Wednesday, February 18, 2015

THE TOP 10 MLB BULLPENS FOR 2015

A good bullpen has long been considered an important ingredient in the big league recipe for success. But never in the history of the game have bullpens, by and large, been this stacked with hard-throwers. And never has the mid-inning matchup game been this consequential. There are a lot of reasons for the league-wide decline in offense, but beefed-up bullpens are often cited -- by managers, players, evaluators -- as the biggest.

While acknowledging that bullpens are inherently fungible, volatile areas and that all of the information below is subject to change, these are the 10 clubs best-situated in the bullpen department as camps open in Florida and Arizona:

10. Nationals

I'd have them much higher had they kept Tyler Clippard, though one can certainly understand parting with that price tag (and hey, maybe the Nats know something about him that we don't). The Nats have signed Casey Janssen to a one-year deal with just $5 million guaranteed -- a lottery ticket that could provide a big payoff if Janssen can shake off his second-half regression (following a bout with food poisoning) in 2014 and get back to something more closely resembling his '13 stat line -- a 2.56 ERA, 23.8 strikeout percentage, 47.9 ground-ball percentage and 0.51 homers per nine innings.

Even if Janssen doesn't pan out, the setup situation in front of Drew Storen (who, of course, has yet to prove himself on the October stage) is hopeful. Aaron Barrett had a 2.59 FIP and 49 strikeouts in 40 2/3 innings, and veteran lefties Jerry Blevins and Matt Thornton both had FIP marks of 2.77 or below with the Nats last year.

9. A's

The Sean Doolittle situation obviously merits monitoring, which is why the A's aren't higher here. Doolittle has a slight rotator cuff tear and is rehabbing after receiving a platelet-rich plasma injection. He's doubtful for Opening Day.

But the depth here is undeniable, with Clippard (2.18 ERA, 0.99 WHIP) acquired to replace departed free agent Luke Gregerson, and Ryan Cook (3.42, 1.08), Dan Otero (2.28, 1.10) and lefties Fernando Abad (1.57, 0.85) and Eric O'Flaherty (2.25, 0.95) all aboard. The A's had the second-lowest relief ERA in the AL last season. We'll see how long the Doolittle situation lingers as they try to build on that precedent.

8. Marlins

In terms of WAR, Miami's relief staff ranked sixth in all of baseball last season, which is one reason why this club was more competitive than many had imagined going into the year.

There are not a lot of household names here, but underrated closer Steve Cishek (2.35 FIP, 1.141 WHIP and 73 saves over the last two seasons) gets crazy good results against batters on both sides of the plate despite a crazy arm angle that you would think would leave him susceptible to lefties (lefties actually hit him significantly worse than righties last year). Midseason trade acquisition Bryan Morris posted a 0.66 ERA in 40 2/3 innings for the Marlins, and he joins A.J. Ramos (2.11 ERA) as a strong setup option. Mike Dunn (67 strikeouts in 57 innings) is solid from the left-hand side. Trade acquisition Aaron Crow could be a bounce-back candidate in the National League.

On the "household name" front, the Marlins have kicked the tires on free-agent Francisco Rodriguez in recent weeks. But this unit looks sturdy even without any other additions.

7. Cubs

Before Jon Lester, before Joe Maddon, before Miguel Montero, the one area of their club that Cubs officials could point to and feel really good about at the end of the 2014 regular season was the bullpen. It made major strides as 2014 evolved, with closer Hector Rondon (9.0) and setup men Pedro Strop (10.5), Neil Ramirez (10.9) and Justin Grimm (9.1) all striking out nine batters per nine or more. Rondon, Strop and Ramirez combined to give up a grand total of six homers in 168 innings, and they all had FIP marks of 2.66 or lower.

Throw in a worthwhile flyer on one-time World Series closer Jason Motte, and you've got a strong outlook for the Cubs as they try to rise up the NL Central standings this season.

6. Giants

Given the aforementioned instability of bullpens, in general, it's pretty amazing that so many key cogs from San Francisco's 2010 'pen -- Santiago Casilla, Jeremy Affeldt, Sergio Romo and Javier Lopez -- are still here. And those guys have, of course, been big contributors in the runs to three titles in five years.

