The Minor Leagues, Generally

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Reds v. Phils, Game 1

Game Over:
4-0 Phils

Oh, Halladay threw a no-hitter also...

Top 9:
Over. No Hitter for Halladay. It was the most methodically easy performance I've ever seen. In the Philly post-no hitter scrum, it was almost like his teammates were afraid to touch him. It's great how each postseason, one pitcher emerges as just obviously unhittable. There was Lee last year, Beckett twice, Kenny Rogers, Mariano, off the top of my head, but I've never seen an excellent offensive team be so overmatched in a postseason game. The luster of time tends to cast a sentimental sheen on great pitching performances from decades past, but Halladay tonight will be talked about and watched for decades in the future.

Top 8:
That was an absolute breeze, and Halladay is three outs away from the first no-hitter in the postseason since Don Larson in 1966. This is wonderful to watch.

Top 7:
Phils, 4-0
Whoa. Halladay got through the heart of Cincinnati's order, getting two groundouts and striking out Rolen. The crowd in Philly is frantic.

He's thrown first-pitch strikes to 19 of 22 batters.

Top 6:
Rollins made a nice play on a grounder over the mound, and now this is starting to get interesting; Halladay's still not given up a hit.

Top 5:
Phils, 4-0
Jay Bruce worked a two-out walk to at least give the Reds a baserunner. Halladay looks incredible -- he's thrown maybe three pitches in a poor location and everything is darting in either direction. Drew Stubbs, by the way, has some quietly great offensive numbers this year.

Bottom 4:
Phils, 4-0
Travis Wood has done a great job settling this game down and earning himself a start if the Reds can somehow get past the Phils three aces and into the NLCS.

Top 4:
Phils, 4-0
Halladay struck out two using the full arsenal and is, ho-hum, perfect through 4.

Bottom 3:
Phils, 4-0
Travis Wood has a fantastic, sweeping cutter. Halladay's bores sharply, and Cliff Lee's is right in between the two. The cutter is definitely the pitch of 2010.

Bottom 2:
Phils, 4-0
Volquez has three electric pitches, but he couldn't command any of them. After getting two quick outs, Ruiz walked, Valdez chopped an infield single, the Doc ripped an RBI single, Rollins walked, and Victorino drove the stake through Volquez's outing with a single to center. Mercifully, Travis Wood got Utley to roll over the end it... but this is a major hole for the Reds to dig out of, and I'm not just talking about Game 1.

Top 2:
1-0, Phils:
Halladay is just all over the Reds' bat handles. Leaked a few pitches to Rolen, resulting in some hefty cuts, but Halladay put him away with a change that disappeared straight down. The Philly crowd loved it.

Bottom 1:
1-0, Phils
Victorino manufactured a run with a beautiful slap double on a changeup from Volquez. He stole third, then Utley's sac fly scored him.

Volquez is one of those ballplayers who smirks all the time, which is annoying.

Top 1:
Halladay picked exquisitely at the first base-side corner of the plate to Phillips, OCab, and Votto and got three easy outs. Not a pitch in the center of the plate.

In stark contrast to the earlier game, it's nice to see (and hear) a home crowd with a little life. This is the most intimidating crowd in the National League.

Texas v. Tampa Bay, Game 1

Game Over
5-1, Texas
Feliz didn't look good early, surrendering back-to-back walks to begin the inning and then allowing a seething liner to right by Zobrist (who was all over everything all day) that was caught. Then he struck out two and turned out the lights with nice movement on high 90s gas. Carlos Pena struck out three times for Tampa and gave you no confidence that he was going to make contact this month.

With a questionable Shields (over Garza?) set to start Game 2, the Rays seem to Mr.Z to be in trouble.

Bottom 8:
5-1, Texas
Darren O'Day made Upton look very uncomfortable during a three-pitch AB and Oliver got Crawford and Longoria without incident.

Bottom 7:
5-1, Texas
Well, a Zobrist HR dangles the possibility that the Rays could bring the tying run to the plate if Qualls can skate through the 8th.

Bottom 6:
5-0, Texas
Lee's up to 10 Ks. Hard to believe that arguable the two best pitchers in baseball -- Lee and Halladay -- were both sent back to the minor leagues after spending significant time in the show.

Bottom 5:
5-0, Texas
Lee got his 8th K right about when TBS flashed a graphic listing him as tied for second with Bob Gibson for all-time playoff Game 1 ERA at 0.50. The don of Game 1 donuts is El Tiante.

graphic that lee is tied for 2 with bob gibson for gm 1 era, .50, 8 ks now

Top 5:
5-0, Texas
Vlad drilled a 3-0 fastball off the base of the center field wall to score Hamilton, who reached on an error. Most of Texas' hits have been of the tip-your-cap variety, but this one to Vlad was a ham sandwich.

Bottom 4:
4-0, Texas
Lee flipped huge, slow yakkers to K Pena and Baldelli, and let's move right into this Joe Madden riddle: why is Rocco Baldelli -- who had retired earlier this year and hasn't been a productive player for years -- starting this game?

Top 4:
4-0, Texas
Price was looking dominant, with another couple ticks on his fastball, then Molina popped a cheapie over the left-field fence. Looking bad for TB, as Lee is clearly settling in to this one.

Top 3:
3-0, Texas
Nelson Cruz hit a 3-0 fastball on the inside corner that was not badly placed approx. 440 feet to dead center.

Bottom 2:
2-0, Texas
Man, does Cliff Lee look good. Every fastball was either on the black or someplace unhittable but purposeful when he was ahead in the count, which was always. Zobrist hit a leadoff double, then it was K, F-8, K.

