The most eye-catching difference with the Chiefs this year hasn’t been the new uniforms or the new roster. It’s the new defensive alignments. Syracuse has overshifted in the first four games more dramatically than the Chiefs did at just about any point last season.
The shifts are part of a new organizational philosophy put forth by the Nationals. In spring training, Nationals field coordinator Jeff Garber worked extensively on shifts with the position players. Chiefs hitting coach Brian Daubach is in charge of the team’s defensive alignments this year. Before home games, the team has a sheet posted in the clubhouse hallway that notes the tendencies of each opposing team’s hitter.
In Tuesday’s doubleheader vs. Buffalo, the Chiefs placed three infielders on one side against a handful of Buffalo batters. Here’s a look at those alignments, starting with the shift to left-handed Domonic Brown…
On the left of your screen, shortstop Trea Turner fields a ground ball hit by Brown in the first inning of Game One yesterday. Without the overshift, that grounder likely makes its way into center field for an RBI single. Second baseman Brendan Ryan is the player to the right, coming in from the edge of the outfield grass.
Next up, a shift against left-handed Casey Kotchman, which was even more dramatic…
This picture shows the Chiefs’ infield after a slow ground ball to first base. Back it up before the pitch, and you’d find second baseman Brendan Ryan even deeper onto the outfield – maybe 10 or so steps. Meanwhile, Turner’s shift from shortstop is slightly deeper than against Brown. Again, this freeze-frame is from after the ball’s been hit, so Turner’s ranging to his right to hover near second base.
While shifts against left-handed batters seem more frequent, the Chiefs also pulled three infielders to one side against right-handed batters, with mixed success. Here’s an alignment against Jesus Montero…
On this occasion, the Chiefs’ alignment worked to perfection. Second baseman Brendan Ryan, playing well to the third-base side, fields a ground ball from Montero and throws to first from near his usual shortstop position for an easy out. In yesterday’s game two, however, Montero hit a weak bouncer to the vacant hole on the right side for a single in a key sixth-inning rally.
That’s a play that opponents of the shift will point to in their opposition to over-defending. However, in the small sample size of yesterday’s 14-inning doubleheader, the Chiefs made more plays thanks to shifts than they lost, particularly against the third and fourth-place hitters, Brown and Montero.
One caveat to all this: if you’re going to move your middle infielders around, you’d better have infielders with good range. With Brendan Ryan and Scott Sizemore at second base and Trea Turner at shortstop, the Chiefs aced that test yesterday.
Finally, The ‘Home’ Opener
By Eric Gallanty (@ericgallanty) –
Baseball is back in Syracuse. Finally. Its a beginning to a season that’s already had its predictable moments. But those have been far outweighed by the cold, snow, and rain that has descended on Central New York, forcing the Chiefs to postpone or move their first five scheduled home games of the season. It’s a season so far that looks like this:
Postponed or affected games: 5
Days Chiefs have been in first place: 4
Chiefs stolen bases: 3
Chiefs games played: 2
Chiefs earned runs allowed: 1
Total Attendance for Chiefs games in 2016: 0
The predictable thing has been the Chiefs performance on the field when they have actually played this year. Team speed and pitching were thought to be a strength of the team coming into the season and that has been the case through two games. The zero fans, two games, and four days in first, perhaps less predictable.
It is still a bit chilly in Syracuse today, but the radar is all clear and we should be good to go for today’s doubleheader. It’s the second of a minimum of four doubleheaders scheduled for the season (Chiefs went 4-6 in doubleheader games last year), with double-dips scheduled with Lehigh Valley on April 20th and August 19th.
Syracuse sends Taylor Hill to the mound, looking to regain his form from 2014 when he led the league in ERA. It’ll also be the Chiefs return in game two for Aaron Laffey. The Chiefs’ 2014 I.L. All-Star spent last season in the Rockies organization.
Barring any continuation of recent weather patterns, today is the first two in a stretch of 41 games in 40 days. We look forward to talking to you from the ballpark tonight.
Games #3 & #4 – Syracuse Chiefs (2-0) vs. Buffalo Bisons (2-2)
NBT Bank Stadium, Syracuse, New York
Pregame 3:50 p.m. // First Pitch 4:05 p.m.
