Surprise Contenders Meet in Denver; Two Wild Games in Short-Season League

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Hi all.  Here’s how I see baseball on this Wednesday, June 21.

When the season opened some 10 weeks ago I wouldn’t have bet on Colorado or Arizona being contenders in the NL West.  I assumed it would be the Dodgers and Giants duking it out as they usually do.  Good thing I quit laying my money down on anything following a dog track disaster in 2000.  The Rockies have had the same problem since their conception-the team could always hit at home but couldn’t keep it up on the road.  Arizona had lost 91 games a year ago and came back with basically the same team.  The  one acquisition they made-Taewon Walker-has been injured most of the season.  That being said, when the two teams met last night to begin a series in Denver the D-Backs had won 7 straight and were 2 games behind the division leader-not the Giants or Dodgers but the Rockies.  In fact the Dodgers are just half a game behind Denver but the Giants and Mets have had the two most embarrassing seasons up to now. So it’s a 3-horse race in the west and two of those horses put on a show in Denver last night while the Dodgers stomped the Mets 12-0 in Los Angeles. Through 7 innings the Rockies had a 2-1 lead at Coors Field. In the 8th with the Rockies’ Chris Rusin on the hill the fireworks started.  David Peralta tied the game with a home run. Exit Rusin, enter Adam Ottavino.  The next Arizona batter Paul Goldschmidt launched one into the rarified air in Denver to give the D-Backs a 3-2 lead.  But a run is never enough, particularly at Coors Canaveral. Even Zach Greinke, one of the league’s best couldn’t  hold the 3-2 lead.

In the home 8th Nolan Arenado who won Sunday’s game with a walk-off home run hit a triple into the cavernous depths of the outfield bringing home two runs to make it 4-3 which was the final score. Greg Holland bounced back off a blown save last week to notch his 25th save in 26 chances. This is the same Greg  Holland who was a terrific closer for the Royals until he hurt his elbow just before the 2015 World Series.  Knowing he would be gone all of 2016 the Royals didn’t keep him and the Rockies saw a potential steal. Holland is no stranger to trying to control a baseball in light air.  He pitched in the Appalachian mountains at Western Carolina University for the Catamounts. The Rockies took him in the hopes that he could bounce back better than Matt Harvey or Zack Wheeler, both of whom recently had Tommy John surgery and have done poorly. Their gamble has paid off thus far.

Over the last few days 3 of the short-season leagues have begun play.  Last night’s craziest games come from two of these leagues which play from mid-June until Labor Day. In Auburn, New York the Batavia Muckdogs (Marlins) beat the Auburn Doubledays (Nationals) 19-18 in 11 innings in as nutty  a game as you’ll see at any level. Auburn’s Oliver Ortiz, a major Nationals’ prospect who had hit .190 for Hagerstown had his first 4-hit game of his career and drove in 7 runs in a losing cause. The game was scoreless until Auburn put up 2 in the second.  Then the visitors stormed back to make it 4-2 in the visiting third. Auburn answered at once with a 5-spot making it 7-4 after 3 innings.  (Oh by the way, the New York Penn League has a reputation of being a pitcher’s league.) Ortiz hit a 3-run home run during that Auburn rally in the third.  The visitors put up a run each in the 4th and 5th making it 7-6. So far you don’t have a game I would write up.  The true craziness began in the last of the 8th when the home team notched 4 runs to take a lead they hoped would seal the win. Ortiz’ 2-run single made it 11-6. But the visitors from Batavia were just getting going.  They tied things with 5 runs in the 9th, highlighted by a two-out, two-run double to square things by Lazaro Alonso.  Each side scored twice in the 10th making it 13-13. Ortiz drove in Auburn’s two runs in that inning with a double making it 7 RBIs for him. Last year with Auburn his high was 4 runs drivin in.  With the home team out of pitchers Batavia scored 6 runs in the 11th fcacing position players on the hill. The first 4 batters all walked making it 14-13 and the rout was on-or was it?  Even down 6 runs the home team rallied desperately.  Conner Simonetti launched a 3-run home run and the Doubledays scored 5 all told before being turned away for the night. Terry Bennett was top dog among the Muckdogs with a grand slam and 6 RBIs for the night. His home run was the only one hit by Batavia while Auburn hit 4 out of the lot.  Each team was guilty of 4 errors with Batavia walking 6 men while the losing Auburn team walked 14 batters.

