September 2009

Midwest League Playoffs Predictions


mwlplayoffs09.JPGI must start this blog post will a few disclaimers before getting to my predictions.  First, the opinions expressed on this post are my own and not of the LumberKings, the Midwest League, the Seattle Mariners or anyone else…obviously.  Second, I always say that any team can win when it comes to a best-of-three series, so these predictions are very tough to make.  Third, it’s just for fun, so enjoy.

The LumberKings unfortunately did not make the playoffs this season for the first time since 2006, yet I’ve been asked by many folks who I think will win the Midwest League Championship this season.  Now I’ll be able to refer them to this blog post rather than hash out my theories.

East Division

First Round (Best of Three):  Great Lakes @ West Michigan, South Bend @ Fort Wayne.

My Prediction:  Great Lakes in 3, Fort Wayne in 2

When it comes to the East, it’s hard to pick against any of these teams.  West Michigan has won championships in 2006 and 2007, while South Bend has made the playoffs five-straight years under manager Mark Haley and won the East last year before losing to Burlington.

Meanwhile, Fort Wayne and Great Lakes each had moster offensive seasons.  The TinCaps were dominant from start to finish and won 94 games under co-Manager of the Year Doug Dascenzo.  The Loons had split MWL MVP’s in Kyle Russell (26 HR, 102 RBI) and Dee Gordon (96 runs scored, 73 steals) as Great Lakes sported a playoff team for the first time in their three years of existence.

I like the experience of both the Whitecaps and Silver Hawks, but it’s just too hard to pick against the TinCaps and Loons.  Both have 16-game winners in Erik Davis (FTW) and Jon Michael Redding (GL), and both have superior offensive firepower.  So, it’s a Fort Wayne/Great Lakes showdown in the East Division Finals.

Second Round (Best of Three):  Great Lakes @ Fort Wayne

My Prediction:  Great Lakes in 3

Yes, I’m well aware that everyone Dascenzo has put in the lineup has succeeded for the TinCaps, the hottest team in the league all year.  Yes, I’m aware of the nearly unbeatable Zach Herr/Brad Brach combo at the back end of the pen.  Yes, I know the TinCaps have home field advantage and were 50-20 at Parkview Field.  I don’t care.  Great Lakes has Gordon running wild atop the order, and even he doesn’t lead the club in runs scored.  That would be the darkhorse of this series, Jaime Pedroza (100 runs scored, 15 HR, 78 RBI).  The fact that the Loons’ offense has remained unchanged most of the season will benefit them in this series.  It’ll be a close-fought battle, but the Loons will take the first game at Dow Diamond and find a way to win the clincher in Fort Wayne.  Congrats, Loons, you’re my pick for the East.

West Division

First Round (Best of Three):  Peoria @ Cedar Rapids, Burlington @ Kane County

My Prediction:  Peoria in 2, Kane County in 3

The West Division lacked most of the big-name offensive talent in the league this year, but tell that to the Peoria Chiefs.  The Ryan Flaherty/Rebel Ridling/Kyler Burke trio is scary.  Unfortunately for the Chiefs, they lost their leadoff hitter in Brett Jackson to injury.  I don’t think that will matter, especially given what the LumberKings just saw out of Jose Valdez.  He’s not quite Dee Gordon, but he gets on base.  Even if he doesn’t make an impact as my darkhorse, Peoria is clearly the better offensive team than Cedar Rapids.  Mix in the fact that the Chiefs hit .290 against Kernels pitching this year, including .314 against Manuarys Correa, .382 against Ryan Chaffee and an astounding .632 against lefty Will Smith.  Seeya, Kernels.

The Kane County/Burlington series is probably the most even-matched of the first round pairings.  The Cougars captured their spot in the first half and then lost stars like Grant Desme and Steve Kleen, then started (slowly) to play better down the stretch.  Burlington was the team in the middle of the pack that got hot and captured the Wild Card.  Am I bitter towards the Bees?  Probably a little, but I won’t let that affect my pick.

