Results tagged ‘ Danville Braves ’

Neck-and-neck in the East, lots of room to jostle

Boy, it’s been a while since I’ve done one of these. In fact, the last time you heard from me in blog form, the Royals were a lukewarm 8-6 and searching for consistency. Oh, how times have changed. At the moment, Burlington stands in first place in the Appalachian League East Division, thanks in large part to a 10-game winning streak in July. The Royals also lost just one home game last month. But even with all of that success, their division lead and even their playoff spot is far from safe.

Last night’s loss at Danville gives Burlington a slim 3.5 game lead over the second-place Braves. Meanwhile, the third-place Rays can taste the second and final playoff spot in the East. They trail the Braves by half a game and are sneaking up on Burlington at 4.0 games in back of first. The situation appears even more dyer when you notice that Danville has won seven of its last 10 and Princeton is 8-2 in its previous 10. The Royals, on the other hand, are under .500 in their last 10 contests, at 4-6.

Undoubtedly, tonight’s game between the Royals and Braves in Danville, the final meeting between the geographical rivals, will be of vital importance to the playoff race. But, because one game is just one game, it’s important to look at the big picture. With that in mind, let’s take a gander at each team’s remaining schedule to determine their playoff chances in a crowded East Division.

We’ll start with the team saddled with the toughest end-of-season schedule. The Rays have 20 games remaining, and 16 of those contests come against teams with winning records. Princeton’s only matchups against teams with sub-par records are tonight against the Bluefield Blue Jays and a three-game set with Bristol in two-week’s time. Other than that, the Rays play six against the two first place teams (Burlington and Elizabethton) and six against the two second place teams (Danville and Johnson City). Princeton also plays the Greeneville Astros, who, like the Rays, are just a half game from a playoff spot in the West. To make matters worse, Princeton’s last series is on the road against the Twins, who hold the Appy League’s best record.

Next up on the difficulty scale is Burlington. The Royals’ upcoming schedule is not much harder than Danville’s. They don’t play the Twins again and their series against the Johnson City Cardinals is at home. However, Burlington’s most crucial games are in the next eight days. They play Danville tonight and Princeton next Tuesday through Thursday, in a pair of series that could give them cushion in the standings or drop them from a playoff spot. Additionally, the Royals and Blue Jays will essentially play two games on Friday. Because rain suspended play between the clubs in early July, Burlington and Bluefield will resume that game in the first inning, then play a seven-inning game right after. In addition to that make-shift doubleheader, Burlington has two true doubleheaders against the Kingsport Mets. Perhaps the shining light for the Royals is that they finish the regular season against the White Sox, who sit at the bottom of the Appy League.

The Braves’ may have the most advantageous schedule of the East’s three playoff contenders, but the difference in difficulty is marginal. Danville’s biggest positive is that its club has been hot of late and will have a chance to continue that stretch of positivity with upcoming series against bottom feeders. However, their six games against Pulaski (last in the East) and Kingsport (second to last in the West) are on the road and are followed by a difficult finish. After an off-day, the Braves end the regular season with 14 games in 12 days. They have two doubleheaders as part of a five-game series against Bluefield, then face Princeton, Greeneville and Johnson City. To make things more difficult, the series against Princeton is on the road, as is the final series against the Cardinals.

Okay, so that’s a lot to process and no matter how much analysis and speculation we put into the final weeks of the season, nothing speaks louder than results. I’m getting a headache just trying to imagine the possible outcomes, and the only aspirin I can think of is sitting back, shutting up and watching it all play out: 19 more playing days left… Patrick Conroy on the bump tonight for Burlington against first-rounder Lucas Sims… 7 p.m. first pitch in Danville… let’s get to it.

You can also listen to all the home games, tonight’s game in Danville and the rest of this road trip on BurlingtonRoyals.com. First pitch tonight is scheduled for 7 pm.

Like this blog? Have a question? Email me at burlingtonroyalsradio@gmail.com or tweet me @Lufty_BRoyals.

The sound of a top prospect

If patrons at Burlington Athletic Stadium close their eyes when Bubba Starling comes to the plate on Wednesday, they may think they traveled back in time 21 years.

In 1991, the Burlington Indians had a young right fielder who was insistent on putting dents in the roof of the Fairchild Community Center. Manny Ramirez deposited balls over that right field wall (and the left and center field walls for that matter) with shocking regularity… 19 times to be exact. “The ball has a different sound when it comes off his bat,” said the spectators. That sound is back.

BANG!

Starling hammered a 2-1 pitch from Danville right-hander Rafael Briceno. From the second it touched the bat, the ball was ticketed over the left field wall. The shot was Starling’s first as a professional baseball player.

BANG!

With a man on second, Starling pounded a line drive up the middle. Humberto Arteaga came home with Starling’s third RBI of the game… It was only the third inning.

BANG!

Another shot off of Starling’s bat… Gone… No need for further emphasis. It was cranked, and again, it was loud.

In just his fourth professional game, Bubba Starling was overcome with firsts: First home run, first multi-hit game, first multi-home run game… and six RBI. But, that sound put an exclamation point on each of Starling’s hits.

Even if Starling’s two shots to left had landed in the glove of Danville left fielder Edison Sanchez, and if the liner up the middle had been caught by center fielder Blake Brown, the sound of the 19-year old’s lumber would have been blog-worthy. That sound, in and of itself, signaled Starling’s comfort level at the plate. After three professional games in Johnson City, Starling is putting good swings on the ball. That news is all the Royals expected and wanted from his development at this point. Starling’s three strikeouts in his other at-bats say he is not fully polished, but who could realistically expect that so early in his career? As long as he can make singles sound like gunshots, you won’t hear anybody in Kansas City or Burlington complaining.

