The Victorino Arch

I don’t know why I feel compelled to write about this today. But here goes.

There is a MAX light-rail bridge here in Hillsboro which has an archway above it. Here is a photo:

220px-Hillsboro_MAX_bridge

Last October, when Shane Victorino doubled home three to give Boston a 3-0 lead over St. Louis in the final game of the World Series, my son and I were passing underneath this arch.

I nearly drove off the road as we pumped our fists and high-fived each other while listening to Joe Castiglione’s call on Red Sox radio.

Two hours later, the Sox were crowned world champions.

And in my family, the above structure will always be known as the Victorino Arch.

What if MLB had no Wild Card?

Count me as one who loves the current MLB structure. Enough teams get into the postseason to keep it interesting, but not so many as to render the regular season pointless. And with the addition of the wild card game prior to last year, a premium is now placed on winning the division. (I just wish they would change the semantics and make the wild card matchup Game #163 of the regular season. I don’t think a wild card team should be considered “in the playoffs” unless they win the wild card game. But that’s a different discussion.)

I have friends who are vehemently against the current MLB structure, saying it’s too watered down, that too many teams make the playoffs.  They say we’ve lost true pennant races.

Have we?

So, FYI, I’ve restructured the standings to what they would be if we still had the four-division setup that was in place in 1993, with these exceptions:  Tampa Bay has since been added the AL East and Arizona to the NL West, and I’ve left Milwaukee in the NL and Houston in the AL.

As you can see, there would be no drama in the American League, and very little in the National:

American League East 
               W  L  PCT    GB 
Baltimore     92 60 .605    --
Detroit       84 68 .553   8.0
Cleveland     78 73 .517  13.5
Toronto       77 74 .510  14.5
NY Yankees    77 74 .510  14.5
Tampa Bay     74 79 .484  18.5
Boston        66 86 .434  26.0

American League West 
               W  L  PCT    GB   
LA Angels     95 57 .625    --
Oakland       83 68 .550  11.5
Kansas City   83 68 .550  11.5
Seattle       81 70 .536  13.5
Chi White Sox 69 83 .454  26.5
Houston       67 85 .441  28.0
Minnesota     65 87 .428  30.0
Texas         59 92 .391  35.5

National League East 
               W  L  PCT    GB   
Washington    87 64 .576    --
St. Louis     84 68 .553   3.5
Pittsburgh    81 70 .536   6.0
Milwaukee     79 73 .520   8.5
Miami         74 77 .490  13.0
NY Mets       73 80 .477  15.0
Philadelphia  70 82 .461  17.5
Chi Cubs      68 84 .447  19.5

National League West 
               W  L  PCT    GB 
LA Dodgers    86 66 .566    --
San Francisco 84 68 .553   2.0
Atlanta       76 76 .500  10.0
Cincinnati    71 82 .464  15.5
San Diego     70 81 .464  15.5
Arizona       62 90 .408  24.0
Colorado      61 91 .401  25.0

Yes, I realize teams’ schedules would be different under this structure. Whatever the case, though, such a system would not work. Too many years there would be too little drama at the end of the season. Too many teams would be out of the picture too soon.

I do, however, lament one thing about the current system: it’s hard for things to become memorable.

When there were just three playoff series per year — two LCSs and the World Series — the images were burned into my memory. Back then, I could tell you the playoff matchups for every year.

Now? If pressed, I’m not sure I could name all the teams who made the playoffs last year,  let alone five years ago.

Arizona Diamondbacks best MLB organization in 2014 MiLB postseason

The first thing I want to make clear is this: yes, I understand.

I understand that some major-league organizations don’t place a high value on winning at the minor-league level. Others do… as they should (more on that in a moment).

And I understand that playoff baseball in general, with its small sample size — and minor-league playoff baseball in particular, with its player movement, protectiveness of young arms and shorter series — is a relative crapshoot.

