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Monday, May 31, 2010

RailHawks move up to third: Adjusted USSF-D2 table, week of May 31

Posted by on Mon, May 31, 2010 at 12:48 PM

Happy Memorial Day and welcome back to the latest edition of Triangle Offense's adjusted table. As we explained in our inaugural outing, due to the erratic scheduling of USSF-D2 league play, it's a little tricky to keep track of relative performance unless the points totals are adjusted to a per-game basis.

The Austin Aztex are still in first place as their excellent form continues. Two teams have made big moves up: The FC Tampa Bay Rowdies should no longer receive the condescending qualifier "expansion team," for they're in second place—right on the heels of the Aztex.

And the Carolina RailHawks, who began the season slowly (and were in eighth place on the last adjusted table), are now tied for third after two huge road wins over Puerto Rico and Montreal.

At the bottom of the table, a clear underclass is emerging: NSC Minnesota and AC St. Louis are in the midst of dreadful seasons. Minnesota is more than a third of the way through its schedule and is picking up only .9 points per game.

And AC St. Louis is having a truly terrible inaugural season. The franchise is struggling to stay afloat financially; last week, they threw the women overboard. Although they're drawing decently (more than the RailHawks), Claude Anelka's team has been dreadful, picking up only four points from nine games.

USSF-D2 (As of Monday, May 31)
FC Tampa Bay9182
Puerto Rico561.2
Miami FC781.14
Crystal Palace Baltimore9101.11
NSC Minnesota11100.9
AC St Louis940.44

Three points are awarded for each victory, and one point is awarded for a draw. The USSF-D2 Pro League official table is here.

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Jeremy Hellickson and the Durham Bulls blank the Rochester Red Wings: Cutters and Koans

Posted by on Mon, May 31, 2010 at 7:00 AM

Jeremy Hellickson
  • Durham Bulls
  • Jeremy Hellickson
DBAP/DURHAM—Jeremy Hellickson is evolving incredibly quickly, and in ways that can be difficult to see at first. In the first inning of the Bulls' 6-0 shutout of the Rochester Red Wings on Sunday, Hellickson did what he usually does: throw pretty much all fastballs. By my count, in fact, all 16 of his first-inning pitches were four-seam heaters, and a few of them touched 94 mph on the DBAP radar gun. That's a tick faster than he was throwing them a few weeks ago, when he was around 90-91 most of the time. He struck out two to end the first inning, and it was pretty standard first-inning Hellickson: get the fastball going, wait on the other stuff.

The other stuff started in the second inning, but it took a minute to recognize it. It looked like a slider, only harder. It was actually a cut fastball that veered left and clocked in at 85-87 mph. Hellickson had excellent command of the pitch—"I feel like I can throw it to righties and lefties now," he said afterward—using it in tandem with his customary four-seam fastball, which settled back down to about 91-92 mph for the rest of his outing. He also threw a few two-seamers. The cutter, which Hellickson later estimated he threw about 15 times, gave the Red Wings another offspeed pitch to contend with beyond his curveball and changeup, both of which he started throwing in the fourth inning. What's notable about the former is that Hellickson throws two curveballs, and they were both working beautifully on Sunday. The early-count, slow rainbow curve (about 72mph) dropped in for strikes, and the harder two-strike curve—which almost looks like a slider—had good swerve.

What's notable about the latter, the changeup, is that last year it was Hellickson's go-to out-pitch, to the point of occasional over-reliance. Now he uses it more sparingly, tactically rather than merely strategically, mixing it in with the rest of his pitches. These days, "I try to keep in my back pocket," Hellickson explained, rather than flashing the changeup too much—were he still doing that, he'd be getting victimized by hitters, who would have adjusted to Hellickson's habitual use of the pitch.

