Friday, July 30, 2010

Section 5B Playoffs - seedings, match-ups and preview

The Section 5B amateur baseball playoffs (featuring Elko - of the DRS - and the six Cannon Valley League teams) begin this Sunday at Burnsville’s Alimagnet Park with the seedings as follows:

1-seed: Savage Outlaws
2-seed: Burnsville Bobcats
3-seed: Elko Express
4-seed: Rosemount Black Sox
5-seed: Eagan Bandits
6-seed: Lakeville Athletics
7-seed: Inver Grove Heights Diamond Kings

The top-seeded Outlaws (13-4 CVL, 29-8 overall) have earned a bye past the first round and thus will not play until Sunday, August 8.The first round will be played from Sunday through Tuesday (Wednesday, if necessary) at Alimagnet on either Field 1 or 2.

Here are the match-ups:

Sunday, Aug. 1
4:30 p.m. 2 #7 IGH vs. #2 Burnsville
6:00 p.m. 1 #6 Lakeville vs. #3 Elko
7:30 p.m. 2 #5 Eagan vs. #4 Rosemount

Monday, Aug. 2
7:30 p.m. 2 #3 Elko vs. #6 Lakeville
7:30 p.m. 1 #5 Eagan vs. #4 Rosemount

Tuesday, Aug. 3
7:30 p.m. 1 #2 Burnsville vs. #7 IGH

Wednesday, Aug. 4
7:30 p.m. TBD TBD vs. TBD

Each first-round match-up will be a best-of-three series. If a series goes to three games, the third will be played 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Alimagnet. However, if all three series happen to go to three games, a second site will be determined on Tuesday.

The second round of the playoffs will be played at Frederickson Field in Elko from Sunday, Aug. 8 through Thursday, Aug. 12.

Playoff Preview:

Savage will undoubtedly be the favorites. The Outlaws are battle tested, having played 37 games this season, and are coming off a 2009 season that lasted into early September and a 5th place finish in the Class B State Tournament.

Manager Travis Peterson has a plethora of pitching talent, as well as a potent offense, on his Savage team roster.

Burnsville could easily offer them a battle, however, as Savage’s bitter rival finished their Cannon Valley schedule with a solid 12-5 record and beat the Outlaws two games to one in their head-to-head match-ups.
While Savage and Burnsville are certainly the top to powers of the CVL, any of the four mid-tier teams could definitely rise up and challenge them.

Elko actually would have nipped the Bobcats for the 2-seed were it not for Burnsville’s big 3-2 win over Savage on Thursday night. However, at 8-4 against CVL teams, Elko has not played CVL competition as much as Burnsville and Savage and that experience may give those teams an edge. Although, the Express have been able to beat both the Bobcats and Outlaws one time apiece this season and are certainly worthy adversaries.

Following Elko is Rosemount and Eagan, at 10-7 and 9-8, respectively, in CVL action this season.

The Black Sox had a rough patch toward the end of its season - losing five of six games from June 27 through July 16 - but rebounded to win two of its last three games, including a 9-6 win at Burnsville.

Eagan had been getting hot toward the end of its season, winning road games at Rosemount and Lakeville on July 24 and 26, but the Bandits fell in its final CVL home game against the Athletics - losing 3-2.

Conversely, the win for Lakeville at Eagan may have given the team new life. The six-seed Athletics had an encouraging 9-1 non-conference win at Northfield on July 21, but fell in their following two home games (10-1 and 7-2 losses to league foes Burnsville and Eagan). So, as they now enter the playoffs on a key win, don’t sleep on the Athletics as their season finale win at Goat Hill Park has their confidence on high.Finally, the seventh-seeded IGH Diamond Kings. The second-year squad has had a difficult season but found some signs of team pride in its gutty effort at Savage on July 26. Yes, the Outlaws eventually won 11-4, but the DKs fought tough throughout and actually out-hit Savage 6-5 entering the eighth inning. Considering they suffered losses by 23 and 18 runs to Savage earlier this season, their effort on Monday was a step in the right direction for a young team growing and developing with one another.

A lot of opportunities, dreams, and hopes will be on the line as some highly competitive baseball takes place this week in the 2010 Section 5B playoffs.

Six teams begin their post-season journey on Sunday as the Bobcats and Diamond Kings start things off with a scheduled first pitch of 4:30 p.m. on Alimagnet's Field 2.

Let’s hope for some good weather, great baseball, and ... may the best team win.

Mighty Casey on the mound, leads Bobcats to victory

Minutes before the Burnsville Bobcats began its game with its nemesis - the Savage Outlaws - manager Robby Wiens was asked about his pitching plan for the game considering his staff was a bit short-handed and the playoffs are coming soon.

“We got Casey [Jacobson] going again today, he threw really well and beat [Savage] last time, so we’ll see what he has today,” said Wiens of his Bobcats starter, Casey Jacobson.

After throwing 7-plus innings in a 3-2 Bobcats win over Savage last Thursday, the Bobcats ace pitched all nine in another dramatic 3-2 win over his team’s arch rival last night at Burnsville's Alimagnet Park.

Jacobson held an outstanding Outlaws offense to two runs on eight hits, two walks and a hit batsmen.

“I give Chad [Eul] a lot of credit for the pitch calling,” said Jacobson, quick to deflect any individual praise to his catcher, Chad Eul, as well as his teammates on defense. “Chad was making a lot of good calls, keeping [Savage] off-balance, [and] I got really good defense tonight, which is always a key for me because I don’t normally strike a lot of guys out.”

Besides calling a good game, Eul also pegged out a couple Savage runners at second and came up with a big hit for Burnsville.

With the Bobcats trailing 2-0, Brandon Walczak relieved Savage starter Travis Pugliese on the mound to begin the seventh inning. After retiring John Loeffler on a grounder to first, Eul came to the plate and delivered a double to left-center.

The hit seemed to spark the Burnsville offense after Pugliese had shutout the Bobcats and held them to four hits with no walks through six innings.

Walczak was able to strike out the next batter, leftfielder Luke Hellquist, on three pitches, but Cory Eul (Chad’s brother) followed with a chopper to third that led to an errant throw and allowed Chad to score Burnsville’s first run.

In the eighth, the Bobcats began another rally as lead-off hitter Scott Lindner’s jersey was brushed by a pitch from new Savage reliever Danny Hanson. Next up was Matt Trocke, who laid down a successful sacrifice bunt to get Lindner into scoring position.

With the tying run at second, Burnsville’s Charlie Dubanoski stepped up to the plate.

The Bobcats dugout cheered on their third baseman as Hanson delivered a 1-1 pitch. Dubanoski then thrilled his teammates and the home crowd as he belted the pitch deep to right field that looked like a possible homer but fell in front of the fence for an RBI-double.

Hanson would evade allowing Dubanoski to score the go-ahead run by getting Chad Eul to hit a harmless fly to right for the third out, but Dubanoski's deep drive to the warning track was damaging nonetheless.

“Should hit the weight room a bit more,” deadpanned Dubanoski as he returned to the dugout.