Also, batting average is a pretty meaningless stat, but Tampa has two starters hitting under .200 and neither is Sean Rodriguez. Not sure this team has the pop or starting pitching to hang with Texas.

Actually interesting from Buck Martinez: the pitcher who coaxes the highest percentage of first-pitch swings in baseball? Cliff Lee.

Top 2:
2-0, Texas
Francouer absolutely drilled a Price fastball off the center field wall to drive in Kinsler, who had singled, and Molina dropped a single into left to score the much maligned former Met who has hit .370 since joining the Rangers. The bottom of the Texas order changed their strategy against Price there, swinging early in the count. They have five hits already; this is a deep and very difficult lineup to pitch to. Lee with a lead is not good for Tampa.

Bottom 1:
Lee also stuck mostly to ol #1 and worked out of a bases-loaded jam after singles by Bartlett, Crawford, and Longoria. His cutter has so much lateral break it almost looks like a slider; that pitch looks like it'll be death on righties as it moves into their hands. Carlos Pena looks pretty lost. Hitting with the bases loaded and one out, he kept stepping out and calling time, and sure, this might have constituted a little gamesmanship, but you had the feeling he had no chance. He eventually struck out looking on a laser of a two-seamer from Lee, who has only walked 18 all year. Incredible stat.

Top 1:
Exciting initial half-inning of the playoffs. Despite two-out singles by Hamilton and Vlad, Price looked great. He threw almost all fastballs, almost all just off the outside corner. But Andrus and Cruz both worked long at-bats and got Price up to 24 pitches. Price seems determined to get through the order once without really showing them that slider.

As an aside, Josh Hamilton's batting stance is that of a left-handed Eric Davis.

Ah, the playoffs... Ouch, an early setback: Buck martinez is the "analyst" for TBS. Is he actually wearing noseplugs while making these inane observations of what is completely obvious or does it just sound that way?

Breaking Down the Playoff Relievers

Most playoff games are decided in the 6th and 7th innings, between the starter and the closer. Here are eight playoff relievers you probably haven't thought a lot about who will have major impacts in the next week.

David Robertson, Yankees:
Robertson's 1.50 WHIP isn't gaudy, but this is the guy who's coming into a close game if Pettitte or Hughes is knocked out in the 5th or 6th. He's got one of the more impressive 12-to-6 curves in the bigs and has a reverse strikeout split, so he can go multiple innings if necessary. Pretty good weapon against the lefty-heavy Twins lineup.

Jesse Crain, Twins:
Another righty with a dramatic reverse split. Crain's .OPS against is .614 for lefties and they're slugging just .333. Righties' numbers against him aren't a whole lot better, so Crain should pitch a lot to all those Yankee switch-hitters in the middle innings.

Darren O'Day, Rangers:
The new Byung-Hyung Kim, and I mean that in a good way. A sidewinding righty who's delivering his second straight season with a WHIP right around 1.00. Gets better movement that any playoff pitcher except the Phillies' Ryan Madson and maybe the Giants' Santiago Casilla. Remember this, though: O'Day and kid closer Neftali Feliz are pretty green, for what it's worth. For every K-Rod in the playoffs there are a few Jobas.

Joaquin Benoit, Rays:
Benoit was in AAA until late April. Then he struck out 75 in 60 innings for Tampa while walking 11. Eleven. That's 11.19 Ks/9. 0.68 WHIP. The numbers in this case speak volumes.

Aroldis Chapman, Reds:
Myth: Chapman can throw 104. Fact: Chapman can throw 105 with a slider not dissimilar to that of the Carlton/Randy Johnson model. And you know that Dusty The Armwrecker will be K-rodding Chapman right before your bulging eyes. A major multiple-inning weapon, though this atmosphere will be very, very new.

Ryan Madson, Phillies:
Madson is as solid as Lidge is terrifying. That sinker is a bowling ball, he doesn't give up the amount of hits sinkerballers normally do, and his K/9 this year was a career high 10.87 while only surrendering four home runs. With Contreras the only other vaguely trustworthy bullpen arm, Madson's going to pitch a lot.

Santiago Casilla, Giants:
The Giants bullpen is stacked; Atlanta's in trouble if they're losing after five innings. Sergio Romo has become the Guillermo Mota to Brian Wilson's Eric Gagne (and by the way, Mota is in SF's pen), but righty slinger Santiago Casilla is the guy in the middle who can shut down in multiple innings. Nothing he throws is remotely straight, the heat touches 97, and he's given up eight hits in the last month.

Jonny Venters, Braves:
Atlanta is going to have a tough time winning bullpen wars against San Francisco, but Venters is the best bridge they have to Billy Wagner. A robust 93 Ks in 83 innings and a very non-robust .241 SLG against. Walks are a slight weakness, though: 39 on the year.

Playoff Baseball Can Make You Legendary, Even If You Slur When You Speak

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Mr. Z Is Back

You want an apology? I direct you here.

Look here: this is a Zephyrs blog and thus a Minor League blog, but the minor leagues are over, see, so we're switching to the big boys until November.

Here at What the Zeph we will be clogging the blogosphere with live, in-game commentary of as many playoff games as we can when not fully hypnotized by inevitable Taylor Swift pregame histrionics and national anthems.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Thomas Diamond to Start AAA All-Star Game

Mr.Z has inside sources telling him that Metairie native and UNO product Thomas Diamond -- currently having a terrific season for the AAA I-Cubs -- will start the AAA All-Star Game on July 14 at 6 pm CT. The game will be played in Allentown.

Diamond is currently leading the PCL in Ks and opponent's BAA and is 4th in WHIP.

