Rocket City and Inland Empire supplied plenty of offense to fight for victory, but pitching woes on both squads made Wednesday night a tough affair in the Angels minor league system.
Player of the Day
David MacKinnon continues to prove why he is one of the most formidable bats in the Trash Pandas lineup. Going 1-for-3 with an RBI might seem like an average game to most, but it happens to be a league leading performance. With a third inning Sac-Fly, the Easton, MA native became the Double-A South leader in RBIs with 64.
In 93 games, MacKinnon is batting .294 with 13 HR, 64 RBI, 30 Doubles (also league leading), 51 Runs Scored and 48 Walks. He shines when runners are in scoring position, slashing an impressive .368/.452/.695 in 95 at-bats with 54 of his 64 runs batted in coming in these clutch hitting situations. In June, MacKinnon was named Double-A South Player of the Month, his first honor of the season and career.
David MacKinnon with a 2-run HR to make it 8-0 AA Rocket City pic.twitter.com/T5cQpg9hBh— Angels MiLB (@AngelsMiLB) September 3, 2021
Triple-A Salt Lake
After a nine-game losing streak carried over into the month of September and reaching as high as 11, the Bees finally got on the right side of a final score with a 2-1 victory last Saturday against the Sacramento RiverCats (Giants). Salt Lake piggybacked with two consecutive wins before dropping the finale on Tuesday by the final of 10-2 to split the six-game series against the RiverCats.
Michael Stefanic continues to make a name for himself at the plate and get the attention of many Angels fans on social media pleading for the front office to promote the infielder to the big leagues. The Boise, ID native just wrapped up an incredible month of August by batting .352 (37-for-105) with 6 HR, 18 RBI, 17 Runs scored, 5 Doubles and 9 Walks. Through six September games, the hitting machine has not slowed down, slashing .348/.423/.391 while recording a hit in five of the six games.
Michael Stefanic with an RBI single to give AAA Salt Lake a 2-1 lead pic.twitter.com/vPNwSzRxqn— Angels MiLB (@AngelsMiLB) September 5, 2021
On the pitching side of things, reliever Ben Rowen was named Triple-A West Pitcher of the Week (August 30 - September 5) after allowing no hits and one walk over six innings out of the bullpen. The submarine style pitcher is the first Salt Lake player to win the award since 2016 (Troy Scribner - July 25-31).
The Bees return home to Smith’s Ballpark tonight for a six-game series against the Oklahoma City Dodgers (LA Dodgers), who they have found success against in limited action this season. The Angels farmhand took four of six in their one head-to-head series back in July (1st-6th) at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark in Oklahoma.
Double-A Rocket City
As the Trash Pandas find themselves in the middle of a playoff push with 10 games remaining in the regular season, back-to-back losses to the team they are chasing, Birmingham Barons (White Sox), was not what the doctor ordered as they dropped game two of the series by the final of 7-5.
Things got off on the right foot for the Trash Pandas as they took a 1-0 lead early in the first courtesy of a RBI Sac-Fly by Orlando Martinez, scoring Luis Aviles from third after he reached on a throwing error. The game took an unfortunate turn right off the bat for newly promoted starter John Swanda as he allowed three runs in the first two innings, digging a hole for the offense to bounce back from. Luckily, the offense was up for the challenge, especially DH David MacKinnon, who tied the game 3-3 with a Sac-Fly, which took the league lead with 64 RBIs on the season.
However, the Barons bats were relentless against Swanda, knocking him out after just four innings and recapturing the lead following a three-run third and a solo run in the fourth. The bullpen for the Trash Pandas was able to keep the game within striking distance as RHP Nathan Bates, RHP Kieran Lovegrove and LHP Adrian Almeida shutout Birmingham for four innings, while yielding only three hits and punching out four.
The Trash Pandas rallied to get the tying run to the plate in the ninth following a Sac-Fly by third baseman Mitch Nay, but down 7-5 with a runner at first, [Orlando] Martinez grounded out to end the threat and the game.
With this loss, Rocket City (53-51) now sits tied for second (with Chattanooga Lookouts), two games out of first place in the Double-A South-North division. They will look to take the upper hand in the final four games of this road series before heading back to Madison, AL for their final homestand of the regular season against the Pensacola Blue Wahoos (Marlins).
