Aging bison keep on kicking

Iowa City, IA - With 37 games to go, the Iowa City Bison hold a very slight 2 game lead over division rival Buffalo. After a difficult 23 consecutive game stretch that saw career relievers Brett Halter and Esteban Rodriguez spot-starting games, the Bison are looking forward to the return of staff ace and workhorse Cookie Ramirez.

How the aging Bison managed to plow through the loss of Ramirez and the increased strain on their pitching staff is anybody's guess, but at least 9 different pitchers started games. Rookie
Rube Murphy (6-5, 4.81 ERA) filled in admirably and pitched better than expected, getting the bulk of the starts (11) in Ramirez' spot during his absence. The starting quartet of Ismael Alvarado (14-7, 2.74 ERA), Rick Cobb (12-7, 3.78), Brandon Freeman (8-8, 4.36 ERA) and Pedro Saenz (5-1, 1.79 ERA) has pitched extremely well, and the four saw themselves as leading men rather than supporting cast to Ramirez.

To say that the bullpen has been inconsistent and over-fatigued at times is an overstatment, even seeing a pitching appearance by ss Willie Lopez, and this is a far cry from the lights-out Bison pens of previous years, but they have pitched well enough to stay in games, preserve leads and win games. (Lopez pitched one inning in a 13-5 blowout loss to Las Vegas, and actually struck out utility man Mark Rupe). For the third year in a row, the Bison lack a true closer, and pitching roles seem to change faster than they can be defined. Iowa City pitching coach Piper Bradshaw said: "We asked a lot of these guys and they all did what the team needed. We'd have to look at it every day, looking a whose arm was fresh enough to go. We held back some relievers to rest them to where sombody could start the next game while using the regular starters as relievers on the day we needed them. It was chaotic for a while, but all of our guys were flexible. Joel (McNamara) and Gene (Maduro) had a great feel for who had gas in the tank and were our "on the field coaches", if you will, when we were trying to sort out pitchers".

But perhaps the biggest explanation for the success of the 'S12 Bison has been a renaissance in their offense. The Bison rank amongst the top 5 in NL Team batting AVG and OBP, despite being amongst the worse in hitting the long ball (132). Six of the Bison's regular starters are hitting .300 or above, although defining a "regular" for the Bison takes a bit of creativity. A total of 12 position players have accumulated 200 or more at bats, and seen action in 100 games or more. Only one player, leadoff man and All-Star CF Aaron Bailey, has exceeded 500 at bats. The Bison's offense has been built around platoon and role players, matching starters on a day to day basis while aggresively making late game substitutions and pinch hitting for more favorable matchups. The cast is full of older players, waiver wire pickups and a few home-raised players.

35 yr old Kenny Perez has been consistent with the bat and glove, despite seeing action at multiple positions and battling chronic fatigue. Aging 37 yr old slugger Mike Burrell has adapted well to a switch to 1B and LF from his traditional RF position, a move to put less strain on his arthritic knees and to facilitate giving him more days off. (Interestingly, Burrell has become a spokesperson for male enhancement pharmaceutical Viagra). 2B Tyler Merrick, CF Aaron Bailey and RF Norberto Fernandez form the young offensive core of this team, and were joined by 32yr old 3B Jason Hall before the trade deadline. Three positions are covered by platoon players: the offense of 35 yr old Bo Wells has alternated with Alex Cooke at 1B; the defensive duo of Tony Tatis and Willie Lopez has provided a combined 15 HRs and has been a welcomed bonus from a position where the Bison management only expected solid defense, and the catching platoon of Joel McNamara and Eugene Maduro has excelled defensively while handling the pitching corps admirably.

Vinny Funaki has been a disappointment, both defensively and offensively, and the Bison tried to trade him but found no suitable takers for the decreasing skills of the often injured 33 yr old former all-star and silver slugger 2B who has hit a meager .245 through the season. ESPN's Peter Gammons reported that the Bison had agreed in principle to a deal that would've sent Funaki to Seattle in a package for a pair of minor leaguers, but Funaki failed to clear waivers when the San Antonio Stallions claimed him. The Stallions were not interested in trading for Funaki, effectively forcing the Bison to keep him as a super utility backup role. (The Stallions, who reportedly were looking for offense, had apparently rejected two previous offers for a deal that included Funaki). Funaki may redeem himself in the last 30 games if given enough playing time, but it is doubtful that Funaki's ice cold bat will find a place in the heat of a pennant race.

The remainder of the schedule will be challenging for the Bison; with the exception of Helena and Norfolk, the Bison will only face teams with winning records, and they have performed poorly against Helena. There are no major additions expected down the stretch, although a handful of AAA players are likely to be called up at roster expansion to add bullpen depth and add some defensive flexibility.

The Bison have made the postseason for a few years in a row - they have done so while riding the arm of Cookie Ramirez. Much hinges on whether Ramirez is fully recovered from the injury that has limited him to 130 innings. An Iowa fanbase that saw a quiet offseason and criticized management as throwing in the "rebuilding flag" behind the remaining contracts of the Bison's aging core has found a renewed interest in this veteran team. These aging Bison are hungry for the postseason, realizing that for many of them, this may truly be their last chance at a World Series ring.

San Antonio is Raising the Bar – Not Just a Show Horse (by canadadry)

For years, the MLB team that now plays in San Antonio played third string to its counterparts in Charlotte and Memphis. While every season was contested for a long 162 game schedule it seemed a forgone conclusion, year after year, that regardless of order of Charlotte and Memphis the third spot in the American League South was reserved for the hapless franchise now hailing from San Antonio. But last year that finally changed. With the insurgent tenacity that their name sake would suggest, the San Antonio Stallions pressured their way through the season, managing to leg out the Memphis squad by one game to claim the second spot in the AL South and also to secure a playoff berth as the final Wild Card team. And as so often happens, confidence bred confidence, the Stallions carried their momentum into the playoffs and knocking out long time division rival, Charlotte in the first round and then sweeping the powerhouse Bombers from New Britain to claim the Division Champion crown.But was it just a flash in the pan? Was it just a matter of percentages? Sooner or later every team squeaks a little further than it should….right?

This season the San Antonio Stallions have proven that last year’s rise to their best record ever (94-68) was not just a fluke. With 78 wins after 124 games played they are on pace to break the century mark for wins this season. And the division lead, which once seemed reserved for only Charlotte or Memphis, is a tangible, realistic goal. But like a horse with blinders, the San Antonio Stallions are keeping their head down and their feet low. They aren’t willing to settle for another rung up the divisional ladder. They got a taste for post-season success last year and they’ve raised the bar. The finish line isn’t 162 games out any more…it’s 14 wins past that!

Columbus looks to make a run at the postseason (Story by bobcat_grad)

COLUMBUS, OH - With only a quarter of the season left, the Columbus Flatlanders are looking to make a run at the post season, but to ensure a place in the playoffs, Columbus is going to have to make up some ground on the Portland Rain. That seems to be an annual theme for the Columbus franchise. "Looking up in the standings at Portland is getting old", says owner/general manager/field manager, Bob Catgrad. “While I respect the job that Portland does year in and year out, I’m getting sick of being behind them all of the time.”

Portland has suffered some severe injuries to members of its pitching staff this year, so if there has ever been a time for Columbus to make a move, it is now. Portland has lost both their number two and three men in the rotation: Vasco Picasso and Jose Piedra. Luckily for the Rain, an injury to their ace, Bip Bartee, turned out to not be as serious as first feared. But Columbus isn’t waiting for Portland to lose. “We’re going to go after it, regardless of any one else’s situation. We need to focus on playing good ball right now,” says Catgrad. With the remainder of the Flatlander’s schedule against opponents with a combined .469 winning percentage, hopefully they can translate that approach into enough wins to catch Portland. To do that, they will need some key team members to keep up their pace and others to step it up some.