Ask those guys how such consistency exists, and they'll point you to Bruce Bochy, who has earned a reputation for manipulating his 'pen pieces with mastery. And the re-signing of Ryan Vogelsong and Jake Peavy makes it possible for Bochy to continue to use Yusmeiro Petit as a swingman or -- maybe, eventually -- shift Tim Lincecum to relief work.

In the meantime, the Giants' main objective is to straighten out hard-throwing right-hander Hunter Strickland (a mess in October), who can take this bullpen to yet another level.

5. Pirates

When you return three guys -- Mark Melancon (1.90 ERA, 0.87 WHIP), Tony Watson (1.63, 1.02) and Jared Hughes (1.96, 1.09) -- who had sub-2.00 ERAs last season, you're off to a good start (or finish, as it were). The Pirates will also have John Holdzkom for a full season after he ascended to and astounded on the big league stage down the stretch, striking out 14 batters in his nine innings of work.

The Buccos will need new acquisition Antonio Bastardo to pair with Watson as a reliable left-handed presence.

4. Orioles

Losing Andrew Miller doesn't help, but the O's had a pretty good bullpen before they acquired the big lefty, and they should still have a pretty good bullpen without him, too.

Zach Britton's quick adaptation to the closer role (1.65 ERA, 37 saves, 0.90 WHIP) after his starting career went wayward was a sight to behold as 2014 evolved. He's set up by Darren O'Day (1.70 ERA, 0.89 WHIP) and Tommy Hunter (2.97 ERA, 1.10 WHIP). The O's also have Brian Matusz, who had a 1.42 ERA in the second half, and Brad Brach, who had a breakout year.

With Buck Showalter manning the switches and finding the appropriate roles for his available arms, you have to like the O's chances of ranking in the upper-tier in relief ERA again this season.

3. Mariners

You could just as easily put them in the top slot of this list. I'd have no complaint. Through no fault of its own, the M's 'pen didn't have the opportunity to assert itself on the October stage like the team that ranks first here, but it made its mark, all the same.

Not only did Mariners relievers post the best ERA (2.60) and fourth-best WHIP (1.16) of any big league bullpen in 2014, but they also had the ninth best strand rate (80.7 percent) in the live-ball era. It wasn't just Fernando Rodney and his 48 saves and bow-and-arrow routine. It was also Tom Wilhelmsen holding opponents to a .542 OPS against, Danny Farquhar striking out 10.3 batters per nine, Dominic Leone posting a 2.17 ERA, etc. There are hard throwers and closing or setup candidates abound in this bullpen. So even if it doesn't match '14's level, it should still be a strength of this AL West contender.

2. Yankees

Here, too, is another strong candidate for the No. 1 spot. It might seem like this was a conservative winter for the Yankees -- at least, by Yankees standards -- but there's nothing conservative about a four-year, $36 million commitment to a guy with one career save. The Yanks appreciate the value of Andrew Miller as a high-leverage asset no matter the specific role. He was a difference-maker in the AL Division Series for the Orioles last October, and he'll pair nicely with Dellin Betances in the late innings after Betances' robust rookie year (1.40 ERA, 0.78 WHIP in 90 innings).

So the departure of David Robertson might not make a big difference in the Bronx, especially if lefty acquisition Justin Wilson can approximate his 2013 numbers (2.08 ERA in 73 2/3 innings) and high-velocity right-handers Adam Warren and David Carpenter can help bridge the gap.

1. Royals

There were calls for the Royals to deal from this position of strength (and great expense, relative to the rest of the payroll) to augment other parts of their roster. And for all we know, maybe those calls had credence. But the Royals not only kept their dominant trio of Greg Holland, Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera together, but they added to it by making the two-year, $10 million commitment it took to bring back Luke Hochevar after Tommy John surgery, so they deserve this top spot.

With a 1.92 ERA and 0.82 WHIP in 70 1/3 innings in 2013, Hochevar set a precedent, of sorts, for the dominant -- historic, even -- setup season the former starter Davis turned in last year. Davis had a 1.00 ERA, 0.85 WHIP and, incredibly, just five extra-base hits (including zero homers) logged against him. Over the last three seasons, Holland has established himself as one of the most consistent ninth-inning arms in a job not known for consistency, and Herrera compiled a 1.41 ERA in 70 innings last year.

