Minor league baseball games are, on the whole, much stupider than major league games. The players are more raw, so you can see things like seven errors in one game, bad baserunning blunders, and nearly 20 runs scored in just over three hours. I’ve been around minor league baseball for a long time, and Monday night was the first time I’ve seen that last one. Scores like 19-2 are less unusual in the thin-aired, homer-friendly California League - the High Desert Mavericks defeated the Lancaster JetHawks 30-8 in 2013, and double digits pop up frequently - but this was in humid Maryland with two Carolina League teams.
One of those two teams being White Sox-affiliated made it even better, and that team being the one that scored 19 runs better still! The Dash excelled at the plate and on the mound on Monday, the kind of day that re-firms your faith in the rebuild. The top prospects did well, and so did everyone else; it’s hard to score 19 runs without a cohesive offensive effort.
But first, the pitching! This was righty Blake Battenfield’s high-A debut, after 13 dominant starts for the Kannapolis Intimidators. He left the South Atlantic League with an even 2.00 ERA over 67.2 IP, walking 16 and striking out 69 (nice). Battenfield - whose full first name, I have just learned, is Blakely - was a 17th round pick in last year’s draft, making this his first full professional season. Interestingly, the Sox are converting him from a college reliever to a professional starter, with encouraging results so far.
Some pitchers get lit up during their first appearance in a higher league, and some dominate. Battenfield was the latter, not giving up a baserunner until the fourth inning. He worked quickly and competently, and although he’s a righty, it was hard not to compare him to Model of Efficiency Mark Buehrle.
Blake Battenfield taking a page out of the Buehrle playbook. Get the ball, get the sign, throw the ball. Get the ball, get the sign, throw the ball.
— Julie, Maybe (@DestroyBaseball) June 25, 2018
Battenfield’s approach was a large part of why the final time of game was just three hours, 10 minutes. Most slugfests are drawn out affairs, but it helps when a one-sided pitching duel (a pitching… single?) is taking care of the other half. Battenfield kept his pitch count low until he ran into trouble in the 7th, starting the fourth inning with 29 pitches, and finished with a line of 8.0 IP, 4 H, 2 ER (both earned, both on a dong, his only real mistake of the night), 2 BB, and 7 K. He threw 103 pitches, 67 for strikes - again, a ratio that was even better before the 7th. This was about a strong a start as the Dash, the Sox, and Battenfield himself could have hoped for.
The ninth inning went to Mike Morrison, the 27th round pick from 2016, and he gave up one hit and nothing else in his one inning of work. Morrison has an ERA of 4.00, but almost all of that comes from two terrible outings where he gave up five runs over two innings and three runs without recording an out, respectively. He’s been steadily working it back down since then, and hasn’t given up an earned run since the latter outing on May 29th.
Offensively: there was a lot to like until the fifth inning, and then there was a whole lot to like. First of all, Monday’s game was one of the first played after the wave of promotions following the All-Star break. For the Dash, that meant that left fielder Luis Gonzalez, second baseman Laz Rivera, and center fielder Luis Robert were all playing among their first games at the high-A level. For all three, it’s their first full season in pro ball.
As I will never, ever stop complaining about, I got to spring training in March this year the instant that Robert was ruled out for a couple months with a thumb sprain. Between his call-up and the Dash being, in my opinion, currently the most exciting Sox farm team, this series was one I had been looking forward to for a long time.
It took next to no time for things to turn up, either. Robert, hitting second, sent a ground ball up the middle for a base hit in his first at-bat. Micker Adolfo, that day’s cleanup hitter, had a nearly identical hit. Robert could have stopped at second and nobody would have questioned it; instead, he barely paid attention to it as he headed towards third, where it became clear that he never had any intention of stopping as soon as the ball left Adolfo’s bat. It was a ridiculous choice - the ball was already being relayed back as he started down the stretch - and it was one that almost paid off.