Game #83: Zephyrs Lose 2-1

After winning the first two games of a four-game set with Omaha, the Zs lost the final two to slip back to a game below .500. Yesterday's was a tough 2-1 defeat in 10 innings.

New Orleans' lone run came in the second, when Gookie Dawkins extended his hitting streak to ten games with a two-out RBI double to score Bryan Petersen from first. They rallied in the third as well, loading the bases with just one out on consecutive singles by Cousins, Richar, and LoMo off Omaha starter Luis Mendoza. But Luna grounded into a double play, and Omaha would squeeze a run across in the 5th on an Irving Falu sac fly. The decisive Omaha run in the 10th came off of a shaky Adalberto Mendez dealing with a tough heart of the Omaha order. Omaha loaded the bases with a pair of singles and a walk to Alex Gordon. The heavy hitting Kila Ka'aihue brought home David Lough with a sac fly to give Omaha a 2-1 lead that would hold up.

Starting for the Zephyrs, Sean West was excellent once again and is solidifying his position as the pitcher with the best stuff on the staff. Over 7 strong innings the lefty gave up just four hits, three of them singles. Meyer and Benitez followed West with scoreless innings.

The Zephs are on the way to Iowa for a five-game set with the I-Cubs, one of them a make-up game for last week's rain-soaked series in New Orleans.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Game #82: Zephyrs Lose 7-2

The Zephs roll skidded to a halt after four consecutive wins as Omaha easily trounced the punchless Zs 7-2 last night in Metairie.

Riding two Ed Lucas home runs and strong pitching from standout starter Bryan Bullington, the Royals never let the Zephs into the game. Wes Whisler's fourth start for the Zephyrs couldn't have been much worse, as the lanky lefty allowed 13 baserunners in six innings, 10 of them reaching on hits, four of them extra-base hits. By the time Jorge Sosa came in to stop the bleeding and strike out five over two innings, the game was out of hand.

The most interesting thing going in this one was that Rick Ankiel got his first hit while on his rehab assignment from Kansas City, a double. Mr.Z is not joking.

Game #83 is today (Wednesday) at 11:30 am. Sean West is on the hill for the Zs.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Cameron Maybin to the DL

With inflammation in his left shoulder.

Games #80 & #81: Two More Wins

The Z-train is rolling. With wins over the Omaha Royals on the 4th of July and on National "Recovery" Day (July 5), the Zs have crept over the .500 mark for the first time since April.

The appetizer game to the deservedly renowned Zephyr Field fireworks was a close, tense one. The Zs built a 3-0 lead by the 4th on RBI doubles by Gookie Dawkins and LoMo as well as Danny Richar's RBI groundout. VandenHurk was excellent through five, but an Alex Gordon double and a Kila Ka'aihue bomb tied the game at three in the sixth. However, the Zephyrs have flashed late spark recently. After Omaha pulled ahead with two runs off of Jorge Sosa in the seventh, the Zephs loaded the bases for Hector Luna, the AAA All-Star who has flourished in every offensive situation this year except for with runners in scoring position. But God Bless America, Luna ripped a bases-clearing double and Armando Benitez took your breath away in the good way and the Zs held on for a 6-5 win.

Yesterday's 5-0 win came on the strength of another good Brian Lawrence performance on the hill. Lawrence was in scatter mode over 6 1/3, allowing eight baserunners with nobody passing third. After wiggling free from a bases-loaded jam in the 6th, the Zs came up with five in the bottom half courtesy of a solo shot by catcher Brad Davis and a three-run HR by Logan Morrison, LoMo's first at Zephyr Field.

Now at a cool 41-40, the Zs have caught Albuquerque in the standings and are a mere 2.5 games back of division-leading Oklahoma City.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Donnie Murphy Called Up

Well, this answers why Murphy was suspiciously pulled from the game two nights ago. The Marlins DFAd Brian Barden and called up shortstop Donnie Murphy yesterday, citing the need for late-inning offense.

Along with Hector Luna, Murphy had been one of the Zs only power threats with Logan Morrison still not flashing HR pop. Murphy has hit 12 HRs this season. Murphy has spent limited time in his career with both the Kansas City Royals and the Oakland A's; Florida will be his third major league team.

Tim Torres was called from AA Jacksonville to take Murphy's spot and had two hits in his debut. Torres has shown some pop this year with 10 HRs.

Game #79: Zephyrs Win 3-1

Riding seven outstanding innings from Tom Mastny -- who was in the independent leagues a month ago -- the Zephyrs squeaked by Nashville 3-1 Saturday night to win their second straight road series. It's the first time this year the Zs have won two consecutive series on the road, and the team pulled to within one game of the .500 mark.

Mastny held Nashville's offense to just four hits and the Zephs bullpen did the rest, breezing through two clean innings with Meyer (instead of Benitez) getting the save opportunity. Tim Torres, debuting for the Zephs after being called up from Jacksonville, had two hits.

The Zephyrs return to Zephyr Field today to open a four-game series against Omaha. Tonight's game begins at 6 PM and VandenHurk will be on the hill opposed by former top pitching prospect Philip Humber.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Respecting Hector Luna

Most baseball organizations have one or two: quintessential AAAA guys, the ones at the head of the AAA class who are those last guys cut in spring training. Your Jack Custs, your Roberto Petegines, your Brian Lawrences, your Hector Lunas.