In the top of the ninth, Jacobson threw an efficient eight-pitch inning and his Bobcat teammates returned to the bench determined to get him a complete game victory.

The third Savage pitcher in three innings, Ryan Rodeck was on the rubber for the Outlaws to start the ninth inning.
The righthander retired his first batter, Hellquist, on a grounder to third, but the next couple Burnsville batters were a bit more troublesome.

Rodeck walked Corey Eul on a full-count pitch that missed low, then he lost the following batter, Erik Fabry, on a 3-2 pitch in the dirt.

With two runners on and no outs, Rodeck rebounded by getting Bobcats’ lead-off batter, Lindner, to bounce a chopper back to the mound. Rodeck threw to second to get the first out, however, the speedy Lindner was able to beat Savage shortstop Tyler Peterson’s relay throw to first to prevent the double play.

Burnsville’s Trocke was next for Rodeck and the at-bat would be quite a battle.

Drawing the count full, Trocke fought off two Rodeck offerings to stay alive, then, on the eighth pitch, the Bobcats shortstop pounded a grounder to the left that found the hole and allowed Lindner to cross home for the game-winning run.

“That was key for us,” said winning pitcher Jacobson of Trocke’s hit. “We came out last night [versus Rosemount] and didn’t perform as well, [but] we came out tonight with a lot of fire and had a very good game. And to see someone (Trocke) who comes to the yard every day and plays hard and works his butt off help us get the W, that was great.”

Trocke’s single sewed up both a Bobcats win and a two-seed for the Cannon Valley League playoffs, which are to begin Sunday. Following its 9-6 home loss to Rosemount on Wednesday, Burnsville needed the win against Savage for the two-seed rather than the three.

While in some ways last night’s Bobcats / Outlaws game was not necessarily of as huge importance as it could have been, Savage manager Travis Peterson acknowledged the game’s significance for Burnsville’s playoff situation.
If Burnsville had defeated Rosemount as well as Savage, they would have stolen the No. 1 seed (which gets a bye through the first round of the CVL playoffs) from Savage. They weren't able to do that, but the Bobcats win did net them the 2-seed, which means they’ll play the winless seven-seed Inver Grove Heights Diamond Kings instead of the Lakeville Athletics (who defeated Eagan Wednesday to finish 5-12 in CVL play).

Moreover, Savage skipper Peterson would have liked to have won the game because of the intense rivalry his Outlaws share with Burnsville.

“We wanted to win that one,” said Peterson, minutes after last night’s loss. “It’s a tough one to take, but I told the guys there’s no more moral victories now. We’ve got to get the win, especially in the playoffs ... The season could be over in two games and we don’t want that, we want to be playing for awhile.”

As the number one seed, Savage (13-4 CVL, 29-8 overall) earned a first round bye and will begin its league playoffs on August 8 when they’ll face the lowest seed of the four remaining teams. Peterson’s Outlaws are hoping to do well in their CVL post-season, then make another run at the State title. Last summer Savage played all the way to September 5, when they lost 4-1 to Hastings to finish fifth in the Class B state baseball tournament.

Wien’s Bobcats (12-5 CVL, 13-7 overall) will hope to have another chance at Savage in the CVL playoffs, but they will first begin its postseason against Inver Grove this Sunday at 4:30 on Alimagnet Park’s field 2.

Notable individual efforts:
Savage Outlaws
~ Travis Pugliese: 6 IP, 0 Rs, 4 Hs, 2 Ks, 0 BBs
~ Zach Harazin: 2-for-4, HR, R, RBI

Burnsville Bobcats:
~ Casey Jacobson: CG, 9 IP, 2 ERs, 8 Hs, 1 K, 2 BBs
~ Scott Lindner: 2-for-4, 2B, HBP, R, SB

** Note: I covered this game as a reporter, conducting interviews and also taking my own photos. The photos featured in this article are of - from top to bottom - Burnsville's Casey Jacobson, Savage's Travis Pugliese pitching to Burnsville's Luke Helquist, Jacobson pitching, and managers Robby Wiens (Burnsville) and Travis Peterson (Savage).

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Lakeville battery powers Athletics to victory

An unexpected pitcher and his catcher performed like a well-charged battery last night for the Lakeville Athletics at Eagan’s Goat Hill Park.

Utility player Mark Berger threw five strong innings in relief and brawny backstop Derek Hahn homered as the Athletics eked out a dramatic 3-2 win over the host Bandits.

“It’s been quite a while since I’ve pitched,” remarked Berger after the game, “but it was definitely one of the better outings I've had so it felt good to be out there and do that.”

Behind the pitching of Berger and starter Trevor Larson, the Lakeville bats could not get much going offensively early on. Eagan’s starting pitcher, Jon Hansen, did not surrender a hit until the fifth.

The game was tightly fought as the score was tied at 2-2 entering the ninth, where two walks and a single set up the Athletics for a zany play at home for the game-winning run.

The first inning started with Hansen opposing Larson on the mound and both pitchers had their stuff working.

Hansen and Larson each tossed a quick first inning, then Eagan’s Ryan Sward led off the top of the second - yes, that is correct, top of the second (this game, though at Eagan, was technically a Lakeville home game as it was a make-up for a rain out on June 5, see below article for further explanation) - with a rocket to left over leftfielder Eric Watts’ right shoulder for a double.

Sward would be stranded, however, as Larson would get Eagan’s 4-5-6 batters on a flyout and two strikeouts to end the Bandits’ second frame.

In the third, Larson retired the first two Eagan batters but the Bandits’ Jon Bauer drew a four-pitch walk and would eventually score the game’s first run.

Tony Johnson followed Bauer’s walk with a chopper to Athletics shortstop Derek Jacobson, which Jacobson scooped up cleanly but delivered a low throw that scooted by first baseman Justin Hahn for an error. Bauer advanced to third on the play and he’d later score on a stolen base attempt.

With two outs and Eagan’s Roy Larson at the plate, Johnson took off for second but Athletics pitcher Larson stepped off the mound and threw to second baseman Jim Gaylord. However, as Johnson slid in at second at the same moment Gaylord tried to catch it and swipe him, the ball kicked away from Gaylord's glove and the ump ruled the Eagan base-runner safe for a stolen base. Meanwhile, Bauer easily advanced from third to crossed home plate and put the Bandits ahead.

In the top of the fourth was when Berger was called upon to replace Trent Larson as Larson’s performance was abbreviated to conserve his arm for the upcoming playoffs. And despite having not pitched since June 6 not only did Berger accept the task but the crafty righthander handled it with guile and fortitude.

Berger allowed a lead-off single to Sward, who lined a low strike to left, but the Athletics’ super-utility man would settle into a groove after that. Berger - who has played six positions this season and all nine throughout his Lakeville career -induced a double-play ball from the next hitter, Tatera, then proceeded to retire six straight Bandit batters.

Meanwhile, after Eagan's pitcher, Hansen, retired his pitching counterpart, Berger, on a tapper back to the mound to end the fourth, Hansen had been equally - if not more - impressive than Berger as he was perfect through four innings.

