Since their permanent home, Hammond Stadium, is undergoing major remodeling, the Miracle won the first two games of their best-of-five championship series with Daytona (Cubs) on Thursday and Friday in their temporary home park, JetBlue Stadium. They will need to win one of the next three games, all in Daytona, to claim the championship title.
2013 (1 coach, 13 active, 2 DL)
Gary Lucas – pitching coach
Madison Boer P
Steven Gruver P
David Hurlbut P (DL)
Tyler Jones P
Zack Jones P
Brett Lee P
Tim Shibuya P (DL)
Matt Tomshaw P
Tyler Grimes C/IF
Jairo Rodriguez C
Niko Goodrum IF
Dalton Hicks IF
Travis Harrison OF
Max Kepler OF
Adam Brett Walker II OF
2014 (6 active, 1 DL)
Nick Burdi P
Ethan Mildren P
Alex Muren P (DL)
Brandon Peterson P
Todd Van Steensel P
Bryan Haar IF
Jason Kanzler OF
BOTH 2013 and 2014:
Jeremias Pineda OF
Over the Labor Day Weekend, John Bonnes (aka TwinsGeek) over at TwinsDaily.com issued an ALS Icebucket Challenge to all of the TwinsDaily writers. Since I write a weekly Cedar Rapids Kernles report (most weeks anyway) at TD, I assumed this included me. Maybe I should have clarified that to make sure, but I didn’t.
Besides, John pledged $50 to ALS for each of the TD writers who accepted his challenge and, if nothing else, I like the idea of dipping in to Geek’s pocketbook.
With that said, here’s my challenge video:
As you heard, assuming you played the video, I’ve challenged each of my fellow Knuckleballs bloggers (Eric, Kristie and Babs) to follow suit.
In hindsight, I realized that perhaps Eric was included in the TwinsDaily challenge, since he, too, contributes at TD.
In any event, as John did, I’m pledging $50 to the ALS Foundation for each of my fellow Knuckleballs bloggers that follows through on the challenge.
In the event any/all of them have already done the challenge, all I’ll need is video evidence of such and I’ll make good on the pledge.
I’m fairly sure that this wasn’t INTENDED to be as funny as it comes across… especially since it is Kevin Correia pitching.. Can you imagine what the guys are thinking? wonder what their reaction was to putting this in the play book! That would have been HILARIOUS to listen to radio play x play guy try to describe that! At least the TV guy helped with scoring instructions.
You can follow Cody on Twitter (@NoDakTwinsFan) or read his writing at NoDakTwinsFan, and you can find Eric on Twitter (@ERolfPleiss) and read his writing at Knuckleballs, and you can find Jay Corn on twitter @Jay__Corn! If you enjoy our podcast, please take a couple extra minutes and rate and review us on iTunes. Ratings and reviews are the new Ice Bucket Challenge, tell your friends and GET A BUCKET!
A lot of stuff has happened over the past few days.
Kernels are Playoff bound
First, the Cedar Rapids Kernels clinched a Midwest League playoff spot.
Whether they did this Saturday or Sunday is a bit hazy, but what’s certain is that the Kernels will be playing baseball beyond the scheduled end of the regular season on Labor Day. This makes the Kernels a perfect 2 for 2 qualifying for playoff work since affiliating with the Minnesota Twins.
Going strictly by “magic number,” the Kernels qualified for the playoffs on Sunday, when Peoria fell to Clinton. However, as Jim Ecker at MetroSportsReport.com pointed out, tie-breaking criteria favored the Kernels over Peoria, so in fact Cedar Rapids apears to have wrapped up their postseason spot late Saturday night.
Most likely, the Kernels will open the playoffs with a best of three series against Burlington. They would host Burlington on September 3 and then travel to Burlington for games 2 and 3 (if necessary) on September 4 and 5, respectively.
Unfortunately, I was not in attendance when the Kernels clinched, regardless of whether you consider that to have occurred Saturday or Sunday.
“Touch ‘em All”
Instead, I joined 100 or so Twins fans taking part in the second “Touch ‘em All Pub Crawl” sponsored by Twins Daily/Gleeman & the Geek.
The “Crawl” involved stopping at several establishments along the Twin Cities’ light rail line and ending with attendance at the Twins game Saturday night. It officially started at the Barrio Tequila Bar in St. Paul at noon, but since I was staying out in the southern ‘burbs and wanted to eat breakfast downtown at Hell’s Kitchen before getting started, I’d already spent at least 90 minutes on the rail before ever getting to the start of the official event over in St. Paul.