The 2010 PCL AAA All-Star roster was announced Thursday and Hector Luna is the lone Zephyr representative (LoMo is in the Future's Game). Luna has been excellent offensively in his first season for the Zs; he leads the team in HRs and RBIs, he's hitting .300, he gets on base (.379 OBP), and he can play all over the field. None of this should be surprising. He hit .349 for Albuquerque last year with a .414 OBP and 17 bombs. His numbers have improved for several years running, culminating in 94 MVP-like games last year for the Dodgers AAA affiliate. Hector Luna has figured out the minor leagues.

Why is this not good enough for the next level? Well, Luna is... "big-bodied" and probably an unrealistic candidate to play any major league position but third base, a strike against someone whose role is likely to be the utility one. Luna is a little like the Dodgers' Ronnie Belliard, who he was actually traded for in 2006. And he strikes out more than you wish he did -- 53 this year in 267 ABs.

All this said, Luna's power numbers this year put him on a pace to shatter last year's. If he follows up this first half with a more or less equal second, you could easily argue that the Zs 30-year-old All Star has found the one thing that has eluded him in his minor league career -- power -- and that somehow, somewhere, Hector Luna deserves one more chance in the show.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Game #78: Zephyrs Win 4-3

Just as Mr.Z ventured to publicly call out the Zs for being incapable of surmounting deficits, they build a fence with single runs in the 7th, 8th, and 9th innings to dramatically squeak by Nashville on the road for a morale-lifting W.

Bryan Petersen, Neil Wilson, and Danny Richar (who had replaced Donnie Murphy) all had clutch two-out RBI hits to cap late-inning rallies off Nashville's bullpen, sparking the Zephyr offense to a rare comeback win. Nashville starter Chuck Lofgren had limited what has recently been a painfully lethargic Zs offense to one run on Donnie Murphy's solo home run in the 2nd, his 12th of the season.

Zs starter and Shreveport native Sean West was solid again in six innings, and seems to be recapturing the potential that Florida saw in him last year, when he was a member of their rotation for 20 starts. West struck out seven and gave up just two runs, though he left behind by a run. When New Orleans tied the game at 2 in the 7th, Nashville answered immediately. Mr.Z fave Adalberto Mendez (the stats are becoming less incredible -- regression to the mean is a bitch) was greeted by Mat Gamel by a loooooong bomb to tie the game. But the Zs showed Mr.Z something in the 9th when they pieced together a rally from a dropped third strike wild pitch (Dawkins), a bloop forceout fielders choice (Luna), and Richar's huge two-out double.

The bottom of the 9th was Benitez time and was pleasantly uneventful, as the big man showed a live fastball and easily shut the door. This was one of those you file under a "team win" but Mr.Z is doling out tonight's HUGE Z to Richar for clutchness.


Top 9:
Another huge two-out hit from the Zs. Danny Richar's double off journeyman Chris Smith drove home Gookie Dawkins and gave New Orleans a tenuous lead. Tenuous because Mr.Z thinks Armando Benitez is going to be pegged to close this.

Zephyrs Pull Ahead

Neil Wilson of all people just cracked a two-out double to score Carroll, who had singled. Newcomer Mark Saccomanno will now pinch hit for the pitcher's spot with two outs and two in scoring position.

EDIT: He lined to center to end the threat. Who protects this lead? Strickland? Hmmm.. it's Mendez, and he just gave up a bomb to Gamel to tie it at 3.

The Good, The Bad

Good: The Zephs tied it by pushing across a run in the 7th.

Bad: Brett Sinkbeil -- he of the 6.75 ERA -- is in for West.

EDIT: Sink slithered out of trouble, leaving two on base.

Oh Wow

Bottom 6:
The Zephyrs did something interesting! Brett Carroll just threw out Joe Koshansky at first on a ground-ball single to right. Props to LoMo for even expecting the throw. Mr.Z remembers Jessie Barfield doing that once back in the day. Anyone got some more right fielders who have thrown out guys at first on a single?

Donnie Murphy Removed From the Game

No word why and Steve Miller isn't talking (nor smoking, joking, or midnight toking) with him in the dugout. Murphy probably tweaked something; Richar is in.

Tense Moment in the 6th

Top 6:
The Zs have Gookie on third and Luna on second with two outs. Nashville just brought in Tim Dillard to face Carroll with two outs and two on. Cousins is on deck if they pitch around Carroll.

EDIT: Ugh, Carroll squibs it back to the mound and the Zs are done in the 6th still trailing 2-1.

Game #78: Top 6, Zs Losing 2-1

Top 6
Gookie Dawkins just led off with a double to the wall against Chuck Lofgren, Nashville's starter. He turned widely at second base and obviously thought about third before braking and leaving it to LoMo. More as this unwinds. Zs are down 2-1 and need this run.

Game #77: Zephyrs Lose 10-3

The Zs were drubbed in the first of a three-game set against Nashville Thursday night. Man, when this team falls behind, they're a total snooze. All of their losses since July 15 have been by three runs or more.

Wes Whisler's third start of the year was his worst since his call-up on June 19: 6 runs in 4 innings. The Zephs offense, after scoring two in the first, refused to make it close, fading gently into the Nashville night as the Sounds tacked on runs en route to a 10-3 win. Nashville lefty Chris Waters and an effective Sounds bullpen perpetuated an irritating all-or-nothing Zephyrs offense.

The team's best players, Cameron Maybin and Logan Morrison, provided the only spark, each going 2 for 4. Maybin is hitting .357 with a brilliant (if unsustainable) .486 OBP since being demoted from Florida. Most encouraging is that he's making contact: he's struck out just four times in 28 ABs.

