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.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Hot Biscuits Get A Taste of First Place


Its been a while since my last post - I have been enjoying one of the unlisted perks of being a season ticketholder. A head cold brought on from sitting in the rain delay after the team tweeted "no rain here so come on down to the park!" Its nothing an array of over-the-counter meds can't dull but it has kept me from being able to focus on a computer screen.

sure, kid, keep telling yourself that


The Biscuits got their first taste of the Jumbo Shrimp and a share of first place. After whupping the Smokies for four of five games, the Skitz are streaking to the top of a crowded division race.

The Lookouts and Biscuits entered the week with identical win-loss records, the Generals just two games behind with just three series left to play in the first half. Montgomery gets a small advantage in playing lower teams in the south Division, Jacksonvile and MissBraves on the road, both with a .500 or lower W-L record.

The snag could be the home set against the Lookouts, who have always played the Biscuits tough. Montgomery is just 4-6 against Chattanooga in the last ten contests.


So Montgomery could be about to win the first half for the first time in franchise history. Or they could end up as low as fourth. One thing is for sure, its a wild ride and the first half title is theirs for the taking.




ALL STAR SKITZ
Having a cold this week also meant I was unable to predict the Biscuits AllStars. A bummer since I could have easily guessed those who made the squad. Congrats to those AllStar Biscuits, certainly the team would not have had the season it has without them.


MIKE FRANCO
Franco has quietly turned into the best starter on the staff, winning five of his 11 starts and keeping runners off base Franco has kept the Skitz in the game. Franco has been a consistently steady starting pitcher, keeping hitters to just a .212 batting average.

The only concern with Franco is his innings pitched, last year he totaled a career high 71 innings pitched and is already nearing that total in just a half season. Will the Rays allow him to blow past that limit or shut him down at some point to save him from potential injury?

JOSE MUJICA
The "Baby Pedro" of the Biscuit rotation has a very similar delivery to the Hall of Famer Martinez, this Venezuelan hurler has been nothing short of excellent since his arrival in mid-April.

Winning five of his ten starts for Montgomery so far, Jose has been stingy on baserunners. Posting a WhIP of 0.99 the righthander has kept Montgomery in the game more often than not.


CADE GOTTA
The Biscuit version of Hunter Pence, Gotta doesn't always make it look easy but he gets the job done well. Solid defense, a great outfield arm, plus range and an unorthodox swing that looks like he is trying to turn the ball inside out with each hack are all hallmarks of this outfielders game.

His scorching .345 batting average and 14 stolen bases are excellent, but its his gung-ho attitude that likely attracted the notice of league managers who voted him onto the Allstar Squad. Nobody plays baseball harder than Cade Gotta.



BRAXTON LEE
When the All Star conversation started, Lee had to be the first name on everyone's list. The centerfielder has taken to the role of leadoff hitter, batting .320 on the season and providing stellar defense afield.

We knew Brax was better than his numbers last summer and every day I came to the park wondering if today was the day Lee had multiple hits and caught fire. That day was April 10th of this season, the fourth game of the year. Lee had four hits and his average hasn't dropped below .300 since.

Braxton does everything one wants to see from a centerfielder and has embraced hitting leadoff - perhaps the first true leadoff hitter in Montgomery for some years. Whether its bunting for a hit, diving for a sinking liner in the outfield or swiping an important bag, the Picayune native has a knack for doing what it takes to win games.



JUSTIN O'CONNER
O's first game here was as the catcher for the Tampa Bay Rays during the exhibition game against the Biscuits way back in 2014. Since then its been an up and down ride for the backstop from Indianapolis. However after injuries kept him to just 20 games last year, Justin has worked his way back to relevance and likely regained his prospect status.

O has been effective in clutch situations, putting up a super .327 batting average with runners in scoring position. Also, you won't find a catcher with a better arm, scouts rank his throwing ability with the highest marks possible. He runs well and has excellent blocking skills behind the dish, its great to see Justin getting his career back on track.


DIEGO
Diego Castillo missed out on the nod due to his promotion, it was pointed out that he is the first Skitz reliever since Santiago Garrido in 2014 to be thus honored. Which for me says much more about the sorry state of the Montgomery bullpen than the ability of Castillo or Garrido, though certainly both are worthy. Two straight years we make the playoffs but can't get a reliever in the All Star Game?

Regardless, Castillo was an excellent addition to the Biscuits bullpen and a reliable ninth inning option, earning eight saves in ten opportunities. Losing him to Durham hurts the Biscuits but certainly his promotion was warranted.



Friday, May 26, 2017

Biscuits Quick Hits, Ex-Pirates Meet


Its been a while since the last post. After the doubleheaders two straight days, of course including early start for the first one and extra innings on day two, honestly I was gassed, wore out, flat and busted tired. It took a couple days to get back to normal after four games in two days.

Its no wonder the guys on the field have come up short in games on the road after that, even with a day off to recover there just isn't enough time to recoup the energy expended from the marathon series against Jackson.

Jackson is still tough to beat even with the new affiliation. The Biscuits had a chance to take the six game set but came up with a series split of three games apiece. Dropping the final game to the Generals had them declaring "happy bus!" aware that they could have done much worse. Notably, the Gens were rained out Wednesday, then shut out by the JUMBO SHRIMP last night.

Biscuit fans wondered if it was just seeing the Generals jerseys that put the Biscuits in the loss column so often the past couple years. But hey, that is the also the team we No-Hit last summer with four relief pitchers!


BULLPEN BULL
Someone recently complained about the Biscuits bullpen but I defend R.C's relief corps. Some of the guys are throwing the ball really well and doing great work late in the games. A bad game at home often prompts fans to question a pitchers ability, no matter what the numbers say.

 Who among the teams affiliated in the Southern League can truly afford to let a good reliever stay in double-A? Not one. As a result, the relievers are mostly guys who are trying to figure a few things out. When they figure it out, they get a promotion. So if they are here, there is a good chance they are still working to put together that streak that gets them promoted!

Nobody in the league has a bulletproof bullpen, there is no sense in throwing Biscuits under the bus for having a bad outing here and there.


QUICK HITS
Justin Williams should be back in action in a few more days, a week at most. Out with sore hammy the powerful right fielder is making good progress towards returning to action.

Espinal
Also Granden Goetzman was seen doing stretching and light baseball activities during the homestand. He looked to be moving well and is also on track to return sooner rather than later from his hamstring injury.

Yoel Espinal returned from Durham and delivered a spot start in the final game of the double-doubleheader.

Squid has been using an axe-handle bat. "Feels good, so natural" he told me when I asked him about it.

 When I asked Tyler Brashears if he had Lincecum in mind when he came up with his delivery, Tyler said he was more a fan of the Dodgers ace hurler Kevin Brown.


Braxton Lee is atop the league batting chart in a close race with Mobile's Forrest Allday.


Kyle Bird is tied for third in the league with four Holds.

Former Biscuit Matt Ramsey is tied for the league lead in saves with 12.



FORMER PIRATES MEET

Biscuits coach Gary Redus shares a laugh with former teammate and current Jackson Generals pitching coach Doug Drabek. The pair were on Jim Leylands three time division champion Pirates in 1990, 1991 and 1992. Drabek won the Cy Young award in 1990, winning 22 games and tossing three shutouts.


The Second Half
Coming up after the All Star Break the Biscuits will have a re-opening with the new ownership. All I know is that we should expect to "see things that have never before been seen at Riverwalk."

We have seen some stuff down at the park, nine foot clowns on stilts, Big Mo's helicopter entrance on the field, a pig poop at home plate during the National Anthem, the lights go out, the water mains bursting to flood the field three times in a week, Billy Gardner blow up on umpires and so much more.

This is something we will be sure to keep an eye on coming up!  What could it be?




THIS DAY IN MONTGOMERY BASEBALL HISTORY

MAY 26 1920 
FAMOUS ONE-ARMED PITCHER VS GREY SOX
Grey Sox Home as Second in League -
Fast Negro Baseball Team Will Meet Knoxville Here for Three Game Series
- The Montgomery Grey Sox are back at home after two weeks on the road and will play the Knoxville Giants today, Saturday and Sunday.
1920  Montgomery Grey Sox

Sam Streeter, GreySox pitcher
The one armed pitcher Mattox will pitch the game Saturday and all who have seen him play say that he is a wonder and he is the only one armed twirler that has ever appeared in this city.

On Sunday, Steel Arm Smith will pitch and will be opposed by Montgomery's south paw. Streeter Smith has not lost a game this year and Streeter is by far the strongest pitcher on the Grey Sox staff, so this game should prove very interesting to the fans.


MAY 28 1930
MONTGOMERY GETS NIGHT BASEBALL!

In an old and faded article we learn it is announced in the Miami newspaper that Cramton Bowl will be outfitted with lights suitable for baseball. The existing lights were used for football, which at the time was mostly a game played on the ground and the lighting was not sufficient for baseball.

The article mentions that the Montgomery club might have had to play its games at another location, presumably this would have cost the owner considerably more than just installing some new lights.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Lee in Charge, What to Look For, Biscuits Notes



The Biscuits return to Riverwalk having taken two straight series and are keeping pace in the tight North Division where just two games separate the first and fourth place teams (only the lowly Brummie Barons are out of contention). However the Skitz now face a six game set against the rival Jackson Generals, who have simply had their number over the past two seasons.


This year however, the Generals are under a new affiliation. This years Generals are last years BayBears - the Mariners bolted from Jackson in the offseason with the Diamonbacks getting their spot and vacating Mobile.


BIG SIX
Its a six game series due to a rainout in Jackson a couple weeks ago, the Biscuits will be the road team in one game of a doubleheader on Sunday. This will be just the third time the Biscuits have been listed as the visitors in Montgomery.



BISCUITS NOTES
Kean Wong
Returning to Riverwalk is Kean Wong, last years second baseman was sent from Durham this week and has been playing third base for Brady Williams since putting his Biscuits jersey back on.

Not sure if we call batting .266 struggling but Wong had as many strikeouts as hits so perhaps they want him to show a little more plate discipline as well as learning to handle third base.