The re-signing of Jason Frasor should help keep the Royals sturdy in the middle innings before the back end takes over.

Honorable mention: Honestly, I can count on one hand the number of teams I didn't strongly consider for this list, because even the worst 'pens from '14 could have a quick turnaround in this environment (the White Sox, Dodgers, Astros and Reds are among those who have been proactive in this area). But for now, the rest of my top 15 would be: 11. Indians (underrated closer Cody Allen has an 11.0 strikeouts-per-nine mark for his career, and Terry Francona is always proactive with his reliever usage), 12. Padres (they have a tradition of strong bullpens, and this one is situated nicely with Joaquin Benoit, Brandon Maurer and Shawn Kelley), 13. Rays (here, too, is another organization with a tradition for strong relief work, and they've added Kevin Jepsen), 14. Angels (a bullpen almost totally rebuilt on the fly last season has become a team strength), 15. Phillies (hey, they still have Jonathan Papelbon, for now, and his pairing with Ken Giles and Justin De Fratus gives possibly one of the worst teams in baseball the ironic luxury of a strong setup to seal late leads).

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

V-Mart has knee surgery, may be ready for Opening Day

On the same day the Tigers loaded up their equipment truck headed for Spring Training, they received a major message of assurance that Victor Martinez should be ready when the team heads back north for Opening Day.

Martinez underwent surgery as scheduled on a torn medial meniscus in his left knee Tuesday morning, but is expected to return to full activity in four to six weeks, putting him on track to be ready when the Tigers start their regular season April 6.

"We are very happy the surgery went well and that Victor will be ready to compete for the start of the 2015 season," team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said in a statement.

Considering the Tigers had held off on any timetable for Martinez until Dr. James Andrews performed surgery Tuesday morning, it was a strong statement from Dombrowski.

"Obviously that gives him a chance," head athletic trainer Kevin Rand said, "to be hopefully playing the latter part of Spring Training and give him enough at-bats. That's obviously the hope."

Martinez, who suffered the injury during baseball workouts two weeks ago, underwent a partial meniscectomy, clipping the torn portion rather than doing a full reattachment. Rand described it as a bucket handle tear, in which the central portion of the meniscus tears and flips into the joint.

"It was not going to be repairable," Rand said.

A full repair and reattachment could have sidelined the 36-year-old Martinez anywhere from three to six months. The different recovery periods made the difference in the procedures crucial to the Tigers' fortunes.

Dombrowski had held off on discussing how they might fill Martinez's spot until they knew how long he'd be out, saying he didn't know what he'd have to fill. With Martinez on track to be ready on Opening Day or shortly thereafter, Dombrowski confirmed the Tigers won't be looking to add anybody as a fill-in.

Martinez will be on crutches until the swelling goes down. From there, Rand said, they'll work on getting range of motion back in his knee before ramping up activity.

"Then we'll be able to work the muscles in and around the joint," Rand said. "Vic was in great shape prior to the surgery. That should really bode well for his rehab."

Still, any plans for Martinez to put stress on the knee by catching during Interleague Play early in the season -- the Tigers' first road trip includes a stop in Pittsburgh to face the Pirates -- are likely out.

"As of right now, I wouldn't plan on Victor catching," manager Brad Ausmus said. "But that could be revisited at a later date."

Campana tears ACL, likely to miss entire '15 season

Tony Campana suffered a torn ACL during a recent training session and most likely will miss the 2015 season, as announced by the White Sox on Tuesday on their official Twitter account. The White Sox did not specify which knee was injured.

Campana, 28, played two seasons with the Cubs and posted 54 total stolen bases in 59 attempts during that time. Campana, who spent parts of the past two seasons with the D-backs and Angels, was a non-roster invite to Spring Training by the White Sox, placed in the mix for the final position player roster spot with his speed, assuming that Micah Johnson or Carlos Sanchez wins the second-base job.