Gm 1: RHP Taylor Hill (0-0, -.–) vs. RHP Chris Leroux (0-0, -.–)
Gm 2: LHP Aaron Laffey (0-0, -.–) vs. RHP Casey Lawrence (0-0, -.–)
Today’s Lineup Card (Game 1):
Today’s Interview – Tony Campana:
Roster Moves (From 4/11):
INF Brendan Ryan added from Extended Spring Training
C Nick Rickles reassigned to Extended Spring Training
Kings of Rain: Monday’s game was rained out – the fifth consecutive Chiefs home game to start the season postponed due to weather. The opening four were postponed due to an unsafe playing field and inclement weather. Syracuse had just five postponed games all of 2015.
If A Baseball’s Thrown in The Forest…: The Chiefs opened the 2016 season in unique fashion, sweeping a doubleheader from the IronPigs on Friday. Though played as Chiefs ‘home’ games, the two were hosted at Lehigh Valley’s Coca-Cola Park in a stadium closed to the public, due to the facility not yet being ready to host I.L. games in 2016. Chiefs pitchers allowed just one earned run in the two games. Offensively, Syracuse stole three bases and walked eight times in the twin bill.
Trea Bien: IF Trea Turner – Baseball America’s #9 MLB prospect – started the season as you might expect. Turner paced the Chiefs offense in the first two games of the year. Turner was 1 for 3 with three walks, two stolen bases, and three runs scored in the two games. He also scored the game-winning run of game two when he came home on a wild pitch.
Bullish on the Pen: Syracuse’s relief corps, which shapes up to be a team strength, was solid in its first two efforts of the year. Four relievers (Solis, Martin, Gott, Masset) combined to allow just two hits and no runs in four innings of work Friday. Seven of the eight Chiefs relievers have pitched in the majors, six of whom pitched in the big leagues last year. RHP Rafael Martin leads the way after his team-high 11 games pitched in spring training. Martin carries a 14-inning Syracuse scoreless streak from 2015 into this season.
Return to the Hill: Taylor Hill takes the ball for the Chiefs in Game One, trying to regain the form that made him one of the I.L.’s best pitchers in 2014. Hill finished second in the I.L. in ERA in the Chiefs’ 2014 division title season, but struggled at times last year. Hill posted a 5.23 ERA in 22 starts with the Chiefs in 2015. However, he ranked second on the Chiefs with 118.2 innings pitched and tallied the most starts of any Chiefs pitcher.
We’ve waited four days, what’s one more? Monday’s Chiefs ‘home’ opener has once again been postponed due to rain throughout the afternoon and forecasted this evening. The game will be made up as part of a doubleheader tomorrow with first pitch scheduled for 4:05 p.m.
Taylor Hill and Aaron Laffey are scheduled to start for the Chiefs tomorrow.
We’ll play baseball at some point, we promise.
Two Days Off?
By Eric Gallanty (@ericgallanty)
It’s almost as rare as playing a professional baseball game in front of an empty stadium. Two consecutive days off during the baseball season. And even more rare, a Saturday and Sunday off in a row.
That is the case after the Chiefs were forced to postpone their opening series of the year at home. After a doubleheader on Friday to kick off the season, Syracuse has to wait until Monday to restart its season when it hosts Buffalo at 6:35 p.m.
After playing two games in four days (barring anymore unforeseen postponements), Syracuse is scheduled for 41 games in the next 41 days with a lone off day on April 27th.
The Thruway Cup begins tomorrow as the Chiefs, 2-0 at ‘home’, and alone in first place host the Bisons.
The makeup dates for Saturday and Sunday’s postponed games have been announced. The Chiefs and IronPigs will now play doubleheaders on Wednesday, April 20th and Friday, August 19th.
If No One Saw It, Did It Happen?
Yesterday’s Postgame Sound:
By Eric Gallanty (@ericgallanty)
Trea Turner scored three runs and stole two bases. Jason Martinson banged a ball of the left-field foul pole for his first home run of the year. Six Chiefs pitchers combined to allow just one earned run in 14 IP. But did it really happen?
Well we know the answer is yes it did and we know that all of these impressive feats happened in an empty Coca-Cola Park Friday afternoon in Allentown. The sounds of the fans and the smells of the concessions were replaced by the beeping of construction trucks and the smells of wet paint drying as crews worked through the afternoon to get the park ready for the IronPigs official opener next week.