NICKED UP?
Nick Ciuffo hasn't appeared in a game since the 12th, when he was in the lineup as the Designated Hitter. He hasn't caught a game since the 10th when he was lifted for a pinch runner in the 11th inning. Could he be injured or just getting a rest after taking a beating over the first month and a half?

JAMES PICKS IT UP
Mack James (left) and Michael Russell
Since Ciuffo has been on the shelf, backup backstop Mack James has been on a tear in his stead. Knocking six hits in 17 at bats with a pair of runs and a couple of RBI's, James has made the most of the opportunity and boosted his season average to .250.

RUSSELL CLUTCH
Michael Russell's average has been well below his usual but has been good in the clutch - with runners in scoring position he has 16 RBI's so far this season.

 MUDBUGS A HIT
The recent Crawfish Boil gave the players a chance to sample the promotional offerings. Kyle Bird told me he wouldn't have minded spending the whole evening feasting on crawdads, likewise Houma, Louisiana native Justin Williams enjoyed getting a taste of spicy southern home cookin.

ODD LINE
Fernando Baez stat line for Biscuits so far: 8IP 7h 12BB 18K's



LEE IN CHARGE ATOP LINEUP
Braxton Lee has come to life in his return season with the Biscuits. Batting a tidy .320 is just what is expected from the leadoff hitter, but Brax has an incredible .538 average with a runner on first base!
Groundout? Maybe not! Lee puts his head down and runs all out for every ball in play

Braxton's defensive play in the outfield has been stellar as well, his nightly webgem often earns fan praise but he also makes tough plays look easy through the use of his prodigious speed.

Now Lee has Biscuit fans wondering if Kevin Kiermaier is still the best Montgomery centerfielder or if the Picayune-born Braxton has taken that title.



GENERALS SCOUTING REPORT
The Generals and Biscuits are matched closely on paper - both are first and second in many counting stats like Runs Scored, Hits and Total Bases. The Generals are tied for the league lead in batting average, with the Biscuits of course. Montgomery shares a .268BA with Jackson.

These two teams could be in for a six-game showdown with some very close contests as the rivalry between the two cities builds.

The Gens seem to have a lot more power, leading the circuit in longballs by a wide margin with 47HRs in 39 games. Biscuit pitchers will need to keep the ball in the yard for a chance to win, a feat that has been tough for Brady's staff to accomplish so far. Montgomery gives up more home runs than anyone in the league and Jackson the fewest.



WHAT TO LOOK FOR

Montgomery has the advantage with team speed, third in the league in stolen bases. The Generals are last in the loop in pilfering bags. Look for Brady to put the runners in motion to take advantage of the Biscuit wheels.


Look for the Gens batting order to offer a serious challenge for Montgomery pitchers as the Jackson team is also among the hardest to strike out. RF Victor Reyes, 1B Rudy Flores and 3B David Vidal are among the top five in the league in batting average. The Generals middle infield is equally potent, shortstop Dawel Lugo and 2B Colin Walsh have a combined 12 homers.


Look for future stars on the Generals. Dawel Lugo and catcher Oscar Hernandez are on the Dbacks 40 man roster already and other top ranked prospects include Domingo Leyba ranked #2, Lugo ranked #4, pitcher Taylor Clarke #5, pitcher Brad Keller #7, lefty pitcher Jared Miller #10, lefty pitcher Alex Young #11 and outfielder Victor Reyes #14.


Also on the Generals is lefty reliever Yuhei Nakuashiro, a Japanese hurler with a nasty slider and a history of control issues. The Dbacks took a flyer on his potential and he can be unhittable at times and very hittable at other times. Formerly of the Chiba Lotte Marines, he doesn't throw hard but has swing-and-miss stuff. Be sure to look for the sidearming lefthanded import coming out of the bullpen, the first ex-NPB player to appear at Riverwalk since Kenshin Kawakami in 2011.




Generals starters Taylor Clarke and Brad Keller have each only allowed one home run this year. Biscuit hitters will look to ruin that streak.



THIS DAY IN BASEBALL


MAY 18 1908
Montgomery falls to Memphis 1-0 in 13 innings.

1908 Montgomery Climbers


MAY 18 1920 
"Montgomery Negro Team Tops League - Grey Sox Meet New Orleans Again Today; Jacksonville is Runner Up.

1920 Montgomery Gray Sox
- The Montgomery Gray Sox, now hold first place in the Negro Southern League with Jacksonville, a close second. The Gray Sox, however, have a hard schedule before them for the next ten days, which schedule includes a series of games with Jacksonville and Nashville. The Greys are confident that their ascendency will be maintained, and are counting upon adding even further to their winning average during the present week.

This afternoon, the Grays will meet the New Orleans aggregation at South Side park, leaving this evening for Jacksonville for a series of three games returning here Sunday for a game with Nashville Monday. The Sox will go to Atlanta for another series of three games. Sunday's game will be called promptly at 3 p.m. The seating capacity is being greatly enlarged to accommodate white persons, it is announced."


MacCormack
May 18, 1979 
Southern League/ Frank L. MacCormack of the Montgomery Rebels had 4 wild pitches in the second inning v the Memphis Chicks.



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