Furthermore, I understand that postseason minor-league success is not necessarily a strong measure of the health of an organization. It may be… or it may not be (though, certainly, it can’t hurt). It would take many hours of research to go back 20 years and compare minor-league playoff appearances and championships with future major-league wins and impact players developed. (Maybe one of you wants to geek out, do that research and clue us all in?)

That said, the Arizona Diamondbacks — the parent club of the Hillsboro Hops — are, by several measures, the most successful postseason minor-league organization in 2014. To wit:

– Arizona is the only MLB team whose top five affiliates (including the Hops) all made the playoffs. In fact, the Diamondbacks are the only organization to have all four long-season clubs (Triple-A Reno, Double-A Mobile, Advanced-A Visalia and Regular-A South Bend) advance to the postseason. Boston, Cleveland, the Angels, the Mets, and Washington all had three of their four long-season affiliates go to the playoffs. Baltimore, the White Sox, the Yankees, Philadelphia and Seattle had none of their long-season affiliates advance to the postseason.

The Diamondbacks join Boston, the Angels and Texas as the only four clubs to have five affiliates (long-season and short-season combined) advance to the playoffs. (Each major-league club had at least one minor-league affiliate advance to the playoffs, though Baltimore, the White Sox, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Seattle had just one. Philadelphia’s one club was their affiliate in the Venezuelan Summer League… the VSL has just five teams and is at rock bottom of the affiliated-ball food chain. The Yankees had two, both of them in the Dominican Summer League — one eliminated the other).

Two MLB clubs have won a pair of minor-league championships in 2014: the Boston Red Sox (Triple-A Pawtucket in the International League, and the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League Red Sox) and the St. Louis Cardinals (Short-A State College of the New York-Penn League, and Rookie-level Johnson City of the Appalachian League). Arizona has won onethe Hops in the Short-A Northwest Leaguewith one pending. Tonight Visalia, a D-backs affiliate, faces Lancaster (an Astros’ affiliate) in the fifth and deciding game of the California League finals. (The Cal League final and the Triple-A championship game are the only two minor-league games left to be played.)

Arizona has the most playoff games won in 2014 of any major-league organization—17 (with, again, tonight’s Cal League final pending). Boston has 15 (with Pawtucket’s Triple-A championship game against the Royals’ Omaha affiliate taking place tomorrow night). The Cubs, Colorado and Texas collected 10 wins each. The White Sox and Pittsburgh each had no playoff games won, while Baltimore, Philadelphia and Seattle had just one win each.

The Diamondbacks obviously placed a high value on winning at the minor-league level in 2014. And it makes sense — as Craig Shipley, a member of the Arizona front-office, told me, you can’t expect players to only be concerned about themselves for four years, and then when they get to the big-leagues, flip a switch and suddenly place the team’s goals ahead of their own. Part of their development should clearly be learning what it takes to score more runs than the opposing team as often as possible.

Let’s hope this concern for winning down here translates into postseason success up there quite soon.

Hear it: Hops win NWL championship

By now, you’re heard what happened. (And maybe you were among the 3,328 who were there.)

But have you heard what happened?

Update: It’s the Hops vs. Vancouver in the NWL Championship Series

Well, everything is cleared up. Vancouver withstood a Spokane rally to win 5-4 on Thursday night and sweep the North Division series. If the Hops are going to win the Northwest League Championship,  they’ll have to dethrone the three-time defending league champs.

Here is the series schedule:

GAME 1:
Saturday 9/6, 7:05 PM
Nat Bailey Stadium in Vancouver, B.C.
6:35 airtime on Rip City Radio 620 AM and http://www.foxsportsradio620.com

GAME 2:
Sunday 9/7, 5:03 PM
Ron Tonkin Field in Hillsboro, Oregon  (Tickets here.)
4:33 airtime on Rip City Radio 620 AM and http://www.foxsportsradio620.com

Game 3 (if necessary):
Monday 9/8, 7:05 PM
Ron Tonkin Field in Hillsboro, Oregon (Tickets here.)
6:35 airtime on Rip City Radio 620 AM and http://www.foxsportsradio620.com

 

So… WHEN does the NWL Championship Series begin?

