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Fresh names challenge playoff perennial09/07/2008 10:00 PM ET
By Nick Cammarota / MLB.com
The Boston Red Sox have won two World Championships in the last four seasons. The New England Patriots won three Super Bowls in a four-year period. And in June, the Boston Celtics won their first NBA title in more than 22 years.
Unfortunately, for the Lowell Spinners, none of that Beantown success had trickled down to Edward A. LeLacheur Park, until this season, when the Spinners made the postseason for the first time in their 13-year history with a 5-4 victory over the Oneonta Tigers on Aug. 30.
Though they didn't break the franchise record of 42 wins, the Spinners enjoyed their most successful season to-date, with a number of key contributions in the second half of the year after beginning 13-18.
"These kids had a lot of grit and determination this year," said Lowell manager Gary DiSarcina following the division clinching game. "Our entire pitching staff kept us afloat until our young hitters adjusted to seeing breaking balls and sliders."
Right-hander Kyle Weiland shattered the team's ERA record of 1.77 by recording a 1.50 ERA in 15 games (10 starts). Florida Marlins right-hander Anibal Sanchez set the previous mark in his 15 starts for Lowell in 2004. Weiland also broke the team record of 23 consecutive innings without allowing an earned run, notching 24 scoreless frames. During the streak (which began on July 31), Weiland allowed 13 hits, walked four and struck out 28.
In addition to Weiland, who was selected in the third round of the June First-Year Player Draft, Bryan Price (No. 45 overall) and Stephen Fife (third round) headline the Spinners' class of '08.
Price began the season strong before running out of steam down the stretch, allowing 10 runs in three appearances. Still, that left him with a 3.83 ERA in his first professional season. Fife worked exclusively out of the bullpen, notching four saves in 14 appearances, crafting a 2.33 ERA and fanning 41 batters over 38 2/3 innings.
Aside from Lowell and its historic season, the remaining trio of NYPL playoff teams offers plenty of star power, beginning with one of Minor League Baseball's most interesting (and successful) stories in Staten Island switch-pitcher, Pat Venditte. The Omaha native posted a stellar 0.83 ERA this season as he wowed fans with his ability to throw at opposing hitters with either arm.
Jamestown brings a headliner to the table in catcher Miguel Fermin, who led the league with a .347 batting average and 17 home runs. Batavia's Adam Reifer came up one shy of Venditte with 22 saves, while Jose Garcia's 26 stolen bases trailed only Hudson Valley's Michael Ross.
Given the extreme star power among the four teams, the NYPL postseason shapes up to be just as exciting as the regular season.
Batavia Muckdogs (46-28) vs. Lowell Spinners (40-33)
It could end up being a historic season for one of these clubs as neither has ever won a league title. It's Lowell's first time even qualifying for the postseason, while Batavia is making its first playoff appearance since becoming affiliated with the St. Louis Cardinals (2000). The outcome could well be determined by Batavia's pitching staff, which is the second-deepest in the playoff pool. With three hurlers who have won six games, the Muckdogs own the third lowest team ERA in the league (3.30). Lowell doesn't stand out in any one category, but is solid across the board. Still, the Spinners have got to be concerned about slinking into the playoffs, having won just four of their last six, while Batavia was victorious in seven of its last 10 games.
The Spinners and Muckdogs played three times during the regular season and Batavia got the better of the set. Though they only hit .216 as a team, the Muckdogs managed to score 11 runs (to Lowell's 10) over the course of the series, while the mound staff struck out 25 Spinners.
Catcher Charles Cutler enjoyed success against Lowell's hurlers, going 2-for-3 with an RBI, while outfielder Shane Peterson was 3-for-9 with an RBI, two runs scored and three walks. Right-hander Scott Gorgen, who was selected to the NYPL All-Star team, struck out seven Spinners in a combined three innings of work to earn one of the wins, while right-hander Jameson Maj picked up the other victory, striking out six.
Outfielder Mitch Dening and shortstop Will Middlebrooks each collected four hits against Batavia in the brief series. Dening homered, doubled and scored twice, while Middlebrooks slugged a triple. Right-hander Brock Huntzinger, who was later promoted, recorded the Spinners' only win over the Muckdogs, pitching six innings of scoreless ball, allowing five hits and striking out six.
Players to Watch
Muckdogs: Shortstop Colt Sedbrook was one of the most versatile hitters in Batavia's lineup. He tied for the team lead in average (.305), but had the most at-bats (275) on the club. The 5-foot-11 speedster was second on the team in stolen bases (13), runs (38) and led the team in triples (5). Outfielder Chris Swauger provided the power for Batavia, as his seven home runs led a team that hit the fifth-fewest homers in the NYPL this season. On the mound, left-hander Arquimedes Nieto (another NYPL All-Star selection) was tied with two others on the staff for a team-leading six wins, while his All-Star teammate, Scott Gorgen, led all Muckdogs hurlers with 60 strikeouts in 54 1/3 innings. Batavia also boasts one of the best closers in the league in NYPL All-Star, Adam Reifer. The right-hander recorded 22 saves in 24 opportunities (second in the league), and struck out 41 in 30 1/3 innings.
