09/07/2005 1:12 AM ET
Midwest League Playoff Preview
Silver Hawks-D-Rays; Wizards-'Caps; Rattlers-Snappers; Kings-Swing
By Jonathan Mayo / MLB.com
South Bend Silver Hawks vs. SouthWest Michigan Devil Rays
Jeff Clement made an instant impression on the Midwest League, hitting .319 with six homers and 20 RBIs in just 113 at-bats with Wisconsin. (Emily Smith)
(Best two of three)
REGULAR SEASON SERIES: South Bend won series, 8-4
The teams haven't met since June 26, when South Bend took three of four from Southwest
Michigan for the second straight series. The teams split a four-game set back in April, but then it was all Silver Hawks, who went 6-2 against the Devil Rays the rest of the way.
The Silver Hawks hit .307 and slugged .491 as a team against the D-Rays. Agustin Murillo hit .340 with 11 RBIs in 12 games. Cesar Nicolas hit .419 with three homers in eight games. Allen Mottram hit four homers in eight contests. ... South Bend's pitching staff posted a 3.98 ERA in the series. A.J. Shappi, since promoted, went 3-0 with a 2.25 ERA in three starts. Game 2 starter Ross Ohlendorf had a 1.80 ERA in two appearances.
The Devil Rays hit .258 in 12 games against the Silver Hawks. John Jaso had the most success, batting .341 with a pair of homers and seven RBIs in 10 games. Patrick Breen
appeared in just six games but hit .350 and slugged .600 (three extra-base hits), while Christopher Nowak hit .400 in seven games. ... The D-Rays staff posted a 6.11 ERA against
South Bend. Game 3 starter Brandon Mann had the most success of pitchers still on staff, going 1-0 with 3.38 ERA in three starts.
Game 1: South Bend at SW Michigan
Kellen Raab (7-6, 4.44 ERA) vs. James Houser (8-8, 3.76 ERA)
Game 2: SW Michigan at South Bend
Jarrad Lavergne (7-9, 4.16 ERA) vs. Ross Ohlendorf (11-10, 4.53 ERA)
Game 3: SW Michigan at South Bend (if necessary)
Brandon Mann (10-11, 3.81 ERA) vs. Koley Kolberg (6-7, 3.90 ERA)
AT THE PLATE
Carlos Gonzales, OF: The toolsy outfielder is just 19, but finished third in the
league in RBIs (92), seventh in homers (18) and seventh in average (.307) as a mainstay in
the middle of the SilverHawks' lineup. He was named league MVP for his efforts.
Cesar Nicolas, 1B: Nicolas has finished a superb season strongly, hitting .313 with
five homers and 17 RBIs in August. His 20 homers led the team and put him third in the
league, while his .578 slugging percentage tops the league.
Emilio Bonifacio, 2B: Bonifacio does one thing extremely well: run. He finished
second in the MWL with 55 steals and hasn't gotten tired, going a perfect 12-for-12 in
Fernando Perez, OF: The 2004 seventh-rounder out of Columbia University set a
franchise record and led the Midwest League with 57 stolen bases while hitting .289.
Reid Brignac, SS: The Devil Rays' second-round pick in 2004 has legitimate power (15
homers, 29 doubles), and the 19-year-old finished strongly by hitting .295 in August and
.375 in five September games.
John Jaso, C/DH: A shoulder injury has limited his playing time and his time behind
the plate, but the Midwest League All-Star finished sixth in the league with a .307 average
and hit 14 homers in just 92 games.
South Bend joined the Midwest League in 1988 and won the title the following year (as a
White Sox affiliate) and again in 1993. The Silver Hawks lost the championship in 1990.
Since becoming a Diamondbacks affiliate in 1997, South Bend made the playoffs and finished
runner-up to Kane County in 2001 in a series that was cut short by the terrorist attacks.
The Silver Hawks returned to the postseason in 2003 but got bounced in the first round. Last
year, South Bend again returned to