Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Biscuits Host Wahoos, What to Look For


The Biscuits open a five game set against the Pensacola Blue Wahoos. The Biscuits are essentially fighting for second in the North Division, now just a game behind the Smokies who are in that second place - a spot that could become a playoff ticket.

The Wahoos have already earned their playoff berth, winning the first half in the South Division. Now they sit comfortably in the third spot and are just biding their time until the postseason. They are a talented team full of prospects and veteran coaching.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

The Wahoos are loaded on top shelf potential. A tough series is ahead for the Biscuits, who need to keep pace with the Smokies over the next six weeks or so.

The Biscuits lead the league in average, the Wahoos are last. Look for the Biscuits to out-hit the Wahoos and continue to be aggressive on the basepaths.

Pitching is the Pensacola strength, nobody allows fewer hits or runs than the Wahoos. Look for the Biscuits to have trouble getting guys across the plate. However, a couple of the P'cola starters have been promoted in recent weeks, leaving the Wahoo's a little short at times.

And not just the Wahoo starters doing well, the fish bullpen has been solid by league standards. Leading in saves and second in Holds, the Wahoo relief corp is usually steady at the end of games.

LOOK FOR TOUTED PROSPECTS
The Reds top prospect, Nick Senzel highlights what is essentially an organizational All-Star squad.

Also appearing among the cast of Cinci hopefuls in the top 30 are #4 prospect Aristedes Aquino, second baseman Shed Long is listed at 13, 16th is pitcher Rookie Davis, #18 prospect Nick Longhi is on the DL, #19 Keury Mella, #23 Blake Trahan, #25 Calten Daal (DL) and #26 Gavin LaValley.


Whoa, I told you they were loaded!
Of the many names on that list, perhaps the standout is the one that doesn't stand out. Diminutive Shed Long doesn't have the look most people expect from ballplayers, but do not let that fool you. My scouts tell me that Long "looks like the batboy but has plenty of pop" as well as being a solid glove man.


SLEEPER PICK NOT SLEEPING
Not on that list is pitcher Deck McGuire. He is currently fourth in the league in ERA, but two of the guys he is behind are no longer in the league. The other two were also Wahoos, Tyler Mahle is now in Louisville and Luis Castillo is pitching for the Reds. Look for Deck McGuire to challenge Biscuit hitters and rack up strikeouts in game three.

TYLER RETURNS
Look for former Biscuit and Rule 5 Big Leaguer Tyler Goeddel. As a Biscuit in 2015 he had a three homer game at Riverwalk and was selected in the Rule 5 draft and spent all of 2016 as a Philadelphia Phillie.

Now with the Reds, Tyler returns to Montgomery for the first time since being selected by the Phils.


GABBY GUERRERO
And if that ain't enough, there is also Gabby Guerrero - nephew of the great Vladimir Guerrero. The two look very similar at the plate, with bare hands and long legs. When I tweeted the pic I took of Gabby to Vlad, even he agreed "Looks the same!"

While Gabby doesn't quite have his uncles power, the Wahoo Guerrero did win the Southern league Home Run Derby. He also has an excellent throwing arm in right field, much like his famous uncle.




LOOK FOR (EVEN MORE) NEW GUYS
If you haven't seen a game in a couple months, you might not recognize the names on the roster. The Biscuits are getting reinforcements now in droves, pitcher Drew Smith and first baseman Jake Cronenworth. Perhaps the Skitz are gearing up for a serious playoff run.

Cronenworth earned his promotion by leading the Stone Crabs in walks and swatting a steady .268 average from the left side. Primarily a first baseman, he will likely share time at the first sack with Dalton Kelly, with both also getting into the lineup as DH. Thats assuming there hasn't been an injury we don't yet know about!

Drew Smith provides solid relief, coming over from the Tigers organization earlier this year. Smith hasn't allowed an earned run since the start of June, a span of twelve appearances. That may not hold out all year, but it is just the kind of hurler the Biscuits need.


BISCUITS ROTATION
The current rotation is likely
Cabrera, Fierro, Mujica, Darnell and Adkins.



FORMER SKITZ ON THE MEND
Chris Kirsch
Former Biscuit Chris Kirsch made one rehab appearance for the GCL Rays. Kirsch is working his way back from hip labrum surgery. He said it is possible he could come back as a reliever, but hopes to move up to Durham without a stop in Montgomery. Kirsch is the only pitcher to win a playoff game while wearing a Biscuits uniform since 2008, a span of nearly ten seasons.

Another former Biscuit, Jamie Schultz, was sent to the Stone Crabs as he works his way back into form. Schultz set the Biscuits single season strikeout record in 2015 with 168. Jamie has been in five games this year at three different levels and could be in line for a stint with Montgomery at some point soon.

If Kevin Kiermaier needs a rehab game or two this week, perhaps he could do it with the Biscuits. Durham and Port Charlotte are on the road this week. Just sayin.


Monday, July 17, 2017

TreeFiddy, Biscuits Get New Guys, Team Notes


The Biscuits are hovering around the .500 mark for the second half, which would be good for first place in the other division. But alas, the North Division is less forgiving and playing even ball only gets the Skitz to third place.

The second half is easily defined for Montgomery - playoffs only require beating two teams. If Montgomery can edge the Smokies and Generals they can make the postseason.

With the Lookouts having clinched the first half and the Barons firmly entrenched in the basement, only the Gens and Smokies are left between the Biscuits and a third straight playoff opportunity.

It's certainly not an impossible task for this talented squad.



REINFORCEMENTS ARRIVE
The Big Club finally sent help for the Biscuits, particularly the rotation. With injuries to an already short pitching staff, new hurlers had to be gotten. Fifteen different pitchers have started games for Montgomery already this season.


HEY NEW GUY(S)!
There are several new Biscuits on the roster. New guys pitching are Genesis Cabrera, Mike Broadway, Hunter Adkins and Logan Darnell. On the batting side, Dalton Kelly has arrived.

Rhp Mike Broadway
BROADWAY
Mike Broadway is a veteran reliever to help bolster the back end of the bullpen. Pitching for the Giants organization the past few years, Broadway has 25 MLB games under his belt and should be pitching in triple-A.

When Broadway comes in to pitch, the stadium organist plays "New York New York".


RHP Hunter Adkins
ADKINS
Hunter Adkins is no stranger, having pitched against Montgomery as a member of the Jacksonville Suns last year. He brings a career era of 4.83 and a 7w-19L record to the Biscuits staff.

In his three starts for Montgomery he has held the opposition to just one one run twice, reaching the fifth inning just once. What he does provide is innings, having tallied over 100 IP in each of his last two seasons, which the Biscuits sorely need help with.


DARNELL
Logan Darnell is having a great time in the Southern League. Signed out of indie ball to lighten the workload and provide aforementioned innings, Darnell has two wins in his three starts, sandwiched around one clunker. Darnell has started in over 130 minor league games and sports a nice 3.79 career ERA.

Darnell offers Montgomery a quality arm, Montgomery offers Darnell a second chance to make the big leagues. Logan made four starts and a few bullpen appearances for the Twins in 2014.



Genesis Cabrera
CABRERA
Also fairly new to the team is starting pitcher Genesis Cabrera.

I was screaming for this kid to get promoted earlier this season, so far he has made four starts and won three. Pitching at least six innings in each effort, the young lefthander has a bright future and is showing he belongs in the Rays plans long term.

Dalton Kelly
NEW GUY AT FIRST BASE
Dalton Kelly is the new first baseman, slugging a cool .699 in his first twenty games. Kelly earned his promotion from the Stone Crabs and hasn't missed a beat since joining the Biscuits. 

Kellys arrival pushes the versatile Joe McCarthy into left field.


SKITZ NOTES
Justin O'Conner hasn't appeared in a game since June 30th. Is he on the DL? Probably, but the League and team websites don't show it.

Granden Goetzman hasn't appeared in a game since June 14th. During the last homestand I asked him how he was progressing but he felt he wasn't quite ready to ramp up his activity yet. Hopefully he is feeling better by the time the team gets home mid-week.

Greg Harris and Benton Moss might also be on the DL, but again, the internet doesn't know it. However the Biscuits have added players, so a roster spot has to be open somehow. Harris and Moss's injuries don't seem to be major, usual mid-season soreness, but enough to keep them from pitching for a few weeks and necessitating a series of moves to shore up the staff.

FRANCO INNINGS MATCHED
As predicted, Mike Franco has issues with the second half and has hit the DL. The Skitz most dependable starter in the first half, his 71.1 Innings Pitched for Montgomery is exactly the number he tossed in all of last year.

Going into the season I asked about his innings limit and team coaches were skeptical that it would be a problem, but after one quick stint in Durham he was returned to Montgomery and was placed on the disabled list.



WHAT WE ALL THINK ABOUT DURHAM
How bout those D-Bulls I asked.
"They have six starters and like, eleven relievers in Durham," I was told. "That's why we have never won the first half!"

Usually thats the kind of thing I hear from fans at the park, disgruntled over the Biscuits being left short handed. Sometimes its from a team employee, an usher or vendor who has as much blood and sweat and tears invested in the Biscuits as anyone. Occasionally its from a well placed source, a media member or executive type, someone who can't be named but shares the same frustrations from watching every game.

But this time it was coming from a Biscuits player. He was honestly annoyed the team was in first place with ten games left in the first half but left shorthanded and ultimately missed an early playoff spot.

It's no secret that the Bulls get any individual Biscuit who has success, particularly pitchers. The Rays pride themselves on their pitching and like to see guys move up quickly. However, leaving the Biscuits club to rot on the vine has left everyone wondering what logic is behind letting Montgomery suffer without a full roster when they have a chance to succeed as a team.

That this club is still treading water is a testament to their fortitude. However playing shorthanded all summer has left Bradys Boys wondering if the reinforcements are too little, too late.





#BullpenLife

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Whats New at the Park, Roster Shuffles




ROSTER MOVES
Fans have a hard time keeping up with the roster moves this time of year, even with a scorecard. Some players are listed as injured on the lineups given out at the ballpark but not on the league website. Some player promotions go unannounced and slip past even the most vigilant(e) of the cranks. It took five days to figure out the roster, but here is a summary:

Braxton Lee was dealt to the Marlins. He was immediately assigned to Jacksonvile.

Dalton Kelly was promoted from the Stone Crabs to fill Lee's vacated roster spot. Kelly was part of the deal that sent former Biscuits Shaffer and Motter to the Mariners.

Kyle Bird returned from Durham and got into the game on Sunday, pitching multiple innings.

Cade Gotta has been sent to Durham, unannounced on the league webpage but indeed has fallen off the Biscuits roster.

Genesis Cabrera arrived from the StoneCrabs and will be inserted into the starting rotation. Cabrera led the Florida State League in WhIP ratio, allowing just under a baserunner per inning. Cabrera had a fine first outing, piling up strikeouts without allowing an earned run.

Cabrera will replace Mike Franco, sent to Durham's starting rotation. When I tried to gripe about the rotating fifth man in the starting rotation pitching coach R.C. Lichtenstein simply said "Thats just how we do it around here!"

RHP Broadway
Reliever Mike Broadway was signed by the Rays and sent to Montgomery. He got into a pair of games this homestand and looked to have good life on his fastball.

Granden Goetzman is on the disabled list according to the team handouts but not the team webpage, and the league has yet to post it. Goetzman last played on June 14th.

Nick Ciuffo got banged up during the homestand and probably should serve a day or two as the DH during the road trip.




NEW HATS
The Biscuits finally brought in the fan-voted cap, the Biscuit Lid, for purchase. A long wait was frustrating for fans and front office alike, as the hat makers were unable to produce a product that looked like the design.

Also the Skitz announced a 4th of July hat for the first time. This year the patriotic hat has a red-white-blue motif but carefully without any American flag design, per agreement with the local Air Force base.

Why they can't use a flag is beyond me, as is how such an agreement even came about. Who brings that up at a meeting? Hopefully with new owners for the ball team and new brass at the AFB the Biscuits can renegotiate!



WHATS NEW AT THE BALLPARK
New ownership touted changes and already things are looking a little different around the yard.

Beer vendors wander the aisles with comforting shouts of "Cold Beer!" This is a staple of ball parks worldwide that has been sorely missing from Biscuits games until now. No longer need a fan with a dry throat from cheering the team have to walk across the stadium and wait in line. Beer is brought to the people!

First Base Concession Stand is open on Thursday night. Whoa, am I dreaming? Years we have begged for this, finally it has come.

Painted walls. Its a small thing, but the green paint on the wall in front of the seats give the park a good uniform look. The unpainted concrete had a construction-site feel, left over from 2004 when the city was literally finishing the paint the day before opening day.

Franx, re-purposed. Formerly the failed designer hot dog counter, now open as a quick-serve window with a scaled down menu for fast service. Excellent move, new owners!

Every Sunday is Bark in the Park. Another good move that the blog has been suggesting for a long time. Fans love to bring their dogs, dogs love to come along. Its a perfect match.



"Can they keep bringing in big crowds?" I was asked by a player who has been enjoying seeing the stands full. While noone really knows that answer, the things that have been done certainly show that the new leadership is aware of what fans want.

Now, about those ticket prices...


#BullpenLife

Thursday, June 22, 2017

1st Half Cartoon Wrap, Bright Spots, Moving Forward


With ten games left in the first half the Biscuits held a one-half game lead over the North division and were trounced at home by Chattanooga.

A wise man once said "at the end of the day, you don't tell me how rough the seas are, you put the ship into port." Anything short of success is failure, controlling their own destiny the Biscuits found new ways to lose each of the five games at home - including leaving a franchise record 18 men on base in a single game.


When the final game vs the Lookouts went to extras, a single victory in the series would have allowed the Biscuits a chance to stay alive into the last five games. But the many innings of bullpen used to cover for a lack of a fifth starter came back to haunt Montgomery at the worse possible time. The Skitz were eliminated and the last series against the Braves was meaningless.


MANY BRIGHT SPOTS
Many aspects of the Biscuits squad have been excellent, particularly in the outfield and behind the dish. O'Conner and Ciuffo have been reliable defenders and shown good progress with the bat. The outfield tandem of J.Williams, Goetzman, Gotta and Braxton Lee have been fantastic in just about all aspects.

The First Half MVP has to be Braxton Lee, who has taken control of the leadoff spot and been as good a defensive centerfielder as Montgomery has ever seen.

Braxton Lee, First Half MVP



FANS DONT ACCEPT BEING LESS THAN GOOD
It was mentioned that the victories against the Braves in the final series assured the Biscuits of a W-L over .500 for the half. Indeed the Skitz did finish four games over five hundred. However the concept of "finishing over .500" is baseball speak for "Acceptable mediocrity" and generally unpalatable to most fans. A few teams are really good, a few can be really bad, but most are just .500 teams and that is where the first half Biscuits club wound up.


HOW TEAMS ESTIMATE ATTENDANCE
Baseball teams have long been on their own to announce attendance and exaggerating the number of patrons is a long standing tradition.

While doing a bit of research I came across an 1800's era executive who was grilled by a local press man for drastically over stating the fans watching the previous days contest.

The announced number was 2217, but had been obviously nowhere near twenty-two hundred in the seats. The executive explained that the newpaper had misquoted him when he stated that there were twenty two fans on one side of grandstand and seventeen on the other.




ALL STAR GAME RAINED OUT
The Southern League All Star Game was washed away, won by Mother Nature who doused the Pcola area on the night of the contest.

Crosley Field flooded
In many ways its a bummer, but perhaps karma for the high prices the team charged for the events. One of the ticketed events was the player meet and greet. Most cities make this a free event for fans on the day before the game. Its one of the best ways for fans to interact with the players and a great way to engage the public.

For the full experience a $150 ticket seemed a bit steep but now they have offered refunds on the game charge. Each event was about fifty dollars per person. Lets hope thats a trend that doesn't continue.



MOVING FORWARD

Looks like a makeover in the pitching department is in the works.

Kyle Bird was promoted to Durham, Tyler Brashears was sent back to Charlotte, Benton Moss was inserted in the rotation and replaces the departed Hunter Wood. Moss arrived two weeks ago, too late to save the season.

Yoel Espinal also returned from Durham to a spot in the rotation.

We can expect more pitchers to shuffle in and out as the Rays try to mix and match in a reactionary fashion. StoneCrab starters Eduar Lopez or Genesis Cabrera could be ready for a shot at double-A hitters and have earned a chance to grab a spot in the Biscuits rotation.

Yoel Espinal
Relievers would help, of course, but the starting rotation must have more depth in order for the Skitz to compete over the course of the second half.

The Biscuits score about four runs a game, not enough to guarantee wins even when the pitching falters. Sending relievers to the hill as starters every fifth day saps the team of needed quality late in games and is a recipe for more mediocrity.

Without a full compliment of starting pitchers, expectations for the Biscuits second half should be greatly diminished. And if the Biscuits do reach the postseason with a strong second half they get to face the Chattanooga Lookouts.


The second half begins Thursday, weather permitting, with a five game set against the struggling Brummie Barons. The Biscuits could use a series win to start off the second season but the question marks begin to pop up just four games into the second half when the starting rotation is rounded out with TBA.



Friday, June 9, 2017

Biscuits Tussle with Lookouts for Division Title



A HUGE series against the Lookouts starts on Friday as the Biscuits host their final home series of the first half. After taking four out of five from the lowly J-Shrimp on the road, the Skitz get to take matters into their own hands against the rival Lookouts of Chattanooga in a rematch of last years SLDS opponents.

With just ten games left in the first half, Montgomery may need to do more than just win the next two series in order to capture a playoff berth.


FOUR TEAMS TUSSLE FOR TITLE
For their part, the "Noogas" have a tough go of it thanks to the schedule makers. They get to take on the Biscuits and then visit the Smokies, two of the toughest teams in the loop.

As for the Smokies, who also have eyes on the North Division title, the Generals and Noogas pose a tough challenge over the last ten games.

Of course, the Generals also want the North title, after facing the Smokies at home the Gens have a supposedly easy set against the Barons in Bham.

The first team in all of baseball to be eliminated, the Barons are the doormat of the Southern League this season and with nothing left to play for could leave an open path to the playoffs for the Generals. Providing the Gens can leapfrog the three teams ahead of them in the last ten days.


It all makes for a very muddled playoff picture. I won't even break into the tiebreaker scenarios, which could very likely come into play as well, should two or more teams finish with identical records atop the standings.


WHAT TO LOOK FOR
SERIES VS LOOKOUTS

Nick Gordon
Look for the Biscuits to face the biggest challenge to winning the first half in this series. Just a couple weeks ago these two teams traded lopsided series victories and now face off in what could be the battle for the division title.


Nick Gordon, Lookouts shortstop, will be looking for extra bases. He leads the league in hits (69) as well as triples (5) and is fourth in doubles (16).


Grant Kay
Grant Kay will be looking doubles too, he leads the league in two base hits.

The Lookouts will be looking for longballs, the Skitz have had trouble keeping the orb in the yard. Harris and Mujica share the league lead for gopherballs. As a team Montgomery has surrendered the most circuit clouts in the loop.

That being said, Chattanooga is last in the league in home runs hit with just 24. Looking for homers doesn't seem wise, as they strike out a lot more than Montgomery. They are much better looking out for a free pass, nobody walks more than Chattanooga.
 
Look for Chattanooga catcher Dan Rohlfing to strike out, he has a share of the lead league in the futile stat and possesses the talent to run away with the category.

Look for Biscuits infielder Michael Russell to do something. He has been quiet lately. Too quiet.

Bullpen backpacks come with umbrellas for relievers!



POINTING FINGERS EARLY
If the Biscuits should fail to take the first half title, the blame falls squarely on the shoulders of the Tampa Rays front office.

With the Biscuits in playoff contention the Rays felt its okay to let the Skitz go without a fifth starter.

Where would this team be if it had a full rotation, instead of relying on spot starts from Baez, Brashears and Schreiber? Not just one spot start either, its been months of wondering who the TBA pitcher on the last day of the series would be.

LATE INNING ACES
 To their credit, the Skitz pitchers forced into service to start games have done excellent jobs rising to the challenge more often than not. Its not that they are crappy and had to start. Quite the opposite, its that they are good but had to vacate their roles to fill in where another pitcher was needed.




This should be a race the Biscuits ran away with but a short pitching staff has left the Skitz fighting for their life.




 THIS DAY IN MONTGOMERY BASEBALL

Bert Maxwell
JUNE 10 1906 
Montgomery pitcher Maxwell shuts out New Orleans on 3 hits


JUNE 11 1905 
Montgomery and New Orleans play to a 13 inning, 3 run tie at MGM.

JUNE 11 1906 
Mgm Pitcher Malarkey holds New Orleans to one run on three hits
1906 Montgomery Senators

JUNE 11, 1937 
Pete Reiser appears for Union Springs in a game vs Pensacola, going O-4 with an error at third base. Reiser, aged fifteen at the time, later claimed never to have appeared in a game for Union Springs, but the box score indicates a forgettable game did happen.