but then retiring the side in the seventh.

Early on, the P-Nat lumber was still in a slumber as Winston-Salem’s Dylan Axelrod faced 10 batters before Derek Norris led off the fourth with a double. After Bill Rhinehart popped put and Tyler Moore struck out, it appeared that he would be stranded until Jamar Walton launched a two-run blast to left to give Potomac its first lead at 2-1.

Dash cleanup hitter Seth Loman chased Holder with a one-out solo shot in the sixth, tying the game at 2-2, and Ozzie Lewis greeted Dials with a triple to center. Jose Martinez followed with a single to left to send in Lewis and return the lead to Winston-Salem at 3-2.

Axelrod was lifted after seven innings in favor of journeyman Brandon Kloess. Francisco Soriano walked and stole second second base. After Nick Moresi struck out, Soriano would score after Dan Lyons and Norris hit back-to-back singles, chasing Kloess. Lefthander Hector Santiago came on to face Bill Rhinehart. Santiago got the out, but the flyball was deep enough for Lyons to score the go-ahead run. Tyler Moore singled to complete the rally.

With a 5-3 lead, Patrick McCoy took the ball in the eighth and let up a leadoff single to Brandon Gilmore, giving the crowd of 4,009 hope for another rally. But the burly lefty crushed any hopes of that by retiring the next six batters to notch the save and send the two teams back to Virginia, in what now amounts to a best-of-three with Potomac as the host.

Sep 132010
 

Winston-Salem’s Stephen Sauer pitched masterfully for eight innings to lead the Dash to a 4-0 victory over the Potomac Nationals in Game One of the Mills Cup Finals.

Sauer was perfect through five innings, keeping the ball down and in the infield with four strikeouts, a lineout, a popup, and nine grounders. The 24-year-old would eventually give up five hits and no walks before turning the ball over to closer Tyson Corley for a 1-2-3 ninth and a combined shutout.

Danny Rosenbaum got his second Game One series start and almost immediately got into trouble with the first of two errors by Robby Jacobsen and a walk before rolling a double-play ball and striking out Winston-Salem’s cleanup hitter Seth Loman. After a scoreless second, and two-hit third, Winston-Salem got on the board first with an Ozzie Lewis solo HR to take a 1-0 in the fourth.

Rosenbaum would last for 4⅓ innings before leaving with runners on 1st and 3rd in the fifth, an unusually quick hook by manager Gary Cathcart who called upon A.J. Morris to clean up the mess, which he did with by returning a tapper back to the mound to Derek Norris and inducing a liner to short.

The sixth inning was not as kind to Morris as shaky defense combined with timely hitting loaded the bases and the Dash grinded (grounded?) out two runs in the process to take a 3-0 lead. Joe Testa took the hill in the seventh and gave up the fourth and final Dash run with a leadoff double by Kenny Williams Jr. and an RBI single by Loman.

Jose Lozada collected the first Potomac hit with a leadoff single in the sixth and took second on a Nick Moresi swinging bunt and third on Chris Curran single to right. Sean Nicol, however, grounded out to end the threat. Tyler Moore became the second runner stranded after he narrowly missed an opposite-field home run in the seventh. And in the eighth, back-to-back singles by pinch-hitter Sean Rooney and Curran went for naught as pinch-hitting Francisco Soriano couldn’t get the clutch hit.

Trevor Holder will be asked to split the series as the Game Two starter against Winston-Salem’s Dylan Axlerod takes the hill with hopes of giving the P-Nats the poison pill and a trip to Woodbridge with 2-0 lead.

Sep 112010
 

While Potomac took the 2-1 lead it was seeking with a decisive 7-1 win over Frederick, the news was not so good from Harrisburg, as the Senators dropped a 7-2 decision to the Altoona Curve.

Curve prospect Justin Wilson battled with his control (five walks in six innings pitched) but the Senators could not solve the 23-year-old, who allowed just two hits and struck out seven. Meanwhile, Ryan Tatusko was touched for three runs in the third as he gave up eight hits and two walks total over six innings. For the second straight night, the Senator bullpen was ineffective, surrendering four runs in three innings.

But you can’t win if you don’t score, and the string of goose eggs on the board wasn’t broken until the bottom of the ninth, as Adam Fox homered to break up the shutout. Harrisburg would collect just six hits total and strand eight base runners, going 1-for-10 with RISP.

