When the Akron RubberDucks have not been dodging rain drops, they have played with mixed results. To be fair, when six games have been rained out or suspended over the course of the first three weeks of a month, it may be hard to find a rhythm on the diamond.
Rains wiped away contests last weekend, washing out the rest of the ‘Ducks’ series after getting a pair of wins to open the five-game series from Binghamton. The team returned home soggy to Canal Park and performed well, taking two of three from the Richmond Flying Squirrels. After dropping a 3-1 decision in the opener last Monday, they put up 6-1 and 7-5 victories to take the series and inch within a game of the .500 mark. That would be as close to an even record as they would get as their tough series in Hartford against the Yard Goats ended in three consecutive losses to wrap up the weekend. Akron was dealt one-run losses on both Friday and Saturday before a 5-2 final in the finale.
With two on and nobody out in the top of the 12th inning, an error by Myrtle Beach allowed the go-ahead run to score for Lynchburg and the Hillcats held on in the bottom half of the frame to claim a 4-3 victory in the Mills Cup Championship Series opener on Saturday night.
The Hillcats never trailed, but let the Pelicans back into the game several times throughout the night before clinching the contest for good in extras
Lynchburg took a 1-0 lead in the second against Myrtle Beach starter Erick Leal. Three straight singles from Yu-Cheng Chang, Connor Marabell, and Yonathan Mendoza pushed Chang across with the first run of the game. Those names would all come up big much later on in the night.
More than five innings of shutout baseball from starter Sean Brady and a two-run home run from Yu-Cheng Chang late pushed Lynchburg past Potomac, 3-1, to win the Carolina League’s Northern Division Championship Series.
The Hillcats advance to the Mills Cup Championship and will face the Myrtle Beach Pelicans on Saturday. The Pelicans knocked off the Salem Red Sox late on Friday night, 2-1, to clinch their third consecutive Southern Division Championship Series victory.
Over the past several weeks, the High-A Lynchburg Hillcats have been a prominent feature in both Carolina League and national baseball news. Lynchburg’s on-field host, Kestrel Kerl, has awarded the team the moniker of “Thrillcats” and the team and the player continue to live up to this name.
All the excitement began with the continuation of what turned out to be a 50-game hitting streak for catcher Francisco Mejia. The streak began May 25 while Mejia was a member of the Low-A Lake County Captains and continued at Lynchburg under the watch of hitting coach Larry Day.
“You try to keep him focused on the things that matter and that is his daily preparation as both a hitter and a catcher,” said Day. “Rigo Beltran, our pitching coach, does a phenomenal job of educating him on the night’s starting pitcher so that he knows what he’ll be seeing, and what he’ll be calling as the catcher.”
Another week, another piece of hardware for a member of the Lynchburg Hillcats as outfielder Dorssys Paulino‘s tear at the plate earned him the Carolina League Player of the Week honor for games played between August 22 and August 28.
It had already been a good couple of days for the Hillcats club as they remained in the race for the Carolina League Northern Division second half crown. Six different Lynchburg players from over the course of the season (Greg Allen, Bobby Bradley, Yu-Cheng Chang, Mark Mathias, Francisco Mejia, and Anthony Santander) were named Carolina League postseason All-Stars on Saturday. Bradley was named the league’s Most Valuable Player, the second season in a row that Lynchburg has been represented with the Carolina League’s top honor. Manager Mark Budzinski was named the league’s Manager of the Year.
Paulino joined the long list of Hillcats to win the Player of the Week Award this season, following Mike Papi, Chang, Bradley, Santander, and Tyler Krieger before him. Lynchburg has now taken home the Player of the Week Award in each of the last three weeks.
The Carolina League season is rapidly winding down for the Lynchburg Hillcats, with just seven games remaining on their regular season schedule. Their ticket to postseason baseball in September was punched with a first half Northern Division crown, but they are sitting atop the league again with a 37-26 record and a one-game lead over the Potomac Nationals after breaking a tie in the standings with a walk-off win on Sunday. Earlier in the week, they had completed a sweep over Wilmington before dropping the first two games of their three-game set with the P-Nats.
The Hillcats will take their final road trip of the regular season this week, heading to Myrtle Beach for three games with the Pelicans beginning Tuesday before returning home for four straight against the Salem Red Sox. The playoffs are scheduled to begin on September 7.
