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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Durham Bulls mop, sweep Norfolk Tides; also, Rays cede Kazmir to Pakistanaheim

Posted by on Sat, Aug 29, 2009 at 5:00 AM

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="250" caption="Maybe we misspelled his name when we Googled him"]Maybe we misspelled his name when we Googled him[/caption]There's often not too much to say about 11-2 routs like last night's. The Bulls took an early lead and then systematically enlarged it, unimpeded by a 54-minute rain delay that ended starter Wade Davis's night early. One night after tying the Bulls' Triple-A franchise record for career homers, Chris Richard broke it. Matt Joyce and Elliot Johnson added round-trippers of their own (the Tides have been out-homered 39-6 in their last 30 games!), the Bulls racked up 16 hits off of five Norfolk pitchers, the last of whom was second baseman Brandon Pinckney, and your local news is coming up next, thank you for staying up with us.

It was the Bulls' fifth straight win, which kept them even with Gwinnett (who won at Charlotte) atop the International League South Division. Guess who comes to Durham for a four-game series on Saturday?

So the romp was a mere setup for the showdown we've all been waiting for, and as such was secondary to its surrounding weather, a complex and unpredictable collision of fast-approaching fronts and precipitations that will pass over the DBAP very soon. Details follow.

* You probably already know the big news of the day: The Tampa Bay Rays traded Scott Kazmir to the Los Anaheim Argyles of Angeldust for a pair of mid-level prospects and a candy bar to be named later. You can probably ferret out plenty of analysis elsewhere, but this one is really pretty simple: the Rays have lots of good pitching, and not lots of money; Scott Kazmir is due eight million dollars in 2010 and 12 million in 2011; Kazmir has been injured often in his young career, including this year (he pitched in Durham once on a rehab assignment), during which he has been erratic even when healthy; the Rays have a similar choice to make about Carl Crawford and his escalating salary, and they have no comparable replacements for him next year.

They do have replacements for Kazmir, though, and at least two of them are Durham Bulls. Andy Sonnanstine was part of the Rays' starting rotation last year and for the first bit of this year, and after struggling early he is trying to work his way back into the mix from Durham. If nothing else, right now he probably isn't a drastic downgrade from Kazmir. But if he turns out to be, look ahead to next year, when Wade Davis should be ready for his shot at the Rays' starting rotation. Right on Davis's heels is Jeremy Hellickson, who is thriving in Durham since his callup from Double-A Montgomery in July.

More immediately, someone has to take Kazmir's slot in the rotation---or, perhaps, someones. The Rays waited to trade Kazmir, quite deliberately, I'd wager, until right before rosters expand on Tuesday. That allows for all of the above---Davis, Hellickson, Sonnastine---to get chances to start games for Tampa before the season ends. Also, guess when Kazmir's next scheduled start is? Tuesday, September 1. In retrospect, it seems quite convenient, even fateful, that Davis's start last night in Norfolk was curtailed by rain, almost as if the gods were saving his arm for, oh, Tuesday at the Trop versus the Boston Red Sox.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. What we know now is that the Bulls will almost certainly lose one member of their starting rotation early next week (or sooner), and could well lose two more before the season ends---especially if the Bulls prolong it by making the playoffs, which is starting to seem very, very likely. Even if they lose the division race to Gwinnett, the Bulls hold a five-game lead in the wild-card race with 11 games to play. [ed.: I thought we weren't getting ahead of ourselves?]

* A couple of other roster moves are assured. Jason Childers and Jon Weber, who have been major contributors to the Bulls this season, will both leave the team on September 1 to start training with Team USA. The Bulls will play their final seven games without their most productive (and best clutch) hitter, and without their leader in games pitched. The loss of Weber isn't catastrophic because the Bulls' roster is currently flush with outfielders---for now---but look for pitching reinforcements from Montgomery, or from somewhere. Who knows, maybe Jake McGee, who missed a year after Tommy John surgery but is now rehabbing with Port Charlotte, will finally arrive? Mitch Talbot? Mitch? Where is Mitch?

* Some fresh injury issues precede the Bulls' series with Gwinnett. I missed all but the ninth inning of last night's game---I was pleased that Jason Childers had a successful outing, perhaps a return to form after a poor August?---but I pieced together that Ray Olmedo and Desmond Jennings seem to have collided chasing a ball (in foul territory, I'm guessing). Jennings didn't appear to be seriously hurt, from what I could tell; but both he and Olmedo, who evidently took the worse hit, left the game for defensive replacements. This may have been merely precautionary, but it would hurt to lose Jennings, who has provided a real spark for the Bulls. Olmedo isn't as critical a piece, but with Henry Mateo already on the disabled list, the Bulls would lose a lot of in-game flexibility if Olmedo joins him there---especially because...

* ... Akinori Iwamura is expected to return to Tampa any day now. When he first joined the Bulls, the plan was for him to play with the team through the Norfolk series. We don't know whether he's 100% healthy yet, or if the plan remains unchanged, but in any case his rehab assignment expires in less than a week. Shortstop Reid Brignac seems likely to be called back up to Tampa as well. I wouldn't be at all surprised to see the return at some point of previously Bisquicked shortstop Brandon Chaves, who did a competent job in his brief emergency stint with the Bulls earlier this season.

Well, now that we've pulsed all of that in the blender for a few minutes, it ought to muddy up the Bulls' triumphant return home nicely. They went 6-1 on their road trip to Syracuse and Norfolk and put a pretty strong claim on a playoff spot; they would have to suffer a total collapse to miss the postseason. But let's not get complacent, especially because incoming Gwinnett ought to be pretty excited to play the Bulls. For one thing, by one of those wacky International-League scheduling quirks, the Braves just played seven straight games against Charlotte. They lost four of them and must be dying to play someone else, anyone else, even the streaking Bulls. For another, despite losing two of three at Charlotte Fort Mill, SC, Gwinnett has the best road record in the league, so why not visit the DBAP? (As for drain-circling Norfolk, they get to face Charlotte and rehabbing Jake Peavy on Saturday. Sorry, guys.)

Andy Sonnanstine gets the start for the Bulls tonight, and it could be his last. His opponent for Gwinnett will be John Halama, a former Tampa Bay Ray who is, I'm not even joking, 37 years old. Halama was at his mid-career peak almost 10 years ago, when women wore chokers.

Come out to the DBAP tonight. The Bulls need you!

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