Carolina League Playoff Preview09/07/2005 1:46 AM ET
By Jonathan Mayo / MLB.com
Lynchburg Hillcats vs. Frederick Keys
Regular season series: Lynchburg won series, 12-8
Things started out well for the Hillcats with a three-game sweep of the Keys to begin the
season. Then they won six of seven in two May series. It was pretty much all Frederick after
that, beginning with the Keys taking two of three over July 4 weekend, followed by a Keys'
three-game sweep later in the month. The last meeting between the teams was a four-game
split. It's not hard to tell which team won the first half and which took the second-half
crown, is it?
The Hillcats hit .288 against the Keys, getting contributions from less likely sources.
Bobby Kingsbury hit just .246 for the year, but upped that to .296 against Frederick while
leading the team with 15 RBIs. Taber Lee (.241) hit .317 with 11 RBIs. Nyjer Morgan may have
had the best success, hitting .385 in nine games, while Mike McCuistion batted .316 and
drove in 14 runs. ... The Hillcats went 12-8 in the series, despite a 5.40 team ERA. Game 1
starter Landon Jacobsen won his lone start against the Keys, but allowed three runs in six
The Keys hit .290 against the Hillcats in 2005, led by Mario Delgado's .344 average, six
homers and 18 RBIs in 18 games. Brandon Florence hit a scorching .462 in 10 games with five
homers and 14 RBIs, while Jeff Fiorentino contributed a .348 average, three homers and nine
RBIs in 11 games. ... It's a good thing they hit because Keys pitchers got lit up to the
tune of a 5.24 ERA, though the three playoff starters had varying degrees of success. Adam
Loewen had a 1.93 ERA in three starts, Carolina League Pitcher of the Year James Johnson had
two wins and a 1.96 ERA in four starts and Brian Finch had a 4.24 ERA in six starts vs. the
Hillcats. Josh Shortslef made a pair of starts and had a 2.84 ERA. Wardell Starling won two
games (albeit with a 4.84 ERA) in four starts, but won't face the Keys since he pitched on
Game 1: Lynchburg at Frederick
Landon Jacobson (3-1, 2.10 ERA) vs. Adam Loewen (10-8, 4.12 ERA)
Game 2: Frederick at Lynchburg
James Johnson (12-9. 3.49 ERA) vs. Josh Shortslef (10-5, 4.58 ERA)
Game 3: Frederick at Lynchburg (if necessary)
Brian Finch (10-10, 3.38 ERA) vs. Derrick Van Dusen (11-6, 4.24 ERA)
At the Plate
Nyjer Morgan, OF: The leadoff hitter didn't join Lynchburg until late June because of
injury, but he's managed to lead the team in steals with 24 (tied for fourth in the
Pat Magness, 1B/OF: The veteran leads the league with his .481 on-base percentage
(thanks to 141 walks), is third in slugging (.574) and RBIs (92), fifth in average (.310)
and homers (24). Magness hit .326 with eight homers and 22 RBIs in August.
Neil Walker, C/DH: The 2004 first-round pick was recently brought up after hitting
.301 with 12 homers and 68 RBIs for Hickory. In nine games with the Hillcats, he's gone
11-for-42 (.262) with 12 RBIs while being asked to hit in the No. 3 spot in the lineup.
Jeff Fiorentino, OF: When not making a splash in the big leagues, the 2004
third-round pick was hitting 22 homers, stealing 11 bases and hitting .286 as the Keys' best
all-around hitter once Nick Markakis was promoted. Fiorentino batted .347 in August and tied
for sixth in the league in homers and eighth in SLG (.523).
Nate Spears, 2B: Spears, the O's fifth-round pick in the 2003 draft is the kind of
player who does much more than what his .294 average shows. He's hit primarily out the
leadoff spot or the No. 2 hole, serving as the Keys' offensive catalyst. He's been hitting
behind Fiorentino and likely will be used frequently in the playoffs to move his teammate
over by bunt or via the hit-and-run.
Mario Delgado, 1B: The veteran lefty has been Frederick's best run producer, leading
the team in homers with 26 (tied for third in the league) and RBIs with 86 (sixth) while
hitting .309 (sixth) and slugging .552 (fourth). He's coming off a huge August in which he
homered seven times and drove in 27 runs.
Lynchburg last won the Carolina League title in 2002 and has claimed a total of five
championships. ... Frederick joined the Carolina League in 1989 and won its lone title in
its second year (1990).
Series could turn on...
Adam Loewen finding the strike zone. It's been a remarkable turnaround for the Orioles' No.
1 pick in the 2002 draft. Shoulder, mechanical and confidence woes made him lose command of
and faith in his stuff. While he's still walked too many (86), he's clearly regaining his
status as one of the top lefty prospects in the game, as evidenced by his 146 strikeouts in
142 IP. His most recent outing against Lynchburg came on Aug. 30 and he walked just two in
six shutout innings for the win. Earlier in the year, however, he had two outings in which
he walked 11 in eight innings. Lefties hit just .203 off him all year, but Lynchburg hit
southpaws well (.284). Whoever wins that battle could determine the series.
In many ways, this is the first big moment of Loewen's professional career. He went 7-2 in
July and August, a big reason why the Keys won the second-half title. Look for him to step
up for the occasion, especially considering he's 6-2 with a 2.51 ERA at home (as opposed to
4-6, 5.59 on the road). With a win in their back pocket on the way to Lynchburg, the Keys
will find a way to take one of two on the road. Keys in three.
