Canadians: Winning at home. Mission POSSIBLE!

Vancouver July 16 2019- Winning? At home? What a crazy idea! After spending a week going head to head with the Everett Aquasox, the Vancouver Canadians returned home to face the Tri-City Dust Devils for the first time in 2019.

Coming into the series on a small hot streak of two wins in three days, the Canadian’s were able to continue their good form, completing their first series sweep of the season in convincing fashion. Although the C’s are all but mathematically eliminated from  first half contention, the latest victories have given them some much-needed confidence. Not so much so for the Dust Devils who came into the series needing to pick up some wins in Vancouver to stay in the first half pennant hunt. 

Game 1 Sunday, July 14

On their return to Nat Bailey Stadium, the Canadian’s greeted their home fans with a long-awaited home victory. The C’s won 2-1 in a tightly contested game, that tested every player right up to the final out.

The opening game of the series saw Nick Fraze back on the mound for the Canadian’s. It was his fifth start of the season, and he had been consistent each time he’s been sent out. Although he had not gone longer than three innings, Fraze has kept his ERA around four and has only once allowed more than two hits. Overall, he has done well- despite not having a win credited to him in 2019. 

For the Dust-Devils, LHP Ethan Elliot was on the mound. He also was making his fifth start of the year, however, through his games, he has outdone Fraze. He has only pitched three innings once but has only allowed one run prior to Sunday. Either way, both pitchers came into Sunday’s matchup in fairly good form. 

Fraze got off to a hot start in the first inning. One pitch; one out. 

That did not last. He allowed a single hit before the inning came to a close. Elliot, on the other hand, had a bit of trouble with the top of the C’s order. Vancouver got runners as far as third base with only one out on the board, however ill-timed ground balls spelt the end of a promising opening inning for Vancouver. 

Fraze completed his allotted three innings, allowing three hits and no runs. It brought his ERA down to 2.92, the best it has been this season. In relief for him was Candian RHP Alex Nolan, who at 23 had been enjoying a fairly successful inaugural professional season in his prior four appearances. Although he had a hard time settling into Sunday’s matchup, with five of the first seven batters he faced making contact, but soon turned a tough outing into his best pro performance to date. The former Brock University Badger pitched five innings and picked up his first professional win.

Alex Nolan

Elliot lasted the same amount of time and put in a nearly identical performance as Fraze. For Elliot, his departure from the game was not as good as Fraze’s. In relief, the Dust Devils sent in Jake Simms, who had a disastrous outing. His first inning was ok, but it was his second that threw him- and his whole team off the rails. Easy hits and walks loaded the bases with no outs, and another walk sent in the first run of the day. Simm’s day was done after that run, and that pretty much sums up how bad it was for Simms. Sorry for the pun. 

With the bases loaded, and still no outs on the board, Tri-City called upon Starlin Cordero to dig them out of the hole. While he gave a valiant effort, he still allowed a run- but did well to rescue his Dust Devils team. Cardero offered a strong performance through two innings. Given the mess he came into- being able to hold the Dust-Devils in the game is all anyone could have asked from him. He was relieved in the seventh inning by Dan Dallas, who walked two batters in his one inning of work. The day ended with Mason Fox on the mound for the visitors, but he was unable to inspire his side to a comeback. 

It did not take long for a response from the Dust-Devils, who got within one run on their next at-bat. The run came as a result of a sacrifice fly from Mathew Acosta which scored Jordy Barley. It was the first run against of the day, however, it was not accredited against Nolan. After not earning any runs against, Nolan brought his ERA down to 2.83, good enough for fourth on the roster and the best from the bullpen. 

The game nearly reached its tying point in the top of the seventh. When Sean Guibe sent a fly ball into right field. He reached first base, but an error from the C’s allowed the baserunner to turn around third and head for home. Canadians outfielder Will Robertson fired a pinpoint throw to home plate, just in time to get the dust devils runner out and maintain the one-run lead for Vancouver. 

That would be the last offensive excitement of the day, as Luke Gillingham saved the game for the C’s and gave Vancouver their third win in four games. The run the C’s found themselves on after Sunday’s win is unmatched this season- a good sign now for a ballclub that has been struggling at best. With things beginning to click into place, the Canadians could be lined up for a successful second-half campaign. 

Game 2 Monday, July 15

Back under the lights, the Canadians won in convincing fashion, 6-2 for their fourth win in five days. Vancouver sent their prodigal son to the mound for another go around. Adam Kloffenstein, the sixth-ranked Blue Jays prospect got the ball for the Canadians and looked to reverse a not-so-hot trend he has had so far this year. As detailed in the last series recap, Kloffensteins dominance has not shown so far, and in each performance, his strike percentage has dwindled. On Monday, he had the opportunity to improve his stats, and further the intrigue in himself as a promising arm in the system. 