In the top of the fifth, Berger would have some adversity to face - albeit to little of his own fault. A one-out broken bat single by Eagan's Derek Dietrich was followed by two errors from the Lakeville infield to put Berger in a one-out bases loaded bind.

However, the tenth-year Athletics player rose to the challenge as Berger was able to get Johnson to bounce into a third-to-catcher force out, then retire Eagan’s dangerous three-hole hitter, Roy Larson, on a flyout to center to escape the inning unscathed.

In the sixth, the Lakeville offense finally broke through against Hansen.

Hansen had finished five innings allowing just one hit and facing the minimum, but Lakeville’s Justin Hahn led off the sixth by slamming a 2-0 fastball deep to right center, just out of the reach of right fielder Dietrich’s outstretched glove.

Eric Watts followed with a sacrifice bunt, then nine-hitter John Degerness delivered the Athletics’ first run with a shallow fly to right that landed about a foot inside the foul line.

Hansen would get Lakeville’s Jacobson to hit into a fielder’s choice, then retired Jim Gaylord on a one-hopper back to him on the mound to end the inning, but the Degerness RBI-hit tied the score at one run apiece.

In the seventh, Hansen was lifted for similar reasons that Lakeville Larson was relieved for as Bandits reliever Tom Jaede took to the mound.

Jaede was able to retire Jon Gaylord on a hard liner to left, but the new Eagan pitcher was not as fortunate against Lakeville’s next batter, clean-up hitter Derek Hahn.

Hahn, Lakeville’s towering catcher, pounded a 2-2 offering from Jaede on to the parking lot pavement deep past the right field fence.

“I was down 0-2 and think [Jaede] was feeling pretty good, but I was still really confident,” said the 6-foot-4-inch Hahn about his home run at-bat, “I was able to get a pitch I could handle and knocked it out of the park.”

Hahn’s blast traveled an estimated 360 feet and put Lakeville ahead by one.

The lead would not last long, however, as Eagan’s Bauer led off the top of the eighth with double to right-center. He then scored two batters later on a double by Roy Larson.

With the score tied at two late into the game, this was when Berger (still pitching) really dug deep and persevered for his team out there on the mound.

Already having thrown far more pitches he anticipated, next up for Berger was Eagan’s clean-up hitter, Sward, who pounded two big doubles in Eagan’s 7-2 win at Lakeville this past Sunday.

The Bandits slugger was coming to the the plate with teammate Larson on second and one out. This time, however, Sward could not come through as Berger was able to get him to swing under a pitch and hit a harmless flyout to left field.

Berger then walked Tatera, but was able to get Brandon Paetznick to hit a ground ball to third to end the Eagan threat.

The score remained tied entering the bottom of the ninth when Lakeville’s Derek Jacobson took a 3-1 pitch from Jaede high to draw a lead-off walk.

Jim Gaylord followed with a sacrifice bunt to set up brother Jon Gaylord with the winning run in scoring position.

Jon hit a sharp grounder toward the hole in short that looked like it had a chance to get through but would be fielded successfully by Eagan’s Roy Larson. Gaylord’s hit was good for an infield single, however, and the Athletics threat continued to grow.

With runners on first and third, Jaede intentionally walked Derek Hahn, to load up the bases for Lakeville’s Trent Larson.

On a 2-1 count, Jaede delivered a fastball that apparently was a tad high in the home umpire’s eyes as it was called for a ball. Then, on 3-1, Larson laced a line drive medium-depth to right field.

While Jacobson tagged up from third, Eagan’s rightfielder, Dietrich, delivered a strong throw toward home. The ball was slightly off to catcher Tatera’s right but the throw had beat Jacobson; however, anticipating the collision, Tatera could not cleanly catch the ball and Jacobson managed to score ... barely.

The Athletics sliding-inept All-Star slid wide to the right and actually missed home plate, but Jacobson did recover in time to get up and touch home for the game-winning run.

“That was less than graceful,” said Berger, who was on-deck at the time, describing his scrappy teammate’s slide, “definitely no style point on that one.”

“It was quite a slide by Jacobson,” added Athletics assistant manager Tim Watts with a light chuckle, “I got that one on Kodak film so I’ll have to take a look at it again later tonight.”

The Athletics won the game and Jacobson actually not only scored the winning run but earned the win as a pitcher - facing five batters in throwing as scoreless top of the ninth.

But it was Berger who was the prime pitching star for Lakeville, throwing a season-high 64 pitches and frustrating Bandits batters by with enticing pitches.

“Most guys salivate when they get [to face] him on the mound,” said Eagan manager Billy Denet about his hitters batting against Berger, “I think that was part of our problem. I’m not trying to take anything away from him but but that ball looked pretty big up there and [he’d] get a lot of guys out in front and popping the ball up and rolling it over and he got outs, that’s what your supposed to do.”

“Berg did an outstanding job tonight,” remarked Watts, who was filling in for head skipper Doug Johnson, “he throws that good off-speed stuff and that’s what kept [Eagan] off balance.”
The loss dropped Eagan to 8-8 in Cannon Valley League games and 12-14 overall, while the win improved Lakeville to 5-12 in CVL play (9-15 overall) and gives them hope heading into the playoffs.

“It was definitely a big win,” said Berger, one of team’s elder statesmen, “it’s important to get some good momentum heading into the playoffs.”

Next up for Eagan will be a 7:30 contest tonight at Inver Grove Heights to conclude its regular season schedule. Berger’s Athletics have finished league play and will now prepare for their first game of the CVL playoffs, a 6:00 p.m. contest Sunday night versus the Elko Express.

The first CVL playoff game will be Sunday at 4:30 p.m. when the 2-seed Burnsville Bobcats play the 7th-seeded IGH Diamond Kings. All first round playoff games will be played from Sunday through Wednesday at Burnsville’s Alimagnet Park.

Notable individual efforts:
Lakeville Athletics
~ Mark Berger: 5 IP, 1 ER, 4 H, 1 K, 1 BB
~ Derek Hahn: 2-for-3, HR, IBB, R, RBI
~ Trent Larson: 3 IP, 1 R (0 ER), 1 H, 2 Ks, 1 BB, game-winning Sac Fly

Eagan Wildcats:
~ Jon Hansen: 6 IP, 1 ER, 3 Hs, 2 Ks, 0 BBs
~ Ryan Sward: 2-for-4, 2B
~ Jon Bauer: 2-for-4, 2B, BB, 2 Rs

** Note: game was played at Eagan a June 5 Eagan @ Lakeville game was rained out and re-scheduled for last night. Lakeville has no lights on its home field, thus it was easier to schedule the make-up game at Eagan.

**Note: I covered this game as a reporter but only took photos after the game. Pictured in the photos - from top to bottom - are Lakeville's Mark Berger, Eagan's Jon Hansen and Lakeville's Derek Hahn. Also, thanks to Tim Watts, who provided the Lakeville team photo (which was shot after the Athletics shook hands with Eagan following the win).

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Impending doom washed big game off the books

The weather forecasts warned the south suburban area of thunderstorms tonight, but at around 7:30 at Burnsville’s Alimagnet Park all was clear for baseball.
An important game between Cannon Valley League powers Savage and Burnsville was to take place and did ... for about 50 minutes.

