After the desultory series the Giants put on for their home fans against the Pittsburgh Pirates this week, I’d already decided that if the Sacramento River Cats completed their sweep of the Round Rock Express (Astros) in the Pacific Coast Championship series last night, they were going to be the focus of today’s post.
So at 5 p.m., right before the first pitch in Round Rock, Texas, we prepared our adult beverages and fired up my iPad to watch the game on MiLB.TV.
Eventually, the Giants started their game, too, but we kept them on mute until the River Cats were done. And oh, yeah, the Giants also won, led, fittingly, by three recent River Cats. We’ll get to them later.
Andrew Baggarly devoted his article in The Athletic to the River Cats’ triumph, focusing on how long it’s been since a Giants’ AAA affiliate was even in the playoffs (1998, Fresno Grizzlies) let alone won a PCL championship (1977, Phoenix Giants). I’ll add that I was just starting my senior year of high school, and this was before the Phoenix Giants became the Phoenix Firebirds, then moving to Fresno, and finally ditching Fresno for Sacramento before the 2015 season. Jimmy Carter was President, and the Governor of California was…checking…the same guy who was governor this time last year. Weird.
OK, moving on from the history lesson. Let’s talk about this year’s River Cats team and how remarkable this PCL championship run turned out to be.
The Sacramento Bee ran an article the other day about River Cats’ manager Dave Brundage that included this jaw-dropping tidbit: The River Cats have registered 316 player transactions this season. 316 is…a lot of transactions. It says a lot about the coaching staff that they built any sense of team unity and purpose with a revolving door moving as fast as a spinning top. Here are just a couple of facts to put that number into perspective.
- The announcer for the AA Richmond Flying Squirrels was bragging on their contribution to the PCL title. (Nice typo, BTW.)
— Trey Wilson (@treywilson757) September 14, 2019
A couple of recent Flying Squirrels were indeed very instrumental in the River Cats’ playoff run. Jacob Heyward, who had an uninspiring year in AA, was nonetheless promoted to Sacramento for the postseason, I’m guessing largely because the Giants had called up nearly all of the Sacramento outfielders. Heyward hit .444 in the three-game championship series against Round Rock, drove in six runs, and had a huge two-out two-run RBI single in last night’s clincher. Squirrels 3B/1B Zach Houchins, who played all of one game for the River Cats before the postseason, had an .882 OPS in their eight playoff games with two homers and four RBIs. Richmond starter Caleb Baragar started the decisive fifth game against Las Vegas, pitching five innings and giving up one run with eight strikeouts.
2. Most of the current 2019 Giants were River Cats at some point this year.
It would be easier at this point to list the players on the Giants’ current active roster who didn’t play for the River Cats this year:
Position players: Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford, Buster Posey, Evan Longoria, Kevin Pillar, Corban Joseph
Pitchers: Madison Bumgarner, Jeff Samardzija, Will Smith, Tony Watson, Wandy Peralta
Put it another way: There are 36 players on the Giants’ roster right now, and 25 of them played for the River Cats this year. Only four players on the Giants’ 40-man roster celebrated in Round Rock last night: Abiatal Avelino, Mike Gerber, Joe McCarthy, and Melvin Adon.
Three River Cats deserving special mention
- Abiatal Avelino: Avelino was one of the few players on the River Cats’ playoff roster who actually played nearly the whole season in Sacramento. I made this observation on Kerry Crowley’s Twitter last night.
And if Abiatal Avelino doesn’t run through Wotus’s stop sign a couple weeks ago, maybe this doesn’t happen. Avelino drove in the winning runs in Games 1 and 3 of this Round Rock series.
— Dr. Dana Ferris (@leftydana) September 14, 2019
Avelino hit .324 with two homers and nine RBIs in the PCL playoffs, including, as I noted in my Tweet, the walk-off hit in Game 1 and the winning hit last night.
- Enderson Franco: Franco is a 26-year-old Venezuelan right-handed pitcher who had a very nondescript year as a starter for the River Cats. In the playoffs, though, they used him as the closer, and he set a franchise record by earning three saves, including two in the series against Round Rock, capped off with a five-out save last night. By the end of the game, the Round Rock announcers (that’s who we were stuck with on MiLB.TV) were gushing about Franco being the “future closer for the Giants.” Franco features a high-90s fastball and nasty off-speed stuff. He struck out seven and walked one in 5.2 postseason innings. The Giants signed him last January as a minor league free agent with a spring training invite.
- Pat Venditte: The switch-pitching Venditte, you’ll recall, was one of only three major league signings Farhan Zaidi made last winter, and he was the first of the three to crash and burn, getting DFA’d early but returning to Sacramento after clearing waivers. Then his year got worse, as his wife Erin had a terrifying brain bleed, and he took a two-month leave of absence from the team to care for her and their two young children. Erin is thankfully recovering, and Pat returned to the River Cats. And the winning pitcher in last night’s championship clincher was…Pat Venditte.
when Pat Venditte is the winning pitcher of the PCL championship clincher pic.twitter.com/wexZVxX34s
— McCovey Chronicles (@McCoveyChron) September 14, 2019
Baggarly reports how Tyler Rogers got choked up when he heard the news about Venditte.
Rogers had to clear his throat after being informed that Venditte was the winning pitcher Friday night.
“Oh, awesome,” Rogers said. “That’s awesome. How he’s come back from everything, it’s incredible.”
OK, I guess it’s time to talk about the Giants
Speaking of the River Cats, three rookie pitchers shut out the Marlins 1-0 last night. Tyler Beede won his second-straight 1-0 decision, pitching 6.1 scoreless innings and scattering three singles with one walk and five strikeouts. Rogers then took over, pitching 1.2 hitless innings with three strikeouts, and how fun of a September story is he turning out to be? And speaking of fun stories, new closer Shaun Anderson converted his second-straight save opportunity. In the postgame interview, Bruce Bochy was asked if Anderson would continue in the closer role, and he said yes, “until Smith gets back.” Much as I’ve enjoyed Will Smith as a Giant, I found myself mildly unenthusiastic about that response.
Brandon Belt had three hits, including two doubles, and Buster Posey knocked in the game’s only run with a butcher-boy thingy.
AAA Championship Game
Sacramento River Cats (PCL Champions) vs. Columbus Clippers (International League Champions, Cleveland) in Memphis, 5 p.m. Tuesday, September 17, shown on FS1.
Tonight’s Giants game
Marlins at Giants, 6:05 p.m. at Oracle Park
Robert Dugger (0-2, 4.29 ERA) vs. Madison Bumgarner (9-8, 3.77 ERA)
Bumgarner needs 11.1 innings to cross the 200-innings threshold. He should have two more starts after this one.
We’ll let the River Cats mascot, Dinger, have the last word. Lefty out.