Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Biscuits Clinch, Best Tricks

On Monday the Biscuits clinched a postseason berth with a victory over Mobile. Its the third straight season Montgomery has earned a playoff spot, though we are promised just a single game due to the Lookouts winning the North Division in both halves of the season.

The on-field celebration was cheerful but a bit muted, as a second place team that earns a wildcard spot should be. High fives and hugs behind the mound were quick and classy, but you can be sure that the champagne was flowing in the clubhouse afterwards.

While Brady Williams has skippered the Skitz into three straight Septembers, can he overcome yet another juggernaut opponent in the division series? The Biscuits have been "Always a bridesmaid, never a bride" in the postseason since their back to back championships ten years ago.

2006 Biscuits celebrate playoff clinch on Longoria homer
"What are the numbers for the Biscuits in the playoffs?" one Montgomery reliever asked me.

They ain't good lately, man. We have been pretty much shut down in each of our playoff appearances dating back to 2012. Even our one victory last year was a walk-off, Biscuits needing every inch of every inning to squeak out a single W.
Biscuits celebrate playoff walkoff Sept 2016

The Lookouts were our playoff opponent two years ago, handling us easily. Last year it was the Generals who were able to work around our lone win to advance. Now we face those Lookouts again, in what could be a deja-vu game for Skitz fans.

However, the players optimism has rubbed off on me a little. Montgomery may not be the team the Lookouts are expecting to see. It is almost an entirely different squad than the one that was swept at home by Chattanooga in June, knocking Montgomery out of playoff contention in the first half of this year.

That being said, both the Biscuits and Lookouts will be intimate with each others players and abilities when the SLDS starts. The two teams will play five meaningless games to finish the regular season before facing off in games that matter. I am hoping for a few rainouts in that series, so Brady Williams can save his best tricks and maybe hide the Biscuits strengths until playoff time.

And what are our best tricks?
Pitching, hitting and more pitching.

Anthony 'Sciev - pronounced "shev"
The starting rotation has been boosted with the arrival of fresh arms over the past two months. Guys like Benton Moss and 'Sciev (note the new nickname!) have been stealthy aces for Montgomery. Sunday's 1-0 shutout victory was a masterpiece of mound twirling by the lefty Anthony 'Sciev. (How did he toss a shutout with only two strikeouts? Pitching to contact like a boss!)

But its not just him, every Biscuits starter has looked better of late, turning up the heat just in time for the pennant race.

Each of the pitchers in the rotation Mujica, Cabrera, Moss, Sciev and Darnell have been hitting on all cylinders, giving the team a chance to win by pitching deep into games. They work fast, pitch to contact when needed, field their position well and have excellent stuff to work with.

And hitting.
Brandon "Sweet&" Lowe
Mojo and Kay have been here most of the year, piling up historic stats. But the bats around them have kept the pressure on opposing pitchers, there isn't much of a weak spot in the batting order this year.

Even the "B" team bench guys are better than most league regulars for other teams, simply put - Montgomery is stacked with bats.

A couple guys are setting franchise records, one guy is the MVP of a league he hasn't played in for three weeks, mid-season and postseason All Stars abound on a lineup that really knows how to share the load.

And more pitching.
Oh, that bullpen. Some teams have that guy who you want to see come in and five "oh not that guy again". This year the Biscuit bullpen has been up to the task more often than not and has a whole list of reliable moundsmen. We have so many good pitchers we have to keep shuffling the roster to get them all regular work. Its been impossible to keep up with, but great for the W-L record.

Relievers have saved this team, holding late leads and keeping the score close even when trailing. Not to mention the 20+ starts relievers have made this season for Montgomery. 
MLB AllStar Johnny Venters brings veteran leadership and big league calm to the Biscuits bullpen

The Biscuits will try to host their final regular season game Wednesday evening, weather permitting. Its been one of the strongest campaigns waged by the Montgomery squad, regardless of the final outcome when fans start debating which Biscuits team was best this 2017 club will have to be part of the conversation.

And kudos to the Tampa Rays for building a winner in Montgomery for the second half. I complain a lot about roster moves and promotions to Durham that hurt the Biscuits chances, but in the last couple months we have seen a nice flow of good players arrive to help the team.

Catcher Nick Ciuffo said he hoped the fans really turn out and asked me what I thought the crowd size would be for playoffs.
"I hope its packed out" he told me, but I tried to temper expectations.

"We aren't playing on Saturday, so thats a bonus" I replied, "but we still are up against high school football, so it could be a smallish crowd."

I followed up by telling him "Fans have seen us bounced from the first round two straight years, so get us past the Lookouts and then we might see a nice crowd."

Crowds in Montgomery like to support a winner but its just tough to draw fans to Biscuits games once football starts. Hopefully area fans turn out, because this could be the team that finally breaks through to the Championship Round. Its been ten years since Montgomery hosted the Southern League Championship Series (SLCS) so who knows how big it will be?


Monday, August 28, 2017

Clinch-skits Duo Chase History

As the Biscuits are on the verge of sending Montgomery to their third consecutive postseason, a couple of their stalwart bats are setting records.

With a victory over the Baybears on Monday Montgomery will punch their ticket to the playoffs.
Even if they lose, its possible the Biscuits will be celebrating - if the Smokies get beaten in Bham Tennessee would fall out of contention.

Putting it all together, Brady Williams has taken the club to the fall showdown in each season he has been at the helm.

With only three games left, the time is now to catch Biscuits in the last few contests of the regular season and get a preview of our playoff contenders. Even bandwagon fans should know this is the time to pile on!

A large part of the success this summer has been from the productive bats at the middle of the lineup. Up and down the batting order, Biscuit players have produced consistently. Among the best of these hitters have been Joe McCarthy and Grant Kay, both now eclipsing single season franchise records in walks and doubles, respectively.

With over 80 bases on balls, 1B/OF Joe McCarthy worked his way up the Biscuits all time numbers, passing Cameron Seitzer's 82 "just looking's" to take first place.

Mojo knows the strike zone and by now Southern League pitchers know they probably are better off not to challenge him and just let him take one base free.

Grant Kay
Playing mostly third base, Grant Kay has pounded the ball against the wall for 36 doubles so far, taking over the top spot in Biscuits single season two baggers.

Not bad for a guy I predicted would have good speed and a little pop!

Grant is a blue collar guy who gets the job done without making it look fancy.  He handles both corner infield spots and has the speed to turn singles into doubles.


I wondered how these two All-Time Biscuit feats stacked up historically and was surprised at what I found.

Garnering over 80 bases on balls in a single season is impressive, Mojo McCarthy truly has the best eye among all Biscuits. However, it appears that Grant Kay's slugging season and McCarthy's zone awareness are both among the finest performances in the city's history.

I put together a quick list of doubles and bases on balls leaders from 1965, when Montgomery re-entered the Southern League, through 1980 when the city was deprived of affiliated ball.

There are four (or five) names on the list of those with 80+ walks with Montgomery, one name appears twice in the 65-80 era.

Raul Colon
80+ BASES ON BALLS 1965-1980
88 Raul Colon '73
88 Eschen '75
84 Eschen '74
83 Robinson '72
80 Bolek '77
*90 Davidson '65 - combined between two teams

For Davidson, getting 90 walks in a season is amazing but since it takes place for two teams it doesn't qualify as getting them in a Montgomery uniform.

Raul Colon and Eschen share the top spot, for now, but McCarthy could easily pass them for the modern era lead in single season walks wearing a Montgomery uniform.

While McCarthy is have a fantastic season, Mojo will need more than just a good week to threaten the Montgomery All Time single season walk record, which goes back just a little earlier than 1965.

Back in 1959 Rebels outfielder Jim Bethea took an amazing 123 free passes. Bethea also hit 21 homers and powered the D-League Rebs to the championship in his rookie season, leading the league in HR, Walks, RBI, OBP and assorted other stats.


Time to talk two bases. Looking farther back in time there are higher totals, but in the modern era its rare to see anyone rack up doubles in Montgomery. For two base knocks, only two players hit 30 or more during those classic Rebels years as a double-A Tigers affiliate.

30+ DOUBLES 1965-1980
31 Jake Wood '69
30 Leon Roberts '73

Grant Kay

During the Biscuits era there have been eight players with 30 or more doubles, Grant Kay becoming the eighth this year as he passes Chris Nowak for first on the single season doubles franchise list.

30+ DOUBLES 2004-2016
35 Nowak '08
34 Wrigley '11
32 Field '15
32 Leonard '15
31 Adames '16
30 Washington '05
30 Brignac '07
30 Mahtook '13

The doubles record by Montgomery hitters is much more attainable for Grant Kay. Two times a player has reached 40 doubles, which could be in reach for the slugging cornerman Kay.

Paul Armstrong
In 1941 Montgomery's doubles record was set at 40, where it currently stands. It was notched by a young outfielder named Paul Armstrong, who would add 36 more doubles for the Rebels the next year. Playing in the minors first for Montgomery, then in Memphis and Miami, Armstrong was consistently getting two bases. A doubles machine, only once in his 13 year career did he fail to hit at least 20 doubles.

The record of 40 two base hits was matched in 1950 by second baseman Frank DiPrima as part of the heavy hitting Grays lineup in the segregated Southeastern League. DiPrima was one of four men with 30 or more doubles for Montgomery that summer.


Monday, August 21, 2017

A Ten Day Biscuit Party, The All-Gump Team

The Montgomery Biscuits open a ten game homestand on Monday, hosting visits from the Smokies and Baybears in their final regular season games at Riverwalk. This is a huge ten game set and could open the door to Montgomery making the postseason for the third straight season.

Highlights for fans at this homestand include Craft Beer Fest, a pair of football promotions, Fan Appreciation Night, Hat Giveaway Night, Fireworks, Massive Fireworks, TWO Dollar HotDog Nights, the last Bark in the Park, TWO Specialty Food Fests and - if we are lucky - a Biscuits Clinch party.

The Biscuits could be on the brink of clinching a playoff spot - though the math is murky since they finish the schedule on the road. Winning the series vs the Smokies is first on the list, a five game lead over the Smokies could evaporate quickly when facing off against them. Surely the Smokies know that a sweep of Montgomery would put them holding playoff tickets and leave Montgomery little time to chase them.

A sweep the other direction, with Montgomery beating the Smokies, could launch a Biscuits clinch party - depending on how the Generals fare during their next five games.

Expect the Skitz to offer postseason ticket packages quickly should the team earn a playoff berth. But even the dates are still up in the air. If the Lookouts win both halves, they would have first choice on scheduling options. Biscuits manager Brady Williams, however, has not given up on winning the second half outright.

The Smokies come to Montgomery fresh from a series loss against the Lookouts. The Cubs affiliate will be glad to be looking at an opponent NOT wearing a Chattanooga uniform.

Look for Montgomery to hit the ball and score runs often. The Biscuits lead the league in both stats and enjoy playing at home with a nice 16-9 record at Riverwalk in the second half.

Smokies pitcher Zach Hedges
Look for the Biscuits to get men on base against Smokies starting pitchers. Smokies pitcher Zach Hedges is third in the league in Hits allowed and teammate Trevor Clifton is second in WhIP, both with twenty starts each in double-A this year.

With the lowest percentage of successful steals in the league, the Smokies are not known to be the best on the basepaths. Look for the Biscuits catchers to cut down errant baserunners.

On the flip side, Montgomery leads the circuit in stolen bases and triples. Look for Brady Williams to use the team speed to keep the Smokies on the defensive.

Look for Hunter Adkins on a milk carton soon. Last seen August 7th pitching in Montgomery, the righthander made five starts and two relief appearances for Montgomery before disappearing from game action, although no roster move has been announced regarding him we must assume he snuck off to the DL.

Duane Underwood
Mostly pitching prospects on this squad, with a pair of top ten guys in Alzolay and Clifton. Many of the great Cubs prospects have graduated to higher levels, leaving these Smokies with more of a blue collar roster.

P Adbert Alzolay, ranked #3 according to MLB pipeline
P Trevor Clifton ranked #9
P Duane Underwood ranked #17
OF Charcer Burks ranked #22

Co-Closers Kyle Winkler and Ian Gibaut have combined for 24 saves so far this year. Kyle Bird leads the league in holds with ten.  

Grant Kay's 34 doubles is tied for second in the league with Kevin Cron. Joe McCarthy is third.

Cade Gotta and Joe McCarthy are among the top five in the league in batting average.

Joe McCarthy
Mojo McCarthy is also third in the league in OPS and leads the league in Bases on Balls. Joe has likely played his way higher on the organization prospect list and has become one of the top fifty players in MiLB power ranks.

Smokies cornerman Jason Vosler's 79 RBI leads the circuit and his 18 homers is good for second place in the Southern loop.

Cade Gotta's 28 steals is tops on the Montgomery club and puts him third among southern leaguers.

Biscuits stolen base leader Cade Gotta


Iron Man Joe McGinnity
I was involved in a great email exchange with a friend who is active in the Bham SABR chapter. They started a discussion on Birmingham's greatest players to form an "All Time" team and asked me to submit my list of Montgomery's finest players at each position.

The restrictions are simply that they had to have played minor league ball in Montgomery, leaving out negro league players and indie ball guys. Also that omits several local-born players, as well as the excellent military teams Montgomery had during wartimes.

Montgomery has hosted a trio future Hall of Famers who rank among our All Timers. Pitcher Joe McGinnity, who began his career with Montgomery, turn of the century era star Fred Clarke and the legendary Casey Stengel. They made the list easily based on their inclusion in Cooperstown. Earl Weaver played for Montgomery and later was inducted in the HOF, but his playing numbers didn't rank among the best IMO.

Like the HOF'ers, most of these guys are on this list due to their stellar careers more than their great Montgomery seasons. However a few, like Goat Walker, Dick Egan and Joe Pepe, were so excellent while in Montgomery that they made the list.

I broke it down into two teams with Pre-WW2 as "Old Timers" and post-war "Modern Era". Its a discussion, not written into stone. I would love to hear your suggestions and opinions, especially for the old timers!

SS Joe Pepe

C Heinie Peitz,
1b Ed Gremminger,
2b Cupid Childs
3b  Kid Elberfeld
ss  Joe Pepe
Rf  Fred Clarke *HOF/ Casey Stengel *HOF
Cf  Harry "The Hat" Walker
Lf  Riggs Stephenson
DH George Whiteman
Old Timers bench: Util Del Pratt, OF Rube Oldring

Old Timers Pitching
P Goat Walker (all time Mgm career wins leader)
P Kirby Higbe
P Luther "Dummy" Taylor
P Joe McGinnity *HOF
1930 Montgomery opening day vs Columbus at Cramton Bowl, pitcher Goat Walker fifth from right

C  Lance Parrish
1b Jason Thompson
2b  Lou Whitaker
3b  Evan Longoria
ss  Alan Trammell
Rf  Delmon Young
Cf  Kevin Kiermaier
Lf  Dick Greco
Modern bench: SS Tom Veryzer, C Jim Leyland, Util Jimmy Johnston

Rebels pitcher Mark Fidrych meets Gov. Wallace
Modern Era Pitching
P Dan Petry
P Jack Morris
P Mark Fidrych
P Dick Drago
P Mike Marshall
P Vern Rhule
P Pat Dobson
P Dick Egan (all time Mgm single season K leader)
P David Price

To the person who asked me to look up the Rebels jersey number - I found the number listed but the player it was issued to never appeared with the team. Likely this was made for display and would be considered "team issued" but not "Game Used". Contact me again and I can share more info, I should have gotten your email addy when we talked.

I am having a very tough time finding info/stats on Montgomery area Industrial League teams and players. If anyone has info on such, any help would be greatly appreciated.

For the person who wanted me to look up players on the team signed ball - I think you have a 2011 ball. I havent checked the roster against the uniform numbers yet, but I haven't forgot about you!

I am still open to Nickname The New Guy suggestions, currently "Tony Torpedo" tops the list. Send your nickname in soon, he pitches Monday and I will have to learn to spell it for the next blog!

Monday, August 14, 2017

Charging Biscuits, Nickname the New Guy, Historic Stuff

Bradys Boys have not given up on winning the division, threatening to sweep the Generals on Monday and make a late season charge at the 20 games left in the second half.

Dalton Kelly
The Generals scored first in the series on a Kevin Cron homer in the top of the first but since then the series has been all Biscuits. Scoring eleven runs in the bottom of the first quieted the opposing bench and in each game the Skitz have answered each Jackson run with multiple tallies of their own.

The new farmhands have firmly taken hold in the Skitz lineup and rotation. Guys like 1B Dalton Kelly and SP Benton Moss have Biscuit fans hoping for a bit of postseason magic.

The final few weeks of the regular season has a favorable schedule for the Biscuits. This week, after the current home series against the Generals wraps up, the Skits commute to Bham for five games.

SP Anthony Mi-something-something
Okay, Anthony, I have to admit, I can't spell your name yet.
Or pronounce it.

But you pitch great and I can't wait to hear everyone around me having the same trouble figuring out how to say it. Followed by, "whatever his name is he pitches great."

The lefty looked great in his first Biscuits game, southpaw heat and tough as nails. So I am asking for help here. Can we get a nickname for this dude?

Anthony is a six-foot-one lefthander from Detroit. He went to Michigan State and is wearing #29 for Montgomery. He has dogs and a girlfriend visible on his twitter feed, so the chances of him being a serial killer are probably low.

