The 2018 Jackson Generals entered the postseason with the fewest wins after the All-Star Break of any playoff-bound team. First-year manager Shelley Duncan had a message ahead of the North Division Series: “Get three runs.” Eight times in nine playoff games, the Generals scored three or more, winning six of those games. Stirred by two hot-swinging prospects and a strong bullpen, Jackson toppled the Montgomery Biscuits and Biloxi Shuckers for their first Southern League title as an Arizona Diamondbacks affiliate.
JACKSON, Tenn – The Jackson Generals, the Double-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks, will meet the Montgomery Biscuits (Double-A, Tampa Bay Rays) in the Southern League’s North Division Series starting on Wednesday, September 5, 2018. The Generals will host Game 1 on Wednesday and Game 2 on Thursday at The Ballpark at Jackson, with each scheduled for at 6:05 pm CT first pitch. Games 3, 4, and 5 will all be played at Riverwalk Stadium in Montgomery. The series will be a best-of-five format. TICKETS>>
SEASON SERIES RECAP
Meetings between Jackson and Montgomery: 20
Season series record (in games): Montgomery 11, Jackson 9; Generals 5-5 at home, 4-6 on the road
*Can the Generals score enough? – – Jackson averaged less than three runs per game in August, their lowest monthly total in 2018. They have to get production from bats other than Marty Herum’s (.361 BA in August) and Kevin Medrano’s (.310 BA in August), and they must be able to stay afloat against left-handed pitching. Jackson’s batting average against southpaws (.248) is 19 points worse than their mark against righties, and it’s generally harder to steal bases against left-handers as well, making Travis Ott and Brock Burke two of the foremost threats to the Generals’ playoff lives.
*Prospect pitching will be a critical balancing point. – – Though the rotations aren’t set, you’d have to imagine that Jackson will turn to No. 3 Arizona prospect Taylor Widener and No. 1 prospect Jon Duplantier in at least two of their first three North Division Series games. Recently, Widener and Duplantier have not been as effective as usual: In their past 18 1/3 innings pitched combined, they have struck out 28 batters (13.7 K/9) while also allowing 11 earned runs (5.40 ERA). In a winner-take-all series, a short start by either one could put a heavy tax on a Generals bullpen that has been fantastic over the last month. Closers Yoan Lopez (0.63 ERA in August) and Kevin Ginkel (0.00 ERA in August) have been lights-out good, but Lopez, Arizona’s No. 18 prospect, was called up today to help out a Diamondbacks bullpen that allowed two late leads to slip away over the weekend in Los Angeles. The departure of Lopez leaves an important three-out hole in the late-inning plans for Jackson, one that manager Shelley Duncan and pitching coach Doug Drabek will have to creatively fill.
*Don’t procrastinate – win early, at home. – – This might be the strangest statistic in the Southern League this year: of the four playoff teams (Jackson, Montgomery, Biloxi, and Pensacola), the Montgomery Biscuits are the only squad with a sub-.500 home record (34-36). They’ve gone 18-17 at home in the Second Half, but the Biscuits’ offense somehow hits a head-scratching 41 points lower at Riverwalk Stadium (.236 BA) than at all the other parks in the league combined (.277 BA). Their ERA is also 19 points higher at home, meaning the Generals’ best chance to win the series is to force Montgomery into 2-0 hole before the series pivots to Alabama’s capital city on Friday. The Biscuits have won three consecutive games in their home ballpark only once this season, though it did happen within the last two weeks (against Tennessee, 8/24-8/26). “Hold serve at home” is one of the oldest maxims in coaching, but in this particular case, it’s exceedingly against the odds that the Generals lose three games in a row at Montgomery if they take the first two.
We should clarify a point of confusion here: the five-game series that Jackson dropped to Montgomery in late July/early August was not played as the statistics would have you believe. On paper, it appears that Jackson lost the series by losing the final three games at Riverwalk Stadium. In reality, the fifth game was suspended in a 0-0 second inning tie due to weather on August 1, and it was completed two weeks later at…yes, you guessed it, The Ballpark at Jackson. Playing the final eight innings of the series on the road, the Biscuits beat the Generals 4-0 to take the set. If the Generals can put the Biscuits away in West Tennessee at least once, they make the path to a Southern League Championship Series berth significantly easier to achieve. (Listen: if you wanted rocket science, you skipped over the Discovery Channel a few clicks back.)
