Great Falls Win Pioneer League Title

Great Falls Win Pioneer League Title

Thursday Sept. 15, 2011
Posted: 10:40 p.m.
WHITE SOXGreat Falls Rookie
The Great Falls battery proved to have too much life for Ogden Thursday night at Centene Stadium. With Pioneer League pitcher of the year Blair Walters on the mound and catcher Kevan Smith, the leagues hottest hitter behind the plate, the Voyagers cruised by the Raptors, 7-1, to claim their second championship in four seasons.

The win also marked the 13th time Great Falls has won a Pioneer League crown since the circuit became a short-season league in 1964. The Voyagers, much as they have all season, rode Walters to pick up the win. He scattered four hits over six innings, striking out seven and allowing a run. It was his second win of the post-season, allowing him to finish 11-0 after the Sox grabbed him from The University of Hawaii in the 11th round of this years draft.

Smith, whom Chicago selected in the seventh round from The University of Pittsburgh in this years draft, had three hits to finish with a .478 batting average and a league-leading 11 hits in the playoffs. This after finishing the season on a 15-game hitting streak during which he hit .528.

Walters and Smith had help, though. David Hrbek drove in pair while Marty Medina and Mike Earley each had RBIs. Chris Devenski and Cody Winiarski pitched shutout ball over three innings, striking out four and allowing a pair of hits.
CUBSTennessee AA
Ollie Lintons RBI single in the bottom of the 11th gave Mobile a 1-0 victory over Tennessee Thursday night at Hank Aaron Stadium. The BayBears also grabbed a commanding 2-0 lead in the best-of-five Southern League championship series, which will resume Saturday night at Smokies Park.

Ryan Wheeler led off the 11th with a single but it appeared as if he would be stranded after Rafael Dolis retired the next two batters. But Matt Davidson singled, moving Wheeler to second and Linton followed with a ground single to right.

Dolis, the fourth Smokies pitcher, allowed four hits in 1 23 innings. Brooks Raley started, allowing one hit while striking out five over six innings.

Tennessee, which hasnt scored in 15 innings, managed only six hits but also drew six walks. The Smokies were 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position and left 10 men on base. Blake Lalli had a pair of doubles for Tennessee.

Theo Epstein knows what Cubs are up against vs. Indians skipper Terry Francona

Theo Epstein knows what Cubs are up against vs. Indians skipper Terry Francona

CLEVELAND — While his belief in statistical analysis has gained notoriety with the non-traditional usage of reliever Andrew Miller this postseason, Terry Francona has always gone against conventional baseball wisdom.

Since his days in Philadelphia, the Cleveland Indians manager has never been afraid to trust the numbers in order to find an edge that might help his team. Francona’s shrewd style, one he’s most certainly honed over the years, has come into focus this October for the willingness to employ his best reliever far earlier than most managers traditionally would ever imagine. Even though his decisions have had a significant impact on the Indians’ fortunes, the club’s veteran manager likes to downplay his role in an aw-shucks manner.

But he isn’t fooling his former boss. As the Cubs began their first World Series appearance in 71 years on Tuesday night, the team’s president of baseball operations, Theo Epstein, knew his old Boston Red Sox manager would undoubtedly have a few unconventional ideas in store.

“Tito has always been great at blending the numbers with his gut and his knowledge of the game and the same thing he’s doing now,” Epstein said. “Back when he was with the Red Sox, he always took his managerial game to another level in the postseason. He was willing to be assertive in situations where maybe he wouldn’t have over the grind of the regular season and be very decisive and very proactive.”

Francona’s progressive use of Miller has become a focal point as the situations in which managers utilize their key relievers has been a talking point among analysts for several years now. Whereas the majority of managers normally save their top relievers for last, analysts believe the best skippers don’t hesitate to use theirs in the highest-leverage of situations.

So when Francona trotted Miller out in the fifth inning of Game 1 of the American League Divisional Series on Oct. 6 only two days after Baltimore’s Buck Showalter didn’t use Cy Young candidate Zack Britton in a wild-card loss, the national conversation gained steam.