Andrew Luftglass

Starling’s Home Debut: Bubba Starling will make his debut at Burlington Athletic Stadium on Wednesday, July 4 against the Bristol White Sox. The Royals’ center fielder will face off against fellow-first round pick Courtney Hawkins, as Burlington begins a six-game homestand. First pitch on Wednesday is scheduled for 7 pm with an Independence Day fireworks show following the game. For tickets and information, visit BurlingtonRoyals.com or call 336-222-0223.

You can also listen to all the home games and tonight’s game in Danville on BurlingtonRoyals.com. First pitch tonight is scheduled for 7 pm.

Like this blog? Have a question? Email me at burlingtonroyalsradio@gmail.com or tweet me @Lufty_BRoyals.

Two for One

It’s simple. The Royals need one more win in the season’s final two games to clinch a spot in the Appalachian League postseason. And there is no doubt that last night was one of the most exciting games I have been a part of in my career.

From Luis Piterson’s home run in the sixth to tie it, to Edul Escobar’s triple in the seventh to give the Royals the lead, to the improbable double play from third to first in the ninth, to the final fielder’s choice to seal it, I was treated to a one-of-a-kind game like everyone else at Burlington Athletic Stadium.

The support over the last two nights has been tremendous, and the Royals will head to Danville with the intent of setting up another home date Wednesday night at 7.

For now, let’s stay with the routine and go through today’s Bullets.

BURLINGTON BULLETS:

  • First, we start with some information on the postseason structure. You know the situation in front of the Royals. Burlington is in the playoffs for the first time since 1993 with one win, either tonight or Tuesday at Danville. If the Royals do indeed clinch that berth, they will host Johnson City Wednesday in Game 1 of the First Round of the Appalachian League Playoffs. Then, it would be off to Howard Johnson Field for Game 2 and, if necessary, Game 3. The other playoff series is set, with Elizabethton the West’s two-seed against the Eastern Division champion Pulaski.
  • The winners of the two series will meet for Game 1 of the Appalachian League Championship Series at the home of the easternmost team, which would be the Royals if they defeat Johnson City, the day after both opening-round series are completed. In other words, if both first-round sets end Thursday after Game 2, then the league title series would get underway Friday. If either set goes to a Game 3, then Saturday would be Game 1.
  • Just a heads up regarding tickets for the possible playoff game Wednesday night. Season ticket holders will have their seats reserved until 6:30 p.m. that night. If the Royals staff does not know that you will be at the game at that time, then they will sell those tickets to people at the gates. To inform the Royals that you will be attending the game Wednesday, simply call the office at (336) 222-0223 or show up to the Stadium prior to 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.
  • There were so many key points of last night’s game, but the most obvious sign that it was simply Burlington’s night came in the ninth. With Jarrod Frierson at third following a leadoff triple, Kurt Fleming hopped one right to Yunior Figueroa at third. Figgy’s momentum led him right to Frierson for the tag, and he had the presence of mind to fire it across the diamond for the most improbable double play of the season. Claudio Bavera entered the game as the hurler immediately before that out, and he earned the save behind that huge play. “When I came in to pitch, I was just thinking, ‘That’s a hard situation’,” Bavera said. “Stuff like that [double play] never happens.”
  • Bavera and the Royals have played great baseball lately. Burlington has won ten of 14, with six of those wins coming by one run. But the reliever understands that you need some luck, too. “Everything’s going well,” Bavera said. “We’re playing the same ball that we were playing the whole year…but everything is going to our favor.”
  • It is important to point out the forgotten start of this big run. It came Friday night in Kingsport. Burlington narrowly held on for a 4-3 victory to win the rubber match over the Mets, and the Braves lost to Greeneville. If either of those two things go the other way, then the Royals would have needed all four of these games against Danville to play their way into the postseason, which is obviously a much more difficult task.
  • Burlington certainly has its best pitching duo set up for these final two games. Tonight, it is Crawford Simmons’ turn in the rotation, with Leonel Santiago looming behind Simmons for tomorrow’s regular season finale. Simmons is second on the team with 73 innings, third with a 2.84 earned run average and tops on the club with 67 whiffs. Against the Braves, Simmons is 1-1 in a pair of starts. Back on July 7, the southpaw allowed four runs on eight hits over six frames in Danville’s 4-3 victory. Simmons got revenge August 8, giving up two hits over seven innings as the Royals blanked the Braves 4-0.
  • Danville is a offensive club that is in the basement in the Appalachian League in both strikeouts (372) and walks (134). Safe to say, the Braves don’t miss much. “I think the key for me tonight is going to be to get ahead and stay ahead,” Simmons said. “They are going to put the ball in play, but I think if I get ahead and stay ahead, it’ll make it a lot easier.” 
  • Speaking of the starters, if the Royals do win tonight, then it is not clear who will start tomorrow’s game. Skipper Nelson Liriano would like to push Santiago back to Wednesday, but that may not be the wish of the front office. When I asked pitching coach Bobby St. Pierre, he said he was not sure about the approach yet. I guess it’s a good problem to have.
  • The Braves will send Ronan Pacheco to the hill tonight. Pacheco is 4-5 with a 5.81 ERA. He made his first start of the season back on July 7 against Simmons, and the lefty surrendered a pair of unearned tallies in four innings. Pacheco’s best outing was his last one. He gave up only one run over seven innings in a win at Greeneville Wednesday night. Tomorrow, Kyle Farrell (4-3, 4.37 ERA) will take to the mound for the Braves. He is 1-0 in two starts against the Royals this year.
  • If the Royals win today, then Burlington will simply show up to Legion Field tomorrow and simply play the game. If Danville continues the struggle for the second playoff spot with a win this evening, then the Royals will take batting practice in Danville tomorrow afternoon like they are doing today.
  • Quite a few streaks are for the taking here today for Burlington. First off, the Royals can climb above .500 for the first time since July 29th. Also, Burlington is one win away from a double-digit win increase from one year to the next for the first time since 2001. Burlington won 31 games in ’01 after only 21 in 2000. Only one other time has this franchise done that, and it came in the organization’s second year. The B-Indians won 50 games in 1987 after 36 in the club’s first year in the Appalachian League.

