The offseason begins with a lot of minor moves for teams that oftentimes get lost in the shuffle of an otherwise busy fall and winter break from playing.
The Cleveland Indians completed some of their mandatory moves on Monday, adding several players to the 40-man roster, opening another spot by declining an option, and extending one very important qualifying offer.
Akron catcher Eric Haase put on an impressive display of power over the last week and in doing so, was named the Eastern League’s Player of the Week for games played between July 3 and July 9.
Haase entered action last week already on a hitting tear at the plate, coming in with a four-game hitting streak that included three consecutive multi-hit games to start it. He would notch hits in every game that he played in, hitting .400 for the week with two doubles, a triple, four home runs and seven runs batted in.
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.
The Akron RubberDucks have put their five-game losing streak of a week ago to bed as they reeled off five straight wins through Monday night’s action to improve to 8-9 with the Eastern League’s longest active winning streak.
The ‘Ducks finished their two-city road trip with a pair of wins in Reading, including a resounding 12-2 victory in the finale last Wednesday. It capped off a series against the Fightin Phils in which Akron scored 24 runs and allowed 13 during the three-game set. They returned home for their second homestand of the season and swept the Altoona Curve in three straight over the weekend, including a pair of 3-2 victories on Friday and Saturday (including an 11th inning two-out walk-off single from Joe Sever on Saturday) before a more decisive 6-1 win on Sunday afternoon. They opened their three game series with the Binghamton Rumble Ponies with a 5-2 victory on Monday night, using a three-run sixth to break a 2-2 tie.
The Akron RubberDucks are the 2016 Eastern League champions after sweeping the Trenton Thunder for a third straight game on Friday, claiming a 2-1 victory on the road to bring home the title.
The RubberDucks had one-out walks in the first two innings off of Sheffield, but could not score. A third walk on the night, this one leading off by Ivan Castillo, had much better results for Akron. Greg Allen bunted him over to second on a sacrifice and Castillo moved to third on a single by Eric Stamets. Jordan Smith put the ‘Ducks on the board with an RBI grounder to short, scoring Castillo to make it 1-0. With another runner standing at third and two outs, Nellie Rodriguez struck out looking to end the threat.
Akron’s Eric Haase was the hero of Sunday night, clinching an Eastern League Western Division Series win with a walk-off single in the tenth inning. He still had a little magic left in that bat of his on Tuesday as his grand slam in the fifth inning powered the RubberDucks over the visiting Trenton Thunder by a 6-3 final in Game 1 of the Eastern League Championship Series.
Trenton jumped on top with two runs in the first against Akron starter Michael Peoples. Tyler Wade singled to start the game but was picked off by Peoples at first. Dustin Fowler singled, but was erased on a force out at second on a grounder to short by Miguel Andujar. Nearly out of the inning, Mike Ford homered to right, scoring Andujar to make it a 2-0 Trenton lead.
Akron could not score in the second after getting back-to-back two-out walks from Haase and Eric Stamets, but they did not miss out on a scoring opportunity in the third as they tied the game against Trenton starter Ronald Herrera. Ivan Castillo and Greg Allen singled to start the inning, putting runners on the corners for Yan Gomes. The rehabbing Indians catcher singled on a liner to center to score Castillo and move the speedster Allen to third. Jordan Smith grounded into a force at second, but Allen scored on the play to make it a 2-2 game.
Eric Haase’s one-out RBI-single in the tenth inning ended a dominating pitching performance by both Akron and Altoona as the RubberDucks defeated the Curve 1-0 to win the Eastern League Western Division Championship on Sunday night.
An incredible pitcher’s duel between Altoona’s Brandon Waddell and Akron’s Nick Pasquale took place on the mound in Akron as the pitchers matched pitch for pitch, out for out, with the RubberDucks’ righty coming away with the slightly longer outing in the impressive display from both young arms.
Any chance that Bradley Zimmer breaks camp with the Cleveland Indians at the end of spring training in 2017 may come down to how well he performs in Arizona this fall.
Zimmer, the Indians’ top prospect in the farm system, was one of eight minor leaguers named by Cleveland to participate in the annual Arizona Fall League as members of the Mesa Solar Sox. Joining Zimmer in the Mesa outfield will be Double-A Akron’s Greg Allen. High-A Lynchburg’s Yu-Cheng Chang will be on the roster at short. Three relievers – Trevor Frank (Lynchburg), Cameron Hill (Akron), and David Speer (Akron) – will get additional work in the Solar Sox bullpen, while right-handed starter Michael Peoples (Akron) will also be on the roster.
Akron’s Eric Haase is also on the club as one of the taxi squad members, activated just twice a week on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
The Akron RubberDucks are making their postseason push and have done so behind another impressive winning streak.
A ten-game winning streak came to an end on Thursday night with a 7-4 loss at Canal Park to the Richmond Flying Squirrels. Earlier in the week, they completed a pair of sweeps, knocking off Bowie twice last Friday and Saturday before Sunday’s game was preempted by rain. They outscored Reading 13-6 during the week, winning 5-2, 4-1, and 4-3 to push the streak to ten before another the loss to start the four-game set with Richmond.
Akron is now just 2.5 games out of first place, trailing the Altoona Curve (Pittsburgh Pirates affiliate), who won 5-3 on Thursday. The ‘Ducks will finish their series this weekend against the Flying Squirrels before taking their final road trip of the season to Erie for four straight. They will conclude the regular season with five against Bowie, including the completion of the suspended game.
In other RubberDucks news and notes…
After a lengthy adjustment period while losing several of the more productive contributors on the club to promotions, the Akron RubberDucks have won seven of their last eight games.
It has been a strong and needed turnaround for the Indians’ Double-A affiliate, who started the month with losses in five of their first six August contests and were 2-14 dating back to July 22 at the start of a seven-game losing streak. The self-destruction appeared as though it may have been enough to knock Akron (63-60) out of the playoff race, but their five-game winning streak and better play in the middle weeks of August have pulled the club within five games of first place Altoona in the Eastern League’s Western Division with 18 games to go. The only thing to stand in their way of late has been a pair of rainouts.
In other tales from the Rubber City…
Despite a late comeback attempt in New Hampshire on Thursday night, the Akron RubberDucks lost for the 12th time in their last 13 games in a 7-5 defeat against the Fisher Cats.
It marked a second consecutive ugly week for the ‘Ducks, who lost three of four to close out their last homestand against the Bowie Baysox. After taking Monday off, they arrived in New Hampshire, only to lose 6-4 on Tuesday and 9-6 on Wednesday before taking another L on Thursday night.
The tailspin by the RubberDucks has dropped the club below the .500 mark for the first times this season. At 55-57, they trail Altoona by six and a half games and are also chasing Harrisburg. They have fallen to 26-32 on the road this season. They are now 1-9 since the promotions of Bradley Zimmer and Clint Frazier to Triple-A Columbus.
In other ‘Duck tales this week…
The tools of ignorance is a longstanding euphemism in baseball for the catcher’s gear – mask, chest protector and shin guards. Various sources have credited the origin of this term to either longtime American League catcher Muddy Ruel, or Yankee Hall-of-Fame catcher Bill Dickey.
Regardless of its origin, the words create a strong sense of irony, as there is nothing about being a catcher that relies upon ignorance.
For Eric Haase High-A Lynchburg’s primary catcher, mastering the skills needed to excel at catching is his way of life. As of June 7th he has already caught 274 innings in 32 games played during the 2015 season. The job of catching can be a grind, but Haase plans his offseason so that he can maintain his health for each new baseball season.