What do you think about the Generals’ playoff chances? Tweet at the team (@JacksonGenerals) with the hashtag #SLPlayoffs and let us know!
Kevin Medrano and Juniel Querecuto were two of the most frustrating players for opposing pitchers in the First Half. Between them, they cracked exactly three home runs (all by Medrano), and yet they hit safely more than 35% of the time. Querecuto did it with a lot of line drives, and Medrano did it with good bat control and tenacity, fighting off pitch after pitch before finally getting a single or even a double down the line. Before being promoted to Triple-A Reno, Medrano led the league with 24 doubles in the First Half, and his .368 batting average batting average before the All-Star Break was tops in the circuit as well. The question that nobody could answer was this: would it hold up?
The Generals’ all-time record for a season-long batting average is .337, accomplished in 97 games by Ezequiel Carrera back in 2009. Carrera’s feat helped the 22-year-old climb the ladder to the big leagues, where he would debut in 2011 with the Cleveland Indians at age 24. 508 MLB games later, Carrera owns a career .262 batting average in The Show, playing most recently with Toronto in the 2017 campaign.
Medrano’s record chase is happening in his age-28 season, perhaps too late to springboard him onto a big-league radar the way it did for Carrera. (Medrano has shown increased versatility on defense this year, playing both corner outfield spots and every position in the infield.) That being said, to take down the franchise record would be a pretty cool way for the veteran to make his mark. He’s batting under .300 in the Second Half, so a surge in production would benefit both his cause and the team’s championship chase. With less than a week to go, the finish line is in sight.
With less than 15 games to go in the Southern League’s regular season, Shelley Duncan and the Jackson Generals have accomplished a lot, but they still have bigger goals in mind. This is part three of a late-season look at the Generals’ personnel and the battlefield ahead.
HAMMERIN’ HERUM: JACKSON’S THIRD BASEMAN SETS LEAGUE-BEST HITTING STREAK IN 2018
Generals third baseman Marty Herum hurt himself on the basepaths on April 24th, and the subsequent DL stint lasted more than two months. When he returned, the sixth-year pro had a tough time getting traction, batting just .202 between June 28 and July 27. But Herum, an undrafted signee out of the University of Wisconsin at Whitewater, kept on paddling. You don’t get to Double-A from the NCAA’s Division III ranks without running a few rapids.
Herum went 2-for-3 in the Generals’ July 28 win at Montgomery, and he added another hit the next night. And the next night. And the night after that. The hits kept coming, singles and doubles against the Biscuits, the Tennessee Smokies, and the Chattanooga Lookouts. The former Wisconsin-Whitewater Warhawk got two more hits in the August 14 opener against Montgomery against home, tying teammate Ben DeLuzio for the team-high streak in 2018 at 14 straight games.
Entering August 15, a challenge faced Herum: The Generals were playing a double-header, and an added wrinkle would make it even tougher to continue the streak. First off, game two of the double-header was set be a seven-inning contest, meaning Herum wasn’t certain to get a third at-bat. Furthermore, the first “game” of the twin-bill was the resumption of a suspended game (from August 1) in the second inning, and Herum had already batted once in that contest without getting a hit. Because the statistics from the August 1 contest had not yet been finalized, a hitless performance through the rest of the resumed game would undo part of the streak. Like an evil baseball version of Chutes and Ladders, Herum’s hot-hitting span would be reduced to separate four-game and ten-game streaks in the scorebook. Herum had to hit safely in both contests in order to stay near the top of the league leaderboard.
When the suspended game was resumed, Herum, came to bat in the fourth inning with two outs, a man on first, and the game scoreless. Marty singled through the left side to keep the inning afloat, officially breaking the tie with DeLuzio and matching Birmingham’s Eloy Jimenez and Luis Alexander Basabe for the longest streak in the Southern League this season. The Generals ended up falling 4-0 to the Biscuits, and manager Shelley Duncan slotted Herum into the lineup in the fifth slot for game two, meaning Herum was only guaranteed two plate appearances to try and top all Southern League competitors in 2018.
In the nightcap, Herum led off the top of the second inning in a scoreless game.
