The Lynchburg Hillcats are staring up at a three-game deficit in the Carolina League’s Northern Division heading into play on Saturday, a game below the .500 mark at 9-10 on the season.
It was a quiet week for the ‘Cats, who were once again slowed by rains throughout the Carolina League playing region. Last Saturday’s game in Lynchburg against Potomac was waterlogged before the P’Nats won the series with a 4-3 win on Sunday. After an off day on Monday, the Hillcats travelled to Salem and dropped the series opener, 6-2, before the offense erupted for 13 runs in a 13-7 win on Wednesday night. Rains swooped in again on Thursday to wash out the finale of the series, sending the Hillcats back to Lynchburg, where they lost a 9-6 decision to Myrtle Beach on Friday night.
It has been a good week for the Lynchburg Hillcats as they carried a five-game winning streak through much of the week before losing game one of their series with the Potomac Nationals on Thursday.
Last Friday, Lynchburg dropped a 4-0 decision to the Myrtle Beach Pelicans in the series opener before winning three straight to start off their seven-game road trip. After being shut out, they put up five runs over each of the next three games of the series before moving on to Carolina to take on the Mudcats from Zebulon. Mother Nature interfered with the festivities on Monday, but Tuesday’s doubleheader went on as planned. The ‘Cats swept that double dip, winning by 1-0 and 7-1 finals before an off day on Wednesday. The pitching staff allowed eight runs on Thursday in an 8-2 defeat in the opener from Lynchburg with the P’Nats before a 4-2 win on Friday night.
Matt Esparza is a 22-year-old 14th round pick in 2015 by the Cleveland Indians out of Folsom, California.
“I think it’s going to be a unique experience,” said Esparza about earning his first Opening Day start. “I’m looking forward to it. I’m excited and hopefully there is a good energy for the team.”
Esparza, who stands 6’2” 195 lbs., will be a veteran anchor of the High-A Lynchburg pitching staff, along with returning fellow starter Thomas Pannone.
Baseball is a game of rhythms. In each season and each game there is an ebb and flow to its pace. A hitter adapts to a pitcher, a team adopts a new strategy, or a star player retires or moves on. All of these events produce change.
This year, the High-A Lynchburg Hillcats are all about change. In their third season as a Cleveland Indians affiliate, there are many new elements to the Hillcats, and not just the faces in the dugout. Over the winter, the playing surface was completely remade. The renovation was begun immediately after the 2016 season. The field was leveled, a state-of-the-art drainage system was installed, and new turf and a warning track were put into place.
While the focus right now may be on the Cleveland Indians’ Major League roster, things are going well throughout the Tribe’s farm system as well.
The importance on drafting strong and developing stronger is no more apparent than at the Major League level for the Indians. The current playoff roster is well-balanced between guys drafted/signed internationally and developed solely by the club (Jason Kipnis, Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, Lonnie Chisenhall, and Cody Allen to name a few), others acquired via trades and developed on the farm (Corey Kluber, Carlos Santana, and other absentee names like Carlos Carrasco, Michael Brantley, and Yan Gomes), and other veterans still who were added via big trades or free agent moves (Andrew Miller, Mike Napoli, Rajai Davis, Brandon Guyer, and Coco Crisp).
The names that compose the roster now all worked their way up through the minor league system, whether in the Indians organization or elsewhere. The names of the future are doing the same and some standout performers were recognized this week when MILB.com announced its picks for Cleveland’s organizational All-Stars.
A three-run seventh inning proved to be the difference in the Mills Cup Championship Series on Wednesday as the Myrtle Beach Pelicans came back to defeat the Lynchburg Hillcats by a 5-3 final.
The win gave the Pelicans a 3-1 series win and their second consecutive Carolina League championship as they celebrated on the Hillcats’ home turf, Calvin Falwell Field at City Stadium in Lynchburg, Virginia.
Just two batters into the bottom of the first, the home team held the early lead. It would not last for long as the Hillcats twice on the night surrendered a slight one-run lead.
Against Pelicans starter Preston Morrison in the first, Tyler Krieger singled and scored on a double to center by Francisco Mejia. They would add a single by Yu-Cheng Chang and Anthony Santander was hit by a pitch, but Bobby Bradley went down swinging before a double play grounder from Dorssys Paulino.
Rains stopped the start of Game 1 of the Carolina League Northern Division Championship Series on Wednesday and the Potomac pitching staff stopped the Lynchburg offense as the Nationals defeated the Hillcats, 7-0, in the rain-shortened opener of the best-of-three series.
