SAL playoff preview09/06/2005 4:18 PM ET
By Kevin T. Czerwinski / MLB.com
Hagerstown Suns vs. Delmarva Shorebirds
REGULAR SEASON SERIES
Hagerstown won the series, 10-8, and it was as close as that. The Suns hit .279 while the Shorebirds checked in at .277. Delmarva scored 108 runs and had 176 hits while Hagerstown had 120 runs and 176 hits. The Suns had a team ERA of 4.82 in the series while the Shorebirds ERA was 5.26.
Carlos Gomez is among the best stealers in the Minor Leagues, racking up 64 thefts during the regular season. He did much of his thieving against Delmarva, swiping an astounding 15 bases in 16 attempts in 17 games. Jesus Flores paced the Suns with 14 RBIs and a .306 batting average. Hot prospect Gaby Hernandez won his only appearance against the Shorebirds, striking out six in five innings, but he was promoted to St. Lucie in the Florida State League and won't be coming back for the playoffs.
Delmarva's Arturo Rivas treated the Suns the way Gomez treated the Shorebirds. He hit .390, collecting five of the nine homers he hit this season and 16 of his 61 RBIs. Jason Fransz had four homers and 16 RBIs, though he only hit .241. Kevin Hart started five games against Hagerstown and went 1-2 with a 7.01 ERA.
ON THE MOUND
Hagerstown's staff is somewhat nondescript without Hernandez. Matthew Durkin (4-5, 3.77), a second-round pick last season out of San Jose State, spent virtually all of this season as a starter and never really seemed to find a groove. But he has come on in relief in each of his last two outings and has earned a pair of wins, allowing one earned run over 7 1/3 innings while striking out eight. Blake Eager (6-3, 3.76), a 30th-round pick in '04, has three decisions -- all victories -- in 10 outings (nine starts) since June 5. He's also posted a 2.68 ERA since July 9. Kevin Devaney (10-4, 3.88), a 23rd-round pick in '04, is 4-0 in his last five games (four starts) with a 2.08 ERA over that stretch. Marcelo Perez is closing games for the Suns and has 13 saves in 43 appearances.
Delmarva's Luis Rivera (9-7) is third in the league with a 2.55 ERA and second in innings pitched (162 1/3). Shorebirds Kevin Hart (9-8, 4.55, 164 Ks), Ramirez (155 Ks) and Carlos Perez (11-8, 4.28, 146 Ks) were second, third and fourth, respectively, while Delmarva as a team was second only to Lexington in strikeouts this season. Hart is 3-1 with a 2.70 ERA in his last seven starts, limiting opponents to a .240 batting average over that stretch. Perez is 2-2 in his last six starts but has a 5.51 ERA over that stretch while allowing opposing batters to hit .328. Justin Henington has 16 saves for Delmarva. He has eight saves and a win in his last 11 outings.
AT THE PLATE
Third baseman Grant Psomas, a 15-round pick in '04 was a Sally League All-Star before earning a promotion to St. Lucie. He was returned to the Suns to help in the playoffs and is hitting .299 with 19 homers and 54 RBIs. Psomas is hitting .300 (12-for-40) with two homers and six RBIs since his return. He hit .305 with a homer and 15 RBIs in 34 Florida State League games. Outfielder Ambiorix Concepcion has drawn comparisons to Vlad Guerrero at times because of his speed, power and arm. His 14 assists were third in the league. He had 15 homers, 61 RBIs and 35 steals but hit only .251 with 136 strikeouts. Concepcion does enter the playoffs riding a five-game hitting streak and has hit in 10 of his last 11 games, batting .375 (15-for-40) over that stretch. Gomez may have 64 steals but his on-base percentage (.331) would be better if he cut down on the strikeouts (88) and took more walks (32).
Jason Fransz led the league with a franchise record 111 RBIs while smacking 22 homers. No one else in the Shorebirds lineup has reached double figures in homers or driven in more than 62 runs (Arturo Rivas). Fransz was also ninth in hitting at .308 and third in slugging percentage (.563). Infielder Francisco Figueroa hit .307 in spot duty over 40 games since joining Delmarva in June. Rivas has driven in only one run in his last seven games. He's also hitting .231 since July 1 after hitting .270 through the first three months of the season. Rivas is hitting only .206 against lefties so don't be surprised to find him on the bench against a southpaw. Delmarva was second in the league as a team in drawing walks behind Augusta (537 to 502) and next to last in strikeouts behind Kannapolis in strikeouts (906 to 900). The Shorebirds are patient if nothing else and have no problem pushing an opposing pitcher deep into a count.
