Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Your 2013 International League Champions, the Durham Bulls

Bulls in Motion...
You may have noticed a decided tilt towards Durham Bulls-related content on this blog over the summer. The reason for this is simple: I live ten minutes from their ballpark, and I get to games (generally with some combination of my dad and nephew or my friends Mur "Sansaball" Lafferty and Jim Van Verth and their mighty daughter) as often as I can. The park is lovely and the games are a lot of fun to attend, and if the food options largely run to "variations on hot dogs", that's just fine.

And so, it is with great pleasure that I offer congratulations to the Bulls on a remarkable, improbable season that wrapped up with a 7-0 pummeling of Pawtucket to take the Governor's Cup and their 4th International League championship in 15 years. 

It was, as they say, a weird year. Shortstop phenom Hak-Ju Lee lasted all of 15 games before tearing up his knee and going down for the year. Uberprospect Wil "the Thrill" Myers started slowly, suddenly went Super-Saiyan when the weather heated up, and got snaffled up by the parent club as soon as the danger of Super 2 status was safely dealt with. Injuries to the Rays turned the rotation and bullpen into a variant on the old Columbus shuttle, with Archer, Odorizzi, Torres and Lueke bouncing up and down - or staying up and patching the leaky Rays bullpen. After Lee's injury, the infield stayed mostly static, but outfielders kept dropping like flies: hard-luck prospect Brandon Guyer got hurt, speedster Rich Thompson got hurt and knocked out for the year. Myers went up to Tampa and stayed, Brent Bourgeois spent a good chunk of the year filling in with the parent club, C-OF Stephen Vogt was lost on waivers...you get the idea. By midseason it wasn't unusual to see an outfield with some combination of DBacks minor league castoff Evan Frey, lumbering first basemen Leslie Anderson and Shelley Duncan, and catcher Chris Gimenez out there doing their best. 

You don't win games when you're starting your sixth, seventh and eighth best outfielders. You don't win leagues when you're last in home runs and middle of the pack in slugging percentage. You don't win titles when the guy who got called up after 64 games ties for your team lead in dingers. You just don't. 

And yet the Bulls did. They did it with a second baseman who came out of nowhere (and eventually found himself playing first base). They did it with a third baseman who was a vacuum cleaner in the field and got on base just enough. They did it with a former Rule V pick as their catcher and with a former Giant as their 2B. They did it with a former #1 overall pick trying to make something out of his career at shortstop, and even if Tim Beckham's going to be haunted by Buster Posey comparisons for the rest of his career, he still managed to put a decent year together. 

They did it with a 30 year old journeyman who hasn't sniffed the bigs since 2010, but who rode a cutter to league pitcher of the year honors. They did it with an unhittable closer from Hawai'i and a  couple of trade-acquisition prospects nobody was quite sure of, rolls of the dice in best Rays fashion. They did it with guys named Buschmann and Riefenhauser and Liberatore, whose names would barely fit on the backs of their jerseys, and an endless wave of guys like Merrill Kelly who got off the bus from Montgomery and immediately went nuts on the mound.

And they did it with Charlie Montoyo, a two-time manager of the year whose taken the Bulls to the playoffs in 6 of the 7 years he's been here. A lot of that, of course, is the talent the Rays give him to play with. But the Rays lost Lee and Archer and Myers and Guyer and Thompson and half their bullpen, and kept right on chugging. And that's all Charlie Montoyo.

None of which really answers the question of how they pulled it off, mind you, or how they held the best record in all of professional baseball most of the year. But at this point, it doesn't matter. They're IL champs, and Tuesday night they'll play for the whole shooting match, AAA version. And that may not be the World Series, and the guys playing there may wish they were in Tampa instead, but still, it ain't half bad. And from where those of us who kept coming out to the DBAP are sitting, it's pretty damn good.

So congratulations, Bulls. Best of luck in Allentown against whatever the PCL can throw at you. We'll see you next year.

And for a great summer, thank you.
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