July 9, Vancouver- The Vancouver Canadians returned home after a quick trip down the I5 where they played a brief three-game series vs the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes. The C’s came into the first game of the Everett series feeling good about themselves, after putting up double-digit runs for the first time this season in their 16-9 win over the Volcanoes. The win, which came Saturday evening ended a six-game losing streak, their second of the season, and gave Vancouver some much-needed momentum heading into the final stretch of the first half.
The good feelings did not last long, as the Canadians returned to their losing ways- dropping all three games at home against the Everett Aquasox.
While away, the C’s also had some transactions affect their roster. Catcher Ryan Sloniger was sent back down to the Rookie-level Bluefield Blue Jays, while Vanderbilt University alumni Phillip Clarke took his spot behind home plate. Clarke introduced himself very nicely to the C’s hitting a pair of home runs in his first two games.
Sunday began a week-long affair between the Canadian’s and Aquasox. First was three games at the Nat Bailey, which the C’s dropped all three of, and now both teams take the short drive down to Everett’s Memorial Stadium for another triple game set. Vancouver have certainly had their fair share of struggles so far in 2019, and coming into the Aquasox series they boasted a dismal record of 6-17, a franchise-worst- and closed the series with an unsatisfactory record of 6-20. Everett, on the other hand, sat only two games back of first-half leaders, the Tri-City Dust Devils. The series vs the C’s gave presented the Aquasox with a prime opportunity to gain ground on the Dust-Devils, which they did- now sitting one game back of the division leaders, who are now the Spokane Indians.
Game 1: Sunday, July 7
Sunday’s game began in less than ideal conditions. A rainy day right up until game time, it was by far the chilliest night of the C’s season so far. Fortunately, the rain stopped before game time, allowing everything to go forward as planned. Oddly enough, as Vancouver weather would have it, the night turned into one of the nicest nights at the ballpark in 2019.
In terms of actual baseball, the Canadians lost yet again, this time by a score of 6-4. Despite a late-game rally, the C’s mistakes ended up costing them- as they have so many times this year.
Nick Fraze got the start for the C’s in game one; his third start of the season- still on the search for his first win of 2019. Newcomer Phillip Clarke did not dress for the C’s in the first game, having to wait to make his home debut another couple days.
Everett sent RHP Evan Johnson to the mound, in what was his second appearance against Vancouver this season. In his first appearance, he went two innings, allowing zero runs- but was not credited with the win. He lasted four innings Sunday, allowing two hits alongside his pair of strikeouts.
Johnson was relieved by Kipp Rollings, a North Greenville University alum. Rollings pitched two innings, both of which were nowhere near his best. He gave up five hits through his two innings. Although the Canadians seldom offense failed to punish him.
The first game started off with very little offense, although neither pitcher was able to purely dominate. Both teams reached third twice, but neither were able to bring their players in to score. Nick Fraze was relieved after three innings of three-hit baseball, sending in Canadian Alex Nolan for the mid-part of the afternoon. Things could not have started any worse for Nolan, who gave up a homerun to his first batter; Carter Binns. The homerun would only open the scoring for the Sox, who began a very long half fourth inning. They would collect their second run thanks to a stolen base, and another double- to make the lead a pair of runs after four.
The fourth inning was only the beginning for the Aquasox, who added onto their lead with a single RBI off the bat of Cash Gladfelter. It was the third run on nine hits for the Sox, who are the best in the league when it comes to hit conversion. Before the game, the Aquasox converted on 72 percent of their hits, five percent more than runners up Spokane. The Canadians? Well, they sat at a league worst 45 percent.
The C’s nearly found their breakthrough in the bottom of the sixth, loading the bases with only one out. Sticking to the script of their season, Vancouver stranded all the runners, again failing to convert on the hits- further diminishing their hit conversion rate.
While the day got sunnier, the game did not for the Canadians. An error in the eighth allowed the fourth run of the day, which at the time appeared to be a deadly blow on the C’s for the 18th time this season.
Responding on the days fourth run, Vancouver loaded the bases for the second time of the day in the eighth inning, and contrary to the usual routine- actually cashed in some runners! Davis Schnider sent in the first run, while Adrian Ramos’s walk sent in the second. Both of the first two runs came with only one out on the board, and forced the Aquasox to change their pitcher. After digging his team into a hole, Garret Westberg left the game in favour of Travis Kuhn, who saved the Sox by putting the next two batters out. Converting two runs was small solace for the C’s, however, the bases loaded opportunity can only be looked at as a missed one.
And a missed one it was, as the Aquasox went on to have a memorable three-run final inning.
The Canadians sent in their closer Parker Caracci, who began the “slopfest” for Vancouver. Balks, walks and easy pitches sealed the deal for the Aquasox, who cashed in on every C’s mistake to hand Vancouver yet another loss.
