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09/06/2005 5:09 PM ET
California League playoff preview
High Desert's Chris Lubanski slugged two homers in Game 1 against Lancaster, but it wasn't enough as the Mavs fell, 8-5.

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Stockton vs. Modesto
(Best 2-of-3)

REGULAR SEASON SERIES

Stockton held what would appear to be a slight advantage in that it won 13 of the 24 games played between the two teams. But Modesto has stumbled down the stretch. The Ports swept a four-game series from the Nuts last week.

HEAD-TO-HEAD STATS

Modesto
Mark Kaiser, Steve Register and Juan Morillo went 4-4 against Stockton with a 4.81 ERA. Larry Robles started a pair of games, went 0-1 and posted a 11.42 ERA, allowing 11 runs on 16 hits in 8 2/3 innings. Reliever Jason Burch went 2-0 in seven games, not allowing a run and striking out 10 in 9 2/3 innings. Bullpen mate Josh Newman also had success, posting a 1.69 ERA and striking out 20 in 10 2/3 innings. Stockton only hit .189 off him. Joe Gaetti had five homers and 15 RBIs while hitting .444 (32-for-72) in 21 games.

Stockton
Keith Dunn and Christopher Dunwell combined to go 5-1 with a 4.10 ERA in seven games (five starts). Closer Jared Burton was also 2-0 with four saves and a 0.79 ERA in nine games (11 1/3 innings). He fanned 21, walked only three, and the Nuts hit only .190 against him. Danny Putnam hit .312 with a homer and 17 RBIs. Kurt Suzuki also drove in 17, hitting .304 with five homers. Dustin Majewski had three homers and 12 RBIs.

ON THE MOUND

Modesto
Kaiser (7-6, 4.45) will start the opener. At 1-4 with a 5.26 ERA in his final six starts, Kaiser's struggles down the stretch have been a microcosm of the club's. Opposing batters are hitting .337 against him in those six starts. Steven Register (9-11, 4.44) gets the start in Game 2 and if there is a third game Juan Morillo (6-5, 4.41) will go. Register hasn't started in September but went 1-1 with a 3.79 ERA in six August starts. After winning four consecutive starts between July 1-20, Morrillo has a loss and seven no-decisions with a 6.99 ERA in eight starts. Closer Jim Miller had 25 saves, good for second in the league but he was promoted, leaving behind a closer by committee setup. As a staff, Modesto gave up the fewest homers (105), but that has a great deal to do with its cavernous home field.

Stockton
Brad Knox (8-7, 4.27) will start the opener for the Ports. He's been erratic over his last few starts, giving up seven runs in one start and six while walking five in another. He sandwiched those around two performances in which he's allowed three runs total. Dunn (11-4, 4.56) will get the nod in Game 2. He hasn't lost since Aug. 11 and didn't lose consecutive games all season. The Ports haven't announced a Game 3 starter. Chris Dunwell was 9-5 with a 5.63 ERA. Burton (4-4, 2.60), an eighth-round pick in 2002, was third in the league in saves (24) and hasn't allowed a run in his last five outings. Scott Drucker went 7-1 in 218 games (eight starts) but posted a 5.56 ERA. Stockton called up pitcher Ryan Ford, who was 14-7 with a 4.26 ERA at Kane County, for the playoffs. The Ports led the league in strikeouts (1,182) and had the second-fewest walks (437-429) behind Lancaster.

AT THE PLATE

Modesto
The Nuts called in some reinforcements of their own, bringing up outfielder Matt Miller and catcher Neil Wilson from Asheville of the South Atlantic League. Miller won the Sally League Most Valuable Player Award after hitting .331 with 30 homers and 100 RBIs. Outfielder Joe Gaetti missed some time after running into a wall but for the most part has been one of the best players in the league. He finished third in hitting at .332, fourth in slugging percentage (.605) and tied for third in triples (eight). Overall, he had 27 homers and 87 RBIs, anchoring a lineup that was wracked with injuries and promotions, reaching base in 52 consecutive games. Ian Stewart has also had a solid season, hitting .274 with 17 homers and 86 RBIs. First-round pick Troy Tulowitzki has missed most of the season with a variety of leg injuries. He hit .266 with four homers and 14 RBIs in 22 games. He went 3-for-9 in two games over the weekend upon his return to the lineup.

Stockton
Outfielder Danny Putnam has been one of the most productive players on the circuit, hitting .307 and finishing fifth with 100 RBIs and fourth with 97 runs scored. Fellow outfielder Dustin Majewski had 20 homers and 73 RBIs, finishing fifth with 66 extra-base hits, 43 of which were doubles. Catcher Kurt Suzuki could be the most pleasant surprise on the team, hitting .277 and driving in 65 runs, a bonus that only complements his superb defense. He had an eight-game hitting streak stopped last week, during which he went 12-for-36 with four homers and 10 RBIs. He had five multi-hit games during the streak.