An extended version of the Pre-Game Show brought to you by Best Western begins at 6:40 on burlingtonroyals.com. During the show, you will hear from Crawford Simmons, Claudio Bavera and manager Nelson Liriano, and you will get to relive the excitement of last night’s victory during our rewind segment. As always, shoot us an e-mail during the broadcast at burlingtonroyalsradio@gmail.com. Enjoy the broadcast!

- Brian

The Unknown End

While driving to the park today, something popped in my mind that has been stuck there ever since.

This could be the last Burlington home game of 2010.

As tremendous as these last 13 games have been, with the Royals winning nine of those, a stumble here in the final three would end the most exciting season in Burlington in a long time.

But after such a great year, I have to try to cherish my final regular season game here at Burlington Athletic Stadium. And if things pan out, there will be at least one more home game Wednesday night.

The Bullets will be with you until the end, and a Sunday edition is below.

BURLINGTON BULLETS:

  • The Royals continue to compete in very close games. Last night’s 4-3 victory was Burlington’s 21st one-run game, which consists of more than 32 percent of its games. The Royals boast an 11-10 mark in those contests, but what is most impressive is the fact that they have won five straight one-run tilts, all of which coming in the last two weeks. This is a fun part of the season, especially with the Royals playing so well, and Burlington manager Nelson Liriano is having a good time. “Baseball is fun when you win,” Liriano said. “Everybody knows we are almost done with the season and close to the playoffs, so that’s why everybody is ready to compete.”
  • How about the effort from Michael Giovenco last night. He got into a couple of hitters counts during his two innings, but the righty only surrendered one walk. Since joining the bullpen in late July, Giovenco has worked 16 and a third innings. He has given up only five earned runs for a 2.76 earned run average. His WHIP is only at 1.24 during those eight efforts. Giovenco has also dominated Danville in two of those outings, posting five and a third frames and allowing only one hit. Pitching coach Bobby St. Pierre has been working with Giovenco on trying to keep the ball down, and it has shown. “He is throwing better pitches lately,” Liriano said. “Last night he showed that.”
  • Ryan Stovall notched the game-winning hit last night on a 3-1 curveball from Danville pitcher Lucas La Point. Stovall had been just 1-for-12 in his previous three starts before notching a pair of knocks yesterday. The righty isn’t the best hitter with men in scoring position (.268 average in 56 at bats), but he upped his RBI total to 24 with that seventh inning single. “I was just trying to be patient and get a good pitch to hit,” Stovall said. “They walked me the time before and I knew they were kind of trying to pitch around me.”
  • It is easy to dismiss the good work from Jonathan Dooley because of the dominance shown by Leonel Santiago, Crawford Simmons and last night’s starter Willian Avinazar (who, by the way, matched his longest outing of the year with his seven frames yesterday). But Dooley has given up only three runs in his last three starts, and all of those came in the first inning of the August 19th game against Kingsport when he only went the one frame because of rain. “I feel like every start I go out there, I’m getting better,” Dooley said.
  • Another interesting split for Dooley is his better numbers at home. His earned run average is more than two runs better at home than away from the Stadium (3.78/5.85). Opponents are hitting significantly worse against the right hander here as well (.271/.296).
  • Regardless of the past, this is the biggest start of the season for Dooley, like it was for Avinazar yesterday and like it will be for Simmons tomorrow. But Dooley is trying to treat it like his previous outings. “It’s just another start,” Dooley said. “I know this one is a little more crucial than the past ones, but I’m not going to let that come into play. I’m just going to go out there and do my thing and throw good pitches and hopefully go as long as I can.”
  • Shortstop Adrian Martinez did some running drills prior to yesterday’s game here at the Stadium. He is still out of the season, but he is progressing well and will be set for any baseball activities shortly after the Appalachian League season.
  • Random stat of the day: Burlington is 6-1 when Royals General Manager Steve Brice does the public address announcing at home games, and Brice will be the man behind the mic again this evening. No doubt he will be pumped up after getting a chance to watch his alma mater St. Xavier (OH) open up its football season on ESPN this afternoon.
  • How about the attendance last night here in Burlington. The crowd of 1,872 was the third largest on the season, and another big showing is expected this evening. This town has embraced a very fun team here in 2010. The Royals are now fourth in the league in attendance average (913) and only 791 fans shy of the 30,000 mark, which should be reached today in the final regular season home contest.

Our pre-game coverage begins at 5:30 with the Royals Rewind. The Pre-Game Show brought to you by Best Western begins at 5:40, with comments from Dooley, Stovall and Liriano. Then, first pitch is slated for 6. Enjoy the broadcast and this tremendous end of the season!