Tanner Roark (1-1, 2.50) takes the hill late this afternoon, opposed by Tony Watson (6-4, 2.67), as Harrisburg looks to force a Game 5 tomorrow afternoon in Altoona.

For the bullet-point folks…

Team Pitching Star Hitting Star #1 Hitting Star #2
Harrisburg Senators
L, 7-2
Cory VanAllen
1IP 0H 0R 0BB 0K
Josh Johnson
1-1, 3BB
Steve Lombardozzi
2-4, BB
Potomac Nationals
W, 7-1
Jimmy Barthmaier (W, 1-0)
5⅔IP 2H 0R 1BB 7K
Bill Rhinehart
2-3, R, BB, HR, 3RBI
Tyler Moore
2-4, R, HR, RBI
Sep 102010
 

Back-to-back jacks in the top of the 7th inning by Bill Rhinehart and Tyler Moore broke open a 3-0 game as the Potomac Nationals took a 2-1 series lead with a 7-1 win over Frederick on Friday night.

Entering the game, Rhinehart had been hitting just .100 (1-for-10) in the series; Moore just .250 (2-for-8) but both would break out at home to collect multiple hits and fuel the Potomac offense.

Pitching, however, would be the name of this game. Veteran Jimmy Barthmaier would go the first 5⅔ innings and give up just two hits and one walk while setting down seven Keys on strikes, mixing curves with changes and fastballs to keep the Frederick nine off base and off stride. He would allow just two hits and walk just one while striking out seven.

A.J. Morris would relieve Barthmaier in the sixth and go two innings before running out of gas and loading the bases in the eighth before turning it over to Pat McCoy, who exploited the impatience of Miguel Abreu for a groundout to third to end the innings, the lone Frederick run coming on a passed ball that was ruled a wild pitch.

McCoy set down the side in order in the ninth to nail down the 7-1 win and give Potomac a 2-1 series lead, with two chances to punch their ticket for a return trip to the Mills Cup Finals, which they last won in 2008.

Sep 092010
 

With the 2-3 format that’s prevalent in the minors and independent baseball, winning Game One is crucial for the visiting team.

Why?

Because it instantly negates the chance of the first-half team, the home team for Games 1 and 2, either sweeping or going on the road only needing to win one game.

Harrisburg was up to the task, responding to a three-run 1st with a five-run 2nd and putting away Altoona with another five-run rally in the 8th en route to a 10-5 victory.

Potomac refused the hospitality of five walks and a two-out error that built an 8-0 lead after its half of the 1st and let the Keys back into the game with a seven-run rally. Instead, the bats napped for the next eight innings until Derek Norris went deep on an opposite-field blast to tie it in the top of the 9th at 9-9. A three-base error by Tyler Moore on a sacrifice gave the Keys the Little-League-esque win at 10-9.

Tom Milone started for Harrisburg and bore down after the first to go 5⅔ innings, with three runs allowed (two earned) on four hits and two walks. He allowed one home run, but struck out seven.

Danny Rosenbaum started for Potomac and lasted just one inning, giving up seven earned runs on four hits and two walks, the big hurt coming on a two-out grand slam by Brian Ward, his fourth professional home run.

For the rest of the highlights…

Team Pitching Star Hitting Star #1 Hitting Star #2
Harrisburg Senators
W, 10-5
Hassan Pena
2IP 0H 0R 0BB 1K
Jesus Valdez
2-5, R, 3RBI
Ofilio Castro
3-5, R
Potomac Nationals
L, 10-9
Pat Lehman
3⅓ IP 5H 2R 0ER 0BB 6K
Jamar Walton
1-4, R, HR, 4RBI
Derek Norris
2-3, 2R, 2BB, HR, RBI
Sep 072010
 

Our final 2010 look at the leaders, trailers, and outliers in the Washington Nationals minor leagues, with a focus on the level where the prospects shone the brightest, not counting some guy who made a tour for service-time reasons (*ahem*).