He deals it and we are gonna be talking about him alot over the next couple weeks, so a nickname would be super helpful. Something I can spell would be a bonus. 

Send Submissions to: DrMiraculous atsign Knology dot net
or via twitter to @DrMiraculous

I asked pitching coach R.C. Lichtenstein about the Biscuits high number of pitches per inning. I mentioned that Montgomery hurlers are among the highest pitches per inning in all of MiLB but R.C. was not at all concerned about it.

"To be honest, I haven't even talked about it before," Lichtenstein told me. "A lot of that comes from pitchers like Baez, Espinal, guys who are still learning how to put hitters away. That can skew team averages really badly. It's not a concern at all."

Fans at the park who score the game and count the pitches have noticed that opposing teams seem to throw fewer pitches than Biscuit moundsmen. But it doesn't seem to be something the organization feels is a problem.

Remember Jhan Marinez?
No, I didn't really think you would and thats okay. He only tossed five games for the Skitz back in 2015. But Marinez has a place in history that is pretty unique. Marinez is one of just six players in baseball to have been traded for a MANAGER.

Way back in 2011 Marinez was one of two players sent by the White Sox to the Marlins for Ozzie Guillen. There are only four other such trades involving players swapped for a manager in all of MLB history.

How did it feel?
"When they told me I was traded for the manager, I thought "Seriously?'" said Marinez, "I must be a good player to be traded for a manager."

Skeeter slides into third base vs Montgomery Rebels
We see Skeeter Barnes in Montgomery a few times a year as a roving instructor for the Tampa Bay Rays.

He was our hitting coach back in 2004 and is still one of the friendliest faces to see in the Biscuits dugout. Occasionally he will coach first base, getting a good look at the team's hitters up close.

But back in the day, Skeeter was a ballplayer. And he wasn't helping Montgomery win any games!

Barnes played his double-A ball for Nashville in 1979 and managed at least one triple against the Rebels, immortalized in this press photo.

For the record, Barnes hit .266 with a dozen homers and 77rbi in 1979, just his second season in pro ball. He would go on to play in nine seasons at the major league level.


AUGUST 14, 1970
Southern League/ At Patersen Field; Montgomery, AL; Montgomery Rebels 3, Savannah Indians 0. Charles "Chips" Swanson of the Rebels pitched a  perfect game.

AUGUST 15th, 1909 
Pitcher Ted Breitenstein hurls a no hitter versus Montgomery, walking only four men during the game. New Orleans wins 2-0

AUGUST 15 1920 
Montgomery, AL
"Grey Sox Return to Play Knoxville - After a successful road trip, in which they won three straight games from the Birmingham All-Stars, the Grey Sox returned home yesterday for the hardest battle of the season when they will meet the fast Knoxville Giants in a series of games to determine the pennant winners of the Southern League for negroes.

The Grey Sox are still leading the lead by a safe margin and the only obstacle in their path to the pennant is the strong Knoxville team who have played such sensational ball all of the season."

1920 Montgomery Gray Sox

Montgomery, AL
"Grey Sox Defeated Knoxville Sunday
Local Negro Team Wins First Game of Big Series From Near-Champs, 2 to 1

In a game that was featured by sensational plays and jam up pitching, the Grey Sox won the first game of the series from Knoxville, 2 to 1 at South Side Park, yesterday.

Despite the cloudy weather before the game there were approximately fifteen hundred fans present and it was acclaimed by all present to be the best game that has been seen on the local diamond this season.

Things looked pretty bad for the locals in the first inning when the visitors had two men on bases and one out and the batter hit a long fly to left field scoring the man on third, but McGavock made a perfect peg, to the plate, from deep left and cut the second runner out at home. The pitchers then settled down to a grueling duel, and both pitched jam up ball until the eighth inning but in this inning, Williams connected with one of Posts's fast curves for a single, McGavock stepped in to one for a double and Meyers hit for a single, scoring Williams, McCavock scored on a wild throw to the plate by Post and the locals took the lead, which the visitors were unable to overcome.

The honors of the day go to McGavock, the local left fielder. It was his perfect peg to the plate in the first that held the visitors down and then in the ninth inning he pegged in a long fly from deep center that cut the runner off at the plate and saved the game for the locals. In the eighth his two bagger was largely responsible for the locals first score and later he scored the run that gave his team the lead.

Both teams played good errorless ball and had it not been for one bad inning, the first, the locals would have made a better showing. The teams will play again this afternoon at South Side Park at 4 o'clock."

Site of South Side Park, near Holt Street