The other wild game in the minors was in the Pioneer League, a rookie-level league where the games are played near the Great Divide. The Grand Junction Rockies beat the Idaho Falls Chukars (Royals) 17-11 leaving each team 1-1 as the season opens. For the Rockies, Shael Mendoza had 5 hits and the team had 23 on a night where the gametime temp was 103 degrees.  It turned out the bats on both sides were as hot as the night’s weather.  Idaho Falls scorred the game’s first run but didn’t score again until the fifth.  Meantime the home team from Grand Junction put up 2 each in the first 2 innings, then 5 in the third to  make it 9-1. The visitors put up 2 in the 5th, a run in the 6th and 4 in the 7th to draw within 9-8. Grand Junction scored in the last of the 7th making it 10-8 but the visitors again made it a 1-run game at 10-9 with a run in the top of the 8th. That’s as close as they got because the Rockies registered 7 runs in the 8th to put the game out of reach. The highlight of that inning was a 3-run blast by Hidekel Gonzalez, the only home run all night by the KidRockies if you will. Their visitors took 3 home runs out of the yard before the night was done.  In collecting 23 hits the home team broke their franchise record of 20. Idaho Falls made 5 errors while the home team played errorless ball-an unusual feat at this level. The Idaho Falls team has been called the Chukars since they began their affiliation with the Royals in 2004. It turns out a chukar is a bird native to the area near Idaho Falls. Most recently  Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer and Billy Butler have begun their road to the bigs in Idaho Falls.  Billy Martin played there when the team resumed play after World War II.

Today’s earliest game begins at 10 AM as the Palm Beach Cardinals meet the Charlotte Stone Crabs (Rays)in a Florida State league game.  All the games in the Dominican Summer League start at 10:30 AM every day. Again in the Florida State League, the St. Lucie Mets meet the Daytona Tortugas (Reds) at 10:30 this morning. Those are two of 8 games being played in the minors during the day. The bigs offer their share of daylight games on this Wednesday.  The Reds meet the Rays at Noon in the earliest game. The heat won’t harm any of the players as the game is indoors at Tropicana Field in St. Pete. The Nationals face the Marlins in Miami where management can decide to keep the roof closed or open it based on the daily weather. Max Scherzer starts for the Nats.  He has struck out 10men or more in his last 5 starts. Those sound like numbers put up by another famous Senators’ pitcher, Walter Johnson. The Red Sox face the Royals in Kansas City in a 2:15 start. The Padres and Cubs meet in a matinee in Chicago at 2:20 PM. The rest of the slate is under the lights. The Cardinals took an 8-1 win in 11 innings last night in Philadelphia. yes, they scored 7 in the 11th.  They also signed among other draftees Wood Myers of Coastal Carolina, the team that won the 2016 College World Series. The Yankees hope to break a 7-game losing streak.  They face the Angels and Ricky Nolasco who hasn’t won since April.  The Yankees go with lefty Jordan Montgomery who I thought highly of after a few early starts but who has felt the growing pains any rookie starter feels. Both the White Sox and Twins start rookies as they meet tonight.  Brad  Holmberg carries the mail for the White Sox while Jose Berrios handles the starting duties for the Twins. The Astros face Oakland in one of a handful of 10 PM starts. Among the draftees Oakland has already signed the most notable is Vanderbilt’s Will Toffey.   The Tigers face the Mariners in Seattle and the Mets meet the Dodgers in the other late games. The Mets hope Tyler Pill cures all their ills when they face Rich  Hill who’s had problems of his own on the mound.

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