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Thursday, September 3, 2009

Durham Bulls blank Charlotte Knights, retake division lead

Posted by on Thu, Sep 3, 2009 at 5:00 AM

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And just like that, right after a pair of ugly losses at home to their division rivals, the Bulls got healthy last night against the desperately depleted Charlotte Knights, 9-0. I didn't recognize any of the last four names in the Knights' lineup; they were all callups and patches on a roster that has been gutted by the parent club and Team USA. Gone are Joshes Fields and Kroeger, Tyler Flowers, Ehren Wassermann and especially Carlos Torres. Goodbye, fields, goodbye flowers and towers. We shall run roughshod over your abandoned realm (or something like that).

Doubt and resentment recently set in over at WDBB about the Rays' lack of interest in supporting the Bulls; but the future for les taureaux is bullish compared to their cross-state rivals. The Bulls currently have six players who have been in the majors this season, including a seasoned catcher; they have not one but two closers; they have the franchise's all-time home run leader; and they have two of the hottest prospects in baseball---plus they're about to get a middle infielder who has 29 homers this season. There is no reason to panic, and probably also no excuse for the Bulls to lose even one of the three games down at Fort Mill. But on the other hand we'll be seeing Calvin Medlock and His Flying Bullpen Brothers on Thursday night, so why indulge in predictions?

Desmond Jennings, basking in the glow of his Southern League MVP award---you know you're having a good year when you can miss the final month of the season and still win the hardware---had the big stat night for the Bulls, with a homer, a triple, two walks, a hit-by-pitch (retaliation? I didn't hear the broadcast, can't say), and two stolen bases. His .898 OPS with the Bulls is actually higher than his Double-A mark of .881. It seems only a matter of time before he makes B. J. Upton expendable in Tampa.

Chris Richard, the aforementioned home run king of Durham, also had a nice night, belting his 24th homer and adding three singles, knocking in four runs. Justin Ruggiano had a pair of doubles. Jason Cromer tossed six scoreless innings to earn his seventh win and lower his ERA to a team-leading (among starters) 2.33. In his last 18 1/3 innings, he has allowed only three runs.

And Winston Abreu, trotted out in the ninth inning in order to stay sharp (I guess), struck out the side in order. Consider him sharpened. Abreu has not allowed a hit in his last 11 2/3 innings. He has 19 strikeouts and just two walks in that stretch. He's completely automatic right now, and so good that you wonder how it could be possible that he was knocked around in the majors with Cleveland before the Rays welcomed him back to the flock. Gwinnett closer Luis Valdez was named the International League's All-Star reliever, and I would love for someone to try to look me in the eye and tell me that Valdez deserves the award over Abreu. Because he has 26 saves? Even though he needed 36 save opps to get them? Please. Some stats are only indicators of context, not performance, and saves are one of them. People who looked at Valdez's saves total and gave him the award based on that one number are lazy and narrowminded.

Elsewhere, Syracuse won and Gwinnett lost. The Bulls lead the Braves by a game in the division race; their wild card lead held at 4.5 games over the Chiefs (Braves and Chiefs? what is this, Indian summer?). Durham's magic number for clinching a playoff spot is 2: any combination of Bulls victories and Chiefs losses sends them to the post-season. The Chiefs have played one game fewer than the Bulls, but they will make up their earlier rainout against Lehigh Valley. Even if the Bulls lose four of their final five games, Syracuse will still have to win all six of theirs. But why tempt fate? A couple more wins over Charlotte, which may have to consider changing its name from the Knights to the Russe, will begin a chorus of "Hell to the Chiefs."

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