Although the Aquasox did the C’s in through the ninth inning, Vancouver did show resilience and rallying power in the final inning. If it weren’t for fielding the mistakes, the C’s would have forced extra innings.
Again, this game was a learning project for Vancouver- which is all one could ask for at this point in the first half. If the C’s are able to bring their late game nerves, and offensive output into the earlier innings- the wins should start to come.
Game 2: Monday, July 8
The Canadians dropped the second game of the series, and were never close at any point while the scoreboard says 7-3, there were still some exciting points. Vancouver fans were presented with their highly touted prospect, Adam Kloffenstein- who has had his fair share of struggles so far this season. As I chronicled in my last write up, the number six ranked prospect has had most of his metrics decline so far this season.
For example, his strike percentage has dwindled, and his ERA has been creeping upwards. With a pitch limit of roughly 70 per game, Kloffenstein has yet to put together much of a record, although the record he does have includes no wins and two losses. He did not that trend to bed on Tuesday night, but merely began tucking it in-. He threw his most pitches of the season- while also halting his declining strike percentage. For the second straight outing he threw 54 percent strikes- a small step, but an improvement nonetheless. The graph below shows the steep slope he has been on this year, but also shows his declining percentage has begun to slow down, a positive building point for the 18 year-old Texan.
Although not a point of much importance, Vancouver has been indirectly competing with the Williamsport Crosscutters of the New York-Penn League for the worst record in short season single A. Before Monday nights game, Vancouver sat one game ahead of Williamsport- but with the loss, they fell level with the Crosscutters.
On the mound for Everett was Nate Fisher, who was making his seventh start of the season, and second against Vancouver. Although he has pitched a lot this season, he has only been credited with one result- a loss vs Boise back on June 17. Fisher lasted five innings, allowing one run- albeit not earned against him. With no runs earned, he saw his season ERA drop to a fantastic 2.2. He also threw five strikeouts. the New England native gave way to Ivan Fortunato, who was making his eighth appearance of the season. It is a make or break year for the fourth year minor leaguer, who is spending his second full season as part of the Aquasox.
Fortunato’s outing was disastrous, allowing the C’s back in to the game- walking multiple batters and earned a pair of runs against. He was pulled after just a single inning, bringing in Logan Rinehart to clean up his mess. Rinehart, who is the same age as Fortunato is only in his first year of professional baseball, signing on with the Mariners on June 10th.
Vancouver fans also got their first look at their new catcher Philip Clarke, who is expected to bring an injection of offense to the Nat.
In the face of all assumption, Vancouver actually got off to a quick offensive start in this game. A leadoff single from Cameron Eden set the stage for Trevor Shwecke who drove in the days first run with his double. Meanwhile collecting his sixth RBI of the season. The one run was all the C’s would manage ion the first, despite having a runner in scoring position with only one out.
The second at-bat for the Aquasox looked very promising, however clinical fielding from the C’s put their bats to rest. A highlight reel diving catch from Cameron Eden ended the inning, and the catch could be considered as one of the seasons best so far. It was one of two amazing catches from Eden, who had himself quite the night in centre field.
Kloffenstein’s outing ended in the fifth inning, bringing in sidearmer Andy Mcguire to build on the strong pitching performance. Unfortunately for Mcguire. That was not something he was able to do, walking three batters and allowing multiple singles- leading the Aquasox to their first runs of the day in the sixth inning.
In response to Everett’s three-run sixth, Vancouver found some offense of their own. Taking advantage of the Everett pitching change- the Canadians got on quickly scoring a quick run to begin the inning. And soon after loading the bases- all of this on zero outs. After failed grand slam attempts from McGregory Contreras and Ronny Brito, the C’s finally found the tying run thanks to the good eye of Davis Schnider, who walked to bring keep the bases loaded, tie the game- and keep the offensive potential ripe for Vancouver. Swinging for the fences, Cameron Eden struck out, leaving all three C’s stranded. Although the inning ended with boys in white on every bag, it was still a very good inning from the Canadians, who kept the game within reach heading into the finals frames of the day.
Despite the offensive output, the Canadians did not do enough to turn their losing fortunes around. Subpar pitching performances from Josh Aklmonte and Luke Gillingham gifted the Aquasox an additional four runs, enough to seal their 7-3 victory over Vancouver.
The loss clinched the series for the Aquasox, and was the seventh series loss for the C’s this season, that being out of their eight series. As the losses continue to pile up, it is becoming increasingly difficult for the team to draw positives from losing performances. However, seeing Kloffenstein’s pitching not decrease further, and finally scoring some runs at home- the signs have begun to show that the 2019 Vancouver Canadians may find some wins in the near future.
Game 3 Tuesday, July 9
The last game of the series was the Canadians last chance to build some momentum heading into the second three-game set against the Aquasox, and they were unable to do so- losing 9-1 in another disappointing performance.
