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Carolina League Playoff Preview
09/07/2005 1:46 AM ET
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?

Head-to-head stats

Lynchburg
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 innings.

Frederick
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 Monday.

Probable pitchers

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

Lynchburg
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 league).
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.

Frederick
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.

History lessons

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.

Prediction

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.

Head-to-head stats

Kinston
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.

Winston-Salem
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.

Probable pitchers

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

Kinston
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.

Winston-Salem
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.

History lessons

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.

Prediction

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.