At this point we can, with a pretty high degree of confidence, project that both Tennessee and Daytona will be in the playoffs. Boise is right in the middle of things and Arizona can’t be ruled out, but the odds are solidly with the Smokies and the Cubs. If you are eager for some playoff baseball (and what Cubs fan isn’t?), Tennessee and Florida the best places to plan your trips.
All the Southern League playoffs games should be on MiLB.TV. If you are a subscriber, you are in good shape. Some Florida State League playoffs games may be shown as well; I cannot say for sure yet. That goes for Boise as well. Anyone wanting to watch the AZL Cubs in the postseason, should they make it, will probably need to head to Arizona in person.
Iowa Cubs : 58-70
They are only six games out of first place, but it looks like Iowa is pretty much done. Their recent three game losing streak has not helped matters, and there are just not that many games left to be played. That disastrous western swing effectively killed Iowa’s season.
Tennessee Smokies : 33-21
This is exactly how a team is supposed to take over a division. Tennessee now holds a commanding six game lead over Jackson for first place in the North division, and they are a game away from already eliminating Chattanooga altogether. So long as the pitching continues to perform as well as it has these past two weeks I think this team is extremely likely to make the playoffs. A collapse at this point would be very surprising.
Daytona Cubs : 29-19-1
Daytona still has the best record in the league and a solid four game lead over Lakeland, but they have not yet pulled away like the Smokies. Still, given the recent additions of Vogelbach and Bryant to their lineup, this is a team with no obvious weaknesses. The pitching staff is strong, the bullpen has been pretty good, and the lineup has a good mix of speed and some serious power. Daytona is going to be hard to beat.
Kane County Cougars : 20-33
The Cougars have actually been playing better baseball of late. Unfortunately, this turn for the better occurred after they were hopelessly out of it. Kane County still sits in dead last and is a full 15.5 games out of first. They are not mathematically eliminated yet, but they will be in another week or so.
Boise Hawks : 14-8
Boise has been extremely hot lately. They have won nine of their last ten games and have the best home record in the league. What they don’t have is first place. Salem-Keizer has been nearly as good and remains just one game ahead of the Hawks. Boise goes to SK on the 21st, and the Volcanoes return the favor one week later. If you happen to be looking for some fantastic baseball in the Pacific Northwest, get to those games.
Arizona AZL Cubs : 10-8
The AZL Cubs happen to be a very good home team (8-1, best in the league), but they are struggling on the road (2-7, worst in the league). That sharp split has left them a little over .500 and just two games behind the AZL Giants for first place. Time is starting to run short in the desert, but they have time to make a run and sneak into the postseason. Unless they can solve their road woes, though, that postseason stay is likely to be a short one.
Strangest of the Strange
One of the great things about minor league baseball is that you can sometimes see things that you will almost certainly never see in the major leagues. I am not just talking about mistakes – those though often turn into unexpected plays – but just strange plays in general. Baseball is very good a producing those Moments of Oddity, and they seem to occur in the minors more often than not.
I saw another of those odd moments in Tennessee last week, but while it makes it on my Strangest Plays list it does not quite top it. Here, then, are the three strangest plays I have had the pleasure of watching first hand.
The Grand Slam That Wasn’t
I’m not sure of the year on this one (but I lean towards 2006), but I am certain of the place. I was in Nashville for a home game of the Nashville Sounds, the Triple A team for Milwaukee. The Sounds at this time had players such as Ricky Weeks and Prince Fielder on their roster. The opponent was, I think, the Las Vegas 51s who were at the time the affiliate of the Dodgers (again, I think).
Early in the game, a game slowed by a drizzly rain and pitchers who were never in any hurry to throw the ball, the Sounds had the bases loaded when someone (I don’t remember who, but it wasn’t Fielder) stepped to the plate. The batter launched one just over the fence for an apparent grand slam and started to circle the bases. And then things went weird.
After talking to some people and piecing together events after the fact, as best I can tell the sequence went something like this. The third base umpire was not certain that the ball had actually left yard, but he delayed his call. The runner from third trotted across the plate, and the runner from second was somewhere in the vicinity of third when that umpire apparently signaled no home run. Confused, the runner from second slowed down. The umpire then changed his mind and re-signaled home run, but before the confused runner could resume his trot he was passed by the runner from first who apparently hadn’t been paying attention to much of anything.
The umpires got together after the bases were empty and, after a long conference and a longer argument, ruled that passing of the baserunner was in fact illegal even given the circumstances and that an out had occurred. The would-be grand slam turned into a three run homer because an umpire flinched, a runner got confused, and the trailing runner was oblivious. If something like that happened in the majors we’d be hearing about it for months after the fact.
I’ve seen a couple triple plays, but only that was scored 8-6-3. Not only that, but the center fielder who started the play did so from as deep as he could possibly be.
This one also took place in Nashville. The Iowa Cubs had come to town and I took advantage of that opportunity to see Felix Pie in person. With Sounds on first and second the Nashville batter drove a ball into center field that everyone in the stadium thought was gone. Everyone, that is, except Pie. He went back into the wall, reached, and caught the fly ball at the top of the wall. Then, while the crowd was still groaning, he fired a laser beam of a strike to second base.
The baserunners either ignored the third base coach or the third base coach was convinced that ball was gone because the runners were no where near their bases. Even so, a normal throw to the cut off man would probably have allowed at least one of them enough time to get back to the bag. It took a perfect throw to set up the triple play, and a perfect throw is what Pie delivered. The shortstop stepped on the bag and fired to first. Just like that the inning was over.
I did not realize what I had just seen until the Cubs started running off the field while the Sounds baserunners just stood around and looked embarrassed. Even then I first thought I had lost track of an out somewhere. Fly balls to the warning track are not supposed to turn into triple plays; on this day one did.
The Baez Double Play
And then we have the play from last week. On a very high one hopper to short Javier Baez made a leaping catch near the second base bag, looked over to the bag and discovered two runners converging there. The runner who had been on second was caught halfway between the bases and decided to go back to second when Baez made the catch. The runner from first, on the other hand decided he had time to get to second and came on in. Two quick tags later Baez was trotting off the field with his teammates.
And I am still not certain if he actually turned an unusual double play or pulled off some great slight of hand. The umpire did not look confident, the players looked down right puzzled, and it really looked to me like he tagged the lead runner and then stepped on the base without making the second tag. Since it would not have been force situation, stepping on the bag would not have completed the play. My angle was not ideal so I cannot be certain, but I do know that everyone left on the field as Baez trotted off looked a little stunned. The runners tried to argue, but the umpire was not impressed. Apparently neither was their manager since he didn’t bother to come out of the dugout.
Those are my top three. What about yours? Anyone who has been following baseball at any level for very long likely as a few unusual plays on their own personal list. I know Brett was in the stands when Matt Garza air-mailed an easy throw to first, for example. If you have any of your own, be sure to drop them in the comments section.