Chris Tobin has had the rookie season that most players dream about. With a batting average over .300, OBP over .400, 38 HR, and 115 RBI with 40 games to play, Tobin is carrying the offense on his young shoulders and pushing to be the NL Rookie of the Year. “He’s a natural. Plain and simple,” say Catgrad. Tobin attributes his success to a great set of players around him, and Harry Moya in particular. “Moya’s been great. He’s shown me the right way to approach being a professional," he said.

While Harry Moya may be a great influence on Tobin, it hasn’t been until recently that his on-the field productio has matched the Flatlanders' expectations. As recently as 20 games ago, he was hitting in the .250s and trade rumors were swirling. Those rumors must have lit a fire under Moya, who has driven his average up to .278. The new keystone combination for the Flatlanders this year, 2B Tony Lunar and ss Eddie Ingram, has also been crucial to their success. With a combined average over .300, 47 doubles, 46 SB, and 147 runs scored – not to mention solid defense – it seems the Flatlander ownership made the right move in trading for the two veterans. Switch-hitting leftfielder Denny Lo has been consistent at the plate while providing balance to a primarily right handed lineup. If Columbus is going to make it to the postseason, though, they will need more consistency from their pitching staff.

Outside of southpaw Jackie Little, who is 15-6 and having a stellar year after signing a 4 year/$39 million contract, the starting rotation has had its ups and downs. The Flatlanders may have expected too much out of youngsters Carlos Rosado and Harry Harding. Recently, Donaldo Perez was demoted to the bullpen, and Carlos Diaz replaced him in the rotation. Catgrad hopes this will help both players. “Diaz has pitched well for us down the stretch in the past, and Perez can be a good contributor is certain situations.” The Flatlanders stood pat at the trading deadline, so any additional help would have to come from within their farm system or through a late season waiver wire addition.

The pitching staff shouldn’t expect any help from the minors, but the offense could benefit if the Flatlander organization decides to call up slugger Randy Early. Early is murdering AAA pitching, posting a .320 average with 43 HR, 123 RBI, and an OPS of 1.055. The only reason he hasn’t been called up to the majors is there’s no place to put him. “He can play both corner outfield spots and first base, but with Tobin, Moya, and Lo in those spots, he’d end up sitting on the bench,” says Catgrad. "That will not help anybody."

The general consensus in the organization is the future looks very bright. But “wait ‘til next year” is not what the current team wants to hear, especially veteran Harry Moya. “This is a good team. A really good team. And we’re going to do everything we can to bring a pennant to Columbus."

Prospect Report

At the beginning of the season, 10 prospects were identified as key prospects to watch. Here is how these guys have fared so far...

1. Sidney Gardner - 3B - Cincinnati Redlegs Revenge - Gardner has shown the tools that landed him a large contract as an unsigned draftee: 273 AVG, 30 HR, .365 OBP and 92 RBIs while playing primarily first base and some third base.

2. Fernando Rodriguez - LF - Trenton Fire - Rodriguez has a .297 AVG, .349 OBP, 32 hr and 100 rbi with 22sb. He has proven that he truly is as good as promised.

3. Carlos Rosado - SP - Columbus Flatlanders - Rosado has started 24 games, and has pitched 3 complete games, en route to compiling a 9-9 record with a 4.36 ERA in 169 innings pitched. He has been inconsistent at times, but has pitched well enough to help the Flatlanders.

4. Chris Tobin - 1B - Columbus Flatlanders - Tobin is a professional power hitter, and has been an offensive force at the plate : 37 hr, 113 rbi, .304 AVG, .404 obp.

5. Adam Phillips - SP - Colorado Colorado Crush - Adam Phillips can pitch really well - in AAA that is - and that is exactly where he is currently pitching. The curveballer struggled in 5 major league starts and compiled and 8.38 era before being sent back to the minors for more seasoning. His future in Colorado is uncertain.

6. George Crandall - SP -New Britain Bombers - The 20 year old top ranking prospect in the Season 11 Prospect rankings has shown that he has the makings of a superstar, and is still improving. In 18 starts, he has an 8-2 record, and a 3.49 era in 118 ip.