The loss of Nick Francis to suspension didn’t slow down the Bees in the recent series against the Kings, but I think they might miss him in this series.  Adrian Ortiz and Jason Taylor were on the club that won the championship last year, but I just don’t see the Bees getting out of this round.  The Cougars win behind right-hander Kenny Smalley and whoever else can give them a solid start.  Maybe that’s Anvioris Ramirez, who beat Peoria in his final start on September 4 and looked sharp against us.  He’s my darkhorse.

Second Round (Best of Three):  Kane County @ Peoria

My Prediction:  Peoria in 2

This series is where Kane County’s lack of offense catches up with them.  You never know if Jeremy Barfield might take over the series offensively, but there’s not a lot of weapons aside him, Mike Spina and Franklin Hernandez.  Kane County’s only shot is pitching, but I think the Chiefs will fare better with a Jeff Antigua, Chris Archer or whoever they start in the second round.  The Cougars can’t start Smalley every game.  Congrats, Peoria, you’re my pick for the West.  Don’t get used to it.  I still dislike the Cubs.

The 2009 Midwest League Championship Series

Finals (Best of Five):  Great Lakes @ Peoria

My Prediction:  Great Lakes in 4

Again, bias aside, I truly think the Great Lakes Loons would win this potential series.  Michael Brenly better start warming up his arm, because Gordon can be unstoppable when he gets on base.  Pedroza and Russell might be held in check, but they still seem to get a consistent lift from Nick Buss, Tony Delmonico, Anthony Hatch and Alfredo Silverio.  I give those hitters an edge over Nelson Perez, Junior Lake, D.J. LeMahieu and others.  I also like who the Loons might run out on the mound in this series.  Another start from the red-hot Redding, maybe Josh Walter in the mix, and Aaron Miller is no slouch either.  If it’s a close series, I give the closer edge to Great Lakes’ Cole St. Clair over Peoria’s Chris Huseby (ignore the ERAs and trust me on this one).

It’s going to be a great series, but I have a strong psychic belief that tells me the Loons will win.  Not really, but it’s my prediction.  Party it up in Loooooooooooooooon town!

MWL Championship “Dream Series”

Now…my “dream series” match-up:  Burlington @ South Bend, the 2008 rematch for the 2009 MWL title. 

This time around, Haley’s Silver Hawks take the first two games and go on the road to Burlington (home field for the finals flip-flops per year, the West has it this year).  The Hawks will win the series without setting foot on the field in Burlington because of two-straight days of constant hail.  In a bit of Mother Nature redemption, South Bend takes their first title since 2005, and they don’t even have to stop riding the go-karts at Fun City.

Hope you enjoyed my predictions.  Feel free to share yours.  Again, no offense if you’re a fan of any city or player that I’ve mentioned.  The great thing about our league is that any player can come up big, any team can get hot at the right time, anyone can win.


Kasparek Wins MWL ERA Title

Kenn Kasparek’s 2.41 ERA is lowest in the Midwest League in 2009


Clinton, IA – Clinton LumberKings’ right-hander Kenn Kasparek finished with the lowest ERA in the Midwest League amongst qualifying pitchers, effective with the end of the regular season yesterday.  Kasparek’s 2.41 ERA bested Kane County’s Kenny Smalley, who finished second with a 2.73 ERA.


The 23-year-old Kasparek was Seattle’s 12th round pick in 2008 out of the University of Texas.  After struggling with an 0-2 record and  7.71 ERA in three April starts, he became one of the league’s most dominant pitchers with a 10-4 record and 1.92 ERA over the rest of the season.  He becomes the first Clinton pitcher to finish with the league’s best ERA since Salomon Torres did in 1991 with a 1.41 ERA for the Midwest League Champion Clinton Giants.


Kasparek finished atop the club in wins (10), starts (27), quality starts (10), innings (141.2) and strikeouts (134).  His 134 strikeouts and 1.12 WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) were both third-best in the league.


Kasparek had several highlights in 2009.  He won the Midwest League Pitcher of the Week award on June 7 (0-0, 1.62 ERA, 18 strikeouts in 11.1 innings during the week), the only league pitching award claimed by a Clinton hurler this year.  On August 3, he tossed a complete-game, three-hit shutout in a 5-0 win over Burlington, becoming the first LumberKing to toss a complete-game shutout since Chris Barlow did it on August 19, 2002 with an 11-0 win over Wisconsin.


