Archive for September 2nd, 2008

Big League Rivalry At The Minor League Level?

September 2, 2008

Every year, a lot is made of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry playing out between the Trenton Thunder and Portland Sea Dogs at the Double-A level.

It’s good fodder for reporter’s notebooks, can put some passionate fans in the dark green seats of Waterfront Park and is the talk of the front office.

But does anyone else really care?  Well…

“Sometimes, I think it’s more for the fans,” said Justin Masterson, who pitched in the last postseason series between Portland and Trenton.

“But you have a little bit of (a rivalry) when you’re playing a team of the Yankees.  There’s probably more hype and a sense of ‘we just want to beat these guys,’ just because it’s the Yankees.”

Masterson, who is now in the bullpen for the Boston Red Sox, ended up on the losing end of Game 1 of the Eastern League Division Series against Trenton last year. 

“I think even at that point, I think you’re still more of a fan because you’re not to the major leagues yet,” Masterson said.

“Yeah, you’re playing baseball but you’ve still kind of got that fan aspect.  So maybe there is a little more of that within the players, where we’re like, ‘Oh yeah, we’re playing the Yankees affiliate, so we’ve got to get these guys.’  As you go up, it’s still there, but there’s still friendships and things like that.  I just think that aspect maybe allows it to be a little different, a little heightened sense of urgency when you’re in those games.”

Thunder manager Tony Franklin didn’t seem to think much of the Red Sox-Yankees side of the series either.

“We’re going to play hard against them, just like we play hard against everyone else,” he said.

“We want to beat everybody we play, that’s just the way it is.  I don’t think there’s any more incentive to beat them just because they’re the Red Sox.  I think that happens a lot more at the Major League level than it does here at the minor league level, it’s a little bit more intense up there.”

In terms of development, players who are facing each other in this series for their respective affiliates could eventually face each other at the big league level.

But according to none other than Red Sox slugger David Ortiz, there’s no big advantage gained in the big leagues from facing someone at the minor league level.

“Well, you don’t come up with all of them,” Ortiz said.

“Sometimes you face them, and it’s a totally different game.  It just depends on the way you prepare when you’re there.”

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

Trenton vs. Portland, Part Four

September 2, 2008

For the fourth consecutive season, the Portland Sea Dogs and Trenton Thunder will face off in the Eastern League Division Series.

In 2005, the Thunder lost in five games.  That particular series was highlighted by a dramatic walk-off home run by Michael Coleman in Game Four that sent the series to a fifth and deciding game.

The following year, Trenton lost in four games.  Phil Hughes struck out 13 Sea Dogs over six innings of work in Game One, but former Trenton star Brian Myrow hit a clutch home run off Tyler Clippard in Game Two, and the Thunder lost each of the next two games by one run a piece.

2007 was when Trenton would finally get the monkey off of their backs, winning their first postseason series in franchise history by disposing of Portland in four games.  Chase Wright, Dan McCutchen and Jeff Marquez each turned in masterful performances as the Thunder were well on their way to winning their first championship.

How will 2008 turn out?  Here’s a preview:

STARTING PITCHING

Game 1: TRE Eric Hacker vs. POR Kris Johnson
Game 2: TRE Jeff Marquez vs. POR Clay Buchholz
Game 3: POR Ryne Lawson vs. TRE Jason Jones
Game 4: POR Dustin Richardson vs. TRE George Kontos
Game 5: TRE Christian Garcia vs. POR Dave Gassner

(Sea Dogs rotation from The Portland Press Herald)

You’ve got to like the depth the Thunder have, but the Sea Dogs are no slouches here, especially with Clay Buchholz very tentatively slated to pitch on Thursday.

Game 1 should be a good one, with Hacker not having allowed more than three runs in a start all season.  But Johnson has been solid for Portland all season, going 8-9 with a 3.63 ERA for the Sea Dogs.

In game 2, Buchholz has been very, very good in his two starts in Portland, but Marquez is coming off of an outing where he allowed just one run on two hits through five and a third before being ejected, then consequently suspended and fined.