If you’re confused, you’re not alone. So I’m here to clear up that confusion.

The Hillsboro Hops are in the Northwest League Championship Series, and will face either Vancouver or Spokane. It’s a best-of-three series — the first team to win two games takes the title.

First, you need to understand this:

No matter what, the Hops’ next HOME game is Sunday, Sept. 7 at 5:03 PM.

Tickets are available here.

But here’s where it gets weird: Sunday might be game one of the NWL Championship Series… or it might be game two. It depends on the opponent.

If Vancouver is the opponent, the series would start Saturday on the road:

Game 1: Saturday 9/6 on ROAD, 7:05 PM at Nat Bailey Stadium in Vancouver
Game 2: Sunday 9/7 at HOME, 5:03 PM at Ron Tonkin Field in Hillsboro
Game 3: Monday 9/8 at HOME, 7:05 PM at Ron Tonkin Field in Hillsboro (if necessary)

If Spokane is the opponent, the series would start Sunday at home:

Game 1: Sunday 9/7 at HOME, 5:03 PM at Ron Tonkin Field in Hillsboro
Game 2: Monday 9/8 at HOME, 7:05 PM at Ron Tonkin Field in Hillsboro
Game 3: Tuesday 9/9 at HOME, 7:05 PM at Ron Tonkin Field in Hillsboro (if necessary)

Yes, that’s right… if Spokane is the opponent, all three games would be played in Hillsboro.

Why, you ask? Well, their ballpark is unavailable to them this weekend, because of something called the Spokane County Interstate Fair.

I assume, if the second scenario unfolds, Spokane would bat last in game one and technically be the “home” team, even though the game would be in Hillsboro.

Got it?

Remember, air times for our pregame shows are 30 minutes before the first pitch, on Rip City Radio 620 AM and www.foxsportsradio620.com.

Vancouver and Spokane play tonight in Spokane. Vancouver leads the series one game to none, and if Vancouver wins tonight, they win the series. If Spokane wins tonight, the third and deciding game of that series would be tomorrow (Friday).

A Few Short Hops at the All-Star Break

Just a few odds and ends as we enter the three-day Northwest League All-Star break:

And then there were five: Of 230 teams in affiliated minor-league baseball (including the Dominican Summer League and the Venezuelan Summer League), the Hops are one of just FIVE not to have lost three games in a row in 2014. The others: the Angels of the Rookie-level Arizona League; and the Cubs, Red Sox and Royals of the Rookie-Level DSL. But wait, you say, many of the clubs have been playing since early April, while the Hops (and the other short-season clubs) have not. True. But the Hops have played 51 games, and all 120 long-season minor-league affiliates had lost three in a row at least once by the time they had played their 51st game. In fact, if you throw in the major-league clubs — making it 260 teams total — only the St. Louis Cardinals are in front of the Hops. They lost three in a row for the first time in their 55th game of the season.

The Hops stand alone: For the first time this year, Hillsboro has the outright season-long best record in the Northwest League. At 31-20, they are one game better than Vancouver.

The chicks are gonna dig this… the Hops fizzled at home last week in an 11-2 loss to Boise on the day power threats Zach Esquerra, Kevin Cron and Stryker Trahan joined the lineup. Since then, however, the Hops took four of five in Spokane, pounding eight home runs (two by Cron, one each by Esquerra and Trahan, as well as two by Pedro Ruiz, one by Grant Heyman and one by Steve Nyisztor). The eight round-trippers is nearly double the amount the Hops had hit in any five-game stretch in their two-year history (they hit five in their final five games of 2013).