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But this isn’t Francona’s first foray into making decisions based on analysis. He used to write down the splits of batters and pitchers on the back of lineup cards when he managed the Phillies from 1997 to 2000. Then he added a computer into the mix when he made decisions as the Oakland A’s bench coach in 2003, and it grew from there. Not only did he spend eight seasons with Epstein in Boston, Francona now has one of baseball’s largest analytical front offices as his disposal. That has resulted in a number of decisions the old guard might find eye-opening.

Consider that Francona used the slow-footed Carlos Santana in the leadoff spot 85 times this season even as his own front office thought the Indians might be losing too much offense. Cleveland also became the first team since the 1985 St. Louis Cardinals to lead the majors in both offensive and pitching platoon advantage.

Even though he’s unconventional, Francona’s players trust his decisions.

“He does a great job of putting us in the best situations possible,” outfielder Lonnie Chisenhall said earlier this postseason. Of Chisenhall’s 418 plate appearances, 366 (87.5 percent) came versus right-handed pitchers, against whom he has a .784 OPS. Chisenhall has a .642 OPS against left-handers.

But it’s more than just giving his players an edge that has earned Francona their trust. Miller said it's his ability to communicate the basis for decisions that helps players better understand.

“It’s all about finding a way to communicate that information in a way that players can use it,” Miller said. “I think if you throw a bunch of numbers at us that we don’t understand, it doesn’t do us any good. But when we have a manager like Tito who is almost translating that as it gets to us and he communicates well with guys ... whatever it is, he’s just a natural when it comes to that and we’re thankful we have him because he’s really good at that.”

As Epstein pointed out, Francona seems to improve his decision-making in the postseason. He doesn’t hesitate to give his starting pitcher a quick hook, nor is he afraid to use his best reliever in the fifth inning.

“Just a fantastic postseason manager and he’s done that same thing here in this postseason,” Epstein said. “We know what we’re up against.”

Cubs running out of patience with Jason Heyward at World Series

Cubs running out of patience with Jason Heyward at World Series

CLEVELAND — The Cubs are running out of patience with Jason Heyward. It’s nothing personal, because Heyward continues to be a Gold Glove defender and a model teammate. It’s not necessarily a statement on the next seven years of the biggest contract in franchise history. But manager Joe Maddon recognizes the urgency of the situation, benching the $184 million outfielder in the World Series.

Maddon hoped Chris Coghlan could create an offensive spark against Corey Kluber and the Cleveland Indians in Tuesday night’s Game 1 at Progressive Field, leaving Heyward as the late-inning defensive replacement in right field had the Cubs grabbed an early lead.

“You want to win now,” Maddon said. “There’s no time to really give him time to get back in the groove, like we were trying to do earlier this year. We’ll see how this looks tonight. We’ll play it out tonight — see what it feels or looks like — and then make our determination for tomorrow.”

While Kyle Schwarber’s return to the lineup dominated the pregame news cycle, Heyward is coming off two playoff rounds where he went 2-for-28 (.071 average) against the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants, continuing a year-long trend where he put up career lows in homers (seven) and OPS (.631).

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“Not giving up on him by any means,” Maddon said. “I stand by (this): I love having him on the field. I feel so good with him out there.”

But the Cubs don’t have the same luxury here, the way Maddon gave Heyward a mental break for an August weekend at Coors Field in the hopes that it would clear his head and unlock his offensive game. The Cubs no longer have weeks to tinker or the comfort from having a huge lead in the division. But Maddon still thinks Heyward can change how Year 1 will be remembered.

“(With) human nature sometimes you’re going to see that happening,” Maddon said. “Things maybe in the first year don’t go exactly according to plan. However, I really feel strongly that they will with him.

“He’s an incredibly wonderful young man. And he’s very strong mentally. He just has some things to work out, honestly, from the offensive side with his swing. I’m not saying anything new (here), but that’s what comes next. The offseason is going to be really important for him. But over the course of this next week, I’m certain he’s going to do something to help us win this whole thing.”