The top-ranked Outlaws (28-7, 12-3 CVL) trailed their second-ranked rival Bobcats (12-6, 10-4 CVL) by a 5-4 score as Burnsville’s Luke Hellquist grounded out to third base to end the third inning.

As Burnsville players took to the field for the top of the fourth, the home plate umpire called for Bobcats manager Robby Wiens. After a brief discussion Wiens told his club that the umps were calling for a delay and requested his players to tarp up the mound and home plate area.
Winds were swirling a bit and clouds were emitting a murky sense of impending doom, but the conditions were still dry and storm-free. Wiens explained that the head umpire thought there was a storm coming through but that it would pass through after 30-40 minutes and then the game could conclude the game afterward.

So instead of playing before the storm, players from both teams took to the field to chat about softball leagues and how the Twins crushed Zack Greinke and the Royals last night. The Outlaws and Bobcats were granted quite a bit of social time as the weather held up quite decently for about 30-40 minutes. Then the first drop of rain came and seconds later it began to pour.

Inevitably, roughly ten minutes later, the game was called.

CVL rules demand that 4 1/2 innings must be played to make it official. At the pace the game was going, that may have been possible. But it didn’t happen and thus the statistics from tonight will be washed out of the books and the game will be played anew this Thursday at the same time (7:30) on the same field (Alimagnet).

The game will be of high importance as Savage is up 1.5 games in the standings on Burnsville with just the one league game left to play. The Bobcats have two CVL games on its remaining schedule.

Savage would have sewn up the No. 1 seed in the CVL playoffs with a win, but now may not need to beat the Bobcats on Thursday. Burnsville must defeat Rosemount at Alimagnet Park tomorrow night, then beat Savage.

If the Bobcats succeed in their final two games, both them and Savage would have identical 12-4 league records, but Burnsville would take over the No. 1 seed by virtue of winning the head-to-head contests with Savage 2-1 (Savage defeated Burnsville 14-4 on May 26, Burnsville beat Savage 3-2 on July 22).

The CVL playoffs are set to begin this Sunday at Alimagnet Park.

IGH fought hard but Braaten, Outlaws prevail in end

The winless Inver Grove Heights Diamond Kings laced up their cleats and prepared to face the league-leading Savage Outlaws last night.

The result? IGH lost 11-4. But, it was still a step forward for the second year club, according to manager Jon Wulff.

“It’s definitely a step in the right direction,” said Wulff, who’s team lost to Savage by scores of 19-1 and 24-1 earlier this season. “We’re all young guys and were getting better every game and developing ... it’s a good sign to be playing the best team in the league and to hang with them for five-six innings, that’s big for us.”

Savage, who along with Burnsville is a Cannon Valley League powerhouse, was in control early - leading 7-0 after three innings - but Wulff’s gutsy club put up four runs in the top of the fifth and actually out-hit the Outlaws late into the game.

Hefty righthander Roy Gutzman made the start on the mound for the Diamond Kings and had some control issues.

Gutzman allowed three walks in the first inning, the first of which was to Savage’s lead-off batter, Tyler Peterson. Two batters later, Outlaws catcher Ben Braaten did not take a free pass to first.

Instead, Braaten crushed a first pitch fastball from Gutzman for a no-doubter home run that cleared the right field fence by a good 10 feet.

“I just went up there and had my game plan, if the [pitch] is where I want it, I’m going to put a good swing on it,” said Braaten, who had three hits on the night, “I was able to put a nice power stroke on it and ended up getting it up and out of here.”

Inver Grove was able to escape the first inning only down the two runs, but things unraveled more in the second.

Dylan Peterson drew a five-pitch walk from Gutzman to begin the second. The Diamond Kings hurler was then able to get Zach King to fly out to center, but that would be the last Savage batter he would retire.

Following King’s flyout, Gutzman allowed his fifth walk of the night, then hit a Savage batter. With the bases loaded and one out, Braaten came to the plate. Gutzman threw a wild pitch to allow Savage’s third run, then walked Braaten to reload the bases.

This was the last straw for Gutzman as manager Wulff pulled his starting pitcher in favor of reliever Chris Vanderheiden.

The line on Gutzman? Not pretty. In 1 1/3 innings pitched, the Diamond Kings SP allowed 4 earned runs on just one hit - Gutzman had the hit batsmen and issued six walks.

Wulff’s reliever, Vanderheiden, was immediately knocked around by the Savage bats but would eventually settle in nicely for IGH.

Vanderheiden’s first batter, Tony Peterson, hit line drive to right for a sacrifice fly, then Savage’s John Means bashed an RBI-double. Evan Walker followed Means’ hit with the Outlaws’ fourth walk of the inning to load the bases again. However, Vanderheiden was able to escape further damage by getting Zach Harazin to line out to right on a 3-2 pitch.

The next inning Savage brought out the lumber again as King knocked a triple to the left-center gap and Tyler Peterson socked a Vanderheiden pitch over the fence in left for a two-run homer.

Down 7-0, it seemed like the Savage attack would only escalate from this point, but Vanderheiden would retire the next eight Outlaw batters and the IGH offense responded with four runs in the fifth.

Ben Briesacher began the Diamond Kings fifth with a soft, looping pop-up to short that inexplicably fell in front of shortstop Tyler Peterson for a lead-off single. The next IGH hitter dribbled a grounder toward third baseman Tony Peterson and he couldn’t find the handle on it as the runner was able to reach safely.

Inver Grove took advantage of the defensive complacency from Savage by scoring its first run when Briesacher crossed home plate on a sharp single to left by Justin Mikel. The Mikel hit was technically the third IGH hit, but was really the first solid hit surrendered by Savage starter John Pohl.

Three batters later, Diamond Kings third baseman Jeremy Bade came up with the biggest IGH hit of the night. Down 0-2 in the count, Bade smacked a Pohl pitch down the third base line for a two-run single to make the score 7-3.

“I was just trying to fight it off and stay alive,” said Bade describing the hit, “then I got a hold of it, wasn’t too hot before that but came through toward the end.”

Bade’s team added one more run to narrow the gap to three runs and suddenly turn a possible Outlaws romp into a tight tussle.

Frustration mounted for Savage in the bottom of the fifth as the offense had been stymied. Harazin and Dylan Peterson each flew out before King was called out on a questionable call for strike three to end the inning. An argument ensued and King was tossed out of the game.

The Outlaws would tally a run in the sixth inning, however, as Braaten nailed an RBI-double to left center to make the score 8-4.

IGH was able to chase starter Pohl from the game as reliever Brandon Walczak began the seventh on the mound for Savage. Walczak immediately unleashed a couple pitches nowhere near the plate against his first batter, Aaron Stokke, but the flamethrowing lefty regrouped to get Stokke on a check-swing for strike three.

Walczak then struck out Inver Grove’s Jake Keefer and later got Dan Lojovich flailing on a curveball for his third strikeout of the inning.