In the tragicomedy department, Armando Benitez pitched one inning for the Zs and gave up four unearned runs.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Game #76: Zephyrs Win 7-0

Metairie native and University of New Orleans product Thomas Diamond was excellent once again in an abbreviated starting pitching performance against his hometown Zephyrs, but the Zs used a breakout fifth inning to win a rain-shortened day game at Zephyr Field 7-0.

Diamond was outstanding, breezing through four innings while giving up just one hit and striking out seven. But soft-tossing veteran Brian Lawrence matched his 0s and the Zs got to former Cub and Notre Dame side receiver Jeff Samardzija before the rains came. Hector Luna blasted a grand slam and Mark Saccomanno -- recently called up to AAA New Orleans from AA Jacksonville -- followed it with a three-run shot. Logan Morrison, playing left field, drew three walks.

Makes you wonder if Florida has something up their sleeve with exactly a month until the looming trade deadline.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Thomas Diamond

From Brien Taylor to Todd van Poppel to David Nied, recent baseball history is loaded with pitching prospect flameouts. Until his turnaround this season, you had to group Metairie native and former UNO star Thomas Diamond right with them: an injury-riddled former first-round draft pick, a symbol of unrealized potential. But Diamond is turning his career around this year. His numbers for Iowa are some of the best in AAA, so good that he could be helpful for a major league club right now.

In three years at the University of New Orleans, Diamond was incredible, racking up the third-most Ks in school history and netting the Sun Belt Conference Pitcher of the Year award in 2004, his dominant junior year. In that year's draft, Diamond was selected 10th overall by Texas and was immediately grouped as part of a Rangers pitching pipeline that included John Danks and Edinson Volquez.

Diamond became something of a minor league folk legend early on in his pro career. While pitching in a 2004 game, he tripped and fell off the mound attempting a pickoff. When he was inevitably razzed by the opposing team, Diamond approached their dugout and promised that the next player who laughed would “wearing a fastball in the temple.” Diamond threw behind the next hitter... then he struck out the side on nine pitches.

It was an early highlight in a career that seemed destined to be loaded with them. But success has been elusive for Diamond.

In 2006 he regressed, particularly with command. His K/BB ratio slipped from 2.45 to 1.85 and after pitching out the season, it was determined that he would need Tommy John surgery in the offseason. Things continued spiraling downhill; after pitching inconsistently following surgery, Texas DFAd him in 2009 and he was signed by the Cubs. But, caught in a roster squeeze, he was DFAd three weeks later only to find he had no other suitors. He remained in Chicago’s system almost by default, and now, a season after being designated twice, he is having his best campaign as a pro and is in contention to start the AAA All-Star game.

Diamond leads the PCL in Ks and his 2.66 ERA is third among all PCL starters. His 1.11 WHIP is also third behind Omaha’s Bryan Bullington and Saturday’s starter for the I-Cubs, Jay Jackson, and Diamond’s current K/BB ratio is sitting at 2.86, his best as a pro.

Today at 11:30 am, Diamond is slated to make his second start this season against his hometown Zephyrs.

Game #76: For Real This Time

Monday night's game was called due to "persistent heavy rains in Southeast Louisiana" (it was never worse than a drizzle) so they'll play a coffee-drinker this morning at 11:30 am and make up the other in Iowa during the July 8-11 series. Which seems unfair.

The Zephyrs are holding over last night's scheduled starter Brian Lawrence and Iowa is throwing Metairie native Thomas Diamond. A profile on Diamond will be Mr.Z's next trick...

Monday, June 28, 2010

Game #76: Preview

The dog days are setting in and at this point the Zs have given little reason to believe they're anything but a .500 team who can't string wins together. Because of Florida's dire bullpen situation, New Orleans's arms have been gutted by the big club, and the parade of constant new players to the team has been dizzying. Welcome to the minor leagues.

Tonight the Zephyrs attempt to avoid losing their their straight to the AAA Cubs. We don't have the sexiest pitching matchup happening, FYI.

June 28, 7:00 CT
New Orleans Zephyrs: 36-39, third in the PCL South
Iowa Cubs (AAA Chicago Cubs): 42-35, T-1st in the PCL North

The Pitching Matchup:

Zs: Brian Lawrence (6-5, 4.35 ERA)

The staff veteran is on the hill tonight for the Zs. You could easily win the argument that Lawrence has been New Orleans's best starter: he's fifth in the PCL with 70 Ks, and although he allows hits and baserunners, he's a classic bend-but-don't-break guy. Sort of... he's also third in the league in HRs surrendered with 13.

Express: J.R. Mathes (6-5, 4.61 ERA)

The I-Cubs are loaded with future major league arms in their starting rotation... and the 28-year-old Mathes probably isn't one of them. But any lefty who averages two ground ball outs per fly out has at least the glimmer of a big-league future. Mathes doesn't walk or strike out a lot of guys -- and like any sinkerballer, he'll give up hits -- but he generally goes six innings and keeps you in the game.

Game #75: Zephyrs Lose 9-2

Another snoozer at Zephyr Field last night as the hometown Zs mounted no offense and submitted slavishly to a superior I-Cubs squad.

The story by now has a familiar ring: VandenHurk puts the Zephyrs in a hole and the offense is flat in response. Just like they did against the helpless Sean West the night before, a talented I-Cubs team jumped all over the New Orleans starter, scoring five in the first three innings off the perpetually shaky VandenHurk, who put 12 runners on base in five innings.

The Zs may have roughed up Iowa's starter Jay Jackson in his previous outing against New Orleans early in the month, but he handcuffed them yesterday over six innings, surrendering a harmless two runs. Scott Maine -- the lefty bullpen gun the Cubs netted from Arizona in exchange for Aaron Heilman in the offseason -- threw two innings of scorless ball in relief of Jackson, impressively fanning five.