Luis Robert just tried to score from first on a single. Made third easily and ALMOST made it to home safely.... but not quite. This team has the hustle. He never even slowed down after leaving first. pic.twitter.com/1yoegrmpYy
— Julie, Maybe (@DestroyBaseball) June 25, 2018
He was inches away from being safe. There’s an All-Star sweet spot where aggressive play is backed up by talent, and if anyone can find it, it’s Robert.
He walked in his next appearance on four pitches, then came up for the third time in the fifth inning with both Rivera and Gonzalez on base ahead of him with nobody out. He did this:
— Julie, Maybe (@DestroyBaseball) June 26, 2018
Bunting is dumb and bad, but look at that acceleration. That is some speed.
Blake Rutherford followed this up with a two-run double, advanced to third on a wild pitch, then scored when Gavin Sheets hit a sacrifice fly. Everything Sheets hits is loud and goes a long way. The power numbers aren’t there yet, but he’s only 22 and a massive, large man, and they’ll come.
The Dash added three more in the sixth inning - Laz Rivera doubled, Luis Gonzalez singled, and Robert was nicked by a pitch on his foot. Adolfo cleared the bases with a double and was safe at third after the Keys’ second baseman’s throw went wild.
In the seventh, two consecutive walks by Yeyson Yrizarri and Nate Nolan brought up Rivera, who clearly hasn’t run into trouble yet in high-A ball and singled to load the bases for his third hit of the night. A wild pitch brought Yrizarri home, and a Gonzalez double scored Nolan (Gonzalez also failing to struggle in a new league). Robert got in on the action with an RBI groundout, and Gonzalez scored on an airmailed throw by the third baseman trying to get Rutherford at first.
This brought the score up to 10-0 after six and a half innings. Robert was removed, sparking unfounded panic among some on Twitter, and Battenfield gave up his two runs. The eighth inning was uneventful, and then came the ninth.
Laz Rivera, who despite batting ninth was always up to bat and was also always on base, came up to bat and reached base with his fourth hit and second double of the night. Gonzalez, as he had also been doing all night, singled him over to third. Robert’s replacement, Zach Remillard, hit a double that scored Rivera. 11-2, Dash.
Blake Rutherford, who had the weakest line of the night among Dash hitters at 1-6 (every player reached at least once), struck out. Micker Adolfo, whose named was spelled Miker on the scoreboard, perhaps to enforce the correct pronunciation, singled in Gonzalez. Adolfo, still at DH, went 3-4 with a double, two walks, and three RBI. 12-2, Dash.
After a futile pitching change, Sheets drew a walk, leaving runners on first and second with one out. Sheets was 1-4 with that walk and a couple of deep fly balls that might make it out of the park next season. Following this, third baseman Ti’Quan Forbes singled home Remillard - 13-2, Dash - loading the bases for Yeyson Yrizarri, who naturally hit a grand slam. It was quite the dong to behold. This made it 17-2, Dash. Forbes had himself a 3-6 night, all singles, and Yrizarri was 1-5 with a walk.
Surely, we thought, surely at some point this game must end. It’s part of baseball - the game has to end. This is technically true, but as it turns out, until three outs are made in an inning, the team at bat can just continue to hit. This is a little-known fact that Nate Nolan capitalized on with a walk, bringing Rivera up to the plate. Rivera gave himself a 5-5 night by launching one out to left field, scoring his fifth run of the game in the process. 19-2, Dash. Just your classic nine-spot in the ninth.
That was it for scoring for the night. 12 men went to the plate for the offense in that last frame. Gonzalez ended up 3-6 with four runs scored, while Remillard, both of whose at-bats came in the ninth, was 1-2. The Dash scored 19 runs on a total of 20 hits, and were aided by three Keys errors - 16 of the runs were earned.
So, this was fun. If you have a chance to see a team full of top rebuild prospects score almost 20 runs, I highly recommend it. The Dash haven’t fared so well the past two nights, scoring two runs apiece and losing both 3-2, and still have two more to play because this is a five-game series?! But it seems likely that they won’t match game one’s total in the next four combined! So that’s also fun. On the bright side, the pitching has been quite good! Baseball: sometimes fun things happen, sometimes they don’t.
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