In the eighth, Savage inevitably put the game out of reach. Another RBI double by Braaten chased Vanderheiden out of the game, then IGH’s third pitcher - Justin Mikel - was greeted abruptly by Tony Peterson.

Peterson hammered the first pitch he saw, sending a laser shot to left-center that cleared the fence by mere inches. The ball was probably never more than 15-20 feet off the ground and traveled from home plate to the fence in about 1 1/2 seconds.

“It’s a good thing that ball went over, otherwise it probably would of put a hole through that fence,” remarked one unnamed witness from his perch near the visiting team’s dugout.

The Peterson homer put the final damage on Inver Grove as Savage took an 11-4 lead and went on to win by that score.

Despite the loss, IGH manager Wulff saw a couple bright spots in Vanderheiden and Bade.

“[Bade] has been one of our solid points [this year],” said Wulff, regarding his third baseman, who played sterling defense and connected for two of Inver Grove’s six hits. “He did a solid job in the field and with the stick.”

Wulff also commended Vanderheiden for his efforts - the relief pitcher threw 5 1/3 innings against a very tough Savage offense.

“Vandy said he only wanted to throw one inning, but it turned out to be five or six, so that’s good to see,” said Wulff. “He did a good job out of relief and hopefully we’ll get him a start soon.”

That start would have to be in the playoffs as the loss to Savage finished Inver Grove Heights regular season schedule.

Savage (12-3 CVL, 28-7 overall), has its hands full this week before the CVL playoffs begin on Sunday. The Outlaws play one final league game tonight against Burnsville, then travel to Green Isle and Rochester on Wednesday and Thursday.

Notable individual efforts:

Savage Outlaws
~ Ben Braaten - 3-for-4, HR, 2 2Bs, 4 RBI
~ Tony Peterson - 1-for-4, HR, Sac Fly, 3 RBI
~ Tyler Peterson - 1-for3, HR, 2 BBs, 3 Rs, 2 RBI

IGH Diamond Kings
~ Jeremy Bade - 2-for-4, 2 1Bs, 2 RBI

**I covered this game as a reporter, taking game photos and conducting three post-game interviews. The pictures used throughout the article are - from top to bottom - IGH manager Jon Wulff after pitching conference with SP Roy Gutzman, Savage's Dylan Peterson scoring a run after a wild pitch, Savage SP John Pohl, IGH's Chris Vanderheiden pitching to Savage's Ben Braaten.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Eagan’s Busch makes quick work of Lakeville bats

For the second straight day a visiting team’s starting pitcher went the distance against the Lakeville Athletics. Burnsville’s Trevor O’Shaughnessy tossed a nine-hitter yesterday while today’s CG-starter, Eagan’s Mike Busch, fired a five-hitter.

Not only did Busch hurl a complete game, he did so in a quick and efficient manner.

“I just tried to throw strikes, let the defense help me out,” said Busch, who threw 10 or fewer pitches in six of his first eight innings, “I was able to have good control out there today and was hitting my spots well.”

The Bandits defeated Lakeville 7-2 as the Eagan righthander finished his day with 93 pitches, which is a bit deceiving considering his 20-pitch ninth inning featured 3 errors from his defense.

Lakeville players did swing the bat well at times, but struggled to hit Busch’s sinking fastball.

“His fastball is deceiving,” said Lakeville second baseman Jim Gaylord, “it’s coming in there (toward the plate) then dips down a bit just as you’re swinging.”

Gaylord grounded out twice and hit a third grounder that led to an errant throw. Overall, Busch induced 15 ground ball outs as well as four other grounders that could’ve been outs were it not for errors.

Jeff Farr started the game pitching for the Athletics and was off to a nice start, striking out three of the first six batters he faced. However, Eagan would slowly peck away at Lakeville’s lean righthander to tag him for 13 hits and 6 earned runs in seven innings of work.

Eagan’s Roy Larson scored the first run of the game after he singled to lead off the second inning, then stole second base to get into scoring position. The steal paid off as Bandits DH Dave Clements singled Larson home with two outs.

Lakeville tied the game in the third when an Eric Watts sacrifice bunt set up teammate Derek Jacobson, who delivered an RBI groundout to short.

Unfortunately for Lakeville, Eagan fought back immediately as another Larson lead-off single led to a scoring threat in the fourth. First baseman Ryan Sward followed Larson with a gap shot to right-center for an RBI double. Eagan’s Matt Johnson made it back-to-back doubles as he somehow managed to dig out a two-bagger on a soft liner between Lakeville’s center- and rightfielders.

The Johnson double was followed by a fourth consecutive Bandits hit - a single by Clements - but Farr was able to mitigate the damage from there, limiting the Bandits to the two runs and a manageable 3-1 deficit.

In the sixth, however, Eagan was able to get to Farr again.

For his third consecutive at-bat, the Bandits’ Larson led off an inning with a single. This time Eagan’s Sward followed up Larson by crushing the first pitch from Farr very high and deep to centerfield.

“I thought it was gone,” remarked Sward after the game, “I was thinking of getting into my [home run] trot, but it came up a bit short, felt good though, I hit it pretty well.”

Sward’s shot landed just shy of the 399-foot marker on the centerfield fence.

As the inning progressed, the Bandits would put up three runs to make the score 6-1. Overall, for the game, Larson, Eagan’s clean-up hitter, was 5-for-5 with 5 singles, a stolen base and four runs scored. Sward finished 2-for-5 with 2 doubles, an RBI and two runs scored.

“Those guys have been pretty steady for us in our 4- and 5-hole,” said Eagan manager Billy Denet regarding Larson and Sward, “they’ve been staples for us and we’re looking for them to keep doing it in the playoffs.”

Due to three errors by Eagan’s back-up third baseman, Lakeville was able to push home one base runner in the ninth. But, with two outs and the bases loaded, Busch was able to finish his masterpiece by getting Lakeville leftfielder John Degerness to swing-and-miss for strike three to end the game.

“We played lousy,” said Lakeville manager Doug Johnson. “We’ve got to play better than that if were going to win some games in the playoffs.”

“Their pitcher was terrific today,” added Johnson in regards to Busch, “really nice placement with his pitches.”

Both managers have the CVL playoffs on their minds but will also have some final preparation games in their last week of league play.

Johnson’s Athletics, now 4-12 in the CVL and 8-15 overall, will face Denet’s Bandits again for their final league game of the season this Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. Eagan (8-7 CVL, 12-13 overall) will face Lakeville on its home field at Goat Hill Park, then conclude its league schedule with a 6:00 Thursday night game at Inver Grove Heights.

The Cannon Valley League playoffs will begin next Sunday, August 1st, at Burnsville’s Alimagnet Park.

Notable individual efforts:
Eagan Bandits
~ Mike Busch - CG, 9 IP, 0 ERs (2 Rs), 5 Hs, 2 Ks, 1 BB
~ Roy Larson - 5-for-5, 5 1Bs, 4 Rs, SB
~ Ryan Sward - 2-for-5, 2 2Bs, 2 Rs, RBI

Lakeville Athletics
~ Eric Watts - 1-for-2, 1B, Sac Bunt
~ Mark Berger - 2-for-4, 2 1Bs

**Note: I was PA for this game, thus the absence of game photos. However, I did conduct some brief post-game interviews and shot pictures of three of the game's best players (Mike Busch, Ryan Sward and Eric Watts).

