Pioneer League Finals preview09/11/2007 4:19 PM ET
By Mark Shugar / MLB.com
Great Falls White Sox vs. Orem Owlz
Great Falls White Sox (51-24) vs. Orem Owlz (37-39)
(Best-of-three Championship Series between first-round winners, begins Wednesday, Sept. 12)
Even the short-season can be a long haul, and the journey has been very different for the two Pioneer League clubs squaring off for the 2007 title.
On paper, things are going as planned for the Great Falls White Sox. The second-half North Division champs are right where they should be, after posting the Pioneer League's best record, 51-24, during the regular season. The hottest bats? The stingiest pitching? The White Sox have had both this entire year. And, after dispatching their divisional nemesis, Helena, in the first round of the postseason, the Sox players have to feel pretty confident that little stands between them and Great Falls' first league title since 2002.
But something does, and that something is the Orem Owlz. Of the four clubs that made it to the 2007 Pioneer League playoffs, Orem certainly had the least-impressive track record: no first- or second-half division title, a sub-.500 record at 37-39, middle-of-the-pack hitting and pitching stats. But go ask the high-flying Idaho Falls Chukars what hit them in the postseason's first round. Orem put an end to the Chukars' championship hopes in two straight games, proving along the way that it definitely deserves to be here and just might be able to win it all.
Great Falls and Orem met seven times this season. The White Sox emerged victorious in six of those contests, outscoring the Owlz, 55-38. Orem's lone victory came in the final meeting between the clubs, punctuating a three-game set in which every contest was decided by a single run.
The White Sox averaged 7.9 runs per game and hit .324 with 28 extra-base hits, including 18 doubles and eight home runs, against the Owlz this season. ... In 24 at-bats over six games, Christian Marrero hit .458 with a team-best 11 RBIs and a pair of home runs. ... Greg Paiml stole a team-high three bases against the Owlz, while Matt Inouye, Dale Mollenhauer, Joe Persichina and Salvador Sanchez each took two. ... The White Sox pitching staff went 6-1 with a 4.45 team ERA and 58 strikeouts over 54 2/3 innings. ... Joey Doan, Henry Mabee, Levi Maxwell and Alexander Woodson each collected a save versus the Owls.
The Owlz averaged 5.4 runs per game and hit .290 with 18 extra-base hits, including 10 doubles and five triples, against the White Sox this season. ... Jay Brossman and Jeremy Moore each put up a team-high five RBIs, in seven and six games, respectively. ... Jerry Gonzalez-Lopez and Moore both collected a pair of stolen bases, while Donato Giovanatto and Andrew Romine each nabbed one. ... The Owlz pitching staff went 1-6 with a 7.38 team ERA and 39 strikeouts over 61 innings. ... Tremayne Holland was the only hurler to earn a win, while Robert Fish struck out a team-high six vs. the Sox.
Game 1: Wed, Sept. 12, Great Falls at Orem
Anthony Carter (5-3, 3.93 ERA) vs. TBD
Game 2: Fri, Sept. 14, Orem at Great Falls (TBD vs. TBD)
Game 3: (if necessary) Sat, Sept. 15, Orem at Great Falls (TBD vs. TBD)
ON THE MOUND
Starter Juan Moreno posted a 1.50 ERA and got the win in first-round playoff Game 2 against the Brewers. The 20-year-old allowed a run on five hits and a walk while fanning four over six innings. ... Starter John Ely earned the win in the decisive Game 3. Ely gave up two runs on six hits and a walk while striking out seven in five innings. ... Reliever Leroy Hunt chalked up a save in Game 2. The Sacramento, Calif., native tossed three hitless innings while striking out two.
Reliever Brian Chambers stifled the Chukars in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series. The 22-year-old gave up two hits and a walk with three strikeouts over three scoreless innings, giving the Owlz time to rally from a two-run deficit. ... Starter Robert Fish struck out a career-high 13 batters in his first postseason start, in Game 2 vs. Idaho Falls. The Montclair, Calif., native scattered two hits and a walk over eight innings. ... Starter Mason Tobin posted a save in Game 2, in just his second relief appearance this season.
AT THE PLATE
In their first-round playoff series, the White Sox averaged five runs per game and hit .264 with 11 extra-base hits. ... Outfielders Jim Gallagher, Christian Marrero and Andrew Mead, as well as third baseman C.J. Retherford, each collected a home run in the three-game set against the Brewers. ... Outfielder Salvador Sanchez was the only Great Falls player to steal a base against Helena. ... The White Sox had seven doubles in the series. Marrero led the team with two. He also batted a team-best .417 with five hits, while slugging .833.
In their first-round playoff series, the Owlz averaged 4.5 runs per game and hit .242 with five extra-base hits. ... Infielder Jay Brossman delivered a walk-off single to propel Orem to a 6-5 victory over Idaho Falls in Game 1 of the South Division series. Brossman finished the two-game set with three RBIs. ... First baseman Gordon Gronkowski has hit the only home run in the postseason for the Owlz. The 24-year-old belted eight long balls during the regular season. ... Outfielder Jeremy Moore and shortstop Andrew Romine each stole a base in the first-round series.
The Owlz have to be riding high after dispatching the Chukars, who ruined Orem's bid for a third-straight Pioneer League title last season. Even though a majority of the current Owlz weren't with the club, the players know the history. Since 1964, the White Sox have been far from slouches in the postseason, having won seven titles. The only team to win more flags in that span is Billings (10), which, coincidentally, was the team that bounced Great Falls the last time the Sox saw the postseason, in 2004.
SERIES COULD TURN ON
Would you believe bus lag? Which team will be able to recover the fastest from the bus trip between Games 1 and 2? More than 600 miles separate Orem, Utah, from Great Falls, Mont., which means nearly nine hours -- through the night -- on the bus for both clubs following Game 1. Orem may hold a slight advantage here as it is a bit out of the way geographically, even within its own division, and has spent more than its fair share of time on buses this season. If the Owlz can take the opener at home, they may be able to take advantage of some rubbery arms and legs among the White Sox players, and wrap up the Championship Series in two. It would be to their advantage to do so, as Great Falls boasts the best all-around hitting and pitching package in the Pioneer League this season. A longer series, requiring more roster depth, favors the White Sox.
The Owlz find themselves in the Championship Series thanks to clutch performances and career-best outings from their star players. These types of efforts in the postseason are the reason teams win championships. Orem in three.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.