It was a great time, offering opportunities to renew friendships from prior TwinsDaily events and to meet even more fellow Twins fans for the first time. I’m always surprised how many people at these things have read the stuff I contributed to Knuckleballs and to TwinsDaily.
It was a great time with great people, all of whom just happen to be fans of a pretty poor baseball team. Despite that, the only real negative comment I heard was from Star Tribune Twins beat writer, Phil Miller, who thought the Kernels camo jersey I was wearing was ugly.
Hey, you can’t please everyone, right? And I enjoyed talking to Miller, once we moved away from fashion-related topics.
It really was a good time and I appreciate the TwinsDaily guys and Aaron Gleeman going to the effort to put it together. I always enjoy the events they organize.
Finally, some of you that have been reading Knuckleballs for a while may recall one (or more) of my rants concerning MLB’s TV blackout rules. Those rules result in Iowa residents being unable to watch games involving six diferent teams, the Twins, Brewers, Cubs, White Sox, Cardinals and Royals, online via MLB.tv.
Late last week, the Star Tribune posted a story quoting MLB’s head of online business, Bob Bowman, as saying that baseball is nearing a solution that will allow people to watch their hometown teams online, if they are also subscribers to cable and/or satellite services.
That’s great for people in Minneapolis that want to watch the Twins on their mobile devices.
I’m guessing it’s still not good news for Iowans.
As crazy as it sounds, what seems most likely to happen is that MLB will broker a deal to allow people who already have access to Twins games via their local cable company to also have access online. Meanwhile, those of us in areas where FSN is not even an option via cable will continue to be blacked out.
I do understand the theory. We are supposed to individually get so up in arms over this that we all march on our local Mediacom office and demand that they pay FSN whatever they want for fees to get the regional sports channel added to our Eastern Iowa cable options.
That hasn’t happened yet, it’s not happening now and it won’t happen… ever.
However, given that MLB and the teams let the regional sports networks set whatever they want as the “home market” geographic footprint (because, after all, those rights fees are pretty much the major thing propping up MLB teams’ revenues), it’s pretty clear that any relief from the bizarre and antiquated blackout rules for places like Iowa, Las Vegas and North Carolina, which several teams claim as part of their “home market,” isn’t likely happening either.
Instead, what I expect is that we’ll see MLB, under their new Commissioner, Rob Manfred, address the online issue for fans who could already watch their favorite teams on TV. Then, they’ll claim they’ve “solved” this problem and ignore the fact that they’ve solved nothing for the fans in areas like Iowa.
Maybe I’m wrong and there will indeed be a solution for the rest of us. But, given the selection of a Commissioner who got the gig basically by promising to be “Bud Light,” I’m not expecting anything remotely close to real solutions to any of MLB’s biggest challenges.
I’d be really happy to be proven wrong, of course.
Finally, a few pictures from Saturday’s “Touch ‘em All Pub Crawl.”
This week on the podcast we are joined by the great Rob Neyer (@robneyer, http://robneyer.com/,http://www.foxsports.com/mlb/just-a-bit-outside) a real baseball writing celebrity. Also on this episode is Eric’s potty mouth. You’ve been warned.
You can follow Cody on Twitter (@NoDakTwinsFan) or read his writing at NoDakTwinsFan, and you can find Eric on Twitter (@ERolfPleiss) and read his writing at Knuckleballs, and you can find Jay Corn on twitter @Jay__Corn! If you enjoy our podcast, please take a couple extra minutes and rate and review us on iTunes.
If you enjoy our podcast, please take a couple extra minutes and rate and review us on iTunes. Ratings and reviews make us feel better about ourselves, which balances out how bad the Twins make us feel.
Tuesday night’s Cedar Rapids Kernels come-from-behind win over the Quad Cities River Bandits was bittersweet.
On the one hand, they tallied three runs in the home half of the eighth inning and put away the Bandits for their eighth straight win. They swept three games in Beloit last week, three more from Peoria in Cedar Rapids over the weekend, and now the first two games of their series with the Bandits. The team also played to near-capacity home crowds on Friday and Saturday night.
On the other hand, Kohl Stewart, the Twins’ first round draft pick in 2013 and a key member of the Kernels’ rotation all season long, left the game during the second inning with an as-yet-undetermined ailment. Regardless of the ultimate cause, it’s a pretty safe bet Stewart has thrown his last pitch for this Cedar Rapids club in 2014.
Stewart was one of the few bright spots for the Kernels during a challenging first half of the season. He notched a 2.44 ERA over the course of a dozen starts prior to the Midwest League’s All-Star break in mid June.