Kinston Indians vs. Winston-Salem Warthogs
Regular season series: Winston-Salem won series, 12-8
Things did not start well for the Warthogs as the Indians began the season with a three-game
sweep. Winston-Salem started to climb out of that hole by winning two of three in May before
splitting a four-game set in late May. But then the Warthogs took five of six in July from
Kinston and won three more in late August-early September to help end the Indians' hopes of
sweeping both halves.
The K-Tribe hit poorly (.233) and pitched so-so (3.92 ERA), a good reason why they only went
8-12 against the Warthogs. Kevin Kouzmanoff managed to figure things out, hitting .326 with
a pair of homers and eight RBIs in 12 games. Ryan Goleski hit three homers and drove in
eight while hitting .281, nearly 70 points higher than his season average. ... Game 1
starter Sean Smith pitched five times against Winston-Salem and although he finished with a
3.86 ERA in those outings, the Warthogs hit .322 against him. Game 3 starter Nick Pesco had
the most success, going 4-0 with a 1.17 ERA in his four starts, while Game 2 starter Adam
Miller faced the Warthogs twice and allowed eight runs and 20 hits in 11 innings.
The Warthogs hit .290 against the Indians and, not surprisingly, it was Noah Hall and Leo
Daigle leading the way. Hall hit .364 with three homers and 11 RBIs while Daigle hit .327
and drove in eight. Robert Valido hit .348, stole eight bases and scored 13 runs in 14
games. ... The Warthogs staff had a 3.38 ERA in the season series. Wes Whisler made five
starts against Kinston, finishing with a 3.46 ERA in 26 IP. Gio Gonzalez went 2-0 with a
3.18 ERA and closer Fabio Castro didn't allow an earned run in nine innings, holding Kinston
to a .138 batting average against.
Game 1: Kinston at Winston-Salem
Sean Smith (5-8, 3.60 ERA) vs. Orionny Lopez (2-2, 5.14 ERA)
Game 2: Winston-Salem at Kinston
Ray Liotta (6-2, 1.45 ERA) vs. Adam Miller (2-4, 4.83 ERA)
Game 3: Winston-Salem at Kinston (if necessary)
Lance Broadway (1-3, 4.58 ERA) vs. Nick Pesco (11-10, 3.82 ERA)
At the Plate
Kevin Kouzmanoff, 3B: Kouzmanoff missed more than two months with a back injury.
Otherwise, he may have been promoted to Akron by now. He managed to hit .339 with 12 homers
and 58 RBIs in just 68 games and the Indians are surely happy to have their No. 3 hitter
back in the lineup.
Stephen Head, 1B: The Indians' second-round pick this June lasted just 10 games in
the New York-Penn League, getting jumped up to the Carolina League after hitting .432 with
six homers and 14 RBIs. He's cooled off some but still has hit a respectable .286 while
serving as Kinston's cleanup hitter.
Ryan Goleski, OF: Goleski swings and misses a lot -- 134 strikeouts in 118 games. But
when he makes contact, it can go a long way. He leads the Indians with 17 homers and 67
RBIs, despite his .212 average and he's coming off his best run-production month (5 HR, 21
RBIs) in August.
Leo Daigle, 1B: All Daigle did was win the Carolina League Triple Crown, hitting .342
with 29 homers and 112 RBIs (he's got the one-game playoff to thank). That he pulled it off
despite playing 25 games in Triple-A shows just how much he dominated the league.
Noah Hall, OF: The veteran would get a lot more pub for his season if it weren't for
Daigle. He finished second to his teammate with a .332 average, his 26 homers were third to
Daigle and fellow Warthog Thomas Collaro, while his 92 RBIs place him in a tie for third.
Oh, he also stole 24 bases for good measure and led the league with 112 runs scored.
Robert Valido, SS: With all the power, someone has to get on and do some things with his speed to make things interesting. Enter Valido, who led the league with 52 steals in 119 games. His 86 runs scored in that time put him in a tie for third in the circuit.
Kinston is trying to become the first repeat champion in the Carolina League since
Wilmington won in 1998 and shared the title in 1999. The K-Tribe has a total of five
championships, four of them coming since becoming an Indians affiliate in 1987. ...
Winston-Salem has been around since 1945 and has been playing in the same stadium since
1957. The Warthogs have hoisted the championship trophy 10 times, most recently in 2003 (the
only title they've won as a White Sox affiliate).
Series could turn on...
Overcoming the loss of Gio Gonzalez. The Warthogs' lefty
didn't make the start in the one-game playoff on Tuesday
because of shoulder discomfort and that injury will keep him
out of this series as well. Orionny Lopez, Gonzalez'
replacement, has made one start all year, back in the beginning of May. The right-hander has pitched well lately, with a 1.17 ERA in nine relief appearances in August, and he did hold the Indians to a .194 batting average in his four games against them, but to say it's a step down from Gonzalez to Lopez would be just a small understatement.
Both teams are in talent-rich
systems and have a certain
amount of depth. Both teams have
lost players to higher levels,
and it seemed initially that the
Indians were hurt more by the
losses of impact players like
Jeremy Sowers and Brad Snyder as
well as Ryan Mulhern, Bear Bay
and even Nathan Panther, all of
whom are now in Akron. Winston-Salem saw
pitchers Daniel Haigwood, Fraser
Dizard and Ehren Wassermann move
up to Birmingham, which didn't
seem to be as big of an issue
until Gonzalez went down. The K
-Tribe hit just .252 against
lefties this year, so it is
somewhat surprising that Wes
Whisler is not getting a start,
especially when considering that
Lance Broadway got lit up in his
last two starts, one against
Kinston (4 IP, 8 ER). It looks
like missing Gio will be too
much for the Warthogs to
overcome. Indians in three.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.