Walking around the concourse it almost had an eerie feel. On a normal day, when the IronPigs loaded the bases and brought the tying run to the plate with two outs in the final inning of game one, the fans would have been on their feet, the PA system blaring, and the place going nuts. But yesterday, the decibel level held firm at 0, except for the sounds of the howling 20+ mph wind.
In a dead quiet stadium, the Chiefs put together a solid day’s work to get their season off on the right foot and at least for one day, lead the I.L. North alone. And despite no one seeing it, it did indeed happen.
More Pictures From Yesterday:
The Chiefs are back home Monday to take on the Buffalo Bisons in the true ‘home’ opener. First pitch is scheduled for 6:35 p.m.
Baseball is Back
Coca-Cola Park in Allentown is fan-less and decked in the Lehigh Valley sunshine this morning. We hope the sun sticks around. What we know for sure is the stands will remain empty.
The Chiefs and IronPigs embark on one of the oddest opening’s to a season you’ll ever see. After weather forced the postponement of the first four games of the year in Syracuse, the opening series has shifted to Allentown where we’ll play a doubleheader in an empty ballpark. It’s a situation without much precedent, and should be a day we remember for a long time. Fans or no fans, baseball is back, and that is the most important thing.
To get you back in the baseball mindset, check out our first Inside Pitch podcast, where Kevin and I breakdown the Chiefs 2016 roster.
Below is your Chiefs daily game information, including the matchup, starting lineups, roster moves, and a pregame interview. We’ll include this information before every game this year on the blog.
Games 1&2 – Syracuse Chiefs (0-0) vs. Lehigh Valley IronPigs (0-0)
Coca-Cola Park, Allentown Pennsylvania
Pregame 10:45 a.m. // First Pitch 11:00 a.m.
Gm 1: RHP A.J. Cole (0-0, -) vs. RHP Jake Thompson (0-0, -)
Gm 2: RHP Taylor Jordan (0-0, -) vs. LHP Adam Morgan (0-0, -)
Starting Lineups (Game One):
Today’s Interview: Billy Gardner, Jr.:
OF Matt den Dekker recalled by Washington
C Nick Rickles promoted from Short Season-A Auburn
Welcome Back: The Chiefs begin the 2016 season with a number of familiar faces. 18 of the 25 players on the Opening-Day roster have played for Syracuse, 15 of whom played for last year’s team. In addition, 16 players have Major-League experience, 10 of whom have played for the Nationals.
Nobody Home: Because of unsafe playing conditions, the Chiefs were forced to postpone the season’s first four home games. That led to today’s doubleheader at Lehigh Valley, which will not be open to the public as the IronPigs’ stadium is not ready to host I.L. games. Syracuse will be the “home” team for both games.
Cole Open: A.J. Cole starts on Opening Day for the second straight year. Last season, Cole allowed two runs (one earned) in five innings at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. The 24-year-old RHP excelled late last year, posting a 1.15 ERA in his final six starts of the season.
Trea Bien: IF Trea Turner – Baseball America’s #9 MLB prospect – headlines the Chiefs’ offense. Turner starred last season with Syracuse, hitting .314 with 13 extra-base hits and 14 steals in 48 games. He was one of the final position players cut from MLB camp after leading the Nationals with 25 games played and eight steals in their Grapefruit-League-best campaign.
Bullish on the Pen: Syracuse’s relief corps shapes up to be a team strength. Seven of the eight Chiefs relievers have pitched in the majors, six of whom pitched in the big leagues last year. RHP Rafael Martin leads the way after his team-high 11 games pitched in spring training. Martin carries a 14-inning Syracuse scoreless streak from 2015 into this season.
Size Matters: IF Scott Sizemore picked up where he left off in spring training. Sizemore, who signed with the Nationals last August 22nd, ended the season 20-47 with six walks for Syracuse. In spring training, he bashed three home runs and three doubles in just 36 at- bats, leading to a .333/.415/.667 slash line.
Put Me In, Coach: 4/5th of the Chiefs’ staff returns this year. Manager Billy Gardner starts his third season with the club, while pitching coach Bob Milacki returns for his second. Hitting coach Brian Daubach, the manager each of the last two years at Harrisburg, is new to the coaching staff. Strength coach Brett Henry and trainer Jeff Allred each return for their fourth season.
Broadcasters Kevin Brown and Eric Gallanty breakdown the Chiefs Opening Day roster ahead of Syracuse’s unique doubleheader to start the year in the Lehigh Valley.
