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.