But Hellickson is the one making the adjustments; from the fourth inning (when Hellickson added the curve and change) through the seventh, the Red Wings had just two hits—they had four in all, each one a single—and one of those two was a bunt single by Dustin Martin. Hellickson went to only one three-ball count in seven innings, and as his outing evolved, he became hypnotically, almost metronomically efficient, despite working a bit more slowly than usual: He threw exactly 11 pitches in each of his last three innings, eight of the 11 for strikes in the fifth and sixth, and nine in the seventh. Only three or four balls all afternoon were hit hard by the off-balance Rochester lineup.

Hellickson ended each of his last three innings with strikeouts. His 89th and final pitch was a 93-mph four-seamer, right on the outside corner. It followed a table-setting changeup and froze Danny Valencia for a called strike three, his seventh strikeout of the game.

Mike Ekstrom and Joe Bateman finished Hellickson's shutout with a scoreless relief inning each. The Red Wings never got a runner past second base; center fielder Justin Ruggiano made sure of that in the fourth inning when he threw out Valencia trying to stretch a single after Rashad Eldridge flubbed the ball in left-center field.

So when did Hellickson start throwing a cutter? "The day before my last start," he answered.

Oh, okay.

More on the cutter, and then cutting to the chase, after the jump.

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Sunday, May 30, 2010

RailHawks continue road impact with 2-0 win over Montreal

Posted by on Sun, May 30, 2010 at 9:21 PM

Greg Shields
  • Carolina RailHawks
  • Greg Shields
After amassing merely five points over the first five matches this season, trepidation was high for the Carolina RailHawks entering a tortuous four-game road trip to the most difficult venues in D2 soccer. Although their excursion is only half completed, Carolina has already used the time away to find their footing and confidence. On Thursday, the RailHawks won for the first time ever at Puerto Rico. Today, it was the Montreal Impact’s turn as Carolina won for the first time at Saputo Stadium before a reported capacity crowd of 13,034.

Like the match against Puerto Rico four days ago, RailHawks head coach Martin Rennie again deployed a more defensive lineup, opting to start Floyd Franks and Marques Davidson at midfield over Daniel Paladini, Cory Elenio and Gregory Richardson.

The biggest difference maker, however, was the return of Greg Shields to the right back position after missing three matches due to injury. Against Puerto Rico, the RailHawks employed tenacity and lady luck to withstand a relentless Islanders attack. With Shields—who Rennie regards as “the best right back in the league”—back to solidify the back line, the Impact—who perhaps were already looking ahead to their friendly against AC Milan this Wednesday—never mustered much of a scoring threat. What few offensive inroads they made were quickly shut down by Matt Bobo, Mark Schulte and goalkeeper Eric Reed, who recorded his second clean sheet this season.

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Mudcats drop another solid pitchers' duel as West Tenn takes series finale

Posted by on Sun, May 30, 2010 at 5:17 PM

FIVE COUNTY STADIUM/ZEBULON The Carolina Mudcats have been playing well for the last month, and today they seek a pretty important win.

Carolina Mudcats outfielder Sean Danielson
  • Photo by Nikolaus © 2010 Carolina Mudcats
  • Carolina Mudcats outfielder Sean Danielson
If they can defeat the West Tenn Diamond Jaxx, that will give them three out of five in the five-game series before Carolina hits the road for Jacksonville to start a 10-game road trip.

A win would give the Mudcats their fifth straight series victory after a horrible April that included an 11-game losing streak.

It’s sunny and very warm in front of a decent crowd on Memorial Day eve.

Matt Fairel, the lefty out of Florida State who was 5-1, 3.04 at Lynchburg, makes his Double-A debut for the Mudcats today. The Jaxx send Steve Bray (1-3) to the hill.

From the start, it’s a pretty good exhibition on how to play the game correctly. And the Jaxx turn out to be just a bit better at it, claiming the series with a 3-2 win.

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Durham Bulls lose to Rochester Red Wings: With a Rally Monkey on their backs

Posted by on Sun, May 30, 2010 at 6:00 AM

DBAP/DURHAM—Just before the Durham Bulls came to bat in bottom of the ninth inning last night, the DBAP video screen flashed the words "Rally Time." That was understandable: the video guys often do that before the Bulls' final at-bat if they're losing, and it was 6-4, Rochester.