Digging for optimism: Brett Carroll doubled and homered and appears to be coming to life following an initial demotion slump. Richar and Luna each had two hits as well.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Game #75: Preview

After a drubbing last night, the Zephyrs look to the unsteady Dutchman Rick VandenHurk tonight in the sweltering New Orleans heat.

June 27, 6:00 CT
New Orleans Zephyrs: 36-38, third in the PCL South
Iowa Cubs (AAA Chicago Cubs): 41-35, T-1st in the PCL North

The Pitching Matchup:

Zs: Rick VandenHurk (4-3, 5.70 ERA)

Trying to drum up positive commentary about VandenHurk's season is like saying we're pretty sure Armando Benitez is the answer to the Marlins' bullpen issues. In fact, Florida's bullpen situation is dire enough that VandenHurk himself received the obligatory tryout a few weeks ago... and was miserable in limited time, garnering him a company trip back to New Orleans. VandenHurk is an extreme fly-ball pitcher; this year they're splitting the gaps.

Express: Jay Jackson (3-6, 3.68 ERA)

This will be the second time Jackson has faced the Zs this season. At the beginning of the month, New Orleans beat him up in Iowa, tallying six runs in six innings. He's since had a few unsteady starts after a terrific beginning of the season, so it's possible he's showing some signs of wear. Last year Jackson threw his highest total of innings (127) and he's already at 78 this season. He's started and pitched in relief this season and has significantly better numbers out of the pen. Lefties hit him well. Projects as a back-end big-league starter. Real name: Randy.

What's New

After nearly two weeks, Mr.Z is back in the game... and how things have changed.

It's an eerie sensation when the distant, forgotten past jumps to life. Yes, I reference Armando Benitez. Here's an attempt to recap what the Zeph has gone on:

*The Zephyrs went 6-7 in Mr.Z's absence, essentially treading water on their just-under-.500 record for the season. This included getting swept in four games by division nemesis Oklahoma City, so it could have been worse.

*ARMANDO BENITEZ. Almost impossibly, you're reading this correctly. This is how bad Florida's bullpen is. The Marlins inked the once-beleaguered big-league closer to a minor league deal and he's worked two spotless innings. We also hear Keith Foulke and Matt Mantei are available. The big heart attack last saw big league innings with Toronto in 2008 and had his last effective season in 2004, when he was arguably the best closer in baseball with Florida.

*Cameron Maybin is back in New Orleans. This is a good thing. You can read Mr.Z's argument below that Maybin wasn't getting anything out of being on Florida's bench due to the Mike Stanton effect. He needs to dramatically improve his pitch selectivity, and remember -- the kid is just 23, the second-youngest player on the Zephyrs. Maybin has raked at a .444 clip over five games and has three walks and no Ks.

*The Marlins fired Fredi Gonzalez, leading to the promotion of Zs manager Edwin Rodriguez as Florida's interim manager. E-Rod had his official interview for the job on a full-time basis yesterday.

*LoMo will play in the Futures Game on July 11.

Game #74: Zs Lose 13-2

Ugly one last night in New Orleans, as Sean West was roughed up for the first time this year and the Zs never had a chance against the Iowa Cubs.

The carnage began early. After inducing a fly ball from the leadoff hitter, the top of the first went like this: double, error, double, error, single, error, ground out, single, single, ground out. 5-0 I-Cubs. West would later give up a couple homers in the 4th and exit after 3 1/3 and 10 runs.

A few positives: ever the yeoman, Adalberto Mendez did his usual good work for the Zs in relief of West, going 2 2/3 and striking out five while giving up no runs, settling things down momentarily before Olenberger (who just doesn't have it this season -- 8.00 ERA) gave up three runs over two innings.

LoMo is up to a .321 BAA and a terrific .416 OBP. He has a 1/1 walk-to-strikeout ratio, extremely impressive for a 22-year-old.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Dis & Dat

*Tonight's game in Oklahoma City has been postponed and will be made up as a double-header Wednesday. Tomorrow's game is an 11 am start.

*Rick VandenHurk has been demoted to New Orleans to make room for Reynel Pinto, who is off the DL. VandenHurk figures to slide back into the Zephyrs rotation.

*Mr.Z is off for the next few days "tending to family matters" and such. Members of the press, please be respectful.

Bring Back Maybin!

Mike Stanton is probably in Florida to stay, and if there's anyone unhappy about that aside from Zephyr fans, it's got to be former Zeph Cameron Maybin. Between Stanton, Chris Coughlan, and Cody Ross, the Marlins have a pretty good offensive outfield trio. After starting in center field for most of the year, Maybin is now riding the pine all the time. He hasn't played in a week.

And take a look at his stats. 56 Ks against 16 BBs and a .290 OBP. These are essentially the exact numbers Maybin put up in Florida last year that were deemed inadequate and landed him in New Orleans. The kid clearly has pitch recognition issues and struggles against anything that's not a fastball (outlined nicely here).

He's not doing anyone much good on a bench in Florida. Maybin needs to play, and New Orleans is the place for him to do it.

Game #61: Zephyrs 4-3

Symbolically, the Zs 4-3 win over Round Rock last night felt big. They proved they are not the worst team in the PCL South, they won 3 out of 4 against that inferior team, and they won three straight at Zephyr Field for the first time all season.

