July 2011

Potential Dust Devil Playoff Matchups

Now that the Dust Devils have won the first half title and know they will be in the 2011 Northwest League playoffs, deciding how the first round will be formatted is the next big decision for the club. The winner of the first half each season decides, in the first round of the playoffs, whether they will play the first game of the first series at home, or the final two games of the series at home. Each round of the NWL playoffs are a best-of-three format and gaining the right home-field advantage could decide the series.

The past two times the Dust Devils have made the playoffs, in 2007 and 2009, the format was different, with the two division winners of the full season facing off in a one round best-of-five championship series.  In those series the format was predetermined and the strategy of choosing your own path was non-existent.

So, here are some stats on the Dust Devils performances against East Division opponents, one of which they will face in the first round of the NWL playoffs this season.

Yakima Bears

Tri-City has had more success against the Bears than any other division opponent this season, going 6-2 in their first eight games with four of those wins coming on the road. At Gesa Stadium Tri-City has faced Yakima in one three game series, winning two of three. However, it is unlikely the Bears will make the playoffs, considering they finished the first half with the Northwest League’s worst record at 13-25 and the league’s lowest team batting average (.229). The final regular season series between the Bears and Dust Devils is August 18-20 as Tri-City looks to make it a 4-0 series season sweep of Yakima.

Boise Hawks

The Dust Devils have faced the Hawks the least of any of their East Division rivals this season, playing them six times while they’ve played Spokane nine times and Yakima eight, with the ninth game against the Bears coming tonight. In those six games, a home and away series, the Dust Devils are even at 3-3 as each team won their home series two games to one.

The Hawks, along with the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes, are the only teams that, so far this season, the Dust Devils don’t have a winning record against. But, the stats against Boise may be the least valuable, because all six of the games between the two took place in the month of June. At that time Tri-City and Boise were 8-6 and since that time, the landscape of the division and the two teams have changed drastically. They will face each other six times in 11 days in August between the 7th and 17th to end their regular season scheduled games.

Spokane Indians

Spokane and Tri-City battled to the end of the first half in close contention for much of the 38 games, each team interchanging atop the division multiple times in June and July. They’ve played each other nine times with the Dust Devils winning five games and going 3-3 on the road at Avista Stadium. At home Tri-City is 2-1 against Spokane, winning their series from July 1-3 earlier this season.

The Dust Devils’ two biggest wins over the Indians came in their last series, with the first half division crown and a playoff appearance on the line. Spokane took the series opener at home, giving them a one game lead over the Dust Devils with four games to play, but Tri-City won the last two and went on to win the first half title. Winning those two games under those circumstances would give any team confidence to play there again this season and should do so if Spokane ends up being the other East Division team in the playoffs this season. The two Highway 395 rivals will face each other three more times this year, August 21-23 at Gesa Stadium.

Other Notes

Overall at home this year Tri-City is 13-6 at home and 9-10 on the road. Although, considering that the Dust Devils will face only an East Division opponent in the first round of the playoffs, their home record against East Division teams this season may be more important. So far they are 6-3 at home against East teams, winning a series against each other team two games to one. On the road against East Division teams Tri-City is a surprising 8-6, with Boise being the only team they have a losing record against.

In series against division opponents this year the Dust Devils are 5-2, going 3-0 in home series and 1-2 in road series with the two losses coming to Boise and Spokane in late June and early July respectively.

So far this season Tri-City is 15-14 in games in which they face a right-handed starter and are 7-2 in games in which they face a left-handed starter. The Yakima Bears lead the Dust Devils’ division opponents with the most left-handed starts this season with 13. Spokane comes in a close second with 12 and Boise is third with just seven left-handed starts this season. The Dust Devils have not started a lefty all season.

You can catch the 2011 Northwest League East Division first-half champion Dust Devils return to Gesa Stadium Wednesday night July 27 as they take on the Vancouver Candadians. The Canadians battled back against the Eugene Emeralds in the West Division to take it to the final day yesterday, but lost the tie-breaker between the two as each team finished at 24-14. The visit will be the lone home series against Vancouver this season for Tri-City as they look to rebound from going 1-9 against the Canadians last season.

Dust Devils Make NWL Playoffs, Here’s How They Work

It is a new feeling for the Dust Devils and their fans, but before the month of August you can plan on playoff baseball in the Tri-Cities this September. Tri-City is ending the first-half of the season on an impressive run, winning 10 of their last 13 and clinched the Northwest League East Division first-half crown with a game to spare. The race for the first-half title, and a guaranteed playoff spot, was close for much of the season, with Boise and Spokane interchanging in the top spot with the Dust Devils. But the late run of wins propelled Tri-City to their third playoff appearance in five seasons.