J.B. Shuck, Trayce Thompson, non-roster invite Michael Taylor and Leury Garcia stand as a few of the names as possibilities for that 25th spot.

Lucroy injures hamstring, will be out 4-6 weeks

A hamstring injury will sideline Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy for 4-6 weeks, the team announced Wednesday, a surprising blow for a ballclub set to begin Spring Training next week.

The announcement came via Twitter and did not specify how Lucroy was hurt. He was in Milwaukee on Monday for an examination by Brewers head physician William Raasch, who diagnosed a "mild" right hamstring strain, then traveled to Miami on Tuesday for a second opinion from Marlins medical director Dr. Lee Kaplan, who confirmed the diagnosis.

Brewers assistant general manager Gord Ash was to provide further details about Lucroy's status on Wednesday morning.

Even at the more conservative end of the prognosis, Lucroy, 28, should be able to play by the time the Brewers open the regular season on April 6 against the Rockies at Miller Park. But he will miss the bulk of Spring Training, and those lost at-bats could be troublesome in light of Lucroy's experience in 2013, when he sat idle for a few weeks in March as a backup on the U.S. roster for the World Baseball Classic. Lucroy cited that downtime as a factor in his slow start to the regular season that year, when he posted a .687 OPS in April.

He rebounded in the second half of 2013, then enjoyed a breakthrough last season, finishing fourth in National League Most Valuable Player balloting. Lucroy led the league with 53 doubles while batting .301, breaking Ivan Rodriguez's Major League record for doubles by a catcher, and became the first Brewers catcher ever to start an All-Star Game. He was particularly devastated by the Brewers' late-season slide from playoff contention and spoke of assuming a more prominent leadership position in the clubhouse beginning with Spring Training.

The Brewers have a quality backup catcher in defensive-minded Martin Maldonado, who signed a two-year contract last month. The other catcher on the 40-man roster is Juan Centeno, who briefly appeared in the big leagues with the Mets in 2013 and 2014 before the Brewers claimed him off waivers in October.

Brewers pitchers and catchers are expected to report to camp on Feb. 20. The first full-squad workout is scheduled to be held on Feb. 26.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Jeremy Affeldt reveals that Buster Posey is like a petulant teenager during mound visits

Buster Posey is not only one of the best catchers in the game, but when everything is said and done, he could be one of the best to ever play the sport. He possesses a nearly perfect swing, has won a Rookie of the Year and MVP and owns three World Series rings. So you'd think he'd be pretty good at handling his pitching staff, right?
Maybe not so much.
At Giants FanFest on Saturday, Jeremy Affeldt revealed what Posey is really like when he comes out to the mound. Said the southpaw about their visits:
"He just does the eye roll, like, 'Here we go.' He runs out there and he's like 'What?'

And I'm like, 'Hey, is that pitch--'

'It was fine. Just throw it again.'

...And he rolls his eyes and and he just runs back. And you don't even get to finish your sentence."
So, he's basically Liz Lemon:

Why James Shields Fits In San Diego

The San Diego Padres just signed James Shields this morning. Shields lives in San Diego and he also wanted to pitch somewhere close to home so I'm gonna show everyone why he and the Padres were a good fit.

San Diego didn't get rid of their top three prospects to get Shields. A lot of rumors were floating around during the off season about Hamels going to San Diego in a trade which would've meant giving up a lot of prospects along with eating up a $96 million contract which is how much Philadelphia owes Cole Hamels so that makes the Phillies a loser in this signing.

If you look at the Padres starting rotation now you can probably think of them as a top ten rotation now. This team gave up a franchise low in terms of runs allowed and they just got a veteran in Shields. Their rotation now consists of James Shields, Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross, Ian Kennedy, Josh Johnson, and Brandon Morrow.

James Shields has had success with small market teams. You have to remember that he helped lead the Royals who are a small market team and the Rays who are also a small market team to the World Series. One in 09 and the other last season.

This signing for the Padres completes what has been an aggressive offseason for the Padres. They already got Justin Upton and Matt Kemp so as you can see the Padres are ready to win now.