Spinners: Outfielder Mitch Dening was billed as one of Lowell's top players at the start of the season, and he didn't disappoint. The 6-foot-1 native of Australia hit a team-high .321 this season with 20 RBIs, 35 runs scored and a league second-best seven triples. Not much else was happening with Lowell's offense, which held the second-lowest average in the league (.233). Despite a .154 mark, shortstop Ryan Dent led the team with six roundtrippers and was second with 21 RBIs. Even with the promotion of staff ace Brock Huntzinger, the Spinners still have a talented unit, spearheaded by right-handers Hunter Strickland and Kyle Weiland. Strickland finished the year 5-3 with a 3.18 ERA, while Weiland went 3-3, with a team-leading 1.50 ERA among starters. Strickland whiffed 59 batters while Weiland led the team, punching out 68 in 60 innings.
Staten Island Yankees (49-26) vs. Jamestown Jammers (47-29)
Despite the innate excitement of a Championship Series, this Round 1 matchup could turn out to be the best of the three sets. Jamestown (the Wild Card winner) can flat-out hit, clobbering the rest of the league in almost every offensive category, while Staten Island boasts a fantastic offense with an even better pitching staff. The Jammers hit .282 as a team over the course of the season, mashing 74 homers (the next closest team was Tri-City with 52) and scoring 420 runs. The SI Yanks weren't far behind, hitting .269 with 44 dingers and 380 runs scored. The Yankees mound staff may make all the difference, as Staten Island boasts a league-best ERA of 2.90, backed with 624 strikeouts against 196 walks. History, as well as statistical dominance, may also be on first-year manager Pat McMahon's side. Since entering the league in 1999, the Yankees have won four championships, including two of the last three. In fact, every time the club has been in the playoffs -- except last season, when it lost to Brooklyn in Round 1 -- the result has been a league title. Jamestown, in existence since 1994, has never won a league or division title. Both teams rode winning streaks into the postseason, Jamestown having won its last six and Staten Island its last three.
As in the Spinners-Muckdogs Round 1 matchup, these teams have only faced each other three times, so there's not a lot of familiarity established. The Yankees, the No. 1 seed in the playoffs, twice bested the Jammers (who held the best record for the first half of the season) in 2008. However, Staten Island scored 10 runs overall to Jamestown's 11, and also lost the ERA battle as the Jammers finished the series with a polished 1.33 ERA, despite the losing record.
Shortstop Addison Maruszak collected five hits in 19 at-bats against the Jammers, including a home run and three RBIs. RHP David Phelps picked up one of the two victories for the Yankees, tossing six shutout innings, allowing five hits and striking out four. Jamestown's Miguel Fermin was at the peak of his hot streak when the teams met, and was not cooled off. The smooth swinging catcher collected eight hits in 12 at-bats, including a double and a triple, while scoring three runs. Outfielder Jeremy Synan was equally impressive, lashing seven hits in 13 at-bats, with a triple and three RBIs. The series was fluky for Jamestown's staff, as they allowed only four earned runs, but 10 altogether. Left-hander Drew Clothier recorded the lone win for the Jammers in the set.
Players to Watch
Staten Island: Switch pitcher Pat Venditte would be exciting enough billed as the league's best closer (23 saves), but when that's combined with his ability to face hitters using either arm to throw the baseball, it ratchets up interest even further. Beyond Venditte's now famous delivery, and his 0.83 ERA with 42 strikeouts in 32 2/3 innings, the Yankees' mound staff is exceptionally solid. RHP David Phelps was the one of the NYPL's workhorses, tossing 72 2/3 innings, en route to a 2.72 ERA with 52 strikeouts in 15 starts. Right-hander Casey Erickson was another of the Yanks' aces, and in 15 starts, pitched his way to a 5-1 record with a 2.76 ERA and 77 strikeouts in 75 innings. With a 2.90 staff ERA, Staten Island can win without a lot of offense most of the time, but that doesn't mean they can't bring it. Shortstop Addison Maruszak was hitting .317 with six home runs and 25 RBIs, while first baseman Brian Baisley batted .336 with six homers and a league fourth-best 50 RBIs.
Jamestown: Whatever eyes aren't watching Venditte will likely be focused on catcher Miguel Fermin, the NYPL batting champion. His .347 average was 11 points better than his closest competitor (Baisley), and he not only hit for power, but demonstrated a knack for getting on base (1.002 OPS). Fermin's 17 homers were tops in the league by five. The next closest player was Tri-City's Phil Disher. Fermin's 47 RBIs were fifth-best in the league, but not best among the Jammers -- nor were his hits. Third baseman Paul Gran collected 89 hits (to Fermin's 84), while first baseman Ernie Banks led the suqad in RBIs with 51. Right-hander Jared Yecker boasted a staff-best 0.91 ERA and was nine-for-nine in save opportunities.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.