It was also a game that saw an incomparable amount of rotation. On the field, Yorman Rodriguez was not playing first base, that was given to Ronny Brito, who usually is at third. Another notable change to the lineup was Cameron Eden batting second in the order, giving up the leadoff spot to Tanner Morris. With the struggles the C’s have had, it is a time for experimentation for manager Casey Candael, who is trying to figure things out before the start of the second half. The game was also the return of right fielder Dominic Abbadessa, who came off the seven-day injured list.
While there was movement around the diamond, there was nothing new on the mound. William gaston made his fifth start of the season. Like many of the C’s pitchers he had yet to get a win heading into Tuesday’s game, however, unlike his teammates- his stats have been very steady- not up nor down. Although consistency is a valuable asset, what the team needs is something exceptional, and that is not what Gaston offers. He pitched well through three innings but began to struggle in the fourth. In the end, his day finished with 79 pitches, three strikeouts and three runs earned.
His pitching counterpart for the Aquasox was Damon Casetta-Stubbs, who is playing his second year of minor league ball, and first at this level. He has had short stints in full season and advanced “A” and he has done well in those opportunities. So far in 2019 he has played for three teams, and his start against Vancouver was his sixth of the season. He pitched five brilliant innings, and had no issue with any of the weather conditions. His eight strikeouts were a season-high for him, and the one earned run was no blemish on his season record.
The first three innings went by rather quickly, with both teams defences having strong performances. however, consistent strong performances have not been the C’s forte this year, and that trend showed itself in the fourth inning. Gaston began to struggle, and failed to make it out of the inning. The Aquasox began to put runners on base, and converted on nearly all of them- quickly piling up the runs en route to their series sweep.
Coming into the game for Gaston was Luis Quinones, making only his second home appearance of the season. He was more or less thrown into the fire, with one out and runners on every base. He wiggled his way out nicely, with the help of teammates. A foul fly ball catch from Brito, and a third base pickoff ended the inning after three runs. Quiniones did well throughout his 2.1 innings- but was clearly having trouble with the weather. Although the rain didn’t make it easy, he finished his day only allowing a single hit, as well as posting two strikeouts.
After falling apart in the upper part of the inning, the Canadians began to find some offense if their own in the bottom. Dropped balls, and players hit by pitches led to loading the bases for Vancouver, who were able to convert one run for their efforts. Much as they have done all year- the C’s ended the inning with three runners stranded, as they continue to lead the league in that category. nonetheless, the small bit of offense was a welcome sight for the Nat Bailey faithful, whom C’s broadcaster Rob Fai described as “a soda can ready to explode.”
Although Quiniones pitched well, it was clear that he was done after only a couple of innings. Coming in for him was Nicolas Medina, who has struggled mightily this season- beginning his outing with a colossal ERA of 7.24. Medina’s day started out rough and did not improve. In his first inning he allowed a pair of runs, burying the C’s four runs behind the Sox.
Vancouver’s day did not get any better after Medina left the game, as the C’s continued to give up runs, most of them unforced. The closing pitching crew of Medina, Huffman, Pascoe and Caracci gave up a combined four walks, bringing the C’s total to 12 on the day. Meanwhile allowing six additional runs.
The story of the day was once again stranded runners, but more evidently it was the number of batters who found their way on base thanks to walks. All around another lacklustre performance from the Canadians, who at the end of the three-game series saw themselves as the last-place team in all of minor league baseball, behind the aforementioned Williamsport Crosscutters.
C of the Series
Another series, another tough pick. Although the tough picks for C of the series are not tough in the context fans would like them to be. On a good day, I would be selecting the standout performer, shining above the rest of the pack. But for the Vancouver Canadians this year, it has mostly been “who has hurt them the least?”
With that criteria, this series honours goes to Phillip Clarke, who through this series and last has proven himself as a valuable addition to the C’s roster. In the second game of the series, he had gone three for five at the plate, the best of any C’s player through any game this series. Also, since joining the team against Salem Keizer, he has hit at a .450 rate- far and away the best on the team.
Fresh off a college world series with the Vanderbilt University, the eighth round pick signed with the Blue Jays in early July for $500,000, a bonus well above his slot value. Although he only played in two of the three games against Everett, the lefty has added a spark to the Canadians offense, and will look to move up the ladder fairly quickly.
He should be getting the majority of starts behind home plate in the days and weeks to come for Vancouver, as Yorman Rodriguez has seemed to find a home at first base, and Ryan Sloniger has been sent down to Bluefield.
While this series did not go how the C’s wanted it to, there were some promising signs. The new players coming in look like they will help the offense, Abbadessa came off the IL and the teenage pitching prospect halted his declining stats.
The Canadians now have an off day, before beginning their second set of three games against the Aquasox, this time in Everett. It is only a quick trip for the C’s, who will be back in Nat Bailey action on Sunday at 5:05pm as they host the Tri-City Dust Devils for the first time this season.
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