7. Tomas Gonzalez - SP - Helena Handbaskets - The 19 yr old Gonzalez has pitched well for the struggling Handbaskets, and has stayed healthy. In 24 starts, he has a 6-10 record and 3.45 era in 151 ip.

8. Cozy Ponson - SP - El Paso Fighting Tacos , now New York Transformers - the jury is still out on Ponson. He pitched well for El Paso's AAA team and managed to stay healthy enough to be traded to a Vancouver team that traded him again. Coy landed in New York and is still adapting to his new coaches.

9. Vic Cordero - SP - Portland Rain - Cordero has pitched well for a Portland team that has suffered some injuries. He has 10 wins (10-5), has made 24 starts and holds a respectable 3.26 era.

10. Brian Jordan - 2B - Salem Volcanoes - Jordan leads all ML rookies in batting average (.325) while hitting 22 hrs and has been a key to the Volcanoes' second half surge while playing respectable defense.

Surprises Guaranteed For The Postseason (story by sac_lambs)

While the major league playoff brackets have yet to be filled, one thing is certain - whatever happens during the regular season means nothing in the playoffs. Mathewson World has a tremendous history of unpredictability once the postseason begins.

1. Season 5 - Charlotte (118-44) - The Wolfpack put together an incredible 10-year streak of 100-plus wins.Three of those teams topped the .700 win percentage mark. This was the best of the bunch.

2. Season 9 - Milwaukee (117-45). And, if you can believe it, Colorado (109-53) had a monster Season 9 as well, but also lost too soon in the playoffs.

3. Season 7 - Memphis (116-46). Defending WS champs got swept in the finals in four straight by an 84-78 Las Vegas team in the biggest upset in title series history.

4. Season 7 Buffalo (111-51). Aforementioned champion Las Vegas shot them down as well en route to the title.

5. Season 4 Trenton (108-54) A great regular season just didn't translate to postseason success.

Seasons 10, 11 - New Britain. Two wonderful teams that broke the 100-win mark but could not get past the first round either season.

1. Season 6 - Memphis (114-48) - The Blues Boys featured five impending Hall of Famers in their prime: IF Valentin, C Kareem
Nunnally, SP Magee, SP Kinkade, RP Gonzales. Six All-Stars, four Sliver Sluggers, the AL MVP, the AL Rookie of the Year and the AL Fireman of the Year. Lost only one game in postseason.

2. Season 2 - Louisville (108-54) - Lest we forget, the Wild Turkeys were the best franchise as Mathewson World debuted, winning 100-plus games in four straight years. John Russ drove in 170 runs while Sean Donovan, arguably Mathewson World's greatest starting pitcher, anchored an exceptional pitching staff.

3. Season 11 - Buffalo (101-61) - The Blizzard were solid in every phase, but may have been the best offensive team in Mathewson history. Phil Zheng flirted with hitting .400 and Parker McIntyre hit 76, count 'em 76, homers. Buffalo won it all in Season 5, but this team was better.

4. Season 3 - Charlotte (106-56) - No ifs, ands or buts, Charlotte is the crown jewel franchise in Mathewson World and this is the only championship Wolfpack unit. Try these numbers out: Watson 77 stolen bases, Moya 156 RBI, Vega 154 RBI, Hines 116 RBI, with Cooper as the pitching ace. Lost only three games in postseason.

5. Season 10 - Trenton (93-69) - This team was 62-100 only two seasons earlier. Leonard hit .362 with a .654 slugging percentage. Baxter won the Cy Young Award and the Fire had three gold glovers, including Pineda and Fernandez in the middle infield.

Season 8 - Las Vegas (84-78) - Made the postseason by winning on the last day of the regular season, then upset four straight opponents to win it all, including a 4-0 sweep in the title series against defending champ Memphis. The High Rollers had a better team in winning the Season 4 championship, but the Season 8 champs were "Destiny's Darlings".