… and chicks who are Hops fans will also dig this: When Luke Tendler of Spokane homered in bottom of the first inning on Friday in Spokane, it broke a string where Hops pitchers had gone 550 batters without allowing a HR. That’s 15½ games, fully one-fifth of the season.

Goodbye Mr. Quality: RHP Ryan Doran has been (most deservedly) promoted to long-A South Bend. He made 10 starts this year, going six or more innings, and allowing three or fewer earned runs in nine of the 10, including his final eight starts. (In the other start, he allowed one earned run in 5.2 ip). Dating to last year, he went six or more and allowed 3 or fewer in 12 of 13 starts as a Hop, and in the other he fell one out short. Doran accounts for half of the 20 times this year a Hops starter has gone six or more innings with three or fewer earned runs. Doran will likely replace RHP Brent Jones in South Bend’s rotation; Jones has been placed on the 7-day DL.

He’s in: The Hops’ mascot is in the… uh, Furry Fourteen. Barley has been named by the fans as the best mascot in the Northwest League, and he’s now in the championship round, against 13 other league winners, for the best mascot in minor-league baseball. Vote now, and use these hashtags when you can: #VoteBarley #MascotMania

Northwest League All-Star Game coverage: Want to listen to the Northwest League All-Star Game on Tuesday evening? You can do so online at 95.3 The Score (click on Listen Live at the upper right). First pitch from PK Park in Eugene is set for 7:05 PM (Pacific). Also, @AndrewNemec will be providing updates on Twitter, with a special focus on Hops players.

Upcoming: Beginning Thursday at Ron Tonkin Field in Hillsboro, South Division rivals Hillsboro and Eugene meet for just their second series this year, a three-game set. Their first meetings came in the final 3 games of the first half (July 19-21). Hillsboro took the first two games to clinch the South Division 1st-half title, and Eugene salvaged the finale. The Hops and Eugene will meet nine times in the final 27 games this year. The Emeralds enter the series trailing the Hops by two games in the 2nd half.

 

The Hops Pick Up Where They Left Off

How much do the Hops deserve the playoff berth they earned by capturing the first-half South Division flag yesterday?

Consider this: Hillsboro’s horrific start to their inaugural season is well-documented, as they lost 25 of their first 33 games.

But on July 18, 2013, they turned things around. Beginning with that night’s win at home over Spokane, the Hops have the best record in the Northwest League.

Here are the overall standings in the Northwest League for the last 80 games, since 7/18/13:

80-game standings thru 2014-07-20

Stunning turn in the North:

Yesterday, the Spokane Indians were a strike away from celebrating the North Division flag in front of their home fans and securing their first playoff berth since 2010. Spokane led Everett 2-1 in the top of the ninth inning. With two out and a runner at first, Everett’s Corey Simpson fell behind in the count 0-2… and blasted the next pitch over the left-field wall for a 3-2 lead. Everett held on to win, leaving Spokane’s magic number at one.

Since then, Vancouver has won twice at Tri-City—9-0 last night and 10-6 earlier today—putting the Canadians a half-game up on Spokane pending the outcome of Spokane’s first-half finale, tonight at home against Everett. Spokane holds the tiebreaker. If they win, they’re in.

If Spokane loses, Vancouver would secure their fifth-straight playoff berth, and it would be a shocking turn for a Spokane club that began the year 13-2 and had as much as a five-game lead in the North. Just eight days ago, Spokane was 22-8 and had a four-game cushion. Vancouver won eight of their final nine games of the half. Spokane has dropped five of their past seven.

The Indians have to be feeling the pressure heading into this one, and we’ll be paying close attention during our broadcast tonight.

Stones Philosophy, and Notes on My Scorecard

It’s 2:15 PM on Sunday afternoon as I type this from the press box here at PK Park in Eugene, where tonight at 5:00 the Hops and Eugene Emeralds will meet with the first-half pennant hanging in the balance for Hillsboro. I’ve already been here an hour and a half, and if there had been a bus to the ballpark at 9:00 this morning, I would have been on it. There is nothing like pennant-race baseball (even, in this case, in midsummer), and I’m really looking forward to tonight.