Hjort blasts a bomb and three doubles as Bobcats beat Athletics

The Burnsville Bobcats appear to have picked up steam after their 3-2 win over Cannon Valley League-leading Savage on Thursday night.

On a sun-soaked afternoon at Lakeville South High School yesterday, the Bobcats hammered the host Athletics by a 10-1 score.

Second baseman Roddy Hjort went 4-for-4 with a home run, three doubles, four runs and four RBI while Trevor O’Shaughessy went the distance on the mound for Burnsville, who improved to 13-6 overall and 11-4 in the Cannon Valley.

Lakeville - who defeated Northfield 9-1 the night before - stumbled to 4-11 in the CVL and 8-14 overall.

Ace pitcher Jake Hauck started the game for Lakeville, but it would be a rough day for the righthander as Burnsville struck early.

Scott Lindner led off the first with a walk, then stole second. Matt Trocke followed with a bunt single that Hauck fielded but threw wildly toward first. Lindner came around to score on the play as just two batters into the game Burnsville drew first blood.

With Trocke on second, Hjort drove a 0-1 Hauck offering deep to left. The line drive dented the left field fence just a foot or two shy of a homer as Hjort pulled up at second for an RBI double.

Hauck was able to strand Hjort to keep the score at 2-0 after the first inning, then he pitched a perfect second before the Bobcats’ bats got to him again in the third.

Trocke led off with a single to right and up came Hjort. Down 2-0 in the count, Hauck fought back with two strikes to even the count. Hjort stayed alive by fighting off two tough pitches for fouls. Then, after a ball loaded the count, Hjort socked a line drive deep to left-center to score Trocke for a 3-0 Bobcats lead.

Down 4-0, Lakeville looked as if it had a possible threat in the fourth. Jon Gaylord began the inning with a routine grounder to short, but the Athletics were given a break as Burnsville shortstop Trocke sailed a throw high past his first baseman. However, the brief threat was quickly stymied as the next batter hit into a 6-4-3 double play.

Burnsville added a run in the fifth, then really padded its lead in the sixth as Hjort came up to face Hauck for the fourth time.

With Hjort having bashed doubles in each of his first three at-bats, Hauck seemed determined to retire the Bobcats slugger this time. It was not to be, however, as Hjort blasted deep shot well above leftfielder Eric Watts’ head for a two-run homer to give his team an 8-0 advantage.

As Hjort delivered the offensive damage, Burnsville’s pitcher, O’Shaughnessy, was blanking the Lakeville bats through five. Then, in the sixth, the Athletics would finally break through against Burnsville’s lanky lefthander.

Lakeville’s speedy shortstop, Derek Jacobson, led off the inning by smashing a line drive double off O’Shaughnessy. Burnsville leftfielder Eric Fabry quickly got to the ball and fired to second, but Jacobson was able to pull up unscathed. Three batters later, Trent Larson’s fly ball to right would score Lakeville’s spunky shortstop for their team’s first run.

Derek Hahn followed Larson’s sacrifice with a single, but O’Shaughnessy regained control from there, retiring seven of the next eight Athletics batters.

Burnsville tacked on a pair of runs in the eighth. With Derek Hahn pitching, Trocke drove in a run on a sacrifice fly. Then, after Hahn walked Hjort, Bobcats manager / first baseman, Robby Wiens, crushed a double just to the right of centerfielder Jon Gaylord to score Hjort and raise Burnsville’s run total to ten.

The Athletics mounted another brief threat in the ninth as Derek Hahn came up with his second hit of the game and Justin Hahn followed with a double two batters later. However, with one out and the Hahns occupying second and third, Watts hit a tapper to the pitcher for the second out, then O’Shaughnessy struck out Will Walsh to conclude his complete game effort.

Burnsville's next game will be against the Rosemount Black Sox on its home field at Alimagnet Park. Lakeville will hope to bounce back from the loss when it hosts the Eagan Bandits today at 5:00 p.m. at Lakeville South High School.

Notable individual efforts:
Burnsville Bobcats

~ Roddy Hjort: 4-for-4, HR, 3 2Bs, BB, 4 Rs, 4 RBI
~ Trevor O’Shaughnessy: CG, 9 IP, 1 ER, 9 H, 4 Ks, 0 BBs
~ Matt Trocke: 3-for-4, 3 Rs, 2 RBI
~ Scott Lindner: 2-for-4, BB, 3 SBs, 3 Rs
~ Robby Wiens: 2-for-5, 2 2Bs, RBI

Lakeville Athletics
~ Derek Jacobson: 3-for-4, 2 2Bs, R
~ Derek Hahn: 2-for-4, OBE, SB
~ Trent Larson: 0-for-3 w/ Sac Fly but he was tremendous defensively at third base - errorless for the game w/ three outstanding plays in particular.
5th inning, 1 out, runner on second - Larson charged in on a Luke Hellquist chopper and gunned over first for the out.
5th inning, 2 outs, runner on first - Larson made a diving stab of a hard Zach Ryberg grounder and fired a pea to first to nail him by a step.
9th inning, 2 out, runner on first - Larson, the Gold Glover of the day, picked up his pitcher - Derek Hahn - as a dribbler bounced through Hahn’s legs but Trent came over, gobbled up the ball and quickly threw to first to retire the batter.

**Note: I was the PA for this game, thus was unable to take nice game photos - being stuck in a press box behind the backstop - but I did take some photos of the game’s star players (Roddy Hjort, Trevor O'Shaughnessy and Derek Jacobson) afterward. No interviews were made as my primary focus was as a PA not reporter.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Eul's clutch single leads Bobcats over Outlaws

An intense rivalry took place tonight as the Cannon Valley League’s top two teams faced up at Alimagnet Park in Burnsville tonight.

The league-leading Savage Outlaws hosted the second-placed Burnsville Bobcats in a tightly contested battle. Pitching and defense sparkled throughout until a late Burnsville hit sparked a Bobcats victory.

Burnsville’s Casey Jacobson pitched hard into the eighth inning before catcher Chad Eul delivered a clutch bases-loaded single to right in the ninth.

“Whenever you get a starting pitcher to go that long into a game and only allow two runs, that’s great,” said Burnsville manager Robby Wiens, following his team’s 3-2 win. “Then, to have our catcher, Chad, get that two-RBI single, that was all we needed for the win.”

Savage led 2-1 entering the ninth before Eul singled in two runs to give Burnsville the lead. From there, Bobcats closer Dan Mielke came in and sealed the deal by retiring the Outlaws in order to end the game.

Burnsville improved to 11-6 overall and 10-4 in Cannon Valley League play, while the loss dropped Savage to 26-6 overall and 10-3 in the CVL.

“We’ve got to execute a little bit better, not getting bunts down, leaving guys on base, hitting in the clutch, that changed the game right there,” said Savage manager Travis Peterson. “We swung the bats alright, just not in the clutch.”