Game 3 could be the turning point in this series, as Jones is coming off of what may very well have been the worst outing of his career.  Lawson has only made six starts for the Sea Dogs, and the Thunder have not faced him.  He’s walked 17 batters and struck out 17, but has seemed to minimize the damage.  If JJ is his usual self, you can’t bet against him here.  After only getting one inning in the postseason last year, he’s chomping at the bit to make an impact this year.

If Kontos can avoid the one big inning that seems to haunt him when he’s not completely right, he could come up huge in this spot.  Richardson has been shaky all year, but is considered a big prospect for a reason.

If the series goes five games, and it very well could, things could get very interesting.  Garcia struggled with his control in his Double-A debut yesterday, and would certainly be getting thrown right into the fire with the Thunder’s season on the line.  But Gassner has not been particularly effective this season, allowing the opposition to bat nearly .320 against him. 

ADVANTAGE: I’m going to give a slight edge to the Thunder.  Can’t argue with their accomplishments as a whole for the entire season.

RELIEF PITCHING

As of last night, Daniel Bard was not on the Sea Dogs active roster.  If he can return from an injury to his side, he instantly gives the Sea Dogs bullpen some much needed stability and an electric arm. 

Portland has Daniel Haigwood and Mike James, but little else.

With the departures of Oneli Perez and Zach Kroenke, the Thunder bullpen is also relatively thin.

Jhonny Nunez will unquestionably be used in some big spots, but it’s a bit of a question mark after that.  Anthony Claggett’s bullpen session reportedly went well yesterday, but it doesn’t sound like he’ll be ready for the first playoff series.

Trenton will need to piece together some solid innings from Mike Dunn, Humberto Sanchez, Eric Wordekemper, Kevin Whelan, Jose Valdez, Wilkins Arias and Mike Gardner.

ADVANTAGE: Push.  If Portland gets Bard, they get the edge.

INFIELDERS

Trenton will start Chris Malec, Ramiro Pena, Reegie Corona and Kevin Russo in the infield.

Pena and Corona are both outstanding defensively, but provide little pop at the plate.  Russo and Malec are both consistent at the plate, but have been shaky at times in the field.

Portland will likely counter with Lars Anderson, Tony Granadillo, Argenis Diaz and Jorge Jimenez.

Anderson, Diaz and Jimenez have adjusted very, very well to Double-A.  Granadillo is only hitting around .220, though…but they also have Aaron Bates in the picture as well.

ADVANTAGE: Portland.  Overall, they’ve probably got the more potent infield.

OUTFIELDERS

Trenton will send Austin Jackson, Colin Curtis and Edwar Gonzalez out there.

Portland’s got Zach Daeges, Josh Reddick and Mickey Hall.

Seems pretty obvious who has the edge there…

ADVANTAGE: Trenton.

CATCHING

Trenton is particularly strong in this area, with Eastern League All-Star P.J. Pilittere and top prospect Francisco Cervelli slated to see the majority of the playing time.

Portland has lost John Otness to a shoulder injury, so they’ll go with Mark Wagner and Juan Apodaca.

ADVANTAGE: A clear edge goes to the Thunder.

PREDICTION

Thunder in 4.  Really, really debated picking the result I went with or the Thunder in 5, but the starting pitching on this team is just so solid from one through five that I think they should be able to score enough runs off of Portland’s nearly equally good staff to pull it off.

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

September Call-Up

September 2, 2008

While it probably won’t match the experience of getting to watch Phil Coke’s big league debut with many of his former teammates in the Thunder clubhouse after yesterday’s game, I’m headed back to Fenway Park today to put the finishing touches on my DeMarlo Hale story.

I had a few interviews set up for after the game the last time I headed out there, but…uhhh, there wasn’t a game played, so that kind of didn’t end up happening.

I have a few features in the can that I wrote yesterday that I have scheduled to be posted today, so enjoy those.

As for Coke, I’ll hopefully be covering one of the games in the White Sox series at Yankee Stadium, so I should be able to catch up with him then.

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com


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