The LumberKings begin the 2010 season at Alliant Energy Field on Thursday, April 8 against the Peoria Chiefs.  Game time is yet to be determined.  For tickets, merchandise and more information, visit


A re-visit of all Kenn Kasparek audio from this year:


Kasparek Interview 5.2.09.mp3

Kenn Kasparek Interview 6.18.09.mp3

Kasparek 9-inning complete game 8.3 vs. Burlington.mp3

Kenn Kasparek Interview (CG shutout) 8.4.09.mp3



LumberBlog: 40th Place in August

The “Latest Leaders” list for August is out now thanks to the folks over at MLBlogosphere (, and surprise, surprise, the LumberBlog has jumped several spots to take over 40th place on the ProBlogs list.

I know what you’re thinking, 40th doesn’t sound that good.  There’s 39 other blogs being read by more people.  Consider this…the LumberBlog is just three spots behind the blog that updates Minnesota Twins fans on the progress of their highly-anticipated new ballpark and just two spots behind the famous Philadelphia Phillies Ballgirls.  It’s also three spots ahead of one of my big-league mentors in Brian Anderson of the Milwaukee Brewers. That’s good company.

You can view the complete list here:

Where exactly this blog goes from here in the coming months is uncertain.  One of the things I’ve tried hardest to do with this blog is let the players, coaches, staff, etc. speak for themselves.  My opinions have taken a backseat to their words.  Now that the season is over and they’ve all left town (literally, there was no-one but manager Scott Steinmann in the home clubhouse an hour after today’s game), I can only speak for myself.

My tentative plan is to update once a week with something.  I do have a few things left up my sleeve.  Keep reading and let’s crack the top 40 in September!


Late Rally Eludes Kings in Season Finale

Nate Tenbrink homers and drives in two, but LumberKings still fall 4-3 to Peoria


Clinton, IA – Clinton tied the score on Nate Tenbrink’s solo home run in the fourth and took the lead as Shaver Hansen scored on a wild pitch, but the LumberKings’ bullpen couldn’t hold it as the Peoria Chiefs came back for a 4-3 win in the final game of 2009.


Tenbrink tied the score at 1-1 in the first inning with a bases-loaded infield single to plate Luis Nunez and knotted the game at 2-2 in the fourth with his solo blast to the Lumber Lounge.  His 10th home run of the season came off Chiefs’ starter Alberto Cabrera.


Right-hander Andrew Carraway allowed two runs, one earned on four hits over his 6.0 innings and struck out seven in a no-decision.  Jose Valdez led off the game with a double and scored on a groundout by D.J. LeMahieu and Michael Brenly reached and scored on an error in the second.


The LumberKings broke the 2-2 deadlock in the sixth as Hansen drew a two-out walk, stole third and scored on a wild pitch by right-hander Manolin DeLeon.  That lead wouldn’t last as right-hander Daniel Cooper (L, 0-1) yielded singles to Brenly and Junior Lake before exiting.  A sacrifice fly by Nelson Perez tied the score and a Valdez groundout plated Lake for the 4-3 lead.


Left-hander Jose Jimenez and right-hander Brandon Josselyn did not allow a run over the final 2.2 innings, but the Kings offense couldn’t plate the tying run.


Hansen drew his fourth and final walk to start the ninth, but was left stranded there by Peoria left-hander Jeff Beliveau.  He struck out both Blake Ochoa and Ian Bladergroen, then induced Jake Shaffer into a game-ending groundout.


DeLeon (W, 5-3) ended up with the victory, while Aaron Shafer (H, 1) and Beliveau (S, 3) finished off the game.


Scott Savastano finished 1-for-2 to reach a .300 average, while Tenbrink went 3-for-3 with the home run and two RBI to finish with a team-high 59 RBI.  Lake led all Peoria hitters, going 3-for-4 with a run scored.  Brenly went 2-for-3 with two runs scored.