POINTS OF INTEREST
Hagerstown is one of two Mets affiliates to reach the playoffs. Norfolk won the International League's Southern Division. Hagerstown won divisional crowns in 1994, 1998 and 1999 but has yet to win a Sally League crown. Hagerstown saw its attendance rise 20 percent from a year ago and 52 percent since 2003. While the Suns won the first-half crown, they finished last in the second half, 13 games behind Delmarva. The Shorebirds earned titles in 1997 and 2000. The Mets Sally League-affiliate in Capital City won both halves in the Southern Division last season before the club switched its affiliation to Hagerstown.
SERIES COULD TURN ON...
The legs of Gomez. If he runs wild, then look out. For now, he's still more Esix Snead than Vince Coleman. But if he figures out that you can't steal first base, he'll be even more dangerous and give the Suns an explosive, tone-setting weapon.
The Suns have had a long second half. Without Gaby Hernandez to anchor the staff, they appear to be in trouble. Delmarva in three.
Charleston vs. Kannapolis
REGULAR SEASON SERIES
Kannapolis dominated, winning six of the eight games played. The Intimidators outscored (46-26), out hit (.278-.242) and out pitched (3.04 ERA to 4.70) Charleston at almost every turn.
Jack Egbert, Lucas Harrell and Adam Russell combined to go 5-0 with a 1.81 ERA in five starts. Matt Zaleski recorded a pair of saves while Leonardo Mayi pitched four scoreless innings over four games, allowing only one hit. David Cook had a pair of homers and five RBIs in four games, putting up a .923 slugging percentage in the process. Jose De Los Santos hit .478 with 11 hits in six games while Josh Hansen had eight RBIs.
Starters were 2-5 with a 6.42 ERA, allowing 54 hits in 40 2/3 innings. Phil Hughes had a solid start, earning one of the victories but he has since moved on to Tampa in the Florida State League after going 7-1 with a 1.97 ERA to help Charleston win the first-half Southern Division title. Edwar Gonzalez had hit .310, had a pair of homers and seven RBIs in seven games.
ON THE MOUND
Ray Liotta was 8-3 with a 2.26 ERA before getting promoted to Winston-Salem. Gio Gonzalez was 5-7 but sported a 1.87 ERA and 84 strikeouts before earning a promotion of his own. Still, Kannapolis has managed to have a strong second half behind Egbert (10-5, 3.12), who has gone 5-1 with a 2.59 ERA since July 2. He has posted two of his league-leading three shutouts during that stretch. Lucas Harrell led the circuit with 71 walks. The Intimidators led the league with a 3.54 team ERA.
Eric Hacker was 5-2 with a 1.60 ERA in 10 starts but has been on the disabled list since early July. Chase Wright (10-4, 3.75) is 5-1 with a 2.20 ERA in his last 10 starts. The opposition has hit .203 against him during that stretch. Jeffrey Marquez (9-13, 3.42), who has won his last two starts and has allowed only one earned run in 12 innings, will start the opener. Christian Garcia (5-6, 3.91) only went two innings in Monday's season finale and should be available to pitch in the opening round. Mike Martinez has 29 saves (second in the league) but only two since Aug. 3. Charleston was fourth in the league with a 3.75 and was one of five teams with a sub-4.00 ERA.
AT THE PLATE
David Cook and Joshua Hansen each tied Chris Young's year-old Kannapolis franchise record of 24 homers (combining to drive in 155 runs). Hansen, however, has only one hit in 15 at-bats coming into the postseason and has only one homer and two RBIs in nine contests. Cook is homerless with two RBIs in his last seven games. The Intimidators also recorded the third-best batting average ever in team history at .261. Jose De Los Santos paced the squad with a .294 average, tying a team mark. Tom Brice has seven hits in 12 at-bats with a pair of RBIs heading into the postseason.
Tim Battle, a 19-year-old whom the Yankees selected in the third round in 2004, led the Sally League with 195 strikeouts, 10 of which came against Kannapolis. He does, however, have 16 homers and 60 RBIs and was tied for the team lead in stolen bases with Mario Holmann at 40. In addition, Battle led the league in triples (11) and runs scored (97). Teammate Ben Jones has been steady for much of the season, smacking 14 homers and driving in a team-leading 77 runs while hitting .288.
POINTS OF INTEREST
Charleston reaches the postseason for the second consecutive year after not making the playoffs since 1988. The RiverDogs are riding a seven-game winning streak entering the playoffs. Neither the RiverDogs nor the Intimidators have ever won a league championship. Kannapolis, as a franchise, hasn't been to the playoffs since 2000 when they were the Piedmont Boll Weevils. Intimidators outfielder Sean Smith tied for first among all Sally League outfielders with a .991 fielding percentage.
SERIES COULD TURN ON
Like so many young players, Battle's speed is negated by his free swinging. If he and Holmann, one hit in his final 17 regular-season at-bats, can be patient at the plate, they can cause trouble.
Kannapolis has the edge on the mound and that's always a difference in the postseason. The Intimidators in three.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.