The thing was, the Bulls had been rallying all night long. Red Wings' pitchers didn't record a single 1-2-3 inning in the game, and Durham sent at least five men to the plate in five different innings. Through eight, they had 14 hits. They made Rochester starter Jeff Manship burn through 89 pitches in five innings, chasing him early, and they made a game out of what initially looked like a Red Wings' blowout. Bulls' starter Carlos Hernandez had had a miserable start, throwing balls and walking guys or throwing strikes that were hit hard, and it was 5-0 Rochester after 1 1/2 innings. But the Bulls answered with three runs in the third. The teams exchanged runs later on, and that set the stage for the Bulls' ninth and final rally of the night.

The crowd got into it, even though they'd been doing the dreaded Wave in the seventh inning. Chris Richard, to that point 4-4 with three doubles (more about that a little later), fought Red Wings' closer Anthony Slama through an eight-pitch at-bat that ended with a line-drive single to center. Ryan Shealy followed with a walk, and J. J. Furmaniak, newly arrived from Montgtomery, pinch-ran for him. The tying runs were on base for Alvin Colina.

Let me reconfirm my reservations with the Sacrifice Front Desk. Oh, Mary-Quite-Contrary do I have reservations. I don't like them in theory, except in a few very specific situations, because they are essentially just giveaways of an out. And in this case I do not like them in practice, either, Sam I Am (there, I'm a book critic), because Alvin Colina is a power hitter. He may not be a great power hitter, or even a good one; but he is a big, strong dude and almost half of his hits this year have gone for extra bases. His job is to hit. I have no idea if he is a good bunter; I suspect he's rarely asked to do it, and thus not good at it. But I don't know.

Yes, of course he was instructed to bunt. Yes, the corner infielders came in. No, it didn't matter, because Colina's bunt was a little spurty foul pop-up that Rochester catcher Jose Morales caught easily for the first out of the inning, about 10 feet from home plate. I suppose you could argue that Colina's inability to get the bunt down ound up not mattering, because two of the Bulls' strugglingest hitters, Fernando Perez and Desmond Jennings, each struck out, and the game was over.

That was simply a failure to launch, plain and simple. But it was especially frustrating because, although they left a whopping 15 men on base and went 2-16 with runners in scoring position, the fact—the cold, hard fact, results be-damned—is that the Bulls delivered hard hits tonight. They sprayed line drives all over the field. The problem is that Rochester kept catching them—even when they virtually tried not to. And that's why the lucky-dog Red Wings won, 6-4.

How the lucky dog had its day after the jump. But before we leap, congratulations to Roy Halladay on his perfect game. That's just the 20th of all time—and, amazingly, the second one this year!

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Saturday, May 29, 2010

Feierabend keeps Mudcats at bay as West Tenn evens series

Posted by on Sat, May 29, 2010 at 9:56 PM

FIVE COUNTY STADIUM/ZEBULON The Carolina Mudcats have won two of their first three games in their current series with the West Tenn Diamond Jaxx, and are on the verge of winning their fifth straight series.

Carolina Mudcats infielder Jake Kahaulelio
  • Photo by Nikolaus © 2010 Carolina Mudcats
  • Carolina Mudcats infielder Jake Kahaulelio
Things are a lot different from they were in April, when David Bell’s club had that nightmarish 11-game losing streak.

It’s a sunny evening as the fans prepare for traveling mascot “Rally,” and for the second straight night there’s a pretty good crowd in the house.

The Mudcats send ace lefty Tom Cochran (2-1) to the hill against Ryan Feierabend, who is making his first appearance for the Diamond Jaxx.

And the visitors prevail 4-2 in a contest punctuated by a couple of very long home runs.