On the second pitch from Montgomery’s Sam McWilliams, Herum helped himself to belt-high fastball, breaking the 0-0 tie with an opposite field home run over the 16-foot wall in right. The dinger was the 26-year-old’s first in almost four months, and it spurred Jackson to 5-1 victory while extending his hitting streak to a league-best 16 games.
Herum’s streak ended at 19 straight contests with a base hit. It’s the longest hitting streak in the Southern League since Jacksonville’s J.T. Riddle hit safely in 25 straight games in 2016. Part of the fun of Herum’s success has been the coverage of Herum’s streak by the fan-run Twitter account, @HowsMartyDoing. With 366 followers, the audience may be small at present, but the laughs run big. At any rate, it was awesome to see Herum find a groove in the latter part of the Second Half. Marty is batting over .300 in August, and his stick will be a critical component for Jackson if they want to succeed in the playoffs.
With less than 15 games to go in the Southern League’s 2018 regular season, Shelley Duncan and the Jackson Generals have accomplished a lot, but they still have bigger goals in mind. This is part three of a late-season look at the Generals’ personnel and the battlefield ahead.
THE STOLEN BASE RACE: BEN DELUZIO CATCHES EVERYTHING, BUT CAN HE CATCH COREY RAY?
It’s not hard to see the difference that Ben DeLuzio makes when he’s healthy. After hitting a scorching .355 in July with 15 steals, he went back on the DL with a busted lip that required stiches after on a headfirst slide into third base at Chattanooga. (Spoiler alert: he stole the base, No. 25 on the year.) Upon his return to the roster a week later, DeLuzio set about catching everything that threatened the outfield grass, totaling 10 putouts over August 17 and 18 to lead all Jackson and Montgomery players who were not catchers or first basemen. Nearly every one of DeLuzio’s grabs involved a dive towards the infield, a calculated angled into the gaps, or an on-your-horse sprint to the center field wall. Montgomery managed only 3 runs over their final 19 hits in those two games, losing both contests as the Generals beat the Biscuits in a series for the first time in four tries.
On the basepaths, DeLuzio collected 27 stolen bases in 58 games through August 23, trailing only Biloxi’s Corey Ray, the league leader at 33 (through 124 games). Ray has swiped one base in August so far; DeLuzio has taken three. Ray is vying to become the first Southern League player in modern history to lead the circuit in both home runs and steals. DeLuzio might be just the man to spoil the fun. There’s a photo of the superhero Wolverine on DeLuzio’s locker, taped there in jest by a clubhouse prankster who thought DeLuzio’s beard and intensity resembled the character’s. There’s still time, and patience, as the saying goes, is not Wolverine’s strong suit. If there’s a series to target, it’s the matchup between Jackson and Birmingham at Regions Field (August 24-28). Birmingham catcher Zack Collins has allowed 19 stolen bases to the Generals this year, more than any other catcher in the league. Even with a revamped Barons rotation, DeLuzio should be on the move.
With less than 15 games to go in the Southern League’s regular season, Shelley Duncan and the Jackson Generals have accomplished a lot, but they still have bigger goals in mind. This is part one of a late-season look at the Generals’ personnel and the battlefield ahead.
BY A WIDE MARGIN: TAYLOR WIDENER LOOKS LIKE THE SOUTHERN LEAGUE’S BEST PITCHER
Baseball America recently released their annual “Best Tools” survey that took votes from league managers to determine which players had stood out by individual skill. Ben DeLuzio (Fastest Baserunner), Shelley Duncan (Best Manager Prospect), and former General Wei-Chieh Huang (Best Changeup) all represented the Jackson squad in the voting, but one name was most notably absent: Taylor Widener. The 23-year-old right hander escaped any noteworthy vote totals for Best Fastball (Dylan Cease, Birmingham), Best Breaking Ball (Kyle Wright, Mississippi), Best Control (Duncan Robinson, Tennessee), and Best Pitching Prospect (Griffin Canning, Mobile). Those votes may be legitimate, but at some point, you have to explain the thorough fashion by which Taylor Widener has dominated his peers in the Southern League.