Like the Rocket City Trash Pandas last week, Tri-City is now experiencing a scheduling mishap over the past week due to Covid-19 trace testing. After losing the first four of a six-game series to the Spokane Indians (Rockies), the final two games and then the first two against the Hillsboro Hops (Diamondbacks) were cancelled.
Prior to the unscheduled four day off period, outfielder Braxton Martinez is making the most of his opportunity in the starting lineup since his promotion from Low-A Inland Empire on August 25. In seven games, the St. Peters, MO native is slashing .308/.367/.692 with 3 HR, 5 RBI and 3 Walks. Prior to his callup, Martinez led the entire 66ers roster in major offensive categories such as Batting Average (.333), Hits (94), Doubles (27), Home Runs (12), RBI (59) and Walks (56).
Braxton Martinez with a solo HR for Low-Inland Empire pic.twitter.com/uTylOuLrsA— Angels MiLB (@AngelsMiLB) August 21, 2021
As the Dust Devils sit at the bottom of the High-A West standings, they will look to play spoiler in their final 10 regular season games, which will all be played at home. They have four remaining against the Hillsboro Hops and then six versus Eugene Emeralds (Giants), which is an opponent they have won six of their last seven head-to-head matchups.
Low-A Inland Empire
A Low-A West rivalry between the Inland Empire 66ers and Rancho Cucamonga Quakes (Dodgers) leaned in favor of the Dodgers farmhand for the second consecutive night as the Sixers fell in extra innings by the final of 8-7.
High offense was on full display early on as the 66ers struck for two in the second, while recording just one hit. An Edgar Quero hit by pitch and Arol Vera ground ball force out with only one out gave the home team the advantage. But like most rivalries, the pendulum swung in favor of the Quakes the next half inning as Jose Ramos (2-Run) and Sam McWilliams (Solo) ripped back-to-back home runs to jump out in front by the score 3-2.
Catcher Kevin Watson Jr., who was assigned to the 66ers this afternoon, quickly made a name for himself by tying the game at three apiece in the third with his first hit (Triple) and RBI of the season.
Kevin Watson Jr. with his first hit for Low-A Inland Empire, an RBI triple pic.twitter.com/SQjsrdsF3R— Angels MiLB (@AngelsMiLB) September 9, 2021
Following another exchange of runs by both teams, Inland Empire took the lead for the third time off the bat of first baseman Gabe Matthews, scoring Angels No. 10 Prospect D’Shawn Knowles for a 5-4 lead. With this RBI, Matthews now has three runs batted in in the first two games of the series and four in four games against the Quakes this year.
Gabe Matthews with an RBI single to give Low-A Inland Empire a 5-4 lead pic.twitter.com/bFSy3VYJhC— Angels MiLB (@AngelsMiLB) September 9, 2021
Entering the ninth inning, just three outs away from snapping a two-game losing streak, the 66ers bullpen melted under the pressure. Reliever Ryan Costeiu, looking for a six-out save, surrendered a game-tying two-run home run off the bat of [Jose] Ramos, for his eighth of the season and second of the contest. After both teams scratched for a run in the 10th (7-7 Tie) to extend the game to the 11th, the Quakes put the final dagger in the hearts of the 66ers with a [Sam] McWilliams RBI Single. Inland Empire would go down 1-2-3 in the bottom half of the 11th to close out the night.
Squandering a late lead and faltering in extra innings has not been unusual for the 66ers, as they now sit 6-5 in 11 extra innings contests this season. Even though they are the fourth-best team in one-run games in the Low-A West League, Inland Empire is two games under .500 at 16-18 (.470). They will look to bounce back tomorrow versus the Quakes in the third game of the series.
Low-A: C Kevin Watson Jr. assigned to Inland Empire from ACL Angels
Birmingham Barons 7 | Rocket City Trash Pandas 5
Tri-City Dust Devils | Hillsboro Hops - CANCELLED Due To Covid-19
Rancho Cucamonga Quakes 8 | Inland Empire 66ers 7 - F/11
5:05 p.m. PT: Rocket City Trash Pandas (RHP Cristopher Molina) @ Birmingham Barons (TBD)
5:35 p.m. PT: Oklahoma City Dodgers (RHP Nick Tropeano) @ Salt Lake Bees (LHP Ryan Smith)
7:05 p.m. PT: Hillsboro Hops (RHP Shumpei Yoshikawa) @ Tri-City Dust Devils (TBD)
7:05 p.m. PT: Rancho Cucamonga Quakes (TBD) @ Inland Empire 66ers (RHP Coleman Crow)