- Brian

Don’t Be Fooled

Yes, the next four games conclude the regular season schedule, but, as the title implores, don’t be fooled. The next four games are, in essence, playoff games until the Royals win three or Danville wins two.

No funny story of witty anecdote today–just the playoff scenarios. If Burlington wins the series (either 3-1 or 4-0), then the Royals head to the playoffs for the first time since 1993. (NOTE: If there is a tie for second place at season’s end, which would be the outcome with a 3-1 Burlington series victory, then the Royals would get into the playoffs based on a tie-breaker, which is head-to-head record).

But if the Braves win or split the set, then the Royals are on the outside looking in and the Braves will go to the postseason for the sixth time in seven seasons.

With that as the backdrop, here are today’s Bullets.

BURLINGTON BULLETS:

  • Unfortunately, I do not have the game-by-game results in Burlington history before 2005, but it is safe to assume, by gandering at the final standings over recent history, that this is the biggest series for Burlington baseball in a long time. Even if the Braves sweep Burlington in this series, it will still be the closest Burlington has been to a playoff berth since 2001, when the Royals finished three back of Bluefield in the Eastern Division. Prior to that, the best finish was the last playoff appearance in 1993–when the Royals finished 44-24 and swept Elizabethton in the championship series.
  • Obviously, this league brings with it a great deal of turnover from year to year, but Burlington is trying to do something that hasn’t been done since 1984–make the playoffs after finishing the previous season in last place. Elizabethton went 28-42 in ’83 before taking the Southern Division and the league crown one year later with a 40-29 mark.
  • Unlike many fans and I, Burlington manager Nelson Liriano paid little attention to the standings prior to today. Now, the Royals know exactly what they need to do. “Probably tonight, before we go out, I will talk to the players. Then, everyone will be on the same page.” Liriano said about the playoff scenarios. “We’ve played well against them [Danville] so far all year, and we just need to continue with the same approach.”
  • From an importance perspective, these are big games, but Liriano is not putting any extra stock in them. “This is the regular season right now,” Liriano said. “If you put too much pressure on you and your team, it can go in a different direction.”
  • After losing eight straight series and sitting five games back of a playoff berth with 16 to go, Burlington has won four straight sets, including one against each of the two teams above the Royals in the standings right now (Pulaski and Danville). Thus, Liriano believes Burlington is playing its best baseball of the season. “I think so. Overall, we’re playing good baseball,” Liriano said. “That’s the key–finishing strong.”
  • I had a great chat with first-year hitting coach Damon Hollins prior to the game about his time with the B-Royals. Hollins has embraced his chance to help younger players try to get to the big leagues like he did. And, as a guy who knows about minor league baseball and its benefits, Hollins says being in a playoff race can be huge for a player now and in the future. “If you are having a down year, and you aren’t going anywhere, you can just show up and just keep going through the motions,” Hollins said. “But you can be struggling and you get out here in this series and you do something to help us get into the playoffs, that can make a year for you and that can carry over into next year and the next year after that.”
  • Burlington catcher Ryan Jenkins has put together a nice pair of games. The 17th-round pick back in June, Jenkins is 5-for-9 with a homer (his third) and three runs batted in. Prior to this two-game stretch, Jenkins had been just 5-for-26 (.192) over his previous eight contests.
  • By the way, Princeton kept its season alive last night with a 9-8 win over the Cardinals in Johnson City. The Rays need to win their final five games (at Elizabethton Saturday-Monday, at Bluefield Tuesday for a doubleheader) and get some help. One loss, and the Rays’ season is over.
  • Both teams did not take batting practice or infield today prior to the game. The Braves finished up a series at Greeneville and made the trek back last night, which is the longest trip within the Appalachian League (234 miles). Burlington also had a long trip back home from Kingsport (214 miles) and had physicals this morning, so the team arrived around 5 this afternoon.
  • Sad news out of Bluefield, W.Va., as Baltimore has ended its affiliation with the Bluefield Orioles. It was the longest relationship in minor league baseball (53 years). Thanks to WVVA sports reporter and a friend of mine, Jon Griffith, for the heads up. Here is the link to the story.
  • Every game of this series will feature an extended pre-game show. Tonight, the “Royals Series Report” gets going at 6:30 with interviews from Robbie Penny, Jon Keck and, as always, skipper Nelson Liriano. Tomorrow’s 6 p.m. first pitch brings with it a 5:30 pre-game start with the “Royals Rewind.” Then, we will take the air at 6:40 p.m. for the “Pre-Game Show brought to you by Best Western” Monday and Tuesday from Danville.

I really hope you enjoy this series. Soak it up, Burlington fans. This is as fun as it gets from a competitive standpoint in the Appalachian League. Shoot us an e-mail during the broadcast at burlingtonroyalsradio@gmail.com. Enjoy all of the coverage!

- Brian

My Appalachian League All-Star Ballot

This is my first all-star ballot of my career, so I made sure to give it the attention that it deserved. Just so you know, I was not allowed to vote for any Burlington Royals because that is the team that I primarily cover. Two others who cover the Royals were given ballots, too (General Manager Steve Brice and Burlington Times-News beat writer Bob Sutton).

But I will list where I would have voted for a Royal (and, just so you know, there are three different Royals who would be on my list). Here is the team, with justification on all of them.