Check out these resumes, prepared blind, and see who you like:
JACKSON, TENN. – One of the more fascinating things about the game of baseball is the way certain component numbers deviate from one another when breaking down overall statistics. Some guys are great in day games, while others play better at night. Why is that, and who knows it? There are certainly answers for some of these oddities, but do they all matter? It depends on whom you ask. Let’s take a look at a few of the interesting season splits for the Generals, through 7/8/18:
For the record, DL players, players who joined the team in July, and players with fewer than 20 games played at Jackson aren’t on this list.
*Spoiler alert: Rudy Flores can get on base. Good hitters can get on base under almost any conditions, and Flores shows you that by consistently getting high marks across the board in the above categories. There’s a reason why he’s a two-time Southern League All-Star AND why he saw a lot of time in left field last season—J.R. House needed his offensive ability in the lineup.
*You’ll notice also that the Generals tend to have a higher on-base floor, so to speak, in night games than in day games—it’s harder to prepare when you’ve got less time before the game, and that’s always the case with daylight games.
*Check out each guy’s highest split—where is it? For a lot of guys, it’s when they’re ahead in the count. (In this case, 0-0, 1-1, and 3-2 counts are considered “even”; 2-2 is “behind”). Look also at who does well when they’re behind in the count. Jose Vinicio and Jamie Westbrook are freer swingers than their peers—if you’re not afraid to swing, you’re probably inclined to hit better in bad counts, provided you can make contact. (Walks, of course, can’t be drawn in a count where you’re behind.)
*The three guys who have the highest on base percentage with two outs are Daniel Robertson, Alberto Rosario, and Josh Prince. Quick: what do they all have in common? If you’ve been paying attention, you may know that all three have MLB service time. If you’ve been to The Show, you’ve more than likely got both a very high awareness of any situation, and you can execute and/or maintain your plate discipline against strong talent. The Generals are lucky to have a guy like that in each third of their batting order most nights of the week.
FANGRAPHS.COM – SELECT HITTING DATA
*Daniel Robertson is the guy closest to having a walk rate that outpaces his strikeout rate, which is great for a table-setter. He’s also shown surprising power, hitting six homers en route to a .160 isolated power mark. That combination of sneaky power and having a good eye at the plate are part of what got D-Rob to the big leagues in four different seasons. You want to prove people wrong as a 33rd round pick? Be efficient and show some pop.
*Galli Cribbs is still a glove-first shortstop, even after batting .351 in April. But wouldn’t you love to see shades of April Cribbs return? If that’s going to happen, he’ll have to reaffirm his plate discipline. After picking up 11 walks in April, Cribbs walked just 13 times over the next two months, which is partly why his numbers have dipped. If he can’t perform more consistently in bad counts (.173 OBP, his lowest split here by far), the only other option is to avoid them entirely. He’s hitting enough line drives to be a nightly contributor, but a strikeout rate near 30%, absent a lot more power, cannot be ignored going forward.
*If you’re hunting for a wild card, the so-called “x-factor,” it might be Marty Herum. Having just returned from an April injury, Herum played only 30 games through July 9, but his wOBA and wRAA are strong, and that’s important. DON’T LET THESE ABBREVIATIONS SCARE YOU, FAM – I’VE GOT YOU!
Think of wOBA as the highest revision of on-base percentage. The “w” part means “weighted,” i.e. not everything weighs the same—singles and doubles, for example, are weighted differently in this formula, as they should be. The reason wOBA is better than slugging percentage is scale. When you hit a triple in your only at-bat, your batting average is 1.000 and your on-base percentage is 1.000, but your slugging percentage is 3.000. Why? Slugging is scaled differently. With wOBA, every offensive result has a specific pre-determined weight, so the final number encompasses everything you’ve done at the plate and spits out a something you can easily frame in the context of the .300-.400 range decimals you’ve seen forever as a baseball fan.
Now, bear with me—you can stick with wOBA if you’d like to get off this sabermetric express train, or you can ride out to one more stop, wRAA. Baseball is about scoring runs, and wRAA uses wOBA as an input to determine the difference in run production between your player and an average player. We’re not talking about literal runs in the “R” column, but all of the offensive events that contribute fractions of a run, summed up into a nice, friendly, zero-scaled numeral. wRAA answers the question: “How many runs has this guy helped us produce beyond an average player’s contribution?”