POINTS OF INTEREST

The winner will advance to face San Jose in the divisional finals that begin on Saturday. Modesto, which was an Oakland affiliate for three decades through last season, is the defending league champ. It was the franchise's ninth league title. The first was in 1915. After beginning the second half at 24-8, Modesto finished up by going 9-27 after injuries and call-ups decimated the squad Stockton, which is now an A's affiliate, won its 10th and last title in 2002.

SERIES COULD TURN ON...

The series could and should turn on Stockton's bats. The Ports have the ability to produce too many runs for the weary Nuts. Matt Miller will help Modesto, but not enough.

PREDICTION

Modesto's long second half only gets longer. Stockton in two.

High Desert vs. Lancaster
(Best 2-of-3)

REGULAR SEASON SERIES

High Desert won 14 of the 25 games played. The two teams last met over the weekend with High Desert taking two of three games. It was payback for Lancaster taking two of three last week.

HEAD-TO-HEAD STATS

Lancaster
Jeff Cook, Jay Garthwaite and Danny Richar combined to hit .299 with seven homers and 50 RBI during the season series. Brian Rose added a .368 average and 11 RBIs while Miguel Montero hit .404 and drove in 10. Jonathan Castellanos was 2-0 with a 4.09 ERA in four starts. Reliever Alex Cremidan was 1-1 in nine games with a 1.50 ERA Dustin Glant and Matt Wilkinson each recorded three saves.

High Desert
John Gragg III was 3-1 with a 5.85 ERA in four starts. Dusty Hughes started five games in the series and 2-2 with a 5.46 ERA. Chris Demaria was 1-0 with five saves and a 2.08 ERA in nine appearances. Chris Lubanski averaged an RBI a game, appearing in 22 games and driving in 22. Adam Keim hit .329 and had eight homers. High Desert hit .313 while Lancaster hit .300.

ON THE MOUND

Lancaster
A.J. Shappi (5-6, 5.10) will get the nod in the opener. He's 2-2 in his last four starts with a 6.92 ERA. Opposing teams are hitting .300 against him during that stretch. He began the season with South Bend of the Midwest League, where he went 11-1 with a 2.85 ERA in 15 starts. Matt Chico (7-2, 3.76) goes in Game 2. He's 6-0 in his last nine starts, at one point winning five straight. He hasn't won since Aug. 23, but he hasn't lost since June 20. He negan the season by going 1-7 with Tennessee of the Southern League. If needed, Garrett Mock (14-7) will go in Game 3. Dustin Glant (16 saves) and Matt Wilkinson (15 saves) have shared closer duties, though Wilkinson has a 3.06 ERA to Glant's 7.19. Former Tulane star Micah Owings (1-1, 2.45) has been solid out of the 'pen.

High Desert
Gragg (13-5, 4.36) is in line to start the opener, having last pitched on Aug. 31. He is 3-0 in his last four starts. His ERA in the victories is 2.81. Billy Buckner (5-6, 5.36) is 0-2 in his last six starts with four consecutive no-decisions. Chris Demaria had 19 saves before earning a promotion to Double-A Wichita. Bryan Steffek (three saves)and Gabe DeHoyos (two saves) appear to be the candidates to fill the void. As a staff, High Desert finished last in the league with 922 strikeouts.

AT THE PLATE

High Desert
Billy Butler was hitting .348 and finished second in the league in hitting before moving on to Wichita. That leaves Angel Sanchez (.313) as the team's leading hitter. If not for Rancho Cucamonga's Brandon Wood, Chris Lubanski, a first-round pick in 2003, would qualify as the league's most dangerous hitter. He's hitting .301, is second to Wood with 28 homers and edged Wood for the RBI title, 116-115. He was second to Wood with 72 extra-base hits. Kila Kaaihue also must pick up the slack for Butler production-wise, and his numbers (20 homers, 90 RBIs) suggest he should do just fine. With 203 homers, the Mavs broke Visalia's record of 200 homers, which has stood since 1971.

Lancaster
The JetHawks led the league with a .302 average, mainly on the strength of Miguel Montero hitting .349. But he was promoted to Tennessee in July. Phil Avlas has hit .367 in 37 games since coming down from the Southern League while Kenny Perez has hit .320 since coming over in a July trade with Boston. Garthwaite has 21 homers and 102 RBIs (fourth in the league) and is riding a seven-game hitting streak during which he's hit .414 (12-for-29) with four homers and nine RBIs. Jeff Cook hit .314 with 19 homers and 89 RBIs but was in a 4-for-27 slump over his last six games.

POINTS OF INTEREST

The winner will advance to face Southern Division first-half champ Lake Elsinore in a best-of-five series beginning Saturday. Lancaster, which reached the playoffs for the sixth time in 10 years, has never won a California League crown. Lake Elsinore was declared co-champion along with San Jose in 2001 in the wake of 9/11. High Desert has won three titles, the last of which came in 1997. Lake Elsinore has been crowned champion twice.

SERIES COULD TURN ON...

Lubanski. He can dominate and do real damage. He has enough protection in the lineup that Lancaster can't really pitch around him.

PREDICTION

Lubanski will be the difference, though he and Garthwaite will likely put on a show. High Desert in three.

Kevin T. Czerwinski is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.