The Playoff Picture (as of September 16)


Orangel Arenas begin 2010 in the Cedar Rapids Kernels’ starting rotation. He’s the scheduled starting pitcher tonight for Rancho Cucamonga at San Jose.

 

Let’s get ready to rumble!”

– Michael Buffer

The Rancho Cucamonga Quakes open the California League championship series tonight at San Jose. Orangel Arenas is the projected starting pitcher, according to RCQuakes.com. As of this writing, San Jose hasn’t announced a starting pitcher.

Stirring the pot is a story in today’s Inland Valley Daily Bulletin reporting that Quakes management apparently intends to let its affiliation with the parent club Angels expire.

One thing certain is there are at least three California League franchises that have not yet renewed their PDC’s: the Quakes (with the Angels), the [Inland Empire] 66ers (with the Dodgers) and Bakersfield [Blaze] (with the Texas Rangers).

The buzz around the Epicenter this season is the Quakes would go after the Dodgers as a new affiliate.

Under Hank Stickney, the prior owner, the Quakes changed affiliations after the 2000 season from the Padres to Angels. (Click here to listen to the December 2000 press conference.) The Quakes filed to terminate their Angels affiliation after the 2002 season, but after exploring the market finally renewed their agreement, and it’s been a largely peaceful arrangement until now.

Stickney sold the team in the spring of 2009 to Brett Sports & Entertainment. (Click here to watch the March 2009 press conference.) The 2009 season was a transition year as the old regime worked alongside the new, but afterwards nearly all the Stickney people left and/or were replaced.

The Professional Baseball Agreement (PBA) between Major League Baseball and the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues (AKA “Minor League Baseball”) restricts how much a minor league team can demand from a potential parent club. About a decade ago, minor league teams commonly demanded the parent club play an exhibition game. The Angels played a few exhibition games in Lake Elsinore at the end of spring training in the late 1990s, and played an exhibition game at Erie, Pennsylvania in 1999 for their new affiliate in the Eastern League. But MLB put an end to that, so exhibition games are a rarity these days.


Angels players line up for an exhibition game at Lake Elsinore on March 31, 1999. That’s minor league outfielder Juan Tolentino in the middle between Mo Vaughn on the left and Darin Erstad on the right.

 

I’m not sure what it is the Brett brothers hope to gain by playing the Dodgers off the Angels. Although it’s a down year on the field for both parent clubs, the Dodgers in the public consciousness are a dysfunctional business operation, in part due to the divorce trial between Frank McCourt and his wife Jamie over who owns the Dodgers. The PBA governs standard fees and various other business arrangements between a parent club and its minor league affiliate.

Will changing affiliations result in more ticket or advertising sales? Hard to say. Many surveys over the years have shown that the casual minor league customers — who buy the majority of single-game tickets — have no clue who they’re watching. They go to have a good time. So I doubt an affiliation change will affect sales.

Will hardcore Angels fans be replaced by hardcore Dodgers fans? Probably not enough to make a meaningful difference.

The new ownership changed the way attendance is counted. The Stickney regime counted tickets sold, not actual attendees, so the Quakes annually led the league in attendance. Using a different method in 2010, Rancho Cucamonga finished seventh at 2,153 per game, while San Bernardino fifth at 2,561. Perhaps that’s the number driving the Bretts’ interest in exploring an affiliation change, but I really doubt the difference has to do with a theoretical Dodgers’ popularity. The San Bernardino affiliation over the years changed from the Dodgers to the Mariners and back to the Dodgers. No one seemed to care much.

Of the two minor league operations, San Bernardino (now known as “Inland Empire”) has been considered less desirable than Rancho Cucamonga, largely because of location. Arrowhead Credit Union Park, originally known as The Ranch back when the 66ers were known as the Stampede, is located in an industrial neighborhood with a reputation as a high crime area. The Epicenter is also in a light-industrial area but close to commercial and residential developments, and part of a multi-use sports complex.

It’s about 40 miles from Angel Stadium to The Epicenter, while it’s almost 50 miles to Arrowhead Park. California’s car culture laughs at a ten-mile difference, but on weeknights when the commute is brutal I doubt many Angel fans would make the drive. Rancho Cucamonga would be about ten miles closer to Dodger Stadium than San Bernardino, but again I doubt many Dodger fans would care.

So I’m not sure what the Brett brothers intent to accomplish.

Anyway, on to tonight’s championship series.

Various indicators would seem to give a slight edge to the Quakes.

Head-to-head in 2010, the two teams only played six games — three at San Jose, three at Rancho Cucamonga. The Quakes won four of six. They last faced each other in a three-game series July 27-29 at The Epicenter. The Quakes swept the series by scores of 4-3, 6-5 and 5-3.

The California League’s 140-game schedule is divided into two halves of 70-games each. San Jose in the first half was 45-25 to win the North Division and earn a post-season slot, but in the second half the Giants were only 31-39 and finished last. The Quakes were a more consistent team, finishing 39-31 in both halves. But don’t underestimate the Giants, as they just swept Modesto (73-67 overall) in their three-game series.

The first two games of this five-game series are at San Jose, but after that the remaining three are at Rancho Cucamonga. If the Quakes can pick up one win in San Jose, then they need two of three at home to win the title.

The rotation after tonight is unannounced, but Garrett Richards last pitched on September 11 so he’s well-rested. Ryan Chaffee last started on September 13, so it could be Richards on the 17th and Chaffee on the 18th but we’ll see. Manny Flores started on September 14 so he would align for Game #4 (if necessary) on the 19th.

As I mentioned on Tuesday, the Angels have a rich history with San Jose. It was an Angels affiliate from 1962 through 1969. The 1962 San Jose Bees won the California League pennant, the first Angels minor league team to win a title. Dick Simpson hit 42 homers that year, an Angels’ minor-league single-season record that stood until Brandon Wood hit 43 with the Quakes in 2005. Woody hit #43 on the last day of the season against … San Jose. Click here to watch Wood’s 43rd homer.


Brian Harper as the manager of the Mesa Angels in July 2002.

 

San Jose Giants manager Brian Harper began his professional baseball career as the Angels’ fourth-round pick in the June 1977 draft. He made his major league debut with the Angels on September 29, 1979 but was traded in December 1981 to the Pirates for infielder Tim Foli. Harper returned to the Angels organization in 2001 and managed their Rookie-A team in the Arizona League through 2005. He managed the Triple-A Salt Lake Bees in 2007. Click here to listen to a July 2005 interview with Harper, including his observations about a rehabbing minor league pitcher named Nick Adenhart.


UPDATE 11:30 AM PDTThe Quakes have issued a press release listing the rotations for both teams.

UPDATE 5:30 PM PDT — A post on the Orange County Register sports blog mentioned an August 29 article on BallparkDigest.com which claimed the Dodgers are about to buy part of the Quakes:

Though nothing’s been officially announced — and won’t be until the end of the regular season — word is that the Los Angeles Dodgers are negotiating a purchase of a chunk of the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes (High Class A; California League) and will switch affiliation to the team.

It sounds far-fetched to me, but stranger things have happened.

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