The Kernels finished sixth among the MWL Western Division’s eight teams in the first half race with a 31-39 record, 14 games behind the first half West champion Kane County Cougars and 7.6 games behind second-place Burlington.
The Midwest League breaks their schedule in to two halves, with the top two teams in each division, in each half of the season, qualifying for the postseason.
The Kernels have certainly taken advantage of the split season arrangement by turning their season around 180 degrees in the second half.
With 13 games to play following Tuesday night’s win, the Kernels sit one game behind Kane County in the MWL West’s second-half standings.
Since the Cougars clinched their playoff spot in the first half, however, it doesn’t matter how the Kernels fare with them. What matters is that they finish among the top two teams in their Division who have not already qualified in the first half.
Going in to Wednesday’s series finale with Quad Cities, Cedar Rapids holds a six game lead over third place Wisconsin and a nine game lead over fourth place Peoria. That means their “magic number” for qualifying for the playoffs sits at 5.
How did this happen? How did a team go from a 31-39 first-half record to a 36-21 record, so far, in the second half? Certainly, not many fans gave the Kernels much chance of making the playoffs two months ago.
Their manager, Jake Mauer, and coaches Tommy Watkins and Ivan Arteaga, gave their thoughts on the subject on Sunday, which was three Kernels wins (and three Peoria losses) ago.
“Pitching is probably number 1,” said Mauer. “We’ve shaved a whole run off our (team) ERA. Obviously we’re a little different at the back end of the bullpen than we were early on.”
It hasn’t all been improved pitching, however. Mauer also was quick to mention some newcomers to the offense that have contributed.
“Some of the additions, obviously Logan Wade and (Alex) Swim have been huge. Max Murphy’s been a good addition,” added the manager.
The Kernels have lost some very good players, as well, of course. Several pitchers and position players have earned promotions to high-A Fort Myers, which is what led to the new players arriving in Cedar Rapids.
Players coming and going is just part of minor league life.
Mauer pointed out another pretty major difference between his club’s first and second half fortunes.
“We’re keeping guys healthy, like (Mitch) Garver and (Engelb) Vielma and guys like that,” observed Mauer. “I think that really is the reason why we’re where we’re at.
“We went through a tough stretch there early. It seemed like somebody was going down every week. We’re still missing three of our top arms in our organization who are still down with surgery. Obviously, it gave a good opportunity to get up here to (Mat) Batts and (Chih-Wei) Hu and (Stephen) Gonsalves and (Lewis) Thorpe. They’ve really been holding down the majority of the big innings for us.”
Watkins, the Kernels hitting coach, echoes many of Mauer’s thoughts.
“I think we’ve stayed healthy, for the most part. It seemed like every other day we were losing somebody in the first half. But for the most part, outside of some minor bumps and bruises, we’ve been pretty healthy the second half.”
Watkins also sensed a change in the consistency of the team’s performance.
“In the beginning, we didn’t click on both sides. One day we would hit, we didn’t pitch. One day we would pitch, we didn’t hit,” Watkins added. “Now it seems like we’re getting timely hitting, pitching. The defense is making some plays.
“All the pitchers are doing well but we’ve got a few guys at the back end of that bullpen that have been pretty lights-out for us. We give those guys some leads and they’ve been pretty good lately.”
Watkins has seen a change in the clubhouse, as well as on the field.
“I just think the overall confidence right now, the guys are a lot better. The guys are loose, they’re having fun with each other. We came in here the other day, they were doing Kangaroo Court with each other. They’re just having fun right now. They’re winning baseball games, so it’s been a lot of fun.”
There’s little doubt that the biggest change in the Kernels’ fortunes in the second half has come on the pitcher’s mound. That being the case, it stands to reason that Arteaga, the Kernels pitching coach, would have a great deal of insight in to how those fortunes changed for the better in the season’s second half.
He summed up the reasons for the improvement in the club’s pitching in two words, “Experience and chemistry.”
“They go hand in hand,” he explained. “Early, we went through some growing pains, pitching wise.”
Arteaga noted that the team lost three highly rated young pitchers in the first half that the organization had been counting on to play big roles for the Kernels. Felix Jorge struggled and was sent back to extended spring training and, ultimately, to Elizabethton. Randy Rosario and Yorman Landa got hurt, ending their seasons.
Pitchers that remained in Cedar Rapids also went through some rough patches early.
“(Aaron) Slegers had a rough go for about a month,” added the coach. “He was working on some stuff. (Ryan) Eades was learning a lot of things about the league and about himself. Our relievers went through some growing pains. We had Hudson Boyd – early, he was very good. He had a rough go for about three or four outings.