It wasn't the most thrilling game, with the Zs notching single runs through three RBI singles and one fielder's choice, but Brian Lawrence and the bullpen kept Round Rock down. Lawrence pitched into the sixth while striking out seven and the trio of Sinkbeil, Wood, and Strickland put up donuts in relief. Mike Lamb led the charge with a pair of RBI singles, netting him Game #61's HUGE Z.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Logan Morrison Offensive Analysis

You say you want more. After all, the guy almost beat out Gaby Sanchez for Florida's 1B spot. Where's the pop, where's the buzz that guys like Stanton or Gaby or Maybin or Miller generated?

Okay, so LoMo only has three HRs in 2010 in 133 minor league at bats. He's also hitting .321 with a .421 OBP and a .975 OPS. Nineteen BBs against sixteen Ks. These are superb offensive numbers, the kind that suggest a mature approach at the plate and a willingness to wait for a good pitch to hit. LoMo's pitch recognition is major league quality already, and -- unlike a lot of young left-handed power hitters -- he handles left-handed pitching excellently. This year he's hitting .294 against them with a .901 OPS. Two of three HRs have been against lefties. With runners in scoring position his OPS vaults to 1.106, his OBP to .500.

The kind of offensive numbers LoMo is putting up this year for the Zephyrs might not be the loudest (though his power output is definitely suppressed by Zephyr Field), but they're undoubtedly the type major league teams covet. Enjoy the LoMo era while you can.

Game #61: Lineups

At 6 PM Central, the Zephyrs look to take three of four from last-place Round Rock and to win three straight at home for the first time in 2010. Brian Lawrence is on the hill and Hector Luna is using a sick day again.

The Zs will trot out:

LF Raynor
RF Carroll
1B Morrison
3B Lamb
SS Murphy
2B Dawkins
CF Cousins
C Wilson
P Lawrence

Game #60: Zephyrs Win, 6-3

The Zephyrs pulled away late from Round Rock last night and jumped ahead a game in the standings, hoisting themselves out of the cellar.

Mr.Z's favorite Z Adalberto Mendez made his second start of the season and didn't disappoint, going 4 2/3 while giving up just two runs. This was only his second appearance in which the stingy righty has given up anything at all. Seems clear that they're stretching him out to get as much length as they can from him.

Round Rock struck first. After Express catcher Jason Castro (who will be in the bigs this year) lofted a two-run homer in the fourth, New Orleans charged back with a small-ball, three-run fifth capped by Danny Richar's two-run single. LoMo put it out of reach an inning later with a bases-clearing double.

HUGE Z? Duh, Mendez.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

A Minor League Parable

Game #59: Zs Win 6-1

Sean West continues to impress. The lanky southpaw went five more scoreless innings last night, and has begun his 2010 with 11 2/3 scoreless innings. He struck out 5 more batters last night, giving him 13 on the season. Give the guy a HUGE Z.

Brad Davis hit a two-run HR off Round Rock starter Polin Trinidad and both he and LoMo went 2-4 with two RBIs.

Tonight it's Mr.Z's favorite pitcher -- Adalberto Mendez -- he of the 13 consecutive scoreless innings and .096 AAA ERA --- getting his second start for the Zs.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Game #59: Preview

The Zs have dropped into the cellar with last night's loss. Their home record is troubling: 13-19. Offensive-suppressing Zephyr Field has created a 2010 squad that is currently second-to-last in the PCL in runs and dead last in OBP. Ouch.

June 11, 7:00 CT
New Orleans Zephyrs: 27-31, last in the PCL South
Round Rock Express (AAA Houston): 29-31, third in the PCL South

The Pitching Matchup:
Zs: Sean West (1-0, 0.00 ERA)

The big lefty has been scoreless in 6 2/3 innings thus far for the Zs. Nothing to drop your panties over yet, but he's the only current Zephs start really capable of overpowering a lineup.

Express: Polin Trinidad (3-3, 4.70 ERA)

Very hip name. The stats for the lefty are less inspiring, though not awful. He gives up his share of hits, but has struck out 17 lefties in the same number of innings and generally demonstrates a favorable split against lefties. His first start of the year was against the Zephs in April and he gave up two runs on two hits over five.

Game #58: Zs Lose 2-0

Serious pitcher's duel (also known as a bad hitting duel) in New Orleans last night. Tom Mastny had an excellent debut start for the Zs, throwing five scoreless innings with 6 Ks. Round Rock's Josh Banks was better, throwing scoreless ball into the 9th. The game was scoreless into the 8th; Sinkbeil gave up a run in the 8th and Meyer one in the 9th. The Zs had three hits total, none for extra bases. They put two men on in the 9th with walks, but Luna ended it with a DP. For one of the Zs most productive hitters, he's been horribly un-clutch. His batting average is .227, his OBP is .305, and 40% of his Ks have been in these situations.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Game #58: Preview

Barnburner on Thirsty Thursday at Zephyr Field! The Zs and the Round Rock Express, currently tied for last... well, you can fill in the rest yourselves. But seriously here, between young catcher and 2008 first-round draft pick Jason Castro and nasty bullpen arm Sammy Gervacio, the Express have a few players to watch.

The Teams:
June 10, 7:00 CT
New Orleans Zephyrs: 27-30, tied third/last in the PCL South
Round Rock Express (AAA Houston): 28-31, tied third/last in the PCL South

The Pitching Matchup:
Zs: Tom Mastny (0-0, --- ERA)

See previous post for slightly sarcastic analysis.