Another point to give out there is the fact that Ian Kennedy can become a free agent next year and in 2 years Andrew Cashner can go elsewhere so if you think about it this signing gives the Padres a bit of protection in case they decide to go elsewhere.

In the next 2 years the Padres will have a lot of money coming off of their books. Next year Justing Upton, Ian Kennedy, Joaquin Benoit, Carlos Quentin, Will Venable, Cory Luebke, Shawn Kelley, Brandon Morrow, and Josh Johnson can become free agents. In 2 years Andrew Cashner and Cameron Maybin can become free agents. This will give the Padres money to spend and still able to have Kemp and Shields.

Moving forward the bulk of the payroll will be Shields and Kemp who'll be owed a combined $36 million per year so San Diego will most likely be building around them in the next couple of years.

You have a better team this year who'll compete, you have your prospects in tact, you have players to build around, and you have a lot of money coming off the books for possibly another big name or two next year.

Shields, Padres agree to 4-year deal

The Padres didn't set out this offseason to add to their starting rotation, but with James Shields still available less than two weeks before pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training, they decided they couldn't pass on the durable right-hander, agreeing to a four-year deal late Sunday. The Padres have not confirmed the agreement.

Shields' deal, pending a physical, includes a club option for a fifth season and is worth between $72 million and $75 million, according to a source. CBSSports.com reported that it is worth $75 million, which includes a buyout of the fifth year.

When the deal is completed, Shields will be the first free-agent pitcher to sign a contract in excess of $50 million after Feb. 1 of a given year. It also will be the largest deal the Padres have made with a player, surpassing the three-year, $52 million deal Jake Peavy signed in 2007 after he won the National League Cy Young Award.

Shields, 33, gives the Padres a formidable starting rotation to match their revamped offense, one that first-year general manager A.J. Preller spent much of his time on this offseason, acquiring outfielders Justin Upton, Wil Myers and Matt Kemp, among others.

In Shields, the Padres added a workhorse for the top of the rotation, giving them four strong starters as he will join Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross and Ian Kennedy to give the team one of the top rotations in the NL.

Shields, a nine-year veteran who won 14 games and had a 3.21 ERA for the American League-champion Royals last season, has made 33 or more starts in each of the past seven seasons. Consider that since 2011, Shields ranks first among starting pitchers in innings, 15th in ERA, 19th in strikeouts-to-walks and 19th in opponents' batting average.

Shields moved to Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., approximately 25 miles north of downtown San Diego, about a year ago, and that might have factored into his decision to join the Padres. That he didn't have a baseball home so soon before Spring Training might have as well.

In the end, it wasn't clear who the Padres were competing against for Shields, who reportedly had an offer of five years and $110 million earlier in the offseason. But as the calendar flipped to February, teams had their rotations -- and their payrolls -- mostly set for the start of the season.

Enter the Padres, who kept tabs on Shields even while they were addressing their primary need -- offense.

San Diego executive chairman Ron Fowler told MLB.com last week that he had given Preller "financial flexibility" to make additions and increase payroll, which was less than $90 million before the Shields deal. That figure has now pushed closer to $105 million, which will be a franchise record.

"I believe A.J. feels he has sufficient flexibility to make a deal if it is the right fit," Fowler said in an email. "I very much respect his discipline in looking at options."

Myers, who was the centerpiece of the trade from the Royals to the Rays in December 2012 in which Shields went Kansas City, said he heard nothing but good things from his many of his former teammates from both teams about Shields.

"They would be getting a workhorse, an established big league pitcher," Myers said of Shields on Saturday. "He has been a leader on both teams he's been on. ... I would be excited to get him. He's a great pitcher."

While pitching certainly wasn't at the forefront of the Padres' offseason wish list, the team has been receptive to adding arms.

Preller added two power right-handers to the back end of the bullpen in trades, getting Brandon Maurer from the Mariners and Shawn Kelley from the Yankees. Earlier, he signed free agent Brandon Morrow to a one-year deal for $2.5 million. Morrow is expected to compete for a spot at the back end of the rotation.

But there were some in the organization who were hopeful the team would add another starting pitcher, not only to give the team additional depth but quality depth. Shields gives them that and much more.