Marty Herum’s wRAA, unlike his wOBA, is not among the top 3 hitters on the team. This is in part because wRAA works like a counting stat, in that you can collect more wRAA (and also lose wRAA) as you play more games. With that in mind, it makes a huge difference to divide wRAA by each player’s number of games played. In a per-game context, Marty Herum is the Generals’ third-best run producer, sitting at 0.1 wRAA/G behind Flores (0.18) and Prince (0.14).
Do you remember the Generals going 15-2 in April? How about the 26-32 stretch after that, when Herum was on the disabled list for every game except one (May 10, a loss)? If Jackson is going to turn things around from a sub-.500 record in the Second Half (currently 6-13), they’re going to need a positive impact from Herum, not unlike what they got in the First Half from now-Reno-Ace Juniel Querecuto.
NOTE: This is the first post in a two-part examination of split and component stats. Check out our hitting-focused post coming Thursday, July 12!
BILOXI, MISS. – One of the more fascinating things about the game of baseball is the way certain component numbers deviate from one another when breaking down overall statistics. Some guys are great in day games, while others play better at night. Why is that, and who knows it? There are certainly answers for some of these oddities, but do they all matter? It depends on whom you ask. Let’s take a look at a few of the interesting season splits for the Generals, through 7/8/18:
For the record, DL pitchers and pitchers who joined the team in July aren’t on this list.
*It’s not a shock that Taylor Widener, Brad Goldberg, and Yoan Lopez hold some of the team’s best marks across each of the above categories. Those three have been among the most consistent pitchers on staff, notwithstanding a difficult month of May for Lopez. A few team trends stand out:
*Jackson’s record in road contests this year is a pedestrian 11-9, including 4-7 since the end of April. That’s strange, if only because none of the Generals’ four starters who have pitched in daytime games have allowed opponents to hit over .200 in the daylight.
*Every Generals pitcher has held opponents to a batting average below .250 on the road. Only eight of the twelve have BAs against them at home that are under .250.
*In addition to Widener and Lopez, Kevin Ginkel has held opposing hitters at or beneath the Mendoza line in both none-out and two-out situations. The same is true for Ginkel, Goldberg, and Lopez when both ahead in the count and behind.
*Half of the Generals’ staff have strong marks with men on base, but the other six in the list have allowed batting averages at or above .275 with ducks on the pond. Sometimes the difference in those splits can be traced to a change in delivery, based on the fact that some pitchers perform differently in the stretch rather than in the wind-up. That said, those numbers (especially the ones that approach or exceed .300) are the kind that make fans squirm, particularly with regard to relievers.
FANGRAPHS.COM – SELECT PITCHING DATA
*Giving up a line drive is not the same thing necessarily as giving up hard contact (which FanGraphs doesn’t measure in the minor leagues), but line drives usually lead to more hits than ground balls or fly balls. Goldberg’s current embargo on line drives is unlikely to remain that low for a long period of time, but it’s certainly part of what has made him successful (he has allowed one home run with Jackson on a fly ball). Lopez’s success in spite of giving up a significant percentage of line drives is also accurate – he allowed three late-inning home runs in May that were crushed, but he’s missed a lot of barrels as well, given his infield fly ball rate and K percentage.
*Anybody who has watched Bo Takahashi knows that home runs have been a recent pitfall for him. The elevated rate of home runs hit against him is way above the norm, but for a 21-year-old in his first month at Double-A, it’s not that surprising. Over time, Takahashi should be able to make fewer mistakes against good hitters and lower it down to the 8%-12% range, which is generally the range that guys pitch to in the Major Leagues. (Recall that one of the homers hit against him was inside-the-park as well.)
*Strikeout and walk percentages relate in a peripheral way to a Left On Base percentage, given that a pitcher with a high strikeout rate and a low walk rate tends to put fewer hitters on base and strand more runners when they do reach base. The guys ranked highly therein have been as difficult to hit as any on the team, aside from former General Colin Poche.
*FIP and xFIP, for the uninitiated, are measured on the same scale as ERA but use fielding-independent measurements (home runs, strikeouts, walks, hit batsmen) to calculate a pitcher’s expected allowance on a per-nine-innings basis. FIP is best frame as a tool to frame how a pitcher has already performed, while xFIP speaks a bit more accurately to how their numbers might change in the future (it replaces home runs allowed with a league-average rate of home runs per fly ball). This is not to say that certain guys will definitively be better or worse in coming weeks or months, but it’s OK to be a little more optimistic for the Second Half outputs from Ryan Atkinson and Takahashi if you were on the fence. If FIP and xFIP are close already, web developers would put that performance in “wizzy-wig” territory, i.e. WYSIWYG (what you’ve seen is what you’ll get).