The system that has given the Dust Devils the division championship and a playoff spot already was new in 2010, and here is how it works.

–          First half winners will have 7 days (Monday, August 1) to decide if they would like to host game 1 or games 2 and 3.

–          If one team wins both the first and second half of the season then the team with the next best winning percentage for the entire season will get into the playoffs. If there is a tie for the next best winning percentage then the second half tiebreakers come into play.

–          First Round in East and West

–          Game 1: Monday, September 5
Game 2: Tuesday, September 6
Game 3: Wednesday, September 7

–          Championship Round – Starting in the East (depending on stadium availability this schedule may change)

–          Game 1: East hosting on Friday, September 9
Game 2: West hosting on Saturday, September 10
Game 3: West hosting on Sunday, September 11

 

This format means that, regardless of how the second half plays out, the Dust Devils will be in the playoffs come September. The Spokane Indians would be the early favorite to be the second team from the East to make the playoffs in the second half, as they will finish in second place in the East after battling the Dust Devils for the top spot. The Boise Hawks were in the hunt as well, but struggled down the stretch and will finish a few games back of first place. Also, should the Dust Devils win the second half East Division title as well, overall winning percentage throughout the entire season is the tie-breaker, giving the Indians an advantage over Boise and Yakima.

As of now, Tri-City is the only team in the 2011 NWL Playoffs. The Eugene Emeralds, who broke the NWL record for consecutive wins and looked assured of a playoff spot weeks ago, is now in a tie with the red-hot Vancouver Canadians atop the West Division.  Tonight Eugene will take on the Everett AquaSox at home while the Canadians will host the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes.

Also, today Dust Devils outfielder Jared Simon was named Northwest League Offensive Player of the Week by MiLB for the week of July 18-24. During that stretch, during which Dust Devils offensive leader Jordan Ribera went on the disabled list, Simon stepped up his play at the plate and gave the team much-needed momentum. He went 10-for-26 with one home run, seven runs batted in, three doubles and had an on-base percentage of .538.

Former Dust Devils pitcher Josh Slaats also took home honors for his play last week, being named South Atlantic League Pitcher of the Week by MiLB. Slaats went 2-0 in two starts and 13 innings pitched in which he allowed one run while striking out 13. He is now 6-1 on the year with Colorado Rockies single-A affiliate Asheville Tourists.

Dust Devils Clinch First Half Crown

The Tri-City Dust Devils are the Northwest League East Division first-half champions and have secured a playoff spot in the 2011 NWL playoffs. The Dust Devils have gone on a tear to end the second half, winning 10 of their last 13 and three consecutive series. Tri-City looked to be fading out of the first-half division title picture after losing four of five on the road to the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes, but turned their fortunes around quickly and will be in the playoffs for the third time in the last five seasons.

The Dust Devils needed to take advantage of their longest home stand of the season, following the series lost to Salem-Keizer, to get back on the winning track and that is exactly what they did. Tri-City defeated the Eugene Emeralds, who at the time were 21-4 and running away with the NWL West Division title, four of five games then took two of three games against the Yakima Bears at Gesa Stadium. The 6-2 stretch put the Dust Devils into a tie atop the East Division with the Spokane Indians as Tri-City headed to Spokane for a crucial three game series. In that series the Dust Devils won two of three, including an immensely important rubber match 3-1 on Saturday evening at Avista Stadium to give Tri-City the upper hand with two games remaining.

In order to clinch the division in those final two games the Dust Devils had to win just one of the two on the road against the Yakima Bears, which they did in comfortable fashion Sunday night, 10-4. Tri-City now has seven days, until Monday August 1, to decide whether they would like to host game one, or games two and three in the first round of the Northwest League Playoffs, which take place September 5-7. The Dust Devils will face the winner of the NWL East Division second half in the first round of the playoffs, unless they win it, in which case the team with the next best winning percentage over the entirety of the season in the division will face Tri-City.

After closing out the first half of the season Tri-City will start the second half with a road game against the Yakima Bears followed by a five-game home stand versus the Vancouver Canadians which starts on Wednesday, July 27.

First Off-Day of Season Gives Chance for Reflection

The Dust Devils have their first off-day of the season today. Overall they, as well as each Northwest League (NWL) team, get three off-days all season throughout their 76 game schedules.  Now that we’ve hit break number one of the 2011 NWL schedule, let’s take a look at how the Dust Devils and their division rivals have performed so far.

