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Keeping Up With The Louisville Bats

May 28, 2013 -- 11:33am

Nick Curran
Nick@ESPNLouisville.com 
@NickCurran35 

 

The Louisville Bats are now finished with the first third of the 2013 season.  A third of the way to the finish line, the Bats sit once again at the .500 mark on the season with a record of 24-24.  Louisville continues to make strides offensively in the month of May and has become a very exciting team to watch.

The Reds’ top prospect, Billy Hamilton, continues garner a lot of much-deserved attention from many in the area. Hamilton leads the International League in stolen bases with 25 and is coming off a season in which he stole a professional-record 155 bases between Single-A Bakersfield and Double-A Pensacola.  Hamilton is hitting .274 in the month of May, up from .205 in April, and continues to look more and more comfortable against Triple-A pitching.

Felix Perez has been an absolute stud in the middle of the Louisville order.  Perez leads the team with his .316 batting average and his 31 RBI.  The left fielder had a 24-game on-base streak April 28 to May 23 and a Bats season-high nine-game hitting streak May 8 to May 16. It was also Perez who has provided both  Bats walk-off home runs this season, one April 4 (Opening Night) against Toledo in the ninth inning and one April 18 against Indianapolis in the tenth inning.

Infielder Neftali Soto made his Major League debut with the Reds as he went up May 18th and 19th and has been a big presence for Louisville offensively.  Soto has a pair of eight-game hitting streaks on the season and is hitting .289 on the year with 7 doubles, 4 home runs, and 20 RBI.  Soto is back was 0-for-1 with a groundout for the Reds in Philadelphia May 19 and made his MLB debut as a defensive replacement at first base for Joey Votto May 18 in the Reds’ 10-0 rout of the Phillies.

With Soto going up for a couple days, the Reds optioned sensational starting pitcher Tony Cingrani back to Louisville.  The lefty made his fourth start of the year for the Bats May 23 and did not have his best control, but did not allow an earned run.  Cingrani went 5 innings, allowing just 2 hits with 4 walks and 5 strikeouts.  Cincinnati’s third-ranked prospect coming in to the 2013 season is now 2-0 with the Bats and has thrown 19.1 innings of scoreless baseball.  In his time with the Reds, the left-hander went 2-0 with a 3.27 ERA in 6 starts.  Cingrani walked just 9 batters while striking out 41 in 33.0 innings in his first six starts ever as a big-leaguer.

With a third of the season in the books, the Bats offense is looking as productive as it has been all season.  As of this writing, the Bats have recorded 10+ hits in 13 of their last 17 games, including a streak of nine straight.  The starting pitching looks to be bolstered as well with the return of Cingrani and the continued success of right-handers Greg Reynolds, Armando Galarraga, and Pedro Villarreal.  And, with Chad Reineke possible moving back where he started the season, in the bullpen, Bats relief pitching could see a big boost.  With still two-thirds of the season remaining and in the midst of a stretch of 16 of 20 games at Louisville Slugger Field, the Bats may just be playing their best baseball of the season.

Keeping Up With The Louisville Bats

May 15, 2013 -- 10:23am

Nick Curran 

Bats Baseball Radio Network

@NickCurran35

@ESPN680

 

 

 

As we near the quarter pole of the 2013 season, the Louisville Bats find themselves at the .500 mark with a 17-17 record.  Some look at .500 as mediocre.  But, when you look at the season Louisville had in 2012, losing a franchise-record 93 games, being .500 at about a fourth of the way through the year is a pretty solid turnaround.  Louisville was 12 games under .500 at this time last year with little hope the rest of the way.  This year, the Bats are level with plenty to look forward to this season.

Something to keep an eye on as the season continues to progress will be the Bats’ starting pitching.  Lefty Tony Cingrani set the tone on Opening Night at Louisville Slugger Field as he struck out the first seven batters he ever faced at the Triple-A level, struck out 13 of the first 15 hitters, was perfect through 5 innings, and threw 6 hitless innings with 14 strikeouts as the Bats got the win.  That outing jump-started Bats starting pitching for the year and the other guys on the staff have picked up where Cingrani, who got called up to Cincinnati last month, left off.  Righties Pedro Villarreal (1-2, 3.96), Greg Reynolds (3-0, 2.98), Armando Galarraga (1-1, 2.16), Chad Reineke (3-1, 2.27), and Daniel Corcino (1-5, 7.56) have picked up this Bats team even as the offense has been less than stellar at times.  Bats pitchers have turned in 13 quality starts in 2013 and have an ERA of 3.02.

The offense has been a bit spottier than the pitching for the 2013 Bats, but there have still been several bright spots.  Outfielder Felix Perez has been the Bats’ most consistent hitter and, as such, finds himself on top of several team statistical categories.  Perez leads Louisville in average (.296), doubles (9), RBIs (20), and OPS (.850).  In addition, Perez has been clutch for the Bats with two walkoff home runs in 2013.  On Opening Night (April 4), Louisville allowed three Toledo runs in the ninth to tie the game.  Perez led off the bottom of the ninth with a blast off the right field foul pole for the win.  Then, April 18 against Indianapolis, hammered a solo home run to right in a tie game in the 10th inning to give Louisville the victory.

Elsewhere offensively, corner infielder and International League veteran Mike Hessman got off to a historically good start.  Hessman hit two solo home runs in each of the Bats first two games this season.  Those two games were also Hessman’s first as a Bat and the slugger became the first in Louisville franchise history to ever hit two home runs in each of the team’s first two games.  In all, Hessman has seven homers in 2013, tied for third in the IL heading into play Friday night, May 10.  The big man is also Minor League Baseball’s active career leader in professional home runs with 391 in his pro career (371 in MiLB, 14 in the Majors, and six in Japan).

 

Billy Hamilton entered the 2013 season ranked by Baseball America as the Reds’ top prospect.  Hamilton is coming off a 2012 season in which he stole a pro-record 155 bases between Single-A Bakersfield and Double-A Pensacola.  The 2013 season marks Hamilton’s first at the Triple-A level.  Entering play Friday night, May 10, Hamilton leads the IL in stolen bases with 17 stolen bases in 20 attempts.  The speedster is also playing center field full-time in 2013, adjusting from playing predominantly shortstop in his pro career up until 2013.  Hamilton’s speed has been on full display roaming the center field area as he’s been able to cover a lot of ground and make several dazzling plays.  Hamilton is hitting .198, but has been having better at-bats as the season has progressed, working the count on pitchers and fouling off several pitches.

Infielder Neftali Soto has been solid in 2013 for the Bats offensively.  Soto posted an 8-game hitting streak from the end of April through the beginning of May, a season-long for Bats hitters this season.  Soto is hitting .280, second-best on the team and has been a solid middle-of-the-order for Louisville since coming off the DL (right quad strain) April 11.

The Bats enter the last three quarters of the 2013 season at the .500 mark and are trending the right way.  Louisville has won its last three games and is 7-3 in its last 10 games.  There’s a lot of optimism as players like Kristopher Negron, Henry Rodriguez, and Denis Phipps may just now be hitting their stride offensively.  The Bats’ roster is a solid mix of young prospects and veterans, which should serve the team well over the 144-game grind.  Things are certainly looking up for Louisville this season and this team should finish much better than its 2012 counterpart.  Solid pitching and an offense that has yet to display its full potential should make for an exciting summer at Louisville Slugger Field.   

 

Bats Baseball .500 But Improving

May 10, 2013 -- 12:16pm

By Nick Curran
Bats Baseball Radio Network
@NickCurran35
@ESPN680

 

As we near the quarter pole of the 2013 season, the Louisville Bats find themselves at the .500 mark with a 17-17 record.  Some look at .500 as mediocre.  But, when you look at the season Louisville had in 2012, losing a franchise-record 93 games, being .500 at about a fourth of the way through the year is a pretty solid turnaround.  Louisville was 12 games under .500 at this time last year with little hope the rest of the way.  This year, the Bats are level with plenty to look forward to this season.

Something to keep an eye on as the season continues to progress will be the Bats’ starting pitching.  Lefty Tony Cingrani set the tone on Opening Night at Louisville Slugger Field as he struck out the first seven batters he ever faced at the Triple-A level, struck out 13 of the first 15 hitters, was perfect through 5 innings, and threw 6 hitless innings with 14 strikeouts as the Bats got the win.  That outing jump-started Bats starting pitching for the year and the other guys on the staff have picked up where Cingrani, who got called up to Cincinnati last month, left off.  Righties Pedro Villarreal (1-2, 3.96), Greg Reynolds (3-0, 2.98), Armando Galarraga (1-1, 2.16), Chad Reineke (3-1, 2.27), and Daniel Corcino (1-5, 7.56) have picked up this Bats team even as the offense has been less than stellar at times.  Bats pitchers have turned in 13 quality starts in 2013 and have an ERA of 3.02.

The offense has been a bit spottier than the pitching for the 2013 Bats, but there have still been several bright spots.  Outfielder Felix Perez has been the Bats’ most consistent hitter and, as such, finds himself on top of several team statistical categories.  Perez leads Louisville in average (.296), doubles (9), RBIs (20), and OPS (.850).  In addition, Perez has been clutch for the Bats with two walkoff home runs in 2013.  On Opening Night (April 4), Louisville allowed three Toledo runs in the ninth to tie the game.  Perez led off the bottom of the ninth with a blast off the right field foul pole for the win.  Then, April 18 against Indianapolis, hammered a solo home run to right in a tie game in the 10th inning to give Louisville the victory.

Elsewhere offensively, corner infielder and International League veteran Mike Hessman got off to a historically good start.  Hessman hit two solo home runs in each of the Bats first two games this season.  Those two games were also Hessman’s first as a Bat and the slugger became the first in Louisville franchise history to ever hit two home runs in each of the team’s first two games.  In all, Hessman has seven homers in 2013, tied for third in the IL heading into play Friday night, May 10.  The big man is also Minor League Baseball’s active career leader in professional home runs with 391 in his pro career (371 in MiLB, 14 in the Majors, and six in Japan).

Billy Hamilton entered the 2013 season ranked by Baseball America as the Reds’ top prospect.  Hamilton is coming off a 2012 season in which he stole a pro-record 155 bases between Single-A Bakersfield and Double-A Pensacola.  The 2013 season marks Hamilton’s first at the Triple-A level.  Entering play Friday night, May 10, Hamilton leads the IL in stolen bases with 17 stolen bases in 20 attempts.  The speedster is also playing center field full-time in 2013, adjusting from playing predominantly shortstop in his pro career up until 2013.  Hamilton’s speed has been on full display roaming the center field area as he’s been able to cover a lot of ground and make several dazzling plays.  Hamilton is hitting .198, but has been having better at-bats as the season has progressed, working the count on pitchers and fouling off several pitches.

Infielder Neftali Soto has been solid in 2013 for the Bats offensively.  Soto posted an 8-game hitting streak from the end of April through the beginning of May, a season-long for Bats hitters this season.  Soto is hitting .280, second-best on the team and has been a solid middle-of-the-order for Louisville since coming off the DL (right quad strain) April 11.

The Bats enter the last three quarters of the 2013 season at the .500 mark and are trending the right way.  Louisville has won its last three games and is 7-3 in its last 10 games.  There’s a lot of optimism as players like Kristopher Negron, Henry Rodriguez, and Denis Phipps may just now be hitting their stride offensively.  The Bats’ roster is a solid mix of young prospects and veterans, which should serve the team well over the 144-game grind.  Things are certainly looking up for Louisville this season and this team should finish much better than its 2012 counterpart.  Solid pitching and an offense that has yet to display its full potential should make for an exciting summer at Louisville Slugger Field.   

National Championship Preview

Apr 07, 2013 -- 10:03pm

Louisville-Michigan National Championship Preview 

 

Blake Baxter

@ESPN 680 

 

Louisville got off to a nerve-rackingly slow start against Wichita State on Saturday. The Cardinals appeared to be shaken by the Shockers signature hard-nosed defense and were struggling to find offense. At halftime, they trailed by one. With 13 minutes left in the game, the Shockers extended their lead to 12. At the time, it was hard not to think that Louisville might be eliminated in the Final Four for the second year in a row. Then, as they have done time and again this season, the Cardinals came roaring back. Surprisingly, though, the comeback stemmed from an unexpected offensive outburst from junior Luke Hancock and a stellar performance from the rest of the Louisville bench. In the last 13 minutes, Louisville caused 7 turnovers and outscored the Shockers by 16 points. The Shockers gave the Cardinals their toughest physical challenge of the tournament and managed to hold two of their starters scoreless, but the Cardinals still came out on top 72-68.

 

On Monday night, Louisville faces the Michigan Wolverines for the national championship. The Cardinals have dominated the headlines this season for their dynamic roster and unique storylines, but the Wolverines have a compelling narrative of their own.

Season: The Michigan Wolverines entered the season with a roster composed of experienced players mixed with a highly regarded freshmen class. They were the 6th ranked team in AP Preseason Top 25 and got off to a remarkably hot start. Michigan cruised through an undefeated nonconference season, crushing every team they played except for NC State and Pittsburgh whom they beat by 7 and 5 points, respectively. They lost their first game of the year to Big Ten heavy weight Indiana in February and then went into a slump in the middle of a competitive conference season that caused some to question whether or not Michigan was an elite team.

 

Following their first loss, the Wolverines squeaked out an overtime win over Ohio State and then dropped two in a row to Wisconsin and Michigan State. They appeared to get back on track with comfortable wins over Penn State and Illinois, but stumbled against Penn State the second time around. They closed their regular season with a strong showing against Indiana, but came up short in the end. In the Big Ten Tournament, they fell to Wisconsin in the quarterfinals, causing their seed to fall to number four come Selection Sunday. Going into the tournament, fans and pundits alike didn’t know what to make of a team that had so much potential, but had had such mixed results in their conference. Were they the struggles of a team fighting to find an identity in an ultra-tough conference, or were they just underachievers?

 

In the tournament, the Wolverines easily moved past 13 seed South Dakota State and 5 seed VCU. In the Sweet Sixteen, they knocked off number 1 seed Kansas in a stunning comeback spearheaded by star guard Trey Burke. Michigan crushed 3 seed Florida in the Elite Eight to advance to the Final Four. Then, the Wolverines barely survived in the Final Four against fellow 4 seed Syracuse. Like Louisville, Michigan got unexpected contributions from their bench that put them over the top in a close finish. Michigan managed to win the game 61-56 and now has the chance to permanently silence their doubters on Monday.

 

Players to Watch: The Wolverines have a loaded roster filled with familiar names. Junior guard Tim Hardaway Jr. averages 14.6 points per game and is the son of five-time NBA All-Star Tim Hardaway. Freshman forward Glenn Robinson III averages 10.9 points per game and is the son of the first pick of the 1994 NBA Draft Glenn Robinson. Jon Horford, the brother of current NBA player and two-time All Star Al Horford, comes off the bench. The Wolverines also have the Associated Press Player of the Year, sophomore guard Trey Burke who averages 18.5 points and 6.8 assists per game. However, in the Final Four, Burke was just 1-8 from the field with only 7 points. Instead, the Wolverines were led by freshman forward Mitch McGary who had 10 points and 12 rebounds. Over the course of the season, McGary has averaged 7.5 points per game, but in the tournament, he has been a revelation, averaging 16.

Analysis: The championship matchup between the top seeded team and sentimental favorite Louisville and the streaky 4 seed Michigan has all of the ingredients for compelling battle. Both teams hail from historic conferences – one at its peak, and other at the end of its rope. Both teams have a history of disappointments in big moments and are hungry to prove themselves.

 

Louisville reached the final four in 2005 and 2012, but failed to advance to the championship either time. In 2009, they were the overall number one seed, but were knocked off in the Elite Eight. Much more prolifically, though, Michigan lost in the Final Four in 1993 in the most agonizing fashion when Chris Webber famously called timeout at a crucial point in the game when Michigan had no timeouts left. Both teams feature loaded, dynamic rosters filled with true stars such as Trey Burke and Russ Smith, as well as necessary role players like Luke Hancock, Montrezl Harrell, Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert. Both teams have interesting intangible factors too. Michigan has the fun, nostalgic names, whereas Louisville has the phenomenon that Kevin Ware has become.

 

However, perhaps, most pertinently, both teams play in distinct styles that contrast each other. Michigan has won by offensively overwhelming their opponents, while Louisville wins with high-intensity and smothering defense. The Cardinals are known for consistently causing turnovers, but the Wolverines are a team that take good care of the ball and rarely turn it over. Louisville forces opposing teams to turn the ball over 27.3% of their possessions. Michigan, on the other hand, has turned it over 14.5% of the time. If any team can put up with the Cardinals’ relentless pressure, it is Michigan, especially since they are coming off just conquering the fearsome claustrophobia of Syracuse’s storied 2-3 zone.

 

But, the statistics and the final scores don’t convey the whole story. Against Syracuse, the Wolverines lacked composure down the stretch and almost coughed up their chance to go to the title game. The Cardinals came out flat, but showed resilience and poise in the second half. If the championship between these heavyweights goes down to the wire, then put your money on the team you can trust to come through in the clutch.

Prediction: Louisville by 5 

Louisville-Wichita State Final Four Preview

Apr 03, 2013 -- 8:15pm

Louisville-Wichita State Final Four Preview 

Blake Baxter

@ESPN680

 

The Louisville Cardinals advanced from the beginning of the NCAA tournament to the Elite Eight while facing minimal adversity. However, with six minutes remaining in the first half of a tight game against Duke, up-and-coming sophomore guard Kevin Ware leapt to contest a three point shot by Tyler Thornton. When he landed, he suffered a gruesome injury unprecedented for a basketball game. The loss of Ware took an obvious emotional toll on the players that could have been enough to take them out of the game. But in a manner that was as inspiring as it was surprising, the Cardinals proceeded to blow the Duke Blue Devils out of the gym to advance to the Final Four. They will face the Cinderella of the tournament; the ninth seeded Wichita State Shockers. Louisville has been by far the most dominant team of the tournament and is now undoubtedly playing with a lot of emotion and motivation to #WinForWare, but a lot of teams overlooked the Shockers and were promptly eliminated.

 

Season: The low-seeded darlings of this NCAA tournament began this season with an 11-1 record before Missouri Valley Conference play began. Wichita State steadily knocked off the low level teams they were expected to win against, but also teams from bigger conferences such as DePaul, Iowa and VCU. Their only non-conference loss was by one point to Tennessee. In a competitive Missouri Valley Conference season, the Shockers lost to Evansville, Indiana State, Northern Iowa, Southern Illinois, Evansville again, and Creighton. They lost their last two games of the season, but still managed to finish 12-6 – good for second place in the conference. They rebounded from the losses in the conference tournament with comfortable wins over Missouri State and Illinois State, before losing to Missouri Valley perennial power Creighton in the conference championship.

 

 

They were given the nine seed of the NCAA tournament’s West Region which featured a Wisconsin team coming off a strong performance in the Big Ten tourney, an Ohio State team who won the Big Ten tourney, a highly touted New Mexico team, an up-and-down Kansas State team and the number one seeded Gonzaga Bulldogs who had only lost two games all season. The field was tough, but had plenty of holes. If Wichita State played their best basketball of the season and everything broke right then maybe they could go for a deep run in the tourney. It would be improbable, but not impossible.

In their first game, the Shockers trounced Pittsburgh for a mild upset. In the next round, they shocked number one seeded Gonzaga by controlling the majority of the game and winning by six. In the Sweet Sixteen, the Shockers didn’t have to face either Kansas State or Wisconsin. Instead, they easily took down fellow underdog La Salle to improbably advance to the Elite Eight where they eliminated number two seed Ohio State in a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the score shows.

Players to Watch: Wichita State has three guys who average in double figures in junior forward Cleanthony Early, senior forward Carl Hall, and senior guard Malcom Armstead. Early is the leading scorer with 13.7 points per game and second leading rebounder with 5.3 rebounds per game. Hall, conversely, averages 12.5 points per game and 6.9 rebounds per game. Armstead has had the hot hand throughout the tourney, averaging 15 points per game.  Against the Buckeyes, Armstead was the leading scorer with 14. Early and freshman guard Fred VanFleet from the bench, each had 12.

Analysis: Wichita State had to play their best basketball of the season to get this far and they have done so. Like the inescapable Adidas slogan says, the Shockers have risen to the occasion, time and again, throughout this tourney. During their run, they have become known for a number of intangibles familiar in underdog storylines. They’re known for their toughness, their tenacity and their physical play. They even have their own catchy slogan that in a way both encapsulates their style and fits the story: “play angry”.

The Shockers have impressive numbers to back up their overarching narrative. Whereas Louisville pressures opponents to the point of turnovers, Wichita State prefers to keep opponents in front of them with a tight man-to-man defense which limits shooters to just 43.4 percent from two-point range. They have a reputation for their fierce rebounding and even have a slight edge on Louisville in that category, averaging 38.4 per game to Louisville’s 37.7. Throughout the tournament, the Shockers have also been impressive offensively, averaging 72.75 points per game. Don’t expect them to back down from the Cardinals’ press; they will keep attacking.

 

During this season, Louisville has been known as a fearsome defensive juggernaut. In fact, they have the best defensive numbers of the past ten years. The widespread belief has been that they really only score off turnovers so if you shut them down in the half court then you can withstand them. However, the Cardinals have been quietly improving offensively all season. They now have the fifth best offense in the country to complement their lauded defense. This development combined with the emotional impact of the push to win for Kevin Ware will give the Shockers all they can handle on Saturday night.

 

Prediction: Louisville by 12+      

 

Louisville-Duke Elite Eight Preview

Mar 31, 2013 -- 12:30pm

 

Louisville-Duke Elite Eight Preview

By Blake Baxter

@ESPN680

Louisville’s dauntless march through the NCAA tourney has taken them to the Elite Eight. They will face Duke on Sunday for a chance to move on to the Final Four and avenge their first loss of the season back in November. The game is nearly guaranteed to be Louisville’s toughest challenge of the tournament thus far. Can the Cardinals get by the Blue Devils with much more at stake this time around?

 

Season: The number two seeded Blue Devils were expected to be a number one seed for most of the year, but they stumbled in their first game of the ACC tournament against Maryland. It was their second loss to Maryland in the season and it was enough for them to fall to a two seed. In the regular season, Duke dominated in the nonconference play, but struggled a bit in the ACC. However, most of their struggles came without integral senior forward Ryan Kelly who missed 13 games due to an injury. Since his return, the Blue Devils have lost just once and have looked like a more dynamic and complete team. In the NCAA tournament, they have looked strong and composed as they’ve rolled past Albany, Creighton and Michigan State. They won each game by relatively comfortable margins of at least 10 or more points.

 

Players to Watch: Senior forward Mason Plumlee has been statistical leader for Duke all season, averaging 17.1 points, 9 rebounds, and 2.8 blocks per game. However, senior guard Seth Curry has been absolutely killing it throughout the tournament, averaging 24 points per game and dropping 29 against Michigan State. Freshmen guard Rasheed Saluaimon has had his moments throughout the tournament as well, scoring 21 versus Creighton and 16 on Michigan State.

 

Analysis: If there is one thing that Blue Devils are good at, it’s scoring. In fact, they are the 6th ranked scoring team in the country. In the tournament, they have managed to score 66 or more in each contest which is solid considering that scoring numbers have been sliding across the board, recently. The reason is because they have so many weapons. All five starters average double figures in scoring. Louisville, by contrast, only has two players who routinely reach double digits – electrifying junior guard Russ Smith who has been tearing it up this tournament, most recently scoring 31 in the Sweet Sixteen win over Oregon, and center Gorgui Dieng who was sidelined in the first Duke matchup.

 

The Cardinals have become known for their suffocating defense which often leads to turnovers and thrilling fast breaks on the other end. In the tournament, their opponents have averaged 18.6 turnovers per game.  The game will be a classic matchup of a great defense facing a great offense. The old adage is that defense wins championships. And, this game just happens to feel a little bit like these two historic programs are playing for one.

Prediction: Louisville by 4

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