Through the first ten games of the Second Half, scoring has been difficult for the Jackson Generals, who have only 4 wins in that span. Even with a 13-1 drubbing of the Birmingham Barons last Thursday, Jackson is averaging just 4.1 runs per game since the All-Star Break, and 2.8 if you remove that one offensive outburst. The team’s runs-per-game mark has declined consistently from their April high of 5.6 to just 4.3 in the month of June. We’ve talked in the past about how injuries really hamstrung the Generals in the First Half, but they may have to account for another form of adversity in July: fatigue.
The Generals have done 79 slightly variations of the same thing in different cities over the last three months. This thing they’ve been doing is, collectively, their favorite thing in the world (or a variation of it), and for the most part, they’ve done it quite well. But in doing it well, some of the teams around them who didn’t do well at first have now caught up, found some footholds. They’re hitting their stride while the Generals struggled – Jackson finished below .500 in June for the second straight month. So: How do you respond? How do you find a way to make sure you’re staying as ready as possible, mentally fresh and competitive on a daily basis? What alternatives can you find when something that was working suddenly no longer applies or suffices?
Take Josh Prince. He’s 30 years old, a former Milwaukee Brewer and 2014 Southern League All-Star. He batted .172 over his last eight games in the First Half, stealing only one base. He doesn’t quite have the speed of the player that swiped a league-high 37 bases in 2014, and he’s in a minor slump heading into the All-Star Break. At that age, having seen those heights, you might guess that motivation becomes difficult. And maybe it does, but you’ve discounted one thing: Guys who play for as long as Josh Prince have found all kinds of ways to motivate themselves and correct their missteps over the years.
Two weeks later, Josh Prince is the Generals’ hottest hitter. He carried the Generals’ offense on Sunday in a 4-3 victory over 11 innings, homering in the second inning and driving in the go-ahead run in the 11th. He’s batting .400 since the end of the All-Star Break, and he’s played all four corner positions and DH. In terms of letting your play do the talking, Prince is as good an example of tacking back in a positive direction as the Generals currently have. He was the only man to hit over .300 in June.
Of course, if you’re already doing well, the challenge becomes: What’s good enough? How long can I keep performing like this? How can I impress others (and myself, in some measure) again today? Enter Kevin Ginkel.
Back in April, the Generals were fortunate to have Colin Poche on their Opening Day roster. How good was Poche? He won the Southern League’s Relief Pitcher of the Month award (presented by BC Powder) after striking out 23 batters over 11.0 scoreless innings in his Double-A debut. Now with the Tampa Bay Rays’ organization, Poche is being called by some “the most unhittable arm in the minors.” But Kevin Ginkel, quiet as it’s kept, has already outpaced Poche’s stretch of 11.0 scoreless innings with Jackson, tossing 14.1 frames of run-free baseball through July 1 to begin his Double-A career. Ginkel got the win in Sunday’s victory over Birmingham, holding the Barons without a run in the 10th and 11th innings, both of which started (by rule) with a runner on second base. That’s pretty strong. Ginkel pitched 12.1 innings in 10 June relief appearances, both marks tying for the most on the staff. His 34% strikeout percentage doesn’t touch Poche’s just yet—at 60.4%, nobody else has come within 20 points of Poche—but it’s been a great boon to the Generals’ late-game efforts, especially with the offense struggling to score.
Ginkel’s a recent call-up from High-A. Prince was drafted the same year Ginkel had his 14th birthday. Young? Old? It’s irrelevant. Neither player has allowed fatigue to hamper a re-doubling of their efforts, continuing to prove they can do what the Generals’ coaching staff needs (and more). To shovel out of a 4-6 hole, Jackson will need more hands like those on the spades.
Thanks to a 39-30 First Half, the Jackson Generals claimed the North Division title and thereby earned a spot in the playoffs for the second time in three seasons. Manager Shelley Duncan finds himself in the postseason for the third time in four seasons as a Diamondbacks minor league skipper, and eight Generals earned bids to the Southern League All-Star Game, five of them coming from the team’s league-leading offense.