Express: Josh Banks (6-4, 3.33 ERA)

Like many AAA pitchers, Josh Banks strikes Mr.Z as a AAAA pitcher. He saw 85 innings as (mostly) a starter with San Diego in 2008 and after initially throwing 22 scoreless innings, he became a poster boy of the big leagues' tendency to catch up to you. He finished the season with a 4.75 ERA and walked a lot of batters. Last year he was worse and was unoficially banished from the major leagues. He became a free agent in the offseason and was signed by Houston to a minor league deal. Banks has had a nice year for Round Rock, throwing a decent percentage of ground balls and keeping the walks down. But he gives up bombs: 10 so far this year. Cue LoMo (where's LoMo's pop anyway?).

Also, Tony Gwynn says Banks throws a knuckleball.

Tom Mastny

The Marlins have poached starting pitcher Tom Mastny from the Atlantic League Somerset Patriots and he'll be starting for the Zs tonight against Round Rock. This is the definition of a minor league depth signing, giving the Zs two hardcore journeymen (Brian Lawrence being the other) in the rotation.

Mastny was an ineffective big leaguer between 2006-2008 in Cleveland and hasn't seen time in the show since. He gave up a lot of hits, walked guys, and generally stank for some good Cleveland clubs. That said, his career minor league ERA is 2.17 (with a 1.009 WHIP) between 2003-2008. Pretty clear where his talent level places him, so friends of the Z, your emotional spectrum should range somewhere between indifference and and resigned acceptance that Tom Mastny is now all yours.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Game #57: Zs Lose 5-1

Starting pitching determined the outcome of today's series-concluding game in Iowa City, and unfortunately for the Zs, it didn't go as well for Brian Lawrence as it did a game ago.

Coming off a brilliant seven-inning performance against Omaha, Lawrence gritted through five innings against the I-Cubs today, giving up four runs and several hard-hit balls. Chad Tracy had a 4-4 day with two HRs, one coming off Lawrence and the other against Kasey Olenberger.

Although he's been inconsistent this year, the Zs are probably going to have to ride Lawrence out; Hunter Jones and Brad Stone have recently gone on the DL and Rick VandenHurk and Jorge Sosa are now toiling in Florida's bullpen, leaving the Zs with a makeshift rotation at best.

Metairie native and UNO product Thomas Diamond got the start against his hometown club and showed why he was once a first-round draft pick for Texas. Diamond shone in five innings, striking out eight and surrendering just two hits to a flat Zephyrs offense. The Zs mounted only one real threat -- in the 6th -- but the I-Cubs' John Gaub struck out Hector Luna with Logan Morrison on third after throwing two wild pitches, one of which scored the lone Zs run. Luna whiffed three times today with a runner in scoring position, a situation in which his performance has noticeably suffered this year.

Still, the Zs will return to Zephyr Field on Thursday for a series with last place Round Rock after splitting series on the road against a very good Omaha team and an I-Cubs squad with an excellent pitching staff. That said, your guess is as good as Mr.Z's as to who the Zs will be running out to the hill to start those three games.

Game #57: 5-1 I-Cubs

Bottom 8:

Tracy just hit his second HR of the day. 5-1 I-Cubs.

Game #57: Ugh

Bottom 8: I-Cubs, 4-1

In the 7th and 8th against Berg and Samardzija, the Zs saw a total of 16 pitches while making six outs.

Olenberger is in for the Zs to face the 3 for 3 Chad Tracy in the 8th.

Game #57: Get This

Apparently the box containing all of the Zs hats arrived to Iowa just minutes before the first game of this series. According to Zs radio guy Tim Grubbs, the Zs considered playing hatless, wearing Cubs hats, and wearing Padres hats that were around the I-Cubs clubhouse for unexplained reasons.

Also, Thomas Diamond has 8 Ks and is dominating the Zs through five. Looks like his work is done though.

Game #57: Lawrence's Laser Show

4-0 I-Cubs, Bottom 4:

And I don't mean at the plate.

Bad Brian Lawrence has shown up today in Iowa City. The Zs are already down 4-0 in the fourth and the Cubs are drilling balls all over the park. Chad Tracy has two hits including a long home run.

Diamond has been stifling so far, striking out six through four.

Game #57: Luna in the Clutch

Top 1: 0-0

Luna is facing Diamond with two outs and a runner on third in the first. Luna's OPS is about .150 points lower with runners in scoring position this year.

Diamond struck him out.

Game #57: Lineups


1. Petersen LF
2. Richar 2B
3. LoMo 1B
4. Luna 3B
5. Carroll RF
6. Dawkins SS
7. Cousins CF
8. Davis C
9. Lawrence P

1. Adduci CF
2. Camp SS
3. Tracy 3B
4. Hoffpauir 1B
5. Snyder RF
6. LaHair LF
7. Scales 2B
8. Robinson C
9. Diamond P

Game #57: Preview

The Zephs have the chance to take three of four in Iowa, which would give them five wins in their last six games. Facing Metairie native and UNO product Thomas Diamond won't be easy; he's been terrific this year and looks like a legitimate starter prospect for the Cubs.

The Teams:
June 8, 12:00 CT
New Orleans Zephyrs: 27-29, third in the PCL South
Iowa Cubs: 29-28, last in the PCL North

The Pitching Matchup:
Zs: Brian Lawrence (4-4, 4.34 ERA)
Lawrence has been occasionally excellent this year, and his most last start was one of those outings, when he went 7 innings and gave up just one run against Omaha while striking out seven.

Cubs: Thomas Diamond (3-2, 2.43 ERA)
Still another I-Cubs starter with an ERA in the 2s. The Cubs claimed him off waivers during the off-season from Texas. Diamond is a New Orleans product and was a 2004 first-round draft pick by Texas. He's given up just 44 hits in 59 innings this year, has cut down on the walks, and doesn't have much of a lefty-right split. Mr.Z is thinking this is the year Diamond finally gets the call to the bigs.