SYRACUSE 76-67, 2nd place IL North, 11 games back

Good Bat: Danny Espinosa .295/.349/.463 in 24G
Arm: Josh Wilkie 2.45ERA, 1.13WHIP, 2HR in 69⅔ IP
Bad Bat: Chris Duncan .191/.274/.302 in 82G
Arm: Collin Balester as a starter: 11.57ERA, .385OBA
Interesting Bat: Boomer Whiting .372OBP, 36/48 SB
Arm: Erik Arnesen 1.29WHIP, 3.95ERA in 107IP

HARRISBURG 77-65, 2nd place, 5 games back, E.L. West Division Wild Card

Good Bat: Chris Marrero .294/.350/.450 in 141G
Arm: Tom Milone 12-5, 2.85ERA ( in ’09, 12-5, 2.91ERA), 155K in 158IP
Bad Bat: Sean Rooney .165BA in 31G
Arm: Aaron Thompson 4-13, 5.80ERA, 1.59WHIP
Interesting Bat: Steve Lombardozzi .295/.373/.524 in 27G
Arm: Tanner Roark 1.22WHIP, 2.50ERA in 6 starts since acquisition

POTOMAC
39-30 in 2nd Half, 70-69 overall — 2nd-Half CrL North Division winner by 2½ games

Good Bat: Tyler Moore 31HR, 111RBI, .552SLG
Arm: Dan Leatherman 0.92WHIP, 57K in 46⅔ IP in 31G w/ 11SV
Bad Bat: Chris Curran .226/.293/.305 in 74G
Arm: Justin Phillabaum 0-6, 6.87ERA (13.17 at home), 1.77WHIP in 29 appearances
Interesting Bat: Derek Norris .300/.535/.575 with RISP; .210/.359/.347 bases empty
Arm: Brad Peacock 5.1K/9 at A+ in ’09; 10.27K/9 in ’10

HAGERSTOWN
29-41 in 2nd Half, 65-75 overall

Good Bat: J.P. Ramirez .296/.341/.470 in 132G
Arm: Danny Rosenbaum 2.32ERA, 1.22WHIP in 18G
Bad Bat: Adrian Nieto .195/.291/.253, 13E in 60G
Arm: Josh Smoker 7.38ERA, .319OBA as starter
Interesting Bat: Justin Bloxom .309/.355/.476 in ’10; .228/.346/.303 in ’09 at Vermont
Arm: Rob Wort 2.08ERA, 185OBA; 3.91ERA, .247OBA in ’09 at GCL

VERMONT
36-38, 3rd Place Stedler Division of NY-Penn League, 2 games back

Good Bat: David Freitas .307/.408/.450 in 62G
Arm: Neil Holland 1.04WHIP, 37K in 32⅔ IP in 19G
Bad Bat: Hendry Jimenez .218/.291/.279 in 51G
Arm: Chris McKenzie 1.97WHIP, 8.54ERA in 26⅓ IP over 8G (6GS)
Interesting Bat: Wade Moore .287/.394/.392, ’10 D-2 draftee
Arm: Mark Herrera 1.18WHIP, .220OBA, ’10 Juco draftee

GCL NATIONALS
24-32, 4th place GCL East Division, 13 games back

Good Bat: Randolph Oduber .366/.434/.569 in 39G
Arm: Nick Serino 1.01WHIP, 3.16ERA in 25⅔ IP
Bad Bat: Rashad Hatcher .200/.241/.218 in 32G
Arm: Mike Gallo 8.38ERA, .291OBA in 19⅓ IP
Interesting Bat: Angel Montilla .285/.350/.383 in 51G
Arm: NDFA Billy Ott 0.83WHIP, 1.17ERA in 23IP

DSL NATIONALS
36-35, 5th Place, Boca Chica East, 10 games back

Good Bat: Victor Chavez .309/.420/.412 in 46G
Arm: Wirkin Estevez 1.04WHIP, .233OBA in 82⅔ IP
Bad Bat: Yamaicol Tejeda .042BA in 48AB over 32G
Arm: Jorge De La Cruz 9.88ERA in 11G
Interesting Bat: 18-y.o. Paul Chacin .281/.355/.336 in 50G
Arm: Adalberto Mieses 1.42WHIP, 33BB, 5HR, 2.98ERA
Sep 052010
 

For the second time in three seasons, the Potomac Nationals are playoff-bound. They clinched with a 2-0 shutout of the Kinston Indians in the opening game of a doubleheader, the second shutout in as many games.