Cashner, who has thrown some of the most electric and dominant games in franchise history, has been on the disabled list three times in the past three seasons. Ross, an All-Star a year ago, has thrown more than 125 innings just once in his career. Kennedy can be a free agent after this season.

The signing of Shields would essentially mean that there will only be one open spot in the rotation this spring, a competition that figures to be between Morrow, Robbie Erlin and Odrisamer Despaigne.

Because Shields' former team, the Royals, made him a qualifying offer after the season, the Padres have to surrender their first-round Draft pick (13th overall), but the blow could be lessened if they regain a compensatory Draft pick next year if they make a similar qualifying offer to Upton, a potential free agent after this season, and he turns it down and signs with another team.

There are some who contend that Shields, as durable as he's been in his career, has a lot of miles on his right arm and that he's a candidate for regression.

After all, according to FanGraphs, no one threw more pitches (4,080) than he did last season -- of course, the Royals reaching the World Series had plenty to do with that. Some might nitpick Shields' postseason performance as well -- a 5.46 ERA in 59 1/3 career innings. He lost twice to the Giants in the World Series last fall.

But his velocity has shown no depreciation. In fact, it's gotten better. FanGraphs had his average fastball velocity in 2014 at 92.5 mph, up from 90.9 in 2011. There's a history of durability that managers crave, too.

San Diego manager Bud Black, like Shields a former Royal, talks often about pitchers who "go to the post" and the value of a starting pitcher who can throw 200-plus innings.

Shields has topped 200 or more innings in each of the past eight seasons.

"Two hundred innings is a high standard in today's era," Black said last season. "The strength of any club is in the innings and the starting rotation. If you have your best five guys go to the post and pitch close to 1,000 innings, you're probably going to the playoffs."

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Cuba gets the scepter of the Caribbean Series after 55 years

After a long wait of 55 years, Cuba won its eighth title of the Caribbean Series, defeating Mexico 3-2 in the final of San Juan 2015, Sunday at Hiram Bithorn stadium in the capital of Puerto Rico.

The right Yosvany Torres pitched a two-hitter, Frederich Cepeda and Luis La O drove in runs in the first two innings and Yulieski Gourriel descagó homer in the eighth to give the victory to the Pinar del Rio Vegueros on Culiacan Tomateros before 7,634 fans .

Leveraging the benefits of the format, Cuba won the championship, although it had overall record of 3-3. Five of the six matches of Mexico, which also had 3-3 were decided by one run.

The West Indians picked up the scepter despite having suffered absences shortstop and pitcher Dainer Moreira Wladimir Gutierrez, who left the team in the second game of the series.

For Cuba, this is his eighth championship in their history, breaking a tie they had with Venezuela with 7, and now tied with Mexico itself in the history list.

Cuban teams won seven of the 12 editions, including the last five in the first phase (1949-1960) of the Caribbean Series, which left after removal of professional baseball in the communist island.

Cuba returned to the event last year in Margarita Island, Venezuela, represented by the Oranges of Villa Clara, which ended 1-3 mark. Pinar del Rio had identical record in the preliminary round in San Juan, but outscored the Santurce Crabbers in the Puerto Rican battle for the final spot in the semifinals, where he removed to favorite Caribbean Anzoategui in Venezuela, undefeated so far.

Mexico failed in his attempt to become the fourth country to win three consecutive editions of the event. Yaquis de Obregón won in 2013 in Hermosillo Hermosillo Naranjeros Margarita Island last year. Cuba (five between 1956-1960), Puerto Rico (1953-1955) and Dominican Republic (1997-98) are the countries with three straight titles.

Cepeda batted 4-5 with two doubles and a triple and five RBIs in the semifinal against Venezuela and 2-4 with promoted in the final. In total, went 8-17 (.471) with seven RBIs in his first Caribbean Series.

Torres (1-0) allowed one run, was not given tickets and fanned five batters. Joey Meneses until he doubled opening the fifth. Anhony Vazquez (0-1) was the pitcher defeated.

The Tomateros scored their first run in the fifth inning and added another in the eighth, when came to have runners on second and third bases with two outs, but reliever Hector Mendoza dominated Meneses with shallow fly to right to end the rebellion .

For the Caribbean Series next year in Santo Domingo, capital of Dominican Republic, Cuba is expected to participate again as a guest country, however a final announcement will be made after the organizing committee do a feasibility study.

The Caribbean Baseball Confederation reported Sunday that Cuba could host the tournament in the near future, but only after permanent member of the entity is made and modify the timing of their National Series to crown a champion in winter.

Perth claims second consecutive Claxton Shield


For the fourth time in five seasons, Perth reigned supreme atop the pedestal of the Australian Baseball League. The Alcohol. Think Again Perth Heat beat the Adelaide Bite, proudly presented by SA Power Networks, 12-5 in the third and final game of the ABL Championship Series, presented by ConocoPhillips, to take home the Claxton Shield for the second consecutive season.

The series victory had historical implications beyond Perth taking home its fourth title in the five-year existence of the new ABL. With the win, Western Australia moved into a second-place tie with South Australia on the all-time Claxton Shield premiership list. The victory also came one night after Perth leveled the championship series with a tenth-inning win.

"We're a bunch of fighters," Tim Kennelly said. "We've done that for years, so it was good to bounce back with that win."

Perth scored early and often in the ballgame, beginning from inning one. After Joey Wong walked to lead off the ballgame, Tim Kennelly lashed a two-run home run to left field to put the Heat ahead 2-0 before the Bite could record an out. Kennelly drove in three runs over the nine innings, and went 2-for-6 at the plate. Perth pulled away further in the next frame, putting up a four-spot on RBI doubles from Brian Pointer and Tim Kennelly, and a two-run home run off the bat of Tim Smith.

Despite trailing early, the Bite still showed sharp teeth as the contest wore on, clawing back for three runs in the bottom of the fourth frame. Tom Brice laced a one-out double to right field, and advanced to third on Dening's subsequent two-bagger. Craig Maddox then smashed a three-run bomb over the centrefield fence that scored Brice and Dening.

But Perth kept pouncing ahead, preceding Adelaide's three-run fourth with a three-run half-inning of its own, led by a two-run single by Allan de San Miguel, and another trifecta of runs crossed the plate in the top of the seventh inning. De San Miguel went 1-for-4 on the night. The veteran catcher earned the series Most Valuable Player award for his consistent production both at the plate and behind it in the three games, including the game-winning hit in the top of the tenth inning in Game 2.

"It's a pretty special moment for my career out here in Australia," de San Miguel said. "It's been a hell of a year. We've had our ups and downs and adversity, and to come through with that clutch hit last night and win tonight, it's a special moment."

Adelaide added another run in the bottom of the eighth inning, on a solo shot off the bat of Dening, who finished the game 4-for-4 with a double, a pair of home runs and three RBIs. The Bite also put two runners on with two outs in the bottom of the ninth before Perth moundminder Scott Mitchinson got Tom Brice to fly out to centre field to end the game.

"Perth got the job done tonight," Adelaide manager Brooke Knight said. "It's a shame to end on that note but take no credit away from our guys. They've fought and fought this season and their character as a group is undeniable."

After going 10-13 prior to the 17 Dec. All-Star Game, the Heat went 19-7 the remainder of the season, including the postseason.

"These guys have battled back from so much," Perth manager Steve Fish said. "It's an incredible feeling."

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Best winter weekend for baseball

With the Superbowl six days behind us it's time to make move for baseball. We just had truck day yesterday where all the teams gathered everything they need for spring training and started shipping to spring training which is less than two weeks away. Early this morning we had game two of the Australian baseball league championship series where the Perth Heat forced a game three against the Adelaide Bite in what was a wonderful ten inning game. That game will be early tomorrow morning or those who are in Australia later tonight.

The Caribbean Series are in their final four teams. The semi finals will be today where the Dominican Republic will face Mexico this afternoon then tonight you'll have Cuba vs the undefeated Venezuela. Winners of those games will decide who wins the Caribbean series tomorrow night.

What a better way for baseball to take over the headlines than to have the Caribbean Series along with the Australian Baseball League finals on the same week. Not to mention you still have the James Schields rumors floating around and Spring Training is less than two weeks away.