“So everybody’s learning. Like I said when I first got here, it is a process. They get to learn the league. They get to learn the hitters. They get to learn themselves. Work on a different pitch, work on the delivery. Work on some stuff.
“It’s growing pains. Kids like Eades, you know, second round pick, he learned a lot this year. And you get a guy like Stewart – first round pick. He learned a lot this year. In the first half, you have a lot of learning to do. A lot of growing pains.
“And we didn’t do that bad. Not what we wanted to, but we weren’t that bad.”
In the second half, though, the pitching went from, “not bad,” to very, very good.
“Then we got the new boys. We got Thorpe, we got Hu, we had Gonsalves, Batts, Burdi, Reed, Gallant. They brought a different mindset and obviously we’ve been doing very well.”
Arteaga also agrees with Watkins’ observation that the success is reflected off the field as much as on.
“I think that the learning, gaining some experience and at the same time, we’re winning. You see a different atmosphere in there ( the clubhouse). It’s a different environment. It’s chemistry. They like each other. They talk to each other. When you get that, which is chemistry, it shows on the field.
“They come here every day with effort, with a purpose they have in mind. They know, they can feel the possibility of being in the playoffs – how great that’s going to be for the players to experience that. Some of them in their first year of full season. I hope that they actually embrace the possibility.”
If the players are excited about postseason possibilities, they aren’t alone. Arteaga is right there with them.
“Personally, I’m very excited by it because I went through a lot of things this year with these guys. To try to teach the pitchers the fundamentals of baseball, the fundamentals of pitching, pitch sequence, just the growing pains. And just the things you see, to me, it’s very rewarding.
“I guarantee you that there’s not a better feeling than seeing these guys playing every day and understanding the moment. And going out and playing the way they played Peoria and the way they played on the road (in Beloit).”
Of course, winning championships is great. But is winning really important for minor league affiliates?
It’s important, of course, to the local fans who want to see a winner. But some fans of the Major League affiliate see minor league games as little more than exhibition games, attaching little, if any, value to won-loss record.
Arteaga clearly feels winning is important, but not necessarily the most important thing.
“We (the Twins organization) have a philosophy. Basically, we want to develop winners. And the only way you can develop winners is by teaching the process, by teaching the fundamentals of baseball.
“Now, we are very careful with the amount of innings, the activities that we do. Teaching the game the right way, the Twins way.
“But one thing that we don’t do, is to go the extra mile to try to win. We want these guys to win, but I won’t pitch my guys two days in a row. I won’t pitch my guy 125 pitches because I want to win one game. We won’t do that. We have a program. That program works. It’s good. We stick to it. It is our job as coaches to teach these guys how to win. To motivate these guys every day.”
Make no mistake, though, talking about a playoff run brings a smile to the coach’s face.
“When you go to the postseason, there’s a difference,” Arteaga concluded. “That’s what we want these guys to experience. When it’s only you. There’s nobody else playing, just you playing. (Others) going home. They’re going on American Airlines somewhere. You’re not. You’re still playing. That’s the beauty of postseason. You’re sending somebody else home and you’re playing. So that’s good.”
Finally, various members of the Kernels’ players and front office accepted the ALS ice bucket challenge on Monday this week.
A work colleague recently brought this event to mind so I thought I would go pull the video and share the fun of baseball reviews…
The podcast returns, a day late, but a dollar better, and with a full suite of podcast hosts. We discuss Trevor May‘s debut, the departure of Josh Willingham and Kevin Correia and what those moves mean for the organization and the youth movement happening in Minnesota.
We’re joined by Brad Swanson (@Bridman77) from the Twins blog Kevin Slowey was Framed (http://smartpitcher.blogspot.
We finally get around to answering the expansion draft question submitted last week by former listener of the week, John. Which 15 players would you protect? Send us your list to firstname.lastname@example.org.
We wrap things up by going around the league to talk about the 1st place Royals, everyone being injured, and what the 1994 season might have given us had it not been for the strike.
Enjoy the show.
You can follow Cody on Twitter (@NoDakTwinsFan) or read his writing at NoDakTwinsFan, and you can find Eric on Twitter (@ERolfPleiss) and read his writing at Knuckleballs, and you can find Jay Corn on twitter @Jay__Corn! If you enjoy our podcast, please take a couple extra minutes and rate and review us on iTunes. If you enjoy our podcast, please take a couple extra minutes and rate and review us on iTunes. Ratings and reviews are pretty cool, you guys.