In other Hillcats chatter:
The Lynchburg Hillcats have charged back into the top spot in the Carolina League’s Northern Division as the Potomac Nationals have fallen apart.
The Hillcats wrapped up play on Sunday with a 33-24 record in the second half of the season and are tied with the P-Nats, who had dropped seven straight games and nine of their last ten before winning Sunday. The Hillcats have already secured a trip to the postseason with their first half divisional crown, but are going for the clean sweep. The club went 4-3 over the last seven days, with a pair of rainouts last Monday and Wednesday while the club visited Frederick. They played a pair of doubleheaders with the Keys instead, splitting both days, before taking the first two games over the weekend from the Myrtle Beach Pelicans. The Pelicans won on Sunday, scoring two in the ninth to tie it and one more in the tenth to walk off.
In other Hillcats chatter:
Once a top prospect in the Cleveland Indians farm system, Dorssys Paulino finds himself entering one of the bigger seasons of his professional career as the calendar inches closer and closer to a return of baseball to fields near you.
Paulino signed with the Indians as an amateur free agent out of the Dominican Republic at the age of 16 in 2011. At the time, it was a result of a $1.1 million investment into the international talent available. The depth in the Cleveland minor league system at shortstop was thin, leaving the club in a precarious position with Asdrubal Cabrera set to become a free agent after the 2014 season.
The team selected Francisco Lindor with the eighth pick in the 2011 draft, another shortstop by trade, and began using both Erik Gonzalez and Jose Ramirez more at the position in the minors in 2013 as the quality of the depth at the position began to strengthen. Paulino, however, had a difficult time making the adjustment to the professional game, showing good range and a strong arm, but struggling mightily with the glove.
The Lake County Captains got THIS close a number of times. Games were decided by one or two runs. They ended both seasons with a winning record, but were still just short of making it to the playoffs for the second year in a row. Despite missing the postseason, it would be a mistake to call this a disappointing season for the Captains.
“It was a great year for a lot of first year guys in this league” Manager Shaun Larkin said of the team. “We saw a lot of guys get better in their individual areas. I thought we played well as a team. There’s a lot of grinding in a full year, and that’s all you can ask for – guys playing for each other the whole time. We gave ourselves a chance to win more often than not. We gave it a run in the first half, gave it a run in the second half up until about a week and a half ago. We had a winning record in both halves, we weren’t one of those teams who was hot one half and not the next.”
Larkin, in his first season as a manager, can now say that he’s been part of the only two Captains teams in the history of the franchise to end the season with winning records in both halves (2003 and 2015).
Individual success in sports, and baseball in particular, is common and sparks thoughts of broader cultural references to inspirational words that spur success. Perhaps your personal favorite is Larry the Cable Guys’ Git-R-done, or maybe it is Yoda from the Empire Strikes Back, “Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try”. For the High-A Hillcats latest acquisition, pitcher Rob Kaminsky, it is the mantra acquired from his favorite book, Tim Grover’s Relentless. Do it or don’t.
“It’s quite simple,” says Kaminsky, “there is no such thing as trying. If you say you’re going to try, then it’s an open invitation to failure. You either do it or you don’t, and you don’t sulk.”
Kaminsky was acquired by Cleveland from St. Louis in a deadline deal for Brandon Moss. As a competitor, his dogged mental approach to the game will fit right into the Hillcats team which has swept its way into first place in the second half standings of the Carolina Leagues Northern Division with a 26 – 18 record. This brings the team to 59 -55 record overall, the first time they have had a winning record on the season since they were 2-1.
There’s an old saying in baseball about three’s. You may have heard it.
Three strikes, you’re out.
You’ve had three chances, three opportunities for success. If you fail that third time, you’re done.
Dorssys Paulino is on his third chance. He’s hoping, more so than ever, that he doesn’t strike out.
The roster is riddled with familiar names, but not many because they’ve seen the grass of Classic Park before.
This season, the Lake County Captains roster boasts more than a few names that those who follow the Indians organization will recognize as up-and-coming prospects within the system. There are a few repeat names from last season but, as a whole, the 2015 Captains are a new, young team.
The 2014 Captains made their way to the Midwest League championship series last year, coming up short in the final series against the Kane County Cougars. However, most of the players who took the Captains that far last season have earned much-coveted promotions to the High-A Lynchburg Hillcats, giving the Captains a new group of players with which to work.