In all, Savage tallied two runs on nine hits. Meanwhile, Burnsville was able to push in three runs on seven hits - including three hits in both the third and ninth innings.

Peterson was very happy with the pitching of his brother, Tony Peterson, who pitched out of the bullpen for Savage earlier this season but was making only his second start of the season tonight. And the hefty 6-foot-4-inch right-hander delivered, posting seven strikeouts while allowing just three hits and no walks in seven innings.

“My arm felt pretty good tonight,” said Tony Peterson, regarding his performance, “I carried it out to the mound, got it going out there, and it was pretty much smooth sailing from there on out.”

Despite his performance, as with his manager brother, Tony was also a bit frustrated with the final outcome.

“We didn’t play good enough to win,” said Tony. “We had our chances but couldn’t make the most of them, [Burnsville] had theirs and they did.”

Savage had one of its prime scoring chances in the second, when Ben Braaten and John Means led off the inning with back-to-back singles. However, the rally was quickly stymied due to a lack of execution and a terrific defensive play.

The Outlaws’ Dylan Peterson failed on two bunt attempts, then shot an 0-2 delivery to right field. Bobcats rightfielder David Keeney scurried to his left to make the catch, then fired a perfect, one-hop pellet to nail Braaten at third base for a double play.

In the top of the third, Burnsville scored the first run as shortstop Matt Trocke roped a two-out single to left to drive in Keeney.

Savage would immediately fight back by scoring the tying run in the bottom of the third, but the Outlaws’ damage was mitigated by some outstanding defense from Bobcats leftfielder Scott Lindner.

With a runner on third and one out, Savage’s Tayler Rahm drove a pitch deep to left field but Lindner made a fantastic running catch just as he neared the fence. A run scored on the sacrifice fly, but that would be all as Lindner followed that catch up with another great play.

Following the deep Rahm drive, Savage’s Tony Peterson drew a full-count walk and Ben Braaten came to the plate. Braaten bashed a Jacobson pitch deep to left. This one sailed over Lindner to the fence, but the Burnsville outfielder chased the ball down, threw a pea to shortstop Trocke, who then gunned down Peterson at the plate to end the inning.

From there, neither pitchers allowed a hit until Rahm broke through for Savage with a single in the sixth and eventually scored on a fielder’s choice to put the Outlaws up 2-1.

Peterson looked like he was in cruise control on the mound, but he took the field at a different position in the eighth inning as he played third base and reliever Travis Pugliese came in to pitch.

Pugliese pitched a harmless eighth, but Burnsville would rally off him in the ninth as two singles and a hit batsman led to Eul’s big hit.

Mielke pitched a perfect bottom of the ninth to save his own win.

Starter Jacobson allowed a lead-off single to Tony Peterson in the eighth before Manager Wiems came out to pull his hurler. Jacobsen would exit the game to a nice applause from the Bobcat faithful as Mielke took over on the mound.

The 24-year-old Mielke issued a walk to his first batter to put runners at first and second, but he quickly recovered by retiring six straight Savage hitters to close out the game.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Believing in Beasley

Last year, the Minnesota Timberwolves registered their worst season since their 1991-92 campaign - the Wolves’ 15-67 record in 2009-10 matched the franchise-low achieved in ’91-92.

This would lead one to believe - or at least hope - things can’t get much worse, right?

Enter Michael Beasley.

The 6-foot-10-inch, 235-pound forward was acquired by Minnesota on July 12 from Miami for two future second round draft picks.

The no. 2 overall pick of the 2008 NBA draft, Beasley is a player with supreme talent and ability. However, the 21-year-old has also exhibited an immaturity and lack of production that rendered him tradeable in the Miami Heat’s eyes.

“Michael Beasley is a rare talent,” said Timberwolves GM David Kahn at Beasley’s introductory press conference July 15, “with the kind of skill, athleticism and drive to become one of the best players in our league.”

Kahn’s belief in Beasley will need to come to fruition for Minnesota as just one day after acquiring the forward the Wolves shipped off their 2009-10 leading scorer, Al Jefferson, to Utah.

Jefferson was slightly troubled last season (incurring a DWI charge in February) but also was very well liked and supported among the Timberwolves organization and its fans. The six-year NBA veteran was the key piece in the eight-player Kevin Garnett deal made three years ago and showed a lot of promise in his years at Minnesota, despite the lack of team success with the Wolves.

At only 25 years of age, Jefferson is in his prime and the trade to Utah was a mutual deal offering immediate playoff opportunities for Al and a chance for the young Timberpups to get even younger.

At 21, Beasley joins a 12-man Wolves roster with a current average age of 23.

“I’m happy to be a part of a great organization, a rebuilding organization, and I just want to play basketball,” said Beasley, at the July 15 press conference. “I feel like, being on such a young team, it forces me to grow up and become one of the leaders on and off the court.”

The Timberwolves optimistic new forward will take the court next year along side of another no. 2 overall draft pick in Darko Milicic. A 7-foot center from Serbia, Milicic was selected by Detroit as the second pick of the the 2003 NBA draft.

After underwhelming the Pistons and bouncing among three other NBA teams, Milicic was about ready to call it quits as a member of the New York Knicks last season. However, the Wolves gave him a chance, offered him playing time, were happy with Milicic’s production last season, and decided to sign him to a 4-year, $20 million deal.

Unlike Milicic, Beasley had been able to produce at times on the court but had some struggles off the court. In Miami, Beasley had some problems with violating team rules, substance abuse and also some possible psychological issues.

A pair of reclamation projects, to a degree, Beasley and Milicic will join 21-year-olds Jonny Flynn and Kevin Love, along with 23-year-old rookie Wesley Johnson as a five-man core of early first round talent - Flynn was drafted 6th overall in 2009, Love was 5th in 2008, and Johnson went 4th in 2010.

Beasley averaged 14.3 points and 5.9 rebounds in his two seasons with the Heat. In his lone collegiate season, as a freshman at Kansas State, Beasley averaged 26.2 points and 12.4 rebounds in 33 games played.

Kahn and Timberwolves coach Kurt Rambis believe in Beasley’s raw talent and potential. The objective now is to work with the young man and develop him and his young Timberwolves teammates into a competitive professional basketball team.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Rookies not named Heyward or Strasburg having special seasons

For all the talk and hoopla surrounding Atlanta’s young slugging sensation, Jason Heyward, and Washington’s phenomenal pitching prodigy, Stephen Strasburg, there seems to be a couple rookie sensations remaining relatively obscure.

There are several players having excellent debut seasons in 2010, but arguably none have been better than Detroit’s Brennan Boesch and St. Louis’ Jaime Garcia.

Each of these players are making tremendous individual impacts, as well as forming some very special three-player forces for each of their respective teams.

Entering the All-Star break, Boesch, who didn’t swing a bat in the Major Leagues until April 23, has played a key role in propelling his Tigers to a 48-38 record and a mere half-game behind the rabidly hot White Sox in the American League Central.

Through 65 games played, the 25-year-old Tigers outfielder is batting .342 with 19 doubles, 12 home runs and 49 RBI.