Perhaps more satisfying is that it came against Kinston ace Joe Gardner, who had beaten the P-Nat nine that past two times they had faced him. Or maybe that Trevor Holder kept the ball down and in the yard for six scoreless innings, just the second time a zero had appeared in the run column of his pitching line all season long.

Early on, it looked like it might be a rout. Derek Norris and Bill Rhinehart drew back-to-back walks with one out to bring up Tyler Moore, who scorched a grounder that third-baseman Kyle Bellows couldn’t handle and left-fielder Donnie Webb nearly misplayed (yes, it was hit that hard) for an early 1-0 lead. Webb recovered in more than enough time to throw out Rhinehart attempting to go from first to third.

After another walk, this one to Sean Rooney, Gardner got Jerome Walton to ground out to end the threat. It would be the first of 13 batters in a row he would retire.

Indian catcher Chun Chen would smack a double to left field to lead off the second and the feeling of a rout came back, but in the opposite direction. But then a funny thing happened: Holder struck out the side, en route to retiring nine straight.

After a brief threat in the fifth, which Holder escaped with a nicely turned 5-4-3 double play, Potomac would get an insurance run in the bottom of the sixth, as Francisco Soriano led off with a walk, stole second, and took third on an error before Norris drove him in with a single to left.

Holder would finish with three hits allowed and six strikeouts against no runs and no walks to give way to Pat McCoy, who retired the Indians 1-2-3 for save no. 6, clinching the second-half Carolina League North Division title for Potomac.

GAME TWO
With the playoff bid secured, Rhinehart, Norris and Moore were given the rest of night off and swingman Carlos Martinez got the nod to start. The veteran swingman would put in four innings of work, leaving with a 1-1 tie before giving way to Justin Phillabaum.

For the 15th time in 29 appearances, Phillabaum was scored upon, coughing up three runs in the fifth with a bases-clearing, two-out triple by Abner Abreu. Inexplicably, Phillabaum was asked to throw again in the sixth. Predictably, the Indians torched him for another three runs, a no-doubt-about-it blast to right by Bo Greenwell.

Down 7-1 in the sixth, the P-Nats showed some heart to rally for three runs in the sixth and one more in the seventh, but the damage had been done as the Potomac would fall in the nightcap by a count of 7-5.

Aug 222010
 

Baseball is a game of failure, lots of it, actually. It’s also a game that offers a chance at redemption. It might come on the next play, the next inning, or the next night, but it almost always comes.

On Friday night, Derek Norris was asked to advance the tying run to third via the bunt with no outs in the ninth inning, and he popped it up halfway down the first base line. Regardless of whether it was a poor decision to ask him do it (and it was), the sting of failure still hurts because the cat-calling casual fans don’t understand.

Fast-forward to Saturday night, and in his next at-bat, Norris comes up with one on and one out, the P-Nats down 2-0. With one swing of the bat, Friday night was forgotten as the game was tied with one swing of the bat.

Tyler Moore would single, Sean Rooney would double him in, and the P-Nats would take the lead at 3-2 and never look back as both Norris and Moore had a night to remember, combining for seven hits, seven runs, and… wait for it… seven RBI as Potomac would pound Winston-Salem for a 9-2 victory.

Moore would homer twice to tie the franchise record at 28 and drive in five runs to eclipse the century mark in RBIs, the first player to do it since Troy Farnsworth in 2000 (113) and the sixth overall, according to the P-Nats website. He went 4-for-4 on the night, doubling, and homering twice after his first-inning single.

Norris would walk and double, scoring all four times he reached base, his on-base percentage raised to .426, second only to since-promoted Eric Hosmer of Wilmington in the Carolina League.

Starter Adrian Alaniz picked up his seventh win of the season, laboring through five innings against the league’s very best offense but would not give up another run after the first inning — a flat fastball that Dash cleanup hitter Seth Loman lined over the right-centerfield wall for both Winston-Salem runs — allowing six hits total, walking two, and striking out five.

The win combined with a loss by Wilmington extends the Potomac lead to 2½ games and three in the loss column. The Blue Rocks come to town on Monday for the final three games between these two teams. The recently signed IFA and former Cuban National team pitcher Yuniesky Maya is the announced starter for today’s game, opposed by Winston-Salem’s Terry Doyle, who has pitched twice against the P-Nats at Winston-Salem, allowing three runs over 13 innings.