Yakima Bears (7-18, Fourth Place):

This season is shaping up to be one to forget for the Yakima Bears, whose play on the field hasn’t helped the rumors of the team’s proposed move away from their home for the last 22 years. Apart from the play of relievers Kable Hogben and Evan Marshall, the numbers don’t paint a pretty picture of the 2011 Bears.

Yakima didn’t win a series in the month of June and have won just one series, July 1-3 when they took two of three at home against the Boise Hawks, while losing six series. Offensive production has been the biggest struggle for the Bears. They have the lowest team batting average (.212) and on-base percentage (.279) as well as the least amount of team runs scored (78) and runs batted in (68) in the Northwest League.

Currently sitting at 7-18 on the year at the bottom of the NWL East Division, the Bears have struggled in most circumstances. Yakima is 5-10 against the East Division, 2-8 against the West Division, 4-5 at home and 3-13 on the road. Although they’ve played the least amount of home games of any team in their division, being seven games back of division leader Boise with 13 games remaining in the first half of play this season will likely be too big of a hill to climb for the Bears.

 

Spokane Indians (13-12, Second Place):

 

Sitting in second place and just one game back of the division lead is a scenario the Indians would likely have taken at the beginning of the season and is where they are at now. After an up and down start to the year, Spokane, like much of the East Division, has leveled out of late and is in contention for the first half East Division title.

As opposed to Yakima, Spokane is one of the top hitting teams in the league, with the second highest NWL team average (.276). With five regular players each batting .321 or higher, the Indians have one of the tougher lineups in the league. The offense is led by catcher and first baseman Brett Nicholas, who leads the team in average (.361), home runs (4), runs batted in (22) and doubles (9).

The bulk of the Indians’ struggles have come on the road, where they are 3-6 and have won just one of their three series. At home, on the other hand, they have played well, going 10-6 and losing just one of their four series at Avista Stadium.  Should their strong offensive performances continue, nobody will be surprised to see Spokane return to the NWL playoffs for the second consecutive season.

 

Boise Hawks (14-11, First Place):

 

The Boise Hawks are alone atop the East Division despite, like Tri-City and Spokane, having some very inconsistent play this season. The fact that the Hawks are in first seems a bit strange when you look into the numbers a little bit deeper.

The Hawks have yet to win a series on the road, tallying a 4-7 record away from Boise, and have won just three of their seven series this season. You wouldn’t expect a team that has lost more series than it has won to be leading their division. But, it isn’t how many they’ve won, but who they’ve beat that has put the Hawks in prime position. Boise is 10-5 against the East Division, giving them the best intra-division record of any East Division team.

Statistically, Boise doesn’t jump off of the page when you look at their team as a whole. They are in the bottom half of the NWL in the majority of the team batting statistics and have just one player, Pin-Chieh Chen who is batting over .300 at .319. Although their pitching statistics are better, they are somewhat underwhelming. Boise has the third lowest team earned run average (4.08) and the second least runs allowed (118). But, they’ve also surrendered the second most walks (105) and have the league’s second highest WHIP (Walks-Hits per Inning Pitched) at 1.48.

The East Division first half crown race will likely stay tight until the July 26 end date, and one would think that if the Hawks are going to stay in the top spot that either their hitting or pitching will have to become more consistent. Although, if they continue to beat up on their division rivals as they have thus far this season, they may not need to be.

Tri-City Dust Devils (12-13, Third Place):

 

In third place and just two games back of the division lead, the Tri-City Dust Devils are in as good a spot they could hope for as they are 12-13 on the year.

On July 4, as they started an eight game road trip, Tri-City was in first place in the East with a 10-7 record. After the trip the Dust Devils slid down to third, going 2-6 away from home, losing two of three in Spokane and four of five against Salem-Keizer. Leading up to the road trip the Dust Devils hadn’t lost back-to-back games all season, but they had to win the series finale with the Volcanoes to end their longest losing streak of the season at four games.

Solid pitching and timely hitting have often been the Dust Devils’ recipe for success, playing half of their games at pitcher-friendly Gesa Stadium, but this season power offense has found its way to Pasco. The Dust Devils are third in the NWL in home runs (18) and lead the East Division in that category as well. They’re also second in the league in runs batted in (135) and third in the NWL in doubles (51).

