By: Brian Frank
After winning the Triple-A East Northeast division in 2021, the Bisons returned to Sahlen Field last week to open the 2022 campaign. Manager Casey Candaele immediately made clear what his team’s goals are this season.
“It’s about winning for us,” Candaele told the media on the eve of the Bisons' season opener. “We want to be successful. The winning part – yeah, you want to win, but it’s mostly about being successful as to how you go about your business and how you handle the game and what kind of attitude you take to the game.”
“That’s the most important part to me is you’re playing professionally,” Candaele continued. “This is your career that you’ve chosen. It’s no time to be bitter. You’re one step away from the highest level that you can play at. So to be upset and to have a poor attitude and to not go out and try to compete and win and be successful every day? That tells me something about someone’s character if they don’t want to do that.”
“Our guys… they come to play and they want to play and they want to be successful. That’s part of it. Winning is part of it. Development is still really important obviously. That’s what it’s all about in the minor leagues, but in this organization we stress being successful on the field and winning baseball games too.”
Cullen Large, who played on last season’s division championship team, echoed his manager’s sentiments, noting that the Blue Jays’ winning culture trickles down to the Triple-A level.
“It no doubt trickles down,” Large explained. “As you saw last year, the Blue Jays had a little success in the big leagues and we were really good in Triple-A. I think you see that across baseball – that when a team is good in the big leagues, the Triple-A team most of the time is pretty good too. It’s good for culture, it’s good for everything. Everybody likes to win. That’s kind of the ultimate goal. Especially when you get to Triple-A. It’s a practicable thing to win. Learning that is obviously important for when you get to the big leagues.”
After playing a season in the Triple-A East, the Bisons league returned to being called the International League in 2022. The Bisons also welcomed back an old rival to the Queen City to begin the season, as the Iowa Cubs returned to Sahlen Field. It was the first time the two teams played since the 1997 American Association Championship Series.
A sunny spring day with a game-time temperature of 52 degrees brought out 10,145 fans to welcome the Bisons back to Sahlen Field. It was the first April Opening Day in downtown Buffalo since 2019, after the 2020 minor-league season was cancelled and the Bisons began their 2021 season playing home games in Trenton, New Jersey to accommodate the Blue Jays.
Nick Allgeyer made history when he fired the first pitch – it was the first pitch thrown at any level of professional baseball in 2022. Iowa’s Greg Deichmann swung at the pitch and hit a ball that died in the dirt in front of the plate. Catcher Kellin Deglan fielded it and fired to first for the first out of the new season.
Nick Allgeyer delivers the first pitch of the 2022 season. Photo Credit: Brian M. Frank, The Herd Chronicles.
“This is great,” Candaele said about playing the first game in all of professional baseball. “History! And it’s Triple-A.”
Palacios gave the Bisons an early lead when he blasted a two-run home run in the first inning.
“I just saw a fastball, just trying to attack,” Palacios gleamed after the game.
Buffalo tacked on another run in the fourth inning when LJ Talley drilled a double to deep centerfield which brought home Eric Stamets to give the Bisons a 3-0 lead.
Allgeyer was outstanding on the mound for the Herd. Iowa didn’t get its first hit until Trent Giambrone lined a single to left with one out in the sixth inning. Allgeyer ended up tossing six shutout innings, allowing only one hit and one walk, while striking out six.
“I thought me and Deglan did a really good job of inducing contact early," Allgeyer said. "Especially in the first three innings, they came out swinging and we got a lot of weak contact pretty early, kept the pitch count low and just kept attacking. We had some great defense behind me all day. A couple diving plays. It was good. It was fun.”
“Nick was throwing a no-hitter through I think like six – that was pretty sick,” Palacios said. “Nobody wanted to say anything in the dugout. We were all trying to stay quiet. Even after the one hit, we were all looking around like this guy could throw a one-hitter for the rest of the game.”
“He made some adjustments in the offseason with arm slot and some different pitches,” Candaele said about Allgeyer. “There’s a lot more movement. That worked out. He’s got them going both ways. He kept them off balance. He threw well.”
The Cubs were able to plate a couple of runs against reliever Joe Biagini, but Graham Spraker and Kyle Johnston each worked a scoreless frame out of the Bisons bullpen to preserve a 3-2 Opening Day win.
“The day was great,” Candaele said. “We’ve got to do it 149 more times, but today was a good day.”
Iowa bounced back to win the second game of the series by a score of 8-4. After Thursday night’s game was rained out, Buffalo swept Friday’s doubleheader behind more outstanding starting pitching by Casey Lawrence and Shaun Anderson. Lawrence started the first game and gave up a run on two hits and no walks, while striking out six over five innings. Anderson worked the nightcap, firing six shutout innings, allowing only three hits and a walk, while fanning eight Cubs.
Casey Lawrence had a strong outing on Friday. Photo Credit: Brian M. Frank, The Herd Chronicles.
Iowa won Saturday’s game, thanks to a two-run home run by Trent Giambrone in the top of the ninth, which broke a 2-2 tie. Buffalo cut into the lead in its half of the ninth on a solo home run by Nick Podkul, but the Cubs were able to hang on for the 4-3 win.
Allgeyer made his second start of the season in the final game of the series and picked up right where he’d left off in the opener. He retired the Cubs in order through the first three innings – giving him nine shutout innings in the series with only one hit and one walk allowed. The Bisons new ace ended up allowing a run on two hits and a walk while striking out seven over five innings. His second masterful performance of the season gave him a miniscule 0.82 ERA through two starts.
Buffalo scored first in the series finale on Vinny Capra’s first Triple-A home run, a solo blast in the fourth inning.
“It felt great,” Capra said. “You go up there looking for a pitch and you get it and don’t miss it. It’s awesome.”
Jared Young tied the game with a solo home run in the fifth inning. But Buffalo was able to retake the lead in the eighth on a clutch RBI single by Palacios. Jeremy Beasley, Andrew Vasquez, and Matt Gage came out of the bullpen and fired four shutout innings to lock down a 2-1 Bisons win.
Candale is expecting some big bats to join the lineup for their next series in Rochester. Gabriel Moreno, who arrived late to Spring Training because of visa issues, is scheduled to join the team in the Flower City. Moreno is the Blue Jays number one prospect and MLB Pipeline’s number seven prospect in all of baseball. Gosuke Katoh, who slashed .306/.388/.474 in 2021 at Triple-A El Paso, and Josh Fuentes, who slashed .269/.324/.492 in 49 games at Triple-A Albuquerque last season, will also be joining the Herd.
After taking four out of six from Iowa, and with three more big bats on the way, the Bisons season is off to a promising start as they begin a season where they're looking to repeat as division champions for the first time since capturing the I.L. North division flag in 2004 and 2005.