As I type, the Rolling Stones are blaring over the loudspeakers.

You can’t always get what you want.

True.

But if you try sometime, you just might find, you get what you need.

And what the Hops need is two wins, over the next two days here in Eugene, to secure the first-half flag and a September playoff berth. Or, one win and a Boise loss would do, though I don’t think Hillsboro should expect Boise to lose—they’ve won 14 of their last 18, including six of seven in which the opponent has scored first in every game.

Here are a few notes about tonight:

What’s at stake: A September playoff berth. The Northwest League has two divisions (the North and South) and at the end of the season each division’s first-half champ and second-half champ meet in the best-of-three first round of the playoffs. (If one team wins both halves, they’ll play the team with the next-best record for the entire season.)

It comes down to this: The Hops are in a first-place tie with Boise with two games left for each club. Hillsboro, by virtue of a better record in games within the division (the Hops are 9-7, Boise is 8-8), holds the tiebreaker. The magic number is two — two Hillsboro wins, one win and a Boise loss, or two Boise losses (which is quite unlikely) and the Hops punch their September ticket.

The tables are turned: For the past six days, Boise’s games (all at home) have started almost an hour prior to the Hops’ games, so we’ve often known the Boise result of by the late innings of ours. Tonight, though, it’s different — Hillsboro’s game at Eugene begins at 5:01 PM, approximately 75 minutes before the first pitch in Boise between the Hawks and Salem-Keizer. If the Hops can win, it will apply some pressure on Boise to win to keep their 1st-half playoff hopes alive.

Sweep success? As noted above, the Hops will probably have to sweep Eugene to get this done. It’s a tall order to sweep any team—in 29 previous NWL series dating to the beginning of 2013, Hillsboro has just two series sweeps: last August 21-23 here in Eugene, and the final series of last year, August 31-Sept. 2 in Boise. Hillsboro has won 20 of their last 26 road games dating back to last year.

Runs needed ASAP: Hillsboro’s offense has been struggling of late, especially in key spots. Hillsboro is just 3-for-25 over the last three games with runners in scoring position.

Tonight’s matchups: Righthander Ryan Doran (2-3, 3.09) goes for the Hops. Six times in seven starts he’s gone between six and seven innings, and allowed one, two or three earned runs (and in the other start, he allowed one run in 5.2 innings). Righty Adrian De Horta (1-2, 4.50) takes the hill for Eugene, and it would behoove the Hops to be patient. De Horta has issued 20 walks in 20 innings, including nine bases on balls to the last 21 hitters he’s faced.
In Boise, lefty Tyler Ihrig (4-0, 4.37) goes for the Hawks. He allowed six runs on nine hits over five innings in his last start at home against Spokane (though it doesn’t seem to matter how Boise pitches… they’ve been out-slugging everyone). Right-hander Jose Reyes (2-3, 4.10) is slated to take the hill for Salem-Keizer. Over his last three starts, his ERA is 3.00… and the Hops hope he deals like he did against Hillsboro on Independence Day in Keizer, when he allowed just one unearned run on only one hit in seven innings. Um, good luck against Boise.

Hey, isn’t this fun? I trust you’ll be listening. Airtime today (Sunday) is 4:30 PM Pacific, with first pitch at 5:01, on Rip City Radio 620 AM in Portland, and on the internet at www.foxsportsradio620.com (click on “Listen Live”). Mobile listeners should download the iHeartRadio app.

Determining the Hops’ Weird Magic Number

(Unfamiliar with the term “magic number”? If, say, Team A has a one-game lead on Team B with five games left in the season, and no other team is in the race, Team A’s magic number is five. That means any combination of Team A wins and Team B losses totaling five, and Team A is guaranteed to finish first.)

In a quest to earn their first-ever playoff berth, the Hillsboro Hops have a one-game lead on second-place Boise with five games remaining in the first half.