By Eric Gallanty (@ericgallanty):
Coca-Cola Park in Allentown is one of the nicest parks we have in the International League. On a normal day, as you’d walk into the home of the IronPigs, you would absorb to aroma of baseball in the Lehigh Valley, with the scents of maple-candied bacon filling the entranceway. You’d head into the usually packed concourse to the sights of ‘Pigs fans and Phillies fans set to enjoy a game by there beloved team. And that will surely be the case when the Chiefs visit Coca-Cola Park on April 18th. But tomorrow morning, the smells will be gone, the fans missing, and the atmosphere unlike any other for the players on the field.
Due to snow and freezing temperatures, the Chiefs were forced to cancel their first four schedule home games of the season. So in order to keep the players fresh, Syracuse will head to Allentown and play a doubleheader Friday morning with game one set to begin at 11 a.m. And what will make the games unlike any other is that they will be closed to the public and played in front of an empty ballpark.
There is some precedent for this. Last year, the White Sox and Orioles were forced to play a game at an empty Camden Yards due to the riots that had taken place around the city of Baltimore in the preceding days. But that is about it. From the days of little league to high school to college and through the pros, there are always at least a few dozen fans attending games. Even in spring training the Florida and Arizona fans pack the ballparks. But Friday should be a day as unique as they come, with a 10,000 seat beautiful ballpark devoid of any patron to enjoy it.
Sometimes when you walk around a ballpark and talk to old time fans, they’ll reminisce about old time baseball, without the sounds of the new-age ballpark and modern game experience. On Friday, the sounds of the game will harken back to a time long ago where the crack of the bat, the pop of the mitt, and the outfielder’s calls of “I got it” will dominated the day.
Well, the anticipation for the 2016 Chiefs will have to wait an extra few days. Despite the phenomenal efforts of John Stewart and crew, the field simply will not be ready through the freezing temperatures and snow, so all four games of the opening series against Lehigh Valley have been postponed. The Chiefs will now open their season at home Monday against the Bisons.
Updates and information will be provided as it becomes available on the Chiefs’ Twitter and Facebook accounts, syracusechiefs.com, and we’ll update you here as well.
By Eric Gallanty (@ericgallanty)
We now have the full picture of the 2016 Syracuse Chiefs with the release of the roster today, and it looks familiar. Plenty of former Chiefs and former big leaguers will be in Syracuse on Opening Day. Some highlights of the roster from Kevin:
The roster includes some of the top prospects in the Nats’ system. Trea Turner returns to Syracuse along with Pedro Severino who is set to open the year behind the plate. Severino has an impressive resume of throwing out baserunners as he’s moved up the Nats system to far and should be a fun watch.
The Chiefs starting rotation looks almost identical to the five that they ended the season with, and should be a strength again this year. A.J. Cole, Taylor Jordan, Taylor Hill and Paolo Espino all return to Syracuse. Nationals Minor-League Pitcher of the Year Austin Voth rounds out the starting five.
The Chiefs will trot out multiple former major leaguers out of their bullpen this year. Rafael Martin and Matt Grace were the backbone of the 2014 and 2015 Chiefs bullpen and should hold the back end this year as well. Also in the pen, Sammy Solis, Nick Masset, Aaron Liffey, and Erik Davis all have major-league experience.
The starting infield will be the same one that helped the Chiefs win 11-straight games in August with 2015 I.L. All-Star Jason Martinson, Turner, Scott Sizemore, and Matt Skole. Nate Freiman joins the Chiefs after being traded for Tyler Moore last month. Freiman is thought to be the tallest position player in Major-League history at 6’8.
The outfield features three familiar Chiefs and one newcomer. Matt den Dekker and Caleb Ramsey each spent time with Syracuse in 2015, while Brian Goodwin was part of the 2014 I.L. North champs. Joining that trio is Tony Campana who returns after missing 2015 with an ACL injury.
It’s a roster that should play quite well in the I.L. this year.
You may be wondering about the weather in Syracuse, as Mother Nature dropped about five inches of snow on us over the weekend. Well, we are lucky enough to have the reigning Triple-A groundkeeper of the year in John Stewart, and he and his team are living up to that billing. Over the last 24 hours, with the temperature still well below freezing and without the use of heavy machines to help, they’ve transformed the field from this…
Amazing work by the crew