Kloffenstein did exactly that, collecting his first career win, and improving his stats in every category. not only did he have his best outing of the year, but it was also his longest. Nearly 10 pitches more than he has been allotted up to this point.

For the Dust-Devils Nick Thwaits, who has done very well for his team this season. Through five games started he has a positive record of 2-1, a respectable ERA of 3.65, as well as an unmatched endurance- usually pitching between four and six innings, the most of any Dust-Devils pitcher. Thwaits threw four innings- none of which were very good. He left the game after allowing a pair of runs, as well as seven hits. Certainly not the performances he dreamt of. 

Thwait’s reliever, Dominic DiSabitano, came into the game boasting a 10.5 ERA, the largest on the Dust-Devils. He promptly walked his first two batters, then allowed a hit, run and hit a batter. All-round he had a terrible day and was pulled after only two outs. He was replaced by Felix Minjarez, who went on to pitch a pair of uneventful innings. 

Both starting pitchers and their teams began the game in fantastic fashion. The first two innings were in the books after only 25 minutes, with both sets of fielders putting on exceptional opening frames. The Devils, however, fell from exceptional to exceptionally bad in a single inning- allowing Vancouver to take the lead on an error, and letting catcher Brett Wright to steal home. That first run was only the beginning of what was a hitting spree couple of innings for the Canadians.

With no outs posted, the Canadians put up hit after hit, getting all three of their first few base runners on base. The hitting streak alongside astute baserunning led to their second run of the day, and multiple runners in scoring position. Again, without any runs on the board. When all was said and done in the third innings, Vancouver had extended their lead to 4-0, their largest lead since their blowout 16-9 win over Salem-Keizer weeks ago. 

The C’s flawless fielding lasted an inning longer than the visitors, but they eventually succumbed to misfortunes of their own. A failed pickoff attempt at first base found its way into the tri-cities dugout, allowing the baserunner to steal all the way to third. Fortunately for Vancouver, Kloffenstein struck out the next batter- leaving the runner at third stranded.  The misfortunes continued for the C’s, making the astounding fielding feel like a distant memory. A second arid pickoff allowed the visitors to steal home for their first run of the day in the top of the fourth. 

Vancouver continued their offensive onslaught in the fifth inning, punishing the Devil’s poor pitching for an additional two runs. 

Kloffenstein’s day finished after five innings, and it was one of his better performances of the season. His aforementioned strike percentage was the highest it has been since his first start, at 54 percent. It was also the most pitches he had thrown this season, 79. Previously he had maxed out at 70. When all was set in stone, the performance was a solid one for the teenager, who has clearly learnt an abundance of lessons throughout the season. He was relieved by Grayson Huffman in the seventh, and Huffman continued the C’s good pitching. The second Texan of the day for Vancouver struck out two batters in his first inning. He would strike out two more before calling it a day after six outs. 

Canadian’s sidearmer Andy McGuire finished of the day, allowing one run, although still sealing Vancouver’s 6-2 victory, and fourth win in five games.  

The game’s first half was one of the most intriguing halves of baseball I have ever witnessed.  Both teams put on fielding performances which were extreme at both ends of the spectrum. First two innings? Exceptional. Much better than one comes to expect at this level. The next two? Well, they looked like they should be in rookie ball. Nonetheless, the C’s cashed in on mistakes better- coming out of the dirt fest with the lead.

With their second straight win, it brought some much needed positive vibes to the Canadians clubhouse. Making it even sweeter, it was Kloffenstein’s first win of his young professional career, and the second inaugural professional win for a pitcher in two games. Sunday saw Canadian Alex Nolan pick up his first win, only to be followed by the aforementioned Kloffenstein.

Game 3 Tuesday, July 16

The final game of the series saw the Canadians cap off their first series sweep of the season with a 4-0 shutout win.

While the playoffs are well out of the picture, with the win the C’s are technically not eliminated just yet. Tuesday’s game featured many interesting storylines, with some players returning to the roster- and former highly touted prospects trying to hit their stride again. 

Returning to the roster for the C’s was the injured heavy hitter MCgregory Contreras, as well as Vanderbilt University alum Phillip Clarke. Finding himself back behind the plate and in a familiar part in the order, Clarke looked to add offence to the C’s, much like he did when he originally joined the team. 