The simple question, obvious though it might be: What comes next? How do you motivate a team that’s already made the playoffs after half a season? What are the focal points for the Generals as spring turns to summer and the grind of playing 70 games in 74 days begins to wear physically and mentally on all involved?
I can’t answer all the questions about how to make the over-ripe become fresh again, but here are a few of the Second Half baseball plots to examine, anticipate, and enjoy:
PLAYOFF ADVANTAGE: According to Southern League playoff procedures, the Generals will host the first two games of a best-of-five opening round series against whomever wins the Second Half in the North Division. (NOTE: Based on previous seasons’ arrangements, I am guessing those two games will be played at The Ballpark at Jackson on Wednesday, September 5, and Thursday, September 6. I don’t have that officially—it’s an estimate based on the 2016 and 2017 postseason schedules for the Southern League.) The team that wins the North Division team in the Second Half would host the third game of the series, as well as the fourth and fifth games, if the series extends that far. However, there’s a secondary point here: What if the Generals win both halves? Good question. From the Southern League’s rules:
Unless otherwise agreed to by the participating clubs and League President, a team winning both halves of the split season shall play the first two games of the division play-offs in its home park, the third game in the park of the runner-up club, and the remaining two games, if necessary, in its home park. The runner-up club, which shall be the opponent if a club wins both halves, shall be defined as the divisional club with the second best overall record for the entire season.
The Generals had a 20-15 home record in the First Half, as good as any North Division team. If Jackson were to win both halves, they could play as many as six home playoff games (four in the opening series, if that series were to go the distance). The North Division and South Division trade hosting duties for the Southern League Championship Series in even and odd years, with the North hosting the first two games in even years and the South hosting the first two games in odd years. If the Generals advance to the 2018 Championship Series, they would host the first two games of that series. That’s one of the reasons why winning the Second Half makes a difference to Jackson.
DIAMONDBACK DEALS: As Generals fans saw last season, young players performing at a high level are a valuable commodity, especially for MLB teams in a playoff race. The Arizona Diamondbacks pulled two 2017 Generals, infielder Dawel Lugo and pitcher Gabriel Moya, into separate trades in the month of July last year, deals that brought outfielder J.D. Martinez and catcher John Ryan Murphy to Arizona. Both Murphy and Martinez have been important parts of Arizona’s recent success: Martinez pounded 29 home runs in 62 games last year to help push the D-backs into the playoffs, and Murphy has been the team’s most productive offensive catcher this season, slugging .491 while scoring 17 runs in 45 games.
Arizona stands just ahead of the Los Angeles Dodgers at the top of the National League West, and they may look for immediate-impact pitchers or outfielders as the July 31 trade deadline approaches. If they do, players on the Generals’ roster might once again be involved. Minor League players on the whole are aware of this—it’s the concept of “playing for all 30.” Nobody actually thinks “I’m going to get traded,” but with scouts from opposing MLB franchises at just about every game, the reality is that players are being evaluated constantly, and if someone thinks highly of you, they can trade for you.
CLIMBING UP THE LADDER: If this were the Old West, every manager’s office would have the same parchment poster tacked to the wall: “Wanted: Guys Who Can Play.” Generals players are continually trying to prove themselves—some have done a lot already, like All-Star starting pitcher Taylor Widener. The right-hander ranked in the league’s top five in ERA (2.53), WHIP (1.02), opponents’ batting average (.193), strikeouts-per-9.0 IP (11.8), and baserunners-per-9.0 IP (9.58) in the First Half, and continued success in July might be enough to earn a promotion to Triple-A Reno, a la Taylor Clarke in 2017.
Others players, like pitchers Kevin Ginkel and Wei-Chieh Huang, have only recently arrived at Double-A Jackson from High-A Visalia and need to prove themselves consistently at this level. A third group, including Jon Duplantier and Marty Herum, are working their way back from injuries or making mechanical tweaks to ensure that they can return and be strong contributors. Remember also that a handful of Generals have been to the big leagues, with some—Daniel Robertson, Alberto Rosario, and Brad Goldberg—playing there as recently as 2017. Those guys are just as hungry to return to Major League Baseball as the guys who want to get there for the first time.