Batting behind Magglio Ordonez and Miguel Cabrera, Boesch has transformed this Tigers trio into one of the most dangerous 3-4-5 hitting combos in the AL.

Ordonez is having a nice season, batting .313 with 11 HRs and 56 RBI, while Cabrera is having a spectacular season with his .346 BA, 22 HRs and 77 RBI. Combined with Boesch, the three-tiered Tiger attack is batting .333 with 45 HRs and 182 RBI.

In the National League, the Cardinals’ Garcia has been superb if not dominant.

Through 17 starts this season, Garcia is 8-4 with the Major League’s 3rd-best ERA (2.17) and 80 strikeouts through 99.2 IP. Selected by St. Louis in the 22nd round of the 2005 draft, the 24-year-old lefty is providing the Cards with plenty more than they bargained for.

Pitching along side of Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter, Garcia has helped the Cardinals form the the filthiest three-man pitching combination in the Major Leagues.

With Garcia’s prowess added to All-Stars Wainwright and Carpenter, the stellar St. Louis SP trio is 30-12 with a 2.54 ERA and 315 Ks this season.

Overall, Boesch’s Tigers have the 4th-highest team BA in the AL while Garcia’s Cardinals have the 2nd-best team ERA in all of baseball. With each team in similar predicaments - within a game of their respective division’s leaders - look for Detroit and St. Louis to lean on their prized rookies in making a strong push toward the playoffs.

While neither Boesch or Garcia were selected to play this year’s All-Star game, if each of them perform in the second half of the season the way they did in the first, expect these players to be recognized with AL and NL Rookie of the Year honors.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Toronto's tugboat horn tallies ten

Minnesota brought its bats accross the border this week, but apparently its pitchers left their prowess at customs.

Tonight, minutes after the Rogers Centre tugboat horn sounded for the 10th time in three nights, the Toronto Blue Jays handed the Twins their second straight loss and fifth in their past seven games.

Jose Bautista's towering blast to left field off Twins reliever Ron Mahay in the eighth inning marked home run No. 10 for Toronto in its three-game series against the Twins. And thankfully for the Twins, Bautista's league-leading 23rd HR would induce the final disdainful horn blow as Minnesota's misery would end soon after with the Jays capping off a five-homer, 8-1 win.

Scott Baker (7-8) took the loss for Minnesota, who will try to regroup before tussling with the division-leading Tigers tomorrow night in Detroit. Baker and reliever Adam Burnett allowed two home runs each as pitchers were pounded and earned runs abounded.

Minnesota's lone run tonight came from Michael Cuddyer - who started at his third different position in three nights - who homered in the fourth. Overall, the Twins hammered out six home runs and 14 total runs of their own this series, but it was not enough to overcome the poor pitching efforts.

Compound the recent Twins woes with Detroit's sweep of the awful Orioles and the white hot White Sox four-game sweep of the Angels, and Minnesota suddenly finds itself trailing its top two divisional foes in third place of the AL Central.

Manager Ron Gardenhire will call upon Francisco Liriano (6-6, 3.32 ERA) to silence some dangerous Detroit bats tomorrow as the Dominican lefty faces off with Tigers ace Justin Verlander for a 6:05 CT start.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Delmon's doling out the damage

These past two years Minnesota Twins outfielder Delmon Young has not made a lot of fans in the North Star State. He’s been serviceable, but serviceable is not good enough for a former No. 1 overall draft pick. Especially when a player the Twins surrendered to get Young was a first round pick of their own - pitcher Matt Garza - one who would go on to lead the Tampa Bay Rays to its first ever World Series the following season.

The trade occurred on November 27, 2007, when Minnesota sent Garza, Jason Bartlett and Eduardo Morlan to Tampa for Young, Brendan Harris and Jason Pridie.

In 2008, Garza started 30 games for the Rays, posting an 11-9 record with a 3.70 ERA. Moreover, Garza pitched the Rays past the Boston Red Sox in the 2008 ALCS by going 2-0 with a 1.38 ERA and 14 strikeouts in 13 innings pitched - and subsequently being named ALCS MVP.

Meanwhile, in Minnesota, Young - who was touted to be a top tier bat with big-time power potential - batted his way to a pedestrian .290 BA with 10 HRs and 69 RBI in 575 at-bats.

Young followed up his ’08 campaign with a similar season in 2009 - .284 BA, 12 HRs and 60 RBI. Decent, but not spectacular by any means.

The offensive lack combined with sluggish defense by - what many saw as - an overweight outfielder led to Young falling out of favor with Twins fans and management. Young had 180 fewer at-bats in ’09 and was used in more of a platoon role than a bona fide everyday starter.

But the Twins didn’t give up on Young and his potential, feeling good enough to trade spunky CF Carlos Gomez and thus opening up an everyday spot for Delmon in left field. It’s taken some time, but things have certainly paid off for Young and Minnesota as of late.

Young showed up to the Twins 2010 spring training with a body 20-30 pounds lighter than last season and a new-found determination to prove his potential. Flash forward four months later and Delmon has leapt from an average-at-best outfielder to a terrific clutch-hitter with improved speed, range and power, who has quickly transformed himself into a viable All-Star candidate.

As of July 7, Minnesota’s surging left fielder is batting .307 and slugging .500 with 23 doubles, 9 home runs, 53 runs scored and 56 RBI. Young’s BA and SLG% trail only MVP-caliber teammate Justin Morneau (.342, .620) while his RBI mark is tied with Morneau and ranks 8th among all American League hitters.

What’s more impressive is Young’s ability to come through with runners on base. Minnesota - despite its 45-38 record and fifth-ranked AL team batting average (.272) - has been awful in the clutchest of situations (bases loaded).

With the sacks packed, Minnesota is batting .239 (22 -for-92) as a team. They’ve had their chances plenty of times - 92 ABs is second-most in AL to New York (102) - but have failed repeatedly at coming through. Only Seattle and Toronto have a poorer team BA with the bases loaded.

While most of his Twins teammates have struggled in these high-octane RBI situations, Delmon has flourished. Thus far, Young has gone 4-for-12 with a double and a team-high 13 RBI in situations with all bases occupied.

Moreover, Young has also been steady this season in the other key RBI situations. With runners in scoring position (RISP), Young leads the Twins with a .408 BA (31-for-76) and has 44 RBI. And when he comes to the plate in RISP with 2 out situations, Delmon is batting .349 with a team-leading 18 RBI.

Last night, in a Twins win over the Blue Jays at Toronto, Young was 3-for-3 with a run, RBI and a walk. Delmon’s efforts both last night and tonight could go a long way in a short time as Young is one of five players on the AL Final Vote ballot (which is to conclude Thursday at 4:00pm ET).

Fans can vote as often as possible for either Young, 1B Paul Konerko (White Sox), 1B/3B Kevin Youkilis (Red Sox), OF Nick Swisher (Yankees) or Texas 3B MIchael Young.

All five players are deserving but the Twins are encouraging fans to vote for Young with their “Drive in Delmon” campaign. A fitting name for a fitting cause due to Delmon’s demonstrative ability to drive in runs this season.