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Durham Bulls beat Rochester Red Wings: The Devil is in the details, but the Angel redeems them (and himself)

Posted by on Sat, May 29, 2010 at 6:00 AM

Angel Chavez
  • Photo by D. L. Anderson
  • Angel Chavez
DBAP/DURHAM—Or is God in the details? There seems to be some debate about this. Last night at the ballpark, it was almost certainly the devil, and God—or his Angel, anyway—didn't sweat the small stuff, needing just a single swing of the bat to take care of the Bulls' come-from-behind, 4-2 victory over the Rochester Red Wings.

Although the outcome was different, last night's game in many ways resembled Thursday's: a lot of sleepy doings punctuated by a few bursts of excitement in the seventh inning, with Bulls' infielders Angel Chavez and Dan Johnson in the middle of the fray. (Bulls' manager Charlie Montoyo would later note the game's playoff-like intensity.) To get the lede out of the way—actually, the headline kind of does that all by itself—Chavez atoned for his game-losing two-run fielding error on Thursday night with a game-winning three-run home run on Friday. The legendary manager Casey Stengel once carped, "I don't like them fellas who drive in two runs and let in three." On balance, though, he'd probably, grudgingly, have to admit to at least tolerating and perhaps even liking guys like Chavez who let in two and drive in three. (How great is it that Stengel, who died 35 years ago, long before the Internet was born, has an "official Web site"?)

Chavez's blast, which hit Ye Olde Snorting Bull beyond The Big Bad Beautiful Bogus Blue Monster and won him a salad (it hit the grass portion of the mural; sorry Angel), came on the very first pitch thrown by Red Wings' reliever Rob Delaney. It looked like a lame fastball, but after the game Chavez said it was actually a slider. (It obviously didn't slide very much.) He was looking for a breaking ball on Delaney's first pitch, he said. Why a breaking ball, he was asked? "I don't know. Runners on second and third." And then he said either "one out" or "why not." It was loud in the clubhouse, and you couldn't tell which.

Not that either of those responses would have quite explained Chavez's reasoning. One out? Why not? So, breaking ball? Whatever the case, his answer to the question had that irrepressible insouciance that characterizes his play at all times. Sometimes it ends in a botched ground ball at second base that loses the game; sometimes it delivers a three-run homer that wins it. If you're Casey Stengel, or if you're Charlie Montoyo and Joe Dillon is out with a hamstring injury, you hope for the better Angels of our nature ballclub.

For what it's worth, Chavez also banged a double off the top off the Blue Monster in the third inning; it would have been a homer in many other ballparks. Actually, the double hit the Plexiglass-fronted railing just above the blue part of the wall, and some people thought it was a homer. It wasn't, but the confusion over where exactly the line is recurred, almost catastrophically, in the decisive seventh inning. Chavez, however, made it meaningless; sometimes going yard can put paid to the game of inches. All the devilish details after the jump.

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Friday, May 28, 2010

Negron's slide helps Mudcats nip West Tenn 2-1 in pitchers' duel

Posted by on Fri, May 28, 2010 at 11:09 PM

FIVE COUNTY STADIUM/ZEBULON It’s Game 3 of the five-game set between the Carolina Mudcats and West Tenn Diamond Jaxx, and so far it has been a very competitive series at a win apiece.

Carolina Mudcats infielder Kris Negron
  • Photo by Nikolaus © 2010 Carolina Mudcats
  • Carolina Mudcats infielder Kris Negron
It’s hot and cloudy and everybody is hoping there isn’t going to be rain.

There’s a decent crowd in the house as the “Memorial Day weekend” gets going. The Mudcats are running a “five millionth fan” promotion in their 20th season, and the big fireworks show is set to follow.

Scott Carroll (0-1) is going for the Mudcats against Asheville native and Elon alumnus Steven Hensley (5-1), who is currently the best pitcher in the Southern League.

Kris Negron scores both runs and the Mudcats knock Hensley off his perch in a 2-1 victory.

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Go to the video: The goals from the RailHawks' 2-1 victory over Puerto Rico

Posted by on Fri, May 28, 2010 at 7:00 PM

Daniel Paladini, seen during a 2009 game against the Puerto Rico Islanders
  • Jeremy M. Lange
  • Daniel Paladini, seen during a 2009 game against the Puerto Rico Islanders
The reported attendance Wednesday night in the 12,500-seater Juan Ramón Loubriel, a converted baseball stadium in Bayamón, P.R., was 5,077, which seems a little generous, but perhaps not by much.

Just as generous, perhaps, was the penalty awarded to the Carolina RailHawks by the thus-far unidentified referee to the RailHawks' Josh Gardner in the 83rd minute of the May 26 game against the Puerto Rico Islanders. There's no question the Islanders' Josh Hansen made contact after a heavy touch by Gardner, but some referees might have looked the other way. Not this unnamed referee, though. The call was probably technically correct, and Islanders fans can only blame Hansen for making what was a very reckless challenge—if not a dangerous one or one that denied a obvious scoring opportunity.

That's the first interesting point in this clip. The other is Gregory Richardson's dismal penalty kick, which was saved after a bit of time-wasting gamesmanship by the Islanders' portero, Bill Gaudette. At the time we were watching the game, we hadn't noticed the entrance of Daniel Paladini two minutes earlier. Perhaps he'll take the next penalty.

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Durham Bulls lose to Rochester Red Wings: Not so fast (and plenty of famine)

Posted by on Fri, May 28, 2010 at 10:45 AM

DBAP/DURHAM — Rochester didn't beat Durham last night, 4-3. "We just gave it away," lamented Bulls' manager Charlie Montoyo after a dispiriting loss that saw the Bulls fail to exploit enough of the opportunities granted them by the league-worst Red Wings—and by the umpires—before returning a smorgasbord of favors late. They wasted a solid start from Aneury Rodriguez, allowed four unearned runs (in other words, all of 'em), struck out 14 times, and failed to do meaningful damage to the Red Wings' starter, Glen Perkins, who came into the game with a 9.09 ERA, and whom they had hammered for eight runs and three homers in just 2 1/3 innings just a few weeks ago in Rochester.

To cut to the chase, which ended in what amounted to a single-car accident involving a Taurus: Bulls southpaw pitcher Jason Cromer, just activated off of the disabled list after recovering from elbow problems that had plagued him since March, relieved Baby A-Rod with two on and two out in the top of the sixth inning, and the Bulls ahead 2-1. Although Cromer is normally a starter, it was decided that he would pitch in relief of Rodriguez, not only because it was Cromer's first Triple-A action of the season (so break him in gently), but more importantly because, according to Bulls' broadcaster Neil Solondz, Cromer hadn't thrown more than 56 pitches in a game this year so far. A short outing was planned—not as short, though, as the one he turned in.

Facing his first batter, Cromer retired Dustin Martin on a flyout to center field, and he appeared to look just fine on the mound, throwing some beguiling curveballs and burying a fastball knee-high: straight into fourth gear, it seemed, for Cromer.

In the last of the sixth, the famine descended. Dan Johnson, terror of the International League, drew a leadoff walk from Perkins. Joe Dillon then looped the next pitch into right field for a single—except that Johnson wasn't sure it would fall in, and was further duped by Dustin Martin out in right field. Martin raised his glove as if to catch the ball, which bounced well in front of him, and Johnson, fooled by the ruse, began to retreat to first base. Martin fielded the ball and threw out Johnson easily at second base, downgrading Dillon's hit to a fielder's choice. So instead of two on and no outs, it was one on and one out.

Dillon stole second base, though, and the Bulls had the runner back in scoring position. Ryan Shealy struck out (you could say that, malheureusement, after all four of Shealy's at-bats last night), but Angel Chavez dinked a bloopy, opposite-field single to right. With two outs, Dillon was running all the way, and he scored easily.

Not so fast.

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