A delay of one hour and 13 minutes slowed the start of the Carolina League playoffs and both offenses were quiet through the first two innings, with the Hillcats getting a leadoff single from Tyler Krieger to start the night before he was erased on a double play ball by P-Nats starter Boone Whiting. Lynchburg would get just one more hit the rest of the night, a leadoff single from Connor Marabell to start the third.
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:
The Lake County Captains (15-21) ended the month of July in disappointing fashion, dropping each of their final four games after a three-game winning streak earlier in the week. They got back into the win column with an extra inning victory on Monday night.
After taking their road series with Wisconsin with consecutive 6-2 wins last Sunday and Monday, they returned home to host the first place South Bend Cubs. After a 5-4 win in the opener, the Cubs won 3-0 and 11-7 to win the series. The Captains then headed on the road for four with West Michigan and dropped each of the first two games to close out the month. They needed 12 innings to steal a win on Monday as Jose Medina‘s solo homer gave the Captains a 2-1 win.
The Captains will continue their mini-road trip with a final game at West Michigan on Tuesday before moving on to Midland, Michigan, for three games against Great Lakes. Lake County will return home to Eastlake from August 6 to 9 when they host the Dayton Dragons.
In other news and notes from the Captains’ log:
It was a bit of a rough week for the Lynchburg Hillcats as the roster was the target of plenty of trade rumors over the course of the week while the club lost a series at home to Wilmington before splitting a four-game set in Winston-Salem against the Dash to close out the month of July.
The Blue Rocks took the opening and closing games of their series at the beginning of the week, with the Hillcats holding on to a 5-4 eight-inning win in a rain-shortened game on Tuesday. Winston-Salem scored eight times on nine hits in the fourth inning on Thursday and dealt the Hillcats their first shutout of the season on Friday night in a 4-0 loss to the Dash. Lynchburg bounced back to split the series with a pair of wins on Saturday and Sunday by 5-2 and 5-3 finals.
The Hillcats return home for four games in three days with the Potomac Nationals on Monday before hitting the road for four games in Salem to wrap up the week. They will follow the trip with a three-game stay in Potomac.
In other Hillcats chatter:
The Lake County Captains have two days off to rest on Monday and Tuesday and it could not have come at a better time for the scuffling farm club.
The Captains were stuck in the loss column for nearly two weeks until they won game one of a doubleheader against Quad Cities from Classic Park on Saturday afternoon. It ended a drought dating back to July 4, when Lake County defeated the Hot Rods in Bowling Green. Nine straight losses followed (and a pair of rainouts in Bowling Green) as the team was swept in four straight in Lansing and at home in three straight against Cedar Rapids to start a six-game homestand. They won a 2-1 contest in game one of the doubleheader on Saturday over the River Bandits before dropping a tough 2-0 loss in the nightcap. They rode six shutout innings from Matt Esparza and six RBI from Willi Castro (including his first pro grand slam) in Sunday’s 9-4 win to win the series.
Lake County (9-15) had crashed to the bottom of the Midwest League’s Eastern Division with its play of late. The club is 2-9 away from Classic Park in the second half and just 7-6 at home. They are tied for fifth place in the league and trail the South Bend Cubs by seven games after Sunday’s finals. The Captains will resume their schedule from Beloit on Wednesday, when they start a six-game road trip there and against Wisconsin next weekend. They have just three home games scheduled (July 27-29) the rest of the month.
In other notes from the Captains log:
The Lake County Captains have slipped into a summer slide, and not a fun one involving water parks or plastic sheeting sprawled across the lumpy yard.
The Captains coughed up a three-run first inning lead on Sunday to Lansing to lose a 6-3 final to drop their fifth game in a row and their third straight in their four-game series against the Lugnuts. The five-game losing streak matches the club’s longest so far in 2016.
It wasn’t the first time this week or even in the series with Lansing that Lake County had lost an early advantage, as they dropped a 4-3 decision in eleven innings on Saturday after holding a two-run lead in the seventh. The bullpen allowed two runs in the seventh on Friday to give the Lugnuts a 2-1 win.
The Captains are now 7-10 in the second half, five and a half games in back of Lansing and South Bend and in sixth place in the Midwest League’s Eastern Division. After concluding their series with Lansing Monday afternoon, they will take Tuesday off before returning home to start a three-game set against Cedar Rapids and a three-games-in-two-days series with Quad Cities on Saturday and Sunday.
In other news and notes in the Captains log: