Minor League Season Recap: Tacoma Rainiers
Our final MiLB Season Recap comes back to the great state of Washington, where the Tacoma Rainiers hoped to ride its promising talent to a PCL Pacific Northern Division title. With the likes of Nick Franklin and Jesus Montero on the Opening Day roster, who already possessed MLB experience, as well as top prospects including Chris Taylor and James Jones, the Rainiers looked like a formidable opponent that could match up with anyone in the league.
But from Day 1, it became apparent that 2014 would not follow anyone’s expectations. Opening Day came, went, and still Tacoma had not begun its season due to a bizarre year-opening rainout. But in a shortened debut, the team showed its offensive prowess, putting up 11 runs in seven innings against Albuquerque.
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Before the week was done, the Rainiers had twice more been forced to reschedule to accommodate Mother Nature, and the pitching suffered. They lost five of their next six, before settling down by mid-month, taking six straight from Albuquerque and Salt Lake. By the end of April, Clay Rapada had picked up three wins out of the bullpen, and Taylor was making a strong case for a big league call-up. At 13-11, Tacoma had survived the early season and was well on the way to a successful campaign.
May started in rather pedestrian fashion, with perhaps the most exciting thing coming out of the Tacoma camp was Logan Bawcom‘s emergence as the team’s main closer (though this did not last, and Bawcom finished the year with just 6 SV). But after winning the first of two on the 11th, the pitching staff again hit a cold spell. The Rainiers gave up less than five runs only once in seven contests, leading to another record-killing week.
This time, though, the club could not get out of the doldrums. They followed that 1-6 run with a 3-13 mark, taking them into June in horrendous form. The additions of Abraham Almonte and Logan Morrison to the AAA roster made the batting worse, and with Seattle stretched thin in the rotation due to injury, not much of the young talent in the M’s farm system was aiding the Rainiers.
But as the adage goes, all things, both good and bad, must come to an end, and a trip to Nashville in mid-June was just what Tacoma needed. They swept the four-game series behind super starts from James Gillheeney, Taijuan Walker, and Andrew Carraway, and the team carried newfound confidence into an eight-game homestand against Colorado Spring and Oklahoma City, from which they were victorious in six. Suddenly, hope for a resurrection of the season came into existence.
This also marked the beginning of Justin Smoak‘s time in Seattle after he was demoted to make room for Morrison on the MLB roster. After a slow start, he got rolling in early June, once again putting up tantalizing numbers that everyone knew would not translate to the next level.
Sep 28, 2014; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Mariners shortstop Chris Taylor (1) fields a ground ball hit by Los Los Angeles Angels second basemanHowie Kendrick
(not pictured) during the fourth inning at Safeco Field. Mandatory Credit: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports
As the dog days of summer began, Tacoma found itself chasing Reno, who had begun to put worrying distance between them and the rest of the division. While the Rainiers played the leaders tough, splitting a pair of four-game sets, they could not take enough advantage of home games versus the struggling Fresno Grizzlies and Salt Lake Bees. A 4-2 mark to end July was encouraging, but a more prolonged run would be needed if the Rainiers were going to make the playoffs.
And just such a run came about in early August, as Tacoma won consecutive series against Albuquerque, Fresno, and New Orleans. Though they had no more games remaining against the division-leading Aces, with two weeks left there was still a little hope.
But 2-2 splits against Round Rock and Omaha, combined with one last hot week from Reno, sealed Tacoma’s fate. By the end of their penultimate series against Iowa was over, they were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs.
Tacoma finished 74-70, the only of the Mariners’ major affiliates to finish above .500. They finished third in their four-team division, seven games out of the postseason.
Smoak, Taylor, Montero, and Franklin were four of the biggest bats in the lineup when they were available at AAA, but others including veteran backstop Humberto Quintero and young second baseman Ty Kelly made key contributions to a dangerous Rainiers order that finished 7th in the PCL in runs scored.
In the rotation, the big names of Walker (6-4, 4.81 ERA) and Erasmo Ramirez (6-5, 3.65 ERA) were supplemented by the moderately effective Jordan Pries (9-8, 4.06 ERA). Carraway also picked up a crucial eight wins for the team.
As with most minor league teams, the closer role varied throughout the year: both Todd Coffey and Carson Smith recorded double digit saves. Brandon Maurer also showed some promise out of the bullpen. Last year a failed starter, he became a viable relief option who both Daren Brown and Lloyd McClendon counted on at times.