Here is the schedule over the final five days of the half (all times Pacific):

Thursday:
Spokane at Boise, 6:15 PM
Tri-City at Hillsboro, 7:05 PM

Friday:
Spokane at Boise, 6:15 PM
Tri-City at Hillsboro, 7:05 PM

Saturday:
Salem-Keizer at Boise, 6:15 PM
Hillsboro at Eugene, 7:05 PM

Sunday:
Hillsboro at Eugene, 5:01 PM
Salem-Keizer at Boise, 6:15 PM

Monday (final day of first half):
Salem-Keizer at Boise, 6:15 PM
Hillsboro at Eugene, 7:05 PM

So, just what is the Hops’ magic number, anyway?

Well, it depends. It took me awhile to get my brain wrapped around this — but maybe you’re smarter than I am.

Here it is in a nutshell: if the Hops were to enter the final series (at Eugene beginning Saturday) with a lead in the standings on Boise, then Hillsboro’s current magic number is five. If the Hops were to enter the final series tied with Boise, or trailing in the standings, then Hillsboro’s current magic number is four.

Why? Because if the Hops enter the final series with a lead in the standings, then Boise holds the tiebreaker. If the Hops enter the final series tied or behind in the standings, then Hillsboro holds the tiebreaker.

We’ve been through this before, but here is an explanation of the 1st-half tiebreakers in the Northwest League. If two teams finish tied at the end of the first half, the first tiebreaker is head-to-head record. If they split their first-half games, the next tiebreaker is their winning percentage within the division. And if that’s tied, the next tiebreaker is runs scored in head-to-head meetings (or run differential if more than two teams are tied).

The Hops and Boise went 3-3 in their head-to-head meetings. Currently, Hillsboro is 8-7 within the division, while Boise is 7-8. And Boise scored more runs in the two teams’ head-to-head meetings, 32-29.

And remember, both teams’ final series (Hillsboro at Eugene, Boise home vs. Salem-Keizer) are in-division series.

If the Hops enter the final series tied or behind in the standings, and then finish in a tie with Boise, Hillsboro would have a better in-division record and would be the first-half champ. If the Hops enter the final series with a lead on Boise, but finish in a tie, then Boise would have an equal or better in-division record and would be the first-half champ.

What this all means is that if the Hops enter their final series on Saturday tied with Boise, or with a one game lead on Boise, they’re in exactly the same place. If they’re tied with Boise entering Saturday, the Hops hold the tiebreaker, and they have to at least match Boise over the final series. If they’re one game up on Boise entering Saturday, Boise holds the tiebreaker, and the Hops have to at least match Boise over the final series.

Which leads us to the oddest part of all this: if the Hops enter Friday night’s homestand finale with a one-game lead, and if Boise wins Friday night, then the outcome of the Hops’ Friday night home game against Tri-City is irrelevant to the 1st-half playoff race! There is no difference between the Hops being one game up or tied in the standings entering Saturday. (If that scenario unfolds, the Hops would still like to win that one, which would strengthen their overall record should Boise win both halves.)

In case you’re wondering, third-place Salem-Keizer still has a shot, though their chances are paper-thin. They’re four games out with five to play, and the Hops (with a 5-4 edge in the season series) hold the two-team tiebreaker over them. So the Hops’ magic number over Salem-Keizer would seem to be one, but not quite: if Hillsboro, Boise and Salem-Keizer were all to finish in a three-way tie, Salem-Keizer would hold the three-team tiebreaker and would win the first half. So the Hops’ magic number over Salem-Keizer is two… unless Boise loses their next two games, which would render a three-way tie impossible, and which makes the Hops’ magic number over Salem-Keizer one.

I hope that makes sense.

And one final note: even teams who are eliminated still have motivation to win over the next five days. If one team wins both halves, that division’s second playoff spot will go to the team with the best overall record for the season.

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