4.5 games back with 27 games to play and three teams to pass. We have reached to the point in this Tampa Bay Rays season where a Wild Card berth isn’t impossible, but is going to require unbelievable play the rest of the season. Especially with that in mind, it is important to value the Rays affiliates who are in the minor league postseason. The Princeton Rays are going to the Appalachian League Championship Series after knocking off the Pulaski Yankees.
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Advanced Rookie Appalachian League Postseason Game 3: Princeton Rays 7, Pulaski Yankees 1
After losing in 10 innings on Thursday, the P-Rays came back to win 3-2 on Friday before closing the deal in the best-of-3 series in this game. This game was what every team dreams about in a playoff atmosphere. Peter Maris finished the series with a .571 batting average after going 4 for 5 with a homer and 3 RBI in this game. It has been cool to see Maris go from non-drafted free agent to playoff hero, and we will have to see where his career heads from here. Angel Perez also went 2 for 4 with a double, an RBI, 2 runs scored, and an outfield assist while Landon Cray went 2 for 4 with an RBI.
Alexis Tapia, who the Rays acquired in the Kevin Jepsen trade, struggled to end the season for Princeton. He failed to throw more than 4 innings in any of his final 3 starts, managing just a 6.97 ERA overall. However, Tapia picked the perfect time to get back on track as he dominated to lead the P-Rays to the victory. Tapia tossed 6 innings allowing 1 run on 5 hits, striking out 6 while walking 1. Then Armando Bastardo was just as good to finish the game, tossing 3 shutout innings in which he gave up just 2 hits and no walks while striking out 4.
Short Season-A New York-Penn League: Aberdeen Ironbirds (BAL) 14, Hudson Valley Renegades 5
The Renegades are playing a 3-game series against the Ironbirds with a playoff berth on the line, and this wasn’t a great start. Needless to say, the pitching was a disaster. Michael Velasquez gave up 3 runs in 2 innings before Tomas Michelson allowed 6 more (although just 2 earned) in only an inning of work. Sam Triece then let in 4 more more in his frame before things got under control. Just 1 run crossed the plate in Cristopher Crisostomo‘s 4 innings before usual catcher Taylor Hawkins managed to get past a hit, a walk, and a hit batsman to toss a scoreless ninth.
Hawkins also had a nice game at the plate and behind it, going 2 for 4 with a double and a runner caught stealing. At least he had a great all-around game. There were more offensive highlights as Manny Sanchez went 2 for 5 with a homer, a double, and 2 runs scored, Hector Montes went 3 for 5 with a double, an RBI, and a run, Joe McCarthy delivered a 2-for-3 game with a hit-by-pitch and an RBI, and Michael Russell went 2 for 3 with a double and a run. Unfortunately, Russell committed 3 errors while Sanchez and McCarthy made 1 each.
Low-A Midwest League: Fort Wayne TinCaps (SDP) 4, Bowling Green Hot Rods 3 (11 innings)
This one was a bitter pill to swallow for the Hot Rods as they lost despite tying the game on consecutive wild pitches in the ninth before going ahead on a Nick Ciuffo sac fly in the top of the 11th. Hyrum Formo came through with his best outing since July 3rd, tossing 6 innings allowing 1 run on 6 hits, striking out 6 while walking 1. Damion Carroll then gave up 1 run on 2 hits in 2 innings, striking out 4 while walking 2, before Brian Miller was excellent in 2 perfect innings. Unfortunately, Edwin Fierro then collapsed in that 11th.
Offensively, Coty Blanchard went 2 for 4 with an RBI and 2 runs scored while Cade Gotta went 1 for 2 with 3 stolen bases and an RBI before leaving the game after the third inning. Hopefully Gotta is OK, and it was nice to see him show off his speed for his first 3 Low-A steals after swiping 12 bags in Hudson Valley. The hyper-versatile Blanchard needed to move from second base to left field as part of a flurry of defensive moves to replace Gotta. Blanchard is finishing off a solid season in which he has hit to a .306/.370/.404 line for the Hot Rods.
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Double-A Southern League: Birmingham Barons (CHW) 4, Montgomery Biscuits 0
It would have been nice for Austin Pruitt to end the regular-season portion of his breakout season in better fashion, but what can you do? In this game, he went 6 innings allowing 4 runs on 4 hits, striking out 8 while walking 3. He did look a lot better after giving up 3 runs in the second inning. Matt Lollis followed with 2 shutout innings, getting past a hit and a walk with 4 strikeouts, before Brad Schreiber worked around a hit with 2 strikeouts in the ninth. Since an 8-appearance stretch where his ERA was just 10.80, Schreiber has tossed 4 shutout innings, allowing 2 hits and no walks while striking out 6.
The Biscuits managed just 2 hits, 1 each from Leonardo Reginatto and Dayron Varona, although Tyler Goeddel and Thomas Coyle did each walk and steal a base. Goeddel is up to 28 steals on the year while Coyle is at 20.
Triple-A International League: Durham Bulls 2, Norfolk Tides (BAL) 0
This game was most important for our purposes because Steven Souza Jr. appeared in a rehab capacity. He looked pretty good as the Durham DH, going 2 for 4 with an RBI, and we will discuss what his role will be with the Rays in September in the next couple of days. The Bulls’ offense was quite limited, but Taylor Motter did go while 1 for 3 with a walk and a run while Cameron Seitzer went 1 for 3 with an RBI, Corey Brown drove in the other run, and Boog Powell went 1 for 3. Seitzer is hitting a tidy .409 since coming up to Triple-A.
On the mound, Bradin Hagens wrapped up his impressive finish to the season with the Bulls by tossing 7 shutout innings, getting past 4 hits with a strikeout and 8 groundouts. He concludes his Triple-A stint for this year with a 2.67 ERA, and that has to count for something even if his 50-26 strikeout to walk ratio in 70.2 innings certainly could have been better. His groundball rate entering this start was 56% at Triple-A according to Baseball Prospectus, and he has certainly given himself a chance to earn a big league relief role for some team next season.
Jose Dominguez, who recently returned to Durham after going unclaimed on waivers following his designation for assignment, delivered a shutout inning in relief of Hagens, striking out 1 while getting past a walk. More interesting if the Tampa Bay Rays want another relief arm for September, though, is probably Robert Zarate. Zarate earned the save by striking out the side, giving up only a walk. Zarate looked good as a starter for the Bulls earlier this year, and after taking a while to adjust to relief, he has also been great in that role lately. He has allowed only 2 hits and 2 walks while striking out 11 in his last 8.2 innings.