Catcher: Chris Wallace (Greeneville)
- Wallace has moved up to short season-A Tri-City, but his numbers were too good to ignore. He is one of four players in the Appalachian League to have an OPS above .900 (.910), which is 67 points better than Wallace’s closest competitor–Johnson City’s Cody Stanley.

First Baseman: Marcus Nidiffer (Greeneville)
- Like Wallace, Nidiffer was recently promoted to the Northeast, but was clearly at the top of the heap in this category. His OPS sits at a ridiculous .981, and he is tied for fourth in homers with 11 in only 48 games.

Second Baseman: Elmer Reyes (Danville)
- The man Danville skipper Paul Runge calls “Mighty Mouse,” Reyes has been a huge boost to the Braves offense. He leads the Braves with five home runs and beat out his closest competitor, Bristol’s Drew Lee, in OPS by 60 points. This was a close call, but Reyes’ importance to a struggling and constantly changing Danville lineup, plus the OPS differential, gives him the spot.

Shortstop: Andrelton Simmons (Danville)
- This was, by far, the weakest of positions. Simmons edges out Pulaski’s Jake Schlander, who does have a slight advantage on Simmons in average. But Simmons plays better defense and has scored more runs than Schlander. This was the toughest call, and it really was the only decision I made that had a significant “eye test” component. I just wasn’t overly impressed with Schlander.

Third Baseman: Ramon Morla (Pulaski)
- From a close call to a no-brainer. Morla (.325, 14, 45) is the only guy who has a chance to stop Oswaldo Arcia of the Twins from earning the Triple Crown.

Outfielder: Oswaldo Arcia (Elizabethton)
- Speaking of Arcia, he gets my top outfield spot. No real surprise there. He has a lead or a tie for the lead in all three Triple Crown categories (.393, 14, 47). His OPS is at a ridiculous 1.147. That’s not even fair. And he is carrying a playoff team that, by the way, does not have any other player on my All-Star Team.

Outfielder: Jorge Agudelo (Pulaski)
- Not your typical clean up hitter. Agudelo has only two homers, but he has driven in 37 RBIs (tied for fifth in the league) and 23 stolen bases (by far the league leader). He was also an easy choice.

Outfielder: Oscar Taveras (Johnson City)
- Taveras was in contention for the Player of the Year award before being sidelined for a few weeks with an injury. He still checks in with the third-best batting average in the league (.319) and 38 RBIs, fourth-best in the league.

Utility Outfielder: Javier Rodriguez (Kingsport)
- Rodriguez doesn’t have all the power in the world (4 HRs, 24 RBIs), but he is a .319 batter and very much ahead of the next best statistical outfielder, Princeton’s Kevin Kiermaier.

Utility Infielder: Jhonny Medrano (Greeneville) [Would pick Burlington’s Ryan Stovall]
- I made sure that Medrano has played more than one position (third and first), and he has the numbers to earn it. But Stovall has had little help in that Burlington offense, plus he truly embodies the “utility” role, as he has played every position. And the numbers are very similar, with Medrano at .302/7/24 and Stovall at .304/4/22. Remember that Medrano had Wallace and Nidiffer in the lineup, while Stovall has had to be the guy.

Designated Hitter: Aderlin Rodriguez (Kingsport)
- Rodriguez is one of the best power guys in the league (12 HRs, 40 RBIs), but his glove is pretty bad so far. So, I stuck the 18-year-old with all the potential in the world here, especially after Morla had the monopoly on Rodriguez’s main position, third base. Also, I hope people don’t get fooled by Kleininger Teran’s label as “DH” on the Appalachian League web site. Teran is primarily a first baseman.

Right-Handed Pitcher: Matthew Heidenreich (Bristol) [Would pick Burlington’s Leonel Santiago]
- This better be Santiago’s award in a runaway, but Heidenreich is a solid alternate. The righty is 5-2 with a 2.28 ERA. Santiago has the same record with a 1.76 ERA, and he just worked eight shutout innings in his last effort. If Santiago doesn’t win this, it would be a shame.

Left-Handed Pitcher: Enny Romero (Princeton)
- Romero has been awesome this season, owning a 2.10 ERA but just a 3-1 record because of the Rays’ spotty offense. The most impressive number to me is that he has not given up an unearned run this year, which means his “run average” is also 2.10. Elizabethton’s Martire Garcia should also get some votes, but Romero has similar numbers and almost 20 more innings than Garcia.

Relief Pitcher: Hector Corpas (Johnson City) [Would pick Burlington’s Chas Byrne]
- As one of the few legitimate closers in the league, Corpas has 15 saves, which is by far the best in the league. But Byrne left the Appy League last week with a better ERA (0.80 v. 1.90), more innings (33.2 v. 23) and a better WHIP (0.71 v. 0.80). This should be Byrne’s award.

Player of the Year: Oswaldo Arcia (Elizabethton)
- No surprise here. He should be a unanimous pick from non-Elizabethton voters. He leads every category and passes every eye test.

Pitcher of the Year: Enny Romero (Princeton) [Would pick Burlington’s Leonel Santiago]
- Again, this should be Santiago’s award, with apologies to Romero.

Manager of the Year: Mike Shildt (Johnson City)
- In his second year in the league, Shildt has pushed all the right buttons and has his club tied with traditional power Elizabethton for the top spot in the West. Elizabethton’s Ray Smith was second for me, with Pulaski’s Eddy Menchaca third.

Thoughts? Arguments? Agreements? Feel free to comment. And stay tuned for a regular blog post later today.

- Brian

Who Are These Guys?

