Hello! Did you know that every single Mariners affiliate made the playoffs this year? Have we mentioned that enough? Wednesday marked the first day of the minor league playoffs for levels A and above and Ethan and I listened to/watched the games to recap them for you, because we love you. Well, most of you. Although Ethan does not love any of you as much as he loves LEGO. Let’s be clear about that.
Tacoma Rainiers 6, El Paso Chihuahuas 5 (AAA)
Tacoma leads best-of-five series, 1-0
Tacoma played some sloppy ball but managed to come away with a win in extras at Southwest University Park. Tacoma got out to an early 3-0 lead in the second when Dan Vogelbach doubled, followed by a single from the hot-hitting Rob Brantly, followed by an RBI single from Zach Shank. Jackson callup Marcus Littlewood singled to load the bases, and then Daniel Robertson singled to score two more runs. Unfortunately, the series of paper-cut singles didn’t explode into a big inning for the Rainiers, and Tacoma let El Paso back into it with some sloppy play in the fourth. Starting pitcher Jarrett Grube walked top prospect Hunter Renfroe, and then a passed ball by Littlewood allowed him to get to second. Grube then issued another walk to Nick Torres before giving up a single to Diego Goris, scoring Renfroe. Grube was able to control the damage by striking out Jose Rondon for the last out of the inning, but would give up a solo shot to another top prospect, Manuel Margot, in the very next inning, cutting the Rainiers’ lead to one.
The Rainiers answered in the top of the sixth with two more runs off a pair of doubles from Tyler Smith and Rob Brantly, followed by a single from James Ramsey to score Brantly. But once again, Grube would issue a free pass to old friend Patrick Kivlehan in the next inning, and his replacement Kevin Munson promptly walked the very next batter, Nick Torres. Shortstop Tyler Smith then dropped an easy pop-up, only his tenth error of the year, to allow Kivlehan to score. Emilio Pagan came on and worked a scoreless seventh and a 1-2-3 eighth, and then Andrew Kittredge came in looking to close out the game in the bottom of the ninth. He would give up back to back doubles to bring El Paso within one run before walking the dangerous Renfroe, and then Tyler Smith—who was having a pretty good night offensively but somewhat of a disastrous one defensively—threw away an easy groundout to allow the tying run to score. The game ground on from there for three more innings and featured pitching performances from the improbably named Buddy Baumann and Jason Jester for El Paso, until in the top of the 12th Tyler Smith felt really bad about those earlier errors and shot a single into left field, bringing up human fire emoji Rob Brantly, who also singled, and then Zach Shank decided to join the singles party, scoring Smith. That would prove to be all the Rainiers needed as Tacoma threw down their “improbable pitcher name” trump card and brought in Al Alburquerque, who despite giving up a single and stolen base to Kivlehan, managed to get a line out, pop out, and ground out to (mercifully) end the game. Tacoma faces El Paso again tomorrow at 5:35 PST before coming back to Cheney on Friday, if necessary.
Montgomery Biscuits 0, Jackson Generals 3 (AA)
Jackson leads best-of-five series, 1-0
Andrew Moore pitched an absolute gem of a ballgame, going nine innings without allowing a run. He carried a no-hitter into the seventh, when a drag bunt (%$#&!) by the other Wong brother (Koan? Kean? Something like that) broke up his perfect game; he would then be thrown out attempting to steal, though, so Moore faced the minimum throughout his nine innings. Moore actually got better as the game went on; after recording just three strikeouts over the first seven innings, Moore hit a different gear in the eighth and ninth, recording five strikeouts, including striking out the side in the ninth. That’s not to say he didn’t throw a ton of strikes—out of the 101 pitches he needed to complete the game, 71 were strikes. Journeyman Brandon Sisk came on to pitch a scoreless tenth inning. Unfortunately, the Generals’ bats remained mostly quiet, and despite collecting a smattering of hits, they were unable to push a run across until the bottom of the tenth, albeit in dramatic fashion. Ian Miller led off with a four-pitch walk, and then stole second, because that’s what Ian Miller does (“they let him out of his cage,” said Brandon Liebhaber gleefully on the broadcast), but then Montgomery’s closer Jaye Chapman walked Benji Gonzalez anyway. Tim Lopes struck out for the second out of the inning, and then it was Tyler O’Neill time. All Jackson needed was a base hit, but O’Neill had other ideas:
Or if you prefer video of the TYLER O-NEILL WALK-OFF HOMER. pic.twitter.com/JWgMoD5BiH— Jackson Generals (@jacksongenerals) September 8, 2016
Don’t cheat yourself; if you haven’t heard Brandon Liebhaber’s call, it’s well worth your time too:
My call of Tyler O'Neill's three-run walk-off homer in the 10th tonight. I was, um, excited. https://t.co/Fx9Vg3kl8h— Brandon Liebhaber (@B_Liebhaber) September 8, 2016
Game two is tomorrow at 4:05 Pacific, and the Generals will put righty Brett Ash on the mound against a tough pitcher in Brent Honeywell.
Bakersfield Blaze 3 - San Jose Giants 5 (A+)
San Jose leads best-of-three series, 1-0
The Blaze outhit the Giants, 12-5, but were unable to make it translate to the run column as they fell in their playoff opener, 5-3.
Bakersfield jumped out to an early 3-0 lead thanks to RBI singles from 1B Kyle Petty and OF Austin Wilson, but San Jose slowly chipped away at the lead with solo home runs before overwhelming the Blaze with a barrage of singles. The Blaze had opportunities to plate runs in the final three innings, but rally-killing double plays and a frustrating TOOTBLAN prevented a comeback (they truly were little Mariners). Top prospects SS Drew Jackson (3 for 5, 2B, 2 R) and OF Braden Bishop (2 for 4) led the offense.
Starting pitcher Osmel Morales took the loss after allowing 5 ER in 5.2 IP. He managed an impressive eleven strikeouts in the outing, but two solo homers and a bit of tough BABIP luck sunk him. Kody Kerski, Ramon Morla, and Spencer Herrmann all recorded scoreless outings out of the bullpen.
Clinton LumberKings 4 - Peoria Chiefs 0 (A)
Clinton leads best-of-three series, 1-0
Led by 20-year-old Nick Neidert, the Clinton LumberKings cruised to a 4-0 victory over the Peoria Chiefs in their opening game of the playoffs.
Neidert, the Mariners’ first pick in the 2015 draft, was sharp all night for the LumberKings, striking out nine over seven dominant shutout innings. The only signs of struggle came in the top of the third, when the righty surrendered two hard singles to bottom-of-the-order hitters. He proceeded to settle down, induce a double play, and strike out Magneuris Sierra to escape the jam. He would set down the final ten batters he faced in order before turning the ball over to the bullpen. His ability to pound the strike zone all night was perhaps the most impressive aspect of the outing, with Neidert throwing 62 of his 94 pitches for strikes and frequently working ahead of hitters. Joey Strain and Matt Walker both tossed scoreless innings in relief.
On the offensive side of things, the LumberKings received contributions from virtually everyone in the lineup. Eight different players collected hits in the contest (four finished with multi-hit efforts) and the only starter who failed to record a hit, James Alfonso, drove in half of their runs. At one point in the game, LumberKings’ outfielder Conner Hale hit a shot up the middle that hit Chiefs’ pitcher Jake Woodford square in the ankle before ricocheting into right field. It was that kind of night for the LumberKings, and in a way it was that kind of night for the Chiefs.
Spokane at Everett, Northwest League (Class A Short Season): Postponed
If you live in or around the Seattle area, you know that we had some fairly heavy rain today. It’s fun how the weather today was like the meteorological equivalent of that “sweeping the summer stuff off the desk and replacing it with fall things” vine. BUT in a surprisingly fortunate turn of events, the game will be played instead on Friday at Safeco. If you’re in the area, you should definitely stop by; it’d be great to support the kids, who have put together an incredibly fun season up at Everett. Details TBA; we will let you know when we know, or you can always check out the Aquasox on Twitter (@EverettAquaSox).