The pitching battle featured a former highly regarded Clevland Indians and Padres prospect for the Dust-Devils, Ignacio Feliz. Still only 19 years old he is in his third season of minor league ball and has seen his stock plummet since being signed as a free agent in 2016. Despite his value dropping, he has enjoyed a mediocre season in 2019, taking part in five games, and a record of 1-1. On Tuesday he continued his usual form through 5.2 innings, however, he gave up his third home-run of the season. That brought his ERA up to 3.33, a little higher than he would like. The teenager offered nothing special but did enough to keep the visitors within striking distance. 

Relieving Feliz in the sixth inning was one of the stronger arms on the Dust-Devils roster. Taiwanese right-hander We-Hua Sung came into the game with two runners already on base, and navigated himself out of that situation splendidly. In his second season with the club, the 22-year-old has posted career-best numbers, with his ERA sitting at a tidy 2.65 heading into the game. Sung only lasted 1.1 innings, giving up a hit before making way for the Devils final pitcher of the day, Deacon Medders. he would also pitch a single inning, as the game ended before he got a chance at a second.

Another interesting change for the C’s was the absence of their two leadoff hitters. Both Cameron Eden and Tanner Morris were left out of the lineup, leaving Trevor Schweke to open up- a rare occurrence for the shortstop.

For the C’s, it was Luis Quiniones who was making his third appearance and second start of the season. He has pitched the least of any C’s starter but did not look like it on Tuesday. He struck out his first two batters, although his third made it to second base. Fortunately for him, that’s as far as the first base runner would get. While the first two innings went to plan, he began to have some trouble in the second- walking a pair, triggering a talking-to from manager Casey Candael. Quinones did very well through four innings, other than his small hiccup. He finished the day with six strikeouts, good for half of his outs- meanwhile only allowing a single hit.

Reliving Quinones was RHP William Gaston, who has yet to collect a win this season, but has been a reliable arm for the Canadians, whether that is from the bullpen or a starting position. Gaston had a very good performance, maintaining the shutout through four innings, and getting three strikouts along the way. 

The series ended with Parker Caracci closing the game in the ninth inning, bringing the C’s to their first sweep of 2019.

The Canadians scored first in the final game, and they did it in exciting fashion. The fifth inning began with a double from  McGregory Contreras, and he ended up scoring. And it was not just a single or a sacrifice he scored on. No, not something of regularity. It was a home run, the first and only of the series, coming from Adrian Ramos, to give the C’s a 2-0 lead. 

Both teams offences would stay silent until the bottom of the eighth, where the C’s bats came alive once again. A double and a walk were both scored on a line drive to left field from Abadesssa, to take the lead to  4-0 for the Canadians.

Three games, three wins. all that the Vancouver Canadians could have wished for, and they have now won five of their last six games. The team who has been the coldest team for most of the season finds themselves in a foreign position, as the hottest team in them Northwest League.

Most Exciting Moment:

There were lots in this series, from both sides. Whether it was singles that players stretched into doubles, amazing catches, and world-class pickoffs- this series offered some of the best baseball the Nat Bailey faithful have seen this year. Thanks to the great play of both teams, it made it difficult to pick a single moment. However, while I’ve spoken at length about defensive plays- the best moment was not one of them. 

The series best moment came in the final game. With the C’s opening the scoring thanks to Adrian Ramos’s second career home-run, leading Vancouver to their first series sweep of 2019.

C of the Series

Right Handed Pitcher: Adam Kloffenstein

Vancouver Canadians Adam Kloffenstein

18-year-old Adam Kloffenstein

As always, it is difficult to give the award to a pitcher since they usually only take part in one game, but again that’s the way it goes. For this series, the award goes to Adam Kloffenstein, who collected his first professional win in the second game of the series. 

Kloffenstein, who has had some trouble up to this point; has clearly learned from his mistakes, and the performance he put on showed a maturity which he has lacked until his latest outing. Throwing five innings his longest appearance of the season, he increased his pitch percentage, and showed more patience from the mound. 

In an interview with “The Athletic’s” John Lott, he explained how he was a little unprepared for the everyday life of baseball. Coming into spring training, the 18-year-old figured days would be long and gruelling. He soon figured out that they were not, and that he was not being watched as closely as he had been in the past. This led the young man to grow up quickly, and he was clearly still adjusting to his new life through his first few starts in Vancouver. 

He has pitched 24 innings this season, the second-most on the team- and after his performance vs the Dust-Devils, his ERA was fourth-best on the C’s at 2.92. A strong stat, seeing as that standing takes into account pitchers who have had much less time on the mound. 

All-round it was a very good showing from Adam Kloffenstein, a welcome sight for Blue Jays fans, who got to see their highly regarded prospect find some success in the professional ranks.

The Canadians now hop on the bus once again to take on the Spokane Indians, before returning home for an eight-game homestand- where they will once again find themselves up against the Tri-City Dust Devils.

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