The LumberKings (29-38) return to action on Thursday, April 8, 2010 against the Peoria Chiefs at Alliant Energy Field.  Game times and promotions for the 2010 season will be announced later in the offseason.  For tickets, merchandise and more information, contact the LumberKings at 563-242-0727 or at


Game Highlights:




Final Wrap-up with Scott Steinmann

steinmann2009.jpgThe LumberKings hit the field for the final time in 2009 on this bittersweet Labor Day at Alliant Energy Field.  A six-month 140-game grind comes to an abrupt halt with no pending trip to the playoffs.  Players and staff alike are excited to get some time off and see friends and family once more, but it’s also the last time that this “family” will be all in one place.

The Kings showed a glimpse of their first-half selves last night, posting their 13th last at-bat win in a 5-4 comeback over the Peoria Chiefs.  Nate Tenbrink lined a game-tying double to the wall in right-center and then shielded shortstop Junior Lake from Tommy Johnson’s grounder.  Lake committed a fielding error, sending Tenbrink home for the 5-4 lead.  Cheyne Hann put runners at the corners in the top of the ninth but still locked down his 12th save.


Listen to Tenbrink’s heroics here: 
Tenbrink game tying 2-run double 9.6 vs. Peoria.mp3

Scott Steinmann’s club will try and match that intensity today as they play for the final time against the playoff-bound Chiefs.  Read about the game in today’s notes:  9.7.09 kingsnotes.pdf

Speaking of Steiny, he’s my final pregame interview guest today.  It’s part two of my 2009 Season Wrap-up.  We heard from General Manager Ted Tornow on the business side yesterday, today Steinmann talks about the benefits of his club being in a playoff race, the hitters ready for High Desert, the outstanding pitching staff, his favorite memories of the season and more.

Listen Here: 
Scott Steinmann Interview (Season Wrap) 9.7.09.mp3 

Of course, this isn’t the end of the LumberBlog for 2009, not by a long shot.  Tomorrow, I’ll give you my own Midwest League Playoff Preview, plus the final 2009 Season Report on your LumberKings will follow sometime next week.


Playoff Hopes End in Burlington

LumberKings lose 3-1 to Bees, Burlington captures second-half West Wild Card


Burlington, IA – Three early runs proved too much to overcome Thursday night as the Clinton LumberKings lost 3-1 to the Burlington Bees and saw their pursuit of the second-half West Division Wild Card come to an end.  Ryan Wood’s two-run single in the second was the difference as the Kings scored just once on four hits.


Left-hander Bobby LaFromboise (L, 8-9) yielded an RBI double to David Wood in the first and the two-run single to Ryan Wood in the second, but settled in afterwards.  He gave up just those three runs on eight hits over 7.2 innings, falling just one out short of matching his career high.  Right-hander Brandon Josselyn came on and stranded an inherited runner, striking out the only man he faced in the eighth.


For the second straight night, the Clinton offense was lethargic.  Bees’ starter Sam Runion, who came in with a 6.91 ERA and 17 home runs allowed, pitched like an ace.  Runion (W, 5-11) pitched 5.1 innings of scoreless, two-hit ball.  The LumberKings finally scored in the seventh against Tony Pena, Jr. as Nate Tenbrink tripled and scored on a groundout by Henry Contreras.


Pena (H, 2) allowed just that run over 2.2 innings and left-hander Blaine Hardy (S, 9) worked past a two-out single by Tenbrink for the save.


The LumberKings (27-36) complete their 2009 road schedule at Community Field in Burlington tonight, taking on the Bees (34-31) in the series finale.  First pitch is scheduled for 6:30 PM.  Listen to the game on AM 1390 KCLN in Clinton or live on the web at


Gentry Gets the Call

Former LumberKings center-fielder Craig Gentry (’07) is reportedly getting the call up to the Texas Rangers today, according to our old friends at the Newberg Report

The Rangers’ 10th-round pick in 2006 hit .274 with 15 doubles, three HR, 40 runs scored, 12 RBI and 24 steals with the Kings in 2007.  He was hitting .303 with 21 doubles, eight HR, 53 RBI and 49 steals in double-A Frisco for former Clinton manager Mike Micucci (’07-’08) this year. 

In case you’re keeping track, Gentry is set to be the fourth former LumberKing to make a Major League debut in 2009, joining Derek Holland (’08), John Mayberry, Jr. (’06) and Neftali Feliz (’08).