UPDATE (6:10 p.m.): Kingsport has had a less-than-stellar day. The team bus broke down en route to Burlington, and now it is stuck in traffic on the way here. Word from Mike DiFelice, the Mets’ skipper, is that the team will pull in around 7:30, but that is an optimistic expectation. The game will begin around a half-hour after the bus gets to the Stadium. Stay tuned to our Twitter for updates on that. What a strange way to start these two squads’ season series.

_______________

No, that’s not what I asked when I chatted with some of the players at the Stadium today prior to the game. One off day doesn’t do that to you. In fact, once the day off is over and you are back in the swing of things, it feels like the off day never happened.

That’s what the Royals are saying about the Kingsport Mets. In fact, that’s what Bluefield is saying about Bristol, Danville is saying about Greeneville, Princeton is saying about Johnson City and Pulaski is saying about Elizabethton.

The Appalachian League’s schedule is unique in the fact that each team has another squad on its schedule six times from now until the end of the season, and the two teams haven’t squared off to this point, yet.

It is a strange quirk to the schedule, but it is a part of the slate that the Royals must capitalize on in order to make a late playoff push. Let’s delve into that, and other things, in a Thursday edition of the Bullets.

BURLINGTON BULLETS:

  • With 13 games left, the Royals have an “Elimination Number” of 10. In other words, any combination of Burlington losses and Danville victories that exceeds 10 will be enough to oust the Royals from playoff contention. Based on my sources, “Elimination Numbers” aren’t as awesome as “Magic Numbers.”
  • Prior to the Royals-Braves four-game set to end the season, Burlington will play Kingsport (23-30) six times and Pulaski (30-22) three times. On the flip side, the Braves get Kingsport for three and Greeneville (25-28) for six. So, from a strength-of-schedule perspective, Danville has a slight edge. Also, the Royals have six of their next nine on the road while the Braves have six at home.
  • Burlington must also worry about Princeton, with the Rays currently two and a half games better than the Royals. But odds are, with the Rays finishing up on a ten-game road trip, Burlington will claw past the Rays if the club plays well enough to overcome the four-game deficit to Danville. That’s an assumption on my part, but it is a reasonable one. Hence, Burlington must play, at the very least, even with the Braves over the next nine games simply to stay alive. If that indeed happens, Burlington (barring a great finish by Princeton) would need to finish the year with five straight wins over the Braves, including a playoff September 1. If Burlington outplays the Braves over the next nine, then the level of difficulty during that final series, obviously, will decrease.
  • By the way, Bluefield currently holds the worst “Elimination Number.” It sits at 3. Bristol and Greeneville have a 6, with Kingsport at a 5. Elizabethton and Johnson City will wrap up their playoff berths soon.
  • No matter how the playoff push turns out, second-year manager Nelson Liriano cares more about this part of the season versus the beginning of the year. “I want to see them finish strong,” Liriano said. “It’s now how you start. It’s how you finish.”
  • And Liriano believes his players have a better chance to succeed now. “They have made a lot of adjustments, especially in the fundamentals of the game.” he said. Liriano emphasized the improvements in the defense and the pitching staff, specifically.
  • The grind of the year, though, can play a big role in a team and an individual’s success in the dog days of August. But this is an important time, says Liriano. “When you are almost done with the season, that’s the time you separate the good players,” Liriano said. “The guys who have stronger minds and more determination to do well separate from the rest of the guys.”
  • One B-Royal who has had a long season of bouncing around is catcher Drew Robertson. He has split his time between both Burlingtons in the Kansas City organization. One thing that the Royals have going for them is that they are contending. Baseball is more fun when you are winning. “Winning every day and coming out and being able to compete and competing for something at the end of the day is probably something that would contribute to you [staying strong],” Robertson said about the stretch run.
  • Just so you know a little something about Kingsport, the Mets are fifth in the league in batting average (.269) and ninth in ERA (4.64). Kingsport has dropped seven straight games and have fallen to the basement in the Western Division. The Mets’ two best hitters are Javier Rodriguez, who is second in the league with a .327 average, and Aderlin Rodriguez, who is tied for second with 12 homers and fifth with 35 RBIs. Former big-league catcher Mike DiFelice, who was last in the majors with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2008, is in his second year as Kingsport’s skipper.
  • Three games in the Appalachian League have already been postponed (Danville-Greeneville, Bluefield-Bristol and Princeton-Johnson City). Fortunately, no games are being hosted by Western Division teams, as floods have hit East Tennessee very hard. Some areas have gotten upwards of a foot of rain.

The Royals and Mets get going at 7 p.m., with the Pre-Game Show brought to you by Best Western at 6:45. WIth possible rain here, the “Royals Series Report” has been canceled. We may be in for a long night (or possibly no baseball) tonight, so stay tuned to our Twitter for all the latest news. Enjoy the broadcast!

- Brian

He’s Super Strong

A paragraph of congratulations is in order for Burlington strength and conditioning coach Steve Gamma, who was named the Appalachian League Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Year. Each of the ten strength coaches in the league vote for the honor. Gamma is in his first season in the Royals organization. He will head to the California University of Pennsylvania for graduate work in exercise science.