Leading this power surge are first baseman Jordan Ribera and outfielder Tyler Massey.  The duo has combined for nine of the Dust Devils’ 18 home runs and 44 of their 135 runs batted in. They are each also batting over .300 on the year and are among the Northwest League’s top hitters in the majority of offensive statistics. Although these numbers are great, they don’t reflect the inconsistency with which the Dust Devils’ lineup performs. Tri-City has scored in double-digits an impressive four times this season, but has also scored two or less runs five times.

Pitching has also been somewhat of a guessing game for the Dust Devils. As a team they have the second lowest earned run average (3.60), tied for second lowest amount of runs allowed (118), second lowest walks allowed (82) and the third lowest WHIP (1.36).

Yet, despite having good numbers in these key pitching categories, Tri-City is under .500. Much like hitting, the inconsistency tells the story for the Dust Devils’ pitching staff. On the year they have allowed six or more runs seven times, while allowing three or less runs 13 times. In those 13 games in which they’ve allowed three runs or less Tri-City has a 10-3 record. Where they play also seems to be having an effect as well, as the Dust Devils have a team earned run average of 3.45 at home and a 5.71 team earned run average on the road.

Leading up to the end of the first half of the season Tri-City has 14 more games, eight at home and six on the road. While their ending stretch to the first half starts tough, with five games against the NWL leading Eugene Emeralds, who are 21-4 this season, the final nine games should give them a solid chance to take the division. In those nine games the Dust Devils take on the last place Bears for six games, three at home and three away, and the Indians for three games in Spokane as well.

 

Ribera Leads Dust Devils’ Power Surge

In sports, nothing is quite like the sight of a home run. The precision, power and timing of a batter’s swing have to be just right on a ball moving around 90 mph and even that, sometimes, isn’t enough. Fans in the Tri-Cities have often been deprived of this exciting and sought after sports moment at Gesa Stadium in past seasons. With consistent winds often blowing in from the outfield and killing fly balls well before they get near the fence, the ballpark has earned a reputation for being a pitcher’s park where home run hitters suffer.

                This season seems to be a little bit different. Although we are less than a month into the season, the Dust Devils are among the leaders in team home runs, with a good portion of those coming at home. Thus far Tri-City has his 14 home runs, seven of which coming at Gesa Stadium, and trail only the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes (15) for the league lead. Those 14 round-trippers give them as many as division rivals Boise (6) and Spokane (8) combined. As a team last season the Dust Devils hit 42 total home runs over their 76 game season and, this season, are on pace to destroy that number and hit an impressive 56.

                Leading the power surge for Tri-City is 2011 MLB First-Year Player Draft pick Jordan Ribera. The first baseman from Fresno State was taken in the 21st round by the Colorado Rockies and is proving his power-hitting history is no joke. Ribera led the NCAA in home runs in his junior season, hitting 27 bombs while batting .343 and driving in 69 runs over 63 games. However, his senior season with the Bulldogs saw a statistical drop, as he hit just eight home runs and batted .240 in 56 games.

The drop in hitting corresponded with the NCAA changing its bat rules, where the “ping” sounding aluminum bats were no longer allowed. The new composite bats have been tested, at nearby Washington State University, and are said to be 5-6 percent less effective than their preceding counterparts.

This likely attributed to Ribera’s drop to the 21st round of the draft, but has seemed to work in the Rockies’, and Dust Devils’, favor. He currently leads the Northwest League (NWL) in home runs with four while driving in 16 runs, third most in the NWL. The solid numbers don’t stop there, as he’s also third in the NWL in slugging-percentage (.567), tied for first in total bases (38) and is hitting a very respectable .313.

Playing in 17 of the 19 Dust Devil games in 2011, it is safe to say Ribera has secured his spot as the clean-up hitter in the Tri-City lineup. Were he to play as many games as current Dust Devils single-season home run record holders Darin Holcomb (74, 2007) and Joe Koshansky (66, 2004), who each hit 12 home runs, Ribera is on pace to break the team record with ease, hitting 17 or 15 home runs respectively.

You can catch Ribera and the rest of the Dust Devils out at Gesa Stadium next week as they return for an eight game home stand in Pasco. They will first take on the Eugene Emeralds in a five game series. The short-season A affiliate of the Padres, the Emeralds are having an outstanding 2011 campaign and leading the Northwest League West Division with a 17-2 record and have won their last 14 consecutive games, a NWL record. Following Eugene the Yakima Bears will make their first trip to Pasco this season for a three game series against the Dust Devils. Tri-City took two of three in Yakima earlier this season against the Bears, who are last in the East Division with a 6-13 record.