Pioneer North Division playoff preview09/07/2007 12:45 PM ET
By Mark Shugar / MLB.com
Great Falls vs. Helena
White Sox (50-23) vs. Brewers (47-28)
(Best-of-three series begins Saturday, Sept. 8)
It is only fitting that the two juggernauts of the Pioneer League's North Division finally get to slug -- and pitch -- it out for outright supremacy.
The Great Falls White Sox enter the postseason series with the league's best record, 50-23, and winners of nine of their last 10 games. But the first-half division-winning Helena Brewers are almost equally hot, 7-3 in their past 10 contest. Both teams are riding a seven-game win streak, but that will soon change for one club.
In 15 meetings this season, the White Sox hold a narrow advantage over the Brewers, 9-6, thanks to a pair of sweeps, first in June and another in August. Great Falls outscored Helena in the regular-season series, 97-72. The Brewers won when the needed to, however, taking four of six meetings between the two clubs in July to emerge the first-half division winner -- two games ahead of the White Sox in the Pioneer League's North Division.
Great Falls: The Sox averaged 6.5 runs per game and hit .301 with 73 extra-base hits, including 44 doubles and 13 home runs, in 15 games against the Brewers this season. ... Christian Marrero hit .315 with a team-high 14 RBIs. ... Lyndon Estill, Dale Mollenhauer and Joe Persichina each have a pair of stolen bases against Helena this season. ... The White Sox pitching staff went 9-6 with a 4.07 team ERA and a collective 108 strikeouts versus the Brewers.
Helena: The Brewers averaged 4.8 runs per game and hit .291 with 43 extra-base hits, including 27 doubles and 11 home runs, in 15 games against the White Sox this season. ... Anthony Wycklendt hit .351 with a team-high nine RBIs. ... Eric Farris went 5-for-7 in base-stealing opportunities against Great Falls this season. Teammate Lee Haydel went 3-for-4. ... The Brewers pitching staff went 6-9 with a 5.83 team ERA and a collective 107 strikeouts versus the White Sox.
Game 1: Helena at Great Falls - Sept. 8
Roque Mercedes (7-4, 3.75 ERA) vs. Aaron Poreda (4-0, 1.17 ERA)
Game 2: Great Falls at Helena - Sept. 9
Juan Moreno (6-4, 2.39 ERA) vs. RJ Seidel (4-0, 3.07 ERA)
Game 3: Great Galls at Helena - Sept. 10 (if necessary)
TBD vs. TBD
ON THE MOUND
Starter Juan Moreno's 2.39 ERA was the best posted by a Pioneer League pitcher this season. In 16 starts, the 20-year-old went 6-4 with 77 strikeouts -- tied for the league lead -- in 90 1/3 innings pitched. ... Wander Perez made a Pioneer League-leading 28 appearances on the mound this season. ... Closer Henry Mabee posted eight saves, tied for third most in the league this season.
Starter Roque Mercedes' 3.75 ERA was the best on the Helena staff this season. ... Jose Garcia tied with Billings' Luis Montano for the Pioneer League-lead in wins with eight. ... Closer Robert Bryson recorded eight saves this season. He and Mercedes both tossed 70 strikeouts to tie for second in the league and most on the Brewers staff.
AT THE PLATE
Outfielder Salvador Sanchez hit a team-best .347 this season. He was first in the Pioneer League in hits (96) and triples (10), third in runs scored (55) and fourth in stolen bases (18) ... C.J. Retherford and Christian Marrero went one-two in extra-base hits this season with 45 and 39, respectively. Retherford led the league with his 29 doubles while Marrero was second in RBIs with 62. ... Great Falls batters hit a league-best .299 combined this year, with 779 hits and 66 home runs.
Outfielder Caleb Gindl put up the best batting average in the Pioneer League this season. The native of Pace, Fla., hit .372 and was second in the league in on-base percentage (.420) and third in doubles (22). Steffan Wilson's .612 slugging percentage was third best in the league this season. ... Eric Farris stole 21 bases this season, which ranks him third among all players in the league. ... Helena batters hit a collective .292, second best in the league this year, with 755 hits and 54 home runs.
Both clubs would love to generate some postseason success. Helena was in the hunt for the league title two years ago before the Brewers were handily dispatched by Orem, two games to none, in the 2005 championship series. Great Falls last saw postseason action in 2004, when its title hopes were quickly dashed in the opening round by Billings.
SERIES COULD TURN ON
The little things. Two games are in Helena; that could be enough of a factor to skew the outcome of the series. Great Falls holds a slim advantage in the offensive numbers this season, and the White Sox have the better pitching corps on paper. But the Brewers have seemingly been able to turn good play on and off this season. When they needed wins to secure the first-half division title, the Brewers found a way to collect them. In contrast, when the White Sox get cold, they get downright frigid. If both clubs bring their best play (which they seemingly will considering how the teams finished the regular season), this could be one of the most competitive postseason series in the Minors this year.
At first glance, this series looks too close to call, and honestly the task didn't get any easier to do so with a second or third. Home-field advantage can play a huge role in the postseason, though, and two games are in Helena. Brewers in three.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.