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 roster received a big blow this week when the club placed outfielder Greg Allen and catcher Francisco Mejia on the 7-day disabled list with injuries. The moves will deprive the Akron lineup of a pair of its two more exciting players to watch.
The RubberDucks sat in the middle of the Eastern League Western Division pack heading into action on Saturday, winners of three straight to post a 15-17 record on the year, five games in back of the first place Altoona Curve while sitting in the fourth spot in the division.
The Akron RubberDucks returned home from their six-game road trip Thursday with a 2-3 record and their second postponed contest of the year as rains continued to wreak havoc on professional baseball games across the country.
After dropping the final two games of their three-game series with Binghamton last week to bring an end to their five-game winning streak, Akron (11-14) hit the road for Bowie and earned a series win. The offense was big, outscoring the Baysox 22-11 in the series, as they won a 6-1 final on Friday and an 11-2 decision on Sunday as the ‘Ducks bats erupted for five home runs to pace Julian Merryweather to his second win of the week. Monday’s opener in Binghamton was rained out before the club lost two in the middle of the week, dropping a pair of tough games by 5-4 and 1-0 finals.
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.
Five runs batted in from left fielder Mike Papi were more than enough for the Akron RubberDucks as they defeated the Altoona Curve 9-4 to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five Eastern League Western Division Series from Canal Park on Friday night.
Akron took an early lead and doubled that score the following inning off of Altoona’s Nick Kingham. Nellie Rodriguez singled to left and went to second on a single from Papi. Kingham struck out Eric Haase swinging before walking Eric Stamets to load the bases. Mark Mathias came through with the big hit to put Akron on the board, driving home Rodriguez and Papi on the play. Mathias was thrown out trying to stretch it to a two-base hit and Ivan Castillo grounded out with a runner on third, but Akron was on top, 2-0.
A six-run onslaught in the seventh inning, plus three more for good measure in the eighth, pushed the visiting Akron RubberDucks past the Altoona Curve, 12-8, in Game 1 of the Eastern League Western Division Series on Wednesday night.
Akron started fast as shortstop Eric Stamets homered with one out in the first off of right-hander Alex McRae to give the ‘Ducks the early 1-0 lead. It would not last for long, however, as Akron starter Julian Merryweather quickly loaded the bases, giving up back-to-back singles and a walk to start the bottom half of the frame. A wild pitch allowed one run to score before he locked in and struck out Edwin Espinal and Anderson Feliz swinging, but Jin-De Jhang (older brother of Merryweather’s former teammate in Lynchburg, Yu-Cheng Chang) doubled to left, scoring both base runners to give Altoona a 3-1 lead.
With a win on Sunday, the Akron RubberDucks clinched a playoff berth in the Eastern League playoffs and became the third Cleveland Indians’ minor league affiliate to guarantee bonus baseball this season after previous efforts from the Triple-A Columbus Clippers and the High-A Lynchburg Hillcats.
The RubberDucks took a page out of their parent club’s book on Labor Day, as Akron decided on a bullpen game with the Eastern League Western Division title on the line. With their ticket already punched for postseason play, they opted to rest their starting rotation, but instead, they stole the crown as Daniel Salters’ first Double-A home run, a two-run shot in the sixth, broke a five-all tie as the ‘Ducks held on for an 8-6 win to clinch the top spot in the division.
The RubberDucks have endured a lot this season, including a revolving door of players bouncing back and forth between Triple-A Columbus above them and both High-A Lynchburg and Single-A Lake County below them. If you’re having a tough time keeping track of who is on the roster, you aren’t alone.
All of the comings and goings may have hurt the ‘Ducks’ results on the field, but they have the talent to overcome that and may have done just that after a brutal June. After going 8-22 in the month, including a 12-game losing skid against Bowie, Reading, Harrisburg, and Erie, they have started July with a 5-2 mark, including a four-game winning streak this week that included taking the first three against Altoona before dropping the finale on Thursday night. In taking three of four, the ‘Ducks reclaimed the top spot in the Eastern League’s Western Division and will hold onto a half-game lead over the Curve as they head to Harrisburg to play the final three games of the first half against the Senators.
In other ‘Ducks tales…
If the Cleveland Indians’ three-game sweep at the hands of the Kansas City Royals felt bad this week, the current eleven-game stretch for their Double-A Akron affiliate must feel like torture.
The RubberDuckies have not won. Baseball hasn’t been lots of fun.
The Hillcats (35-20) have cooled off some after their hot start, but they are still staying on top of things in the Carolina League, sitting in first place with a five-game lead in the Northern Division over the Potomac Nationals. They have the second-best record in the Carolina League, trailing only Salem’s 37-19 start.
Last weekend, they wrapped up a split against Salem, a team that has had their number this season. They finally had their lone scheduled off-day of May on the 31st before jumping back on the road for three against Wilmington. The trip was successful as the Hillcats took two of three, but another series with those pesky Red Sox has started this weekend.
The Sox took game one in Salem on Saturday on a bizarre and lucky walk-off. The series moves back to Lynchburg for Sunday and Monday before the clubs head back to Salem to wrap up the unique four-gamer on Tuesday night. Lynchburg will then return home, playing four games at the end of the week against Myrtle Beach and three at the beginning of next week against Carolina as the All-Star break is just over two weeks away.
In other Hillcats chatter from Virginia:
After winning 17 straight games at their Canal Park home, the Akron RubberDucks have suddenly come back down to earth at home after splitting a series last weekend with the Harrisburg Senators. Akron won the first two, but the club dropped the last two before taking its series opener against Altoona to end the month of May on a positive note. The RubberDucks lost their third game in four days with a 2-0 shutout on Wednesday in the middle game of their three-game set with the Curve.
The RubberDucks (36-16) will play 30 games over the next 30 days, with off days on June 6 and June 20, but a pair of doubleheaders on June 5 and June 25. Their schedule is split perfectly, with 15 games in Akron and 15 on the road. They remain the top club in the Eastern League’s Western Division, six and a half games in front of Altoona in the division prior to Thursday’s action and have a 20-5 record at home this season.
In other RubberDucks news and notes…
There is no doubt that 2016 is an important year in Mike Papi’s career. The former first round pick out of the University of Virginia has been considered an advanced hitter by scouts, and was expected to move quickly up the organizational ladder based upon his extensive college experience.
His 2015 season did not live up to the promise of his college performance. With a full season of 416 at-bats, he had 34 doubles, four home runs, 45 RBI, and walked 81 times while striking out 118 times. His season batting average ended at .236. He dropped from the #5 prospect in the Cleveland organization at the start of 2015 to the #19 prospect when the 2016 season dawned.
In the prospect profile on him back in March, I wrote, “Where Papi needs to make the greatest strides in 2016 are with his bat.”
Now, just over three weeks into the season, Papi is doing just that.