Sunday, September 4, 2016

A Buttery Buzzsaw, Biscuits Win North Division

 The Smokies didn't stand a chance in spite of tying the game late. Justin Williams thought about hitting a walk off homer, but settled for a double.
Pinch runner Tommy Coyle scored the gamewinning run when Juniel Querecuto's perfect sac bunt was mishandled and thrown for an error.

Q wins it

Players celebrated after the victory, including the required dousing of the skipper with icewater.

Fans who have been following the team all season were jubilant about the victory.

Perhaps the play of the game left even the Biscuit players buzzing afterwards about Juniel Querecuto, though surprisingly it wasn't his sac bunt that became a walkoff gamewinning error by the pitcher.

It was his defensive wizardry earlier in the contest. With a runner on second a sharp grounder to 2b Juniel Querecuto looked like a routine 4-3 putout but Q threw to third base and caught the Smokies baserunner by surprise when he arrived.

Third baseman Patrick Leonard wasn't surprised though, he told me that he and Q had talked about that type of play and they were ready when that situation came up!

Patrick Leonard asked me which team I thought was better, this years or last.

For sure, this years team is better.
Here is why I think so...

While last years team was special and earned its playoff run on good pitching and a lot of heart, this squad brings more quality to the lineup all the way around the diamond.

A huge factor was an injury to Johnny Field in the last weeks of the 2015 season that sapped the Biscuits of their every day left fielder and a valuable bat just ahead of the postseason. This year the team has had its injuries but has mostly overcome them.

 Last years Biscuits outfield was manned by two major league quality guys, Goeddel and Rickard were Rule 5-ed to the big leagues based on their play in Montgomery.

However this year the outfield is even deeper, as this team has four quality outfielders. The Gotta-Lee-Williams-Goetzman outfield might be the best in Biscuits-era history, ranging deep and bringing top level fielding. Not to mention they are all quality batsmen.

And if those four just aren't enough, Jake Bauers plays a great right field too!

Across the infield there is no chink in the armor, no soft spot or weakness to exploit.

Adames turns two with ease
Shortstop Willy Adames has superstar range and a cannon arm.

Second base has been Kean Wong, who brings excellent footwork around the keystone sack.  Wong has been slowed by injury in the last week, see below for more.

Behind them are glove man Tommy Coyle and super-utility infielder Juniel Querecuto, the two combine to give the Biscuits perhaps the deepest bench in the league.

Jake Bauers
At the corners, Pat Leonard has been solid around the third base bag, Jake Bauers defends the first base line with flair. Both bring the stick and offer reliable consistency in the lineup as well.

3b Patrick Leonard

The current pitching staff boasts seven quality starters - Hu, Guerreri, Honeywell, Kirsch, Wood, Whitley and Chirinos.

A better group may never have combined on one staff in Montgomery history, the six man rotation has excelled against league hitters. Last years pitchers were superb, but somehow this team has put together an even deeper rotation.

Sappington and Honeywell
Down in the bullpen, a pair of excellent setup men in Winkler and Ames get the ball to closer Jaye Chapman safely as well as handle ninth inning duty when needed.

Lefty Kyle Bird has been under appreciated, shutting down opponents and putting together a nice season in Biscuits livery.

 There are a few bullpen guys scuffling, Sappington and Mortensen, but both have have some good outings lately, offering hope that they have turned it around just in time for the playoffs.

Closer Jaye Chapman has been showing some Clark Kent but is still the man for the 9th inning. No closer is bulletproof but even when he lets a team score on him the Skitz often manage late runs to bail him out.

Justin O'Conner
Behind the plate, Jake DePew and Armando Araiza have stepped up in the wake of Mike Marjama's injury.

Getting back from injury is Justin O'Conner, who manages to upgrade an already excellent group of pitch receivers.

Soft hands, smart fingers and strict adherence to "Thou Shalt Not Steal" keep the opponents from racking up huge innings more often than not.

I spoke with a couple players after the game, they all said one thing in common "I want to win a pennant for Brady Williams SO bad". Not content to enjoy a second half title, the team seems to look at the playoffs as simply another part of the schedule, getting a day off before going back to work in the first round.

Jared Mortensen is probably in line to start the 5th game of the Smokies series on Monday at noon to finish out the regular season. Yonny Chirinos is expected to get the ball at some point in the final two games as well.

Kean Wong is out of the lineup due to a bruised hamate bone, it is not a wrist injury as reported. No word on how long he is expected to be on the mend, but there are a few days before the first postseason match, lets hope he feels better soon.

Taylor Guerrieri was proud of his pickoff in the clincher, but said it wasn't too tough, giving credit to his catcher. DePew gave the pickoff sign when "that guy had like a fourteen foot lead off" and the runner should have known better!

I have heard two different things on Chase Whitley, one being that he is headed to Tampa's bullpen and the other that he will take the ball in the playoffs for the Biscuits. He is the announced starter for Sundays game, but who knows what the Rays will want him to do.

I waited until after Chris Kirsch's start on Thursday to tell him he was second in the league in Innings Pitched. I wouldn't want to jinx anyone, right?

 The Lackawanna Lefty will finish the regular season among the top 20 league leaders in several categories: ERA (4th), Strikeouts (5th), Wins (19th) and WhIP (13th) as well as Innings Pitched (2nd).

Overall Kirsch made 25 starts and went five or more innings in all but two. 13 were considered Quality Starts, making him an important part of the staff.

On July 23rd he tossed a complete game shutout with seven K's against rival Birmingham.


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