Gamma has worked extremely hard to keep the players here in Burlington in great shape, and he is very deserving of the honor. In honor of “Stevie G,” here are today’s Bullets:

BURLINGTON BULLETS:

  • What a difference between 2009 and 2010 in so many ways for the Burlington Royals. Burlington manager Nelson Liriano knew what to expect last year with his team–he wasn’t given a great club. This year, Liriano was told the team was significantly better. And obviously, it has been true. Last night’s 6-3 win at Danville pushed the Royals past their ’09 win plateau of 24. In head-to-head match-ups, Burlington has outplayed the defending champion Danville Braves, a club that took all but one of its 11 games with the Royals. Burlington is 4-2 against the rivals to the north. 
  • Liriano smiled when I mentioned yesterday’s game, one of Burlington’s most complete efforts of the year. “It’s always good winning against the good teams,” Liriano said. “You build more confidence when the players know they can beat any team.”
  • A big reason the Royals beat a good team last night was new B-Royal infielder Michael Liberto’s three-run triple in the third. He got that shot after Danville elected to intentionally walk Luis Piterson. The 5’7″ product has had it happen before, and he uses it as motivation. “People look at me as a short guy who can’t hit it out of the infield,” Liberto said. “I just take it personally and try to do whatever I can to get a hit.”
  • The term “momentum” is thrown around all the time in sports. Liberto, though, is realistic when discussing the possible ramifications of the Royals’ offensive surge last night. “Baseball’s a weird game,” Liberto said. “One game you’ll get 13 hits. The next game you’ll get two. It’s just how it is. Hopefully we just keep this steady approach.”
  • Jon Keck worked into the sixth inning for the first time this season. While he did run into some trouble, he got some help from Michael Giovenco (more on him in a moment) and picked up his second straight win. A few starts ago, Liriano noticed that Keck was working very quickly and told him to slow down a bit in between pitches. “I saw that last night and I reminded him a couple of times,” Liriano said. “That’s big for him. He has talent. He has a good arm, and he showed that.”
  • Now to Giovenco, who has seemed to find a role in the Royals’ bullpen. The righty has been dominant in his last two efforts out of the ‘pen. He has scattered just two hits in five and a third frames, with all but two of those innings coming last night at Danville. “He threw really well,” Liriano said. “He continued to improve after he has become the long reliever. If he continues that way, he will be fine because he has a good arm.”
  • Adrian Martinez (knee) is still waiting for a decision on his health. Liriano said the team will wait until Saturday at the latest to determine his availability for the rest of the season. So, Liberto will remain the team’s shortstop. And should anything happen to Liberto, the back-up shortstop would be Ryan Stovall, who played some there during extended spring training. Stovall has played every infield position except for short during the Appalachian League slate.
  • Still no word on which B-Royals will be heading to Arizona for the Instructional League this fall. That information should reach the team in the next few days according to Liriano. Once I hear about it, I will get it up on the blog.
  • Burlington’s struggles against the Bristol White Sox are continuing to look more and more understandable as the Sox continue to roll. Bristol has won five in a row and ten of its last 15 dating back to the first of the month.
  • Former Royal reliever Ryan Wood debuted with Kansas City’s low-A affiliate, the Burlington Bees, last night. The righty allowed two runs in an inning and a third during the Bees’ 9-2 loss at home to Quad Cities last night.
  • Check out this long but incredible piece on the realities of minor league baseball from Mike Ashmore of the Trenton Thunder (the Yankees’ Double-A affiliate). It takes you inside the less-than-glamorous aspects of minor league baseball, and there are many. Special thanks to fellow broadcaster Adam Amin for the tweet about it.
  • Tomorrow is the club’s final day off in 2010, and the Blog will take a respite as well. Then, it’s a 13-day push for the playoffs. Buckle up, folks. It’s going to be fun to watch Burlington try to get to the playoffs for the first time since 1993.

Our pre-game coverage of Danville and Burlington begins at 6:45 with the Pre-Game Show brought to you by Best Western. As always, you can e-mail into the broadcast at burlingtonroyalsradio@gmail.com. Enjoy the broadcast!

- Brian

Little Leaguers Doing Big Things

No crazy story or strange opinion here today. This is simply a brief token of respect to the little leaguers who will head to Williamsport, Penn., for the Little League World Series. Tonight, the final team (either New Jersey or Pennsylvania) will punch its ticket and join Connecticut, Ohio, Minnesota, Georgia, Hawaii, Texas and Washington for one of the most wholesome, entertaining spectacles in sports today.

Playing in the LLWS was one of my many dreams growing up, and I hope that every kid playing over the next few weeks soaks that opportunity up. I know I will be watching.

Without further ado, here are today’s Bullets:

BURLINGTON BULLETS:

  • Ryan Wood loves to bounce around. The hitter-turned-pitcher has made another climb today, getting the promotion to the Burlington Bees, Kansas City’s A-affiliate in the Midwest League. He will join former B-Royals Alex McClure and Josh Worrell. This is Wood’s second stint with the Bees, with the first coming earlier in the season as an infielder.
  • How about Alex Llanos yesterday. He tied the game in the sixth and won it in the tenth with RBI base hits. The club’s center fielder hasn’t really had a hot streak this season, but he has never been in an extended funk, either. Llanos hit .250 in June (nine games), .257 in July (27 games) and .262 thus far in August (11 games). But yesterday was Llanos’ biggest effort as a Royal in a crucial game. “This game helped us to get the team together,” Llanos said through a translator. “We needed to try to have a positive attitude and win more games.”
  • Obviously, the Royals pitching staff did great work again (Chas Byrne lowered his ERA to 0.80 and Robbie Penny’s mark fell to 1.80), but the story was the offense coming through. “Finally, we have a lot of hits,” skipper Nelson Liriano said. “We know the pitchers have been doing a great job all year. The defense has been solid too, so we just need what happened last night–a lot of hits and we scored a lot of runs.”
  • Burlington’s best comeback in a while came at a great time. Being four back of a playoff spot with 15 games remaining is much easier than being six games away. It was the Royals’ first comeback victory when trailing after five innings since July 23 at Elizabethton, a 6-2 win during which the Royals scored four in the top of the ninth after tying it in the seventh.
  • The only downside to yesterday’s effort was Leonel Santiago’s start. The righty failed to work into the fifth inning for the first time this year. He also gave up four tallies for the first time this season. His ERA increased almost a half of a run to 1.98, pushing his standing to third in the Appalachian League.
  • Shortstop Adrian Martinez pulled a muscle near his left knee during last night’s game, which was the reason for his removal. He will sit out the next few games and be re-evaluated after that. So, Michael Liberto will be the club’s primary shortstop over the next few days. Liberto is hitting second tonight, behind Luis Piterson.
  • Jon Keck will make his fourth start this season, and the plan is for him to bulk up on the pitch count a little bit. He has increased his outing’s length by one inning in each of his three starts (3 IP, 4 IP, 5 IP).
  • The Royals have now played eight extra-inning contests, owning a 3-5 mark on the season. But last night’s win was the first of those eight to end in the tenth frame. Because of all the extra time, the Royals’ pitching staff leads the league in innings worked (484), almost seven more than second-place Danville, who owns a 2-5 mark during bonus baseball.
  • How about Danville’s constant shuffling. First baseman Joey Terdoslavich was sent to Atlanta’s low-A affiliate–the Rome Braves of the South Atlantic League–marking the 29th different roster for the D-Braves in 2010.

Our coverage on burlingtonroyals.com begins at 6:45. Enjoy the broadcast!

- Brian

Instant Replay?

ESPN ran a report today about close calls in the game of baseball. Replay showed that, during a two-week span earlier this season in the Major Leagues, umpires missed 20 percent of the plays deemed “close calls.”

Baseball has gotten the reputation of being “behind the curve” when it comes to replay, with only home runs currently under the sphere of “reviewable plays.” Being a young, technologically-savvy fan, I would love to see more replay. But I understand where the “purists” come from, and I wonder how far baseball can really go with replay.

If a ball down the left field line is originally ruled foul, and replay shows that it was actually fair. How does an umpire rule what base the hitter should get? That may become a little difficult in certain spots. What’s worse, inaccurate calls or inaccurate opinions on the results of missed calls? Well, they are both bad and hurt the game.

In other words, these three paragraphs are designed to say that replay has a significant gray area. Hopefully today’s Bullets don’t have a gray area for you, because here they come.

BURLINGTON BULLETS:

  • While the Royals have fallen further below .500 than ever before this season, it must be noted how close the Royals could be to a much better mark. The Royals have played 16 one-run games in 2010 (a ******** 31 percent of Burlington’s games) and are only 6-10 in those contests. Throw in Burlington’s 4-3 record in two-run games, along with the 14-inning, 12-8 loss to Pulaski, and you can see that the Royals have played in a “close” game once every two games or so.
  • Last night, Bristol blanked the Royals for the first three innings, which ran the club’s scoreless streak to a season-high 26 innings.
  • Ryan Stovall has been the team’s most consistent hitter in 2010. He is hitting .301 with four homers, 18 RBIs and ten stolen bases. August has been his “off month,” and the Live Oak, Florida, native has still hit safely in nine of his 12 starts. But he can’t place what troubles the Royals’ sticks. “I really don’t know,” Stovall said. “We’re hitting the ball fine, but we’re just not scoring many runs. With two outs, we need to get some big hits, and that’s just not happening right now.”
  • Crawford Simmons may not have dominated last night, but he still posted his fifth start of at least six innings and his eighth of at least five. The southpaw still has not allowed more than four runs in any start this season. But he did tie a season-low with only one strikeout, matching his effort July 7 at Danville.
  • Daniel Hernandez worked two innings last night and looked much better than he did Wednesday in his first outing since July 1. The righty, who was slated to be Burlington’s number-five starter before feeling some soreness in his right elbow, worked two shutout innings and only gave up one hit. “He’s looking stronger, more confident, more loose,” skipper Nelson Liriano said. “He knows he feels better.”
  • This afternoon, it is Leonel Santiago’s turn, and it is not a stretch to think that, in a couple of weeks, Santiago could boast the Appalachian League’s Pitcher of the Year award. Santiago has been lights out over his last four starts: 25.2 IP, 4 R, 1 ER, 22 K, 5 BB. Still, Santiago only has a 1-1 record to show for it.
  • Over the course of the season, eight of Santiago’s ten starts are deemed “quality starts,” which is a start with at least six innings of work and three earned runs or less given up. And he has whiffed at least three men in every start. I probably could have saved you the last 20 seconds of your life by omitting the last bullet and simply saying, “Santiago has been awesome,” in this one, but that’s no fun. Sorry for the loss of time in your life.
  • The Royals and Braves have played four games this season, and the winning team has scored four runs in each game. Today’s game begins at 4 p.m. And there are four more games between Burlington and Danville at American Legion Post 325 Field. That’s a lot of fours.

Our pre-game coverage begins at 3:30 with my favorite part of the week, the “Royals Rewind.” Then, the Pre-Game Show brought to you by Best Western comes at you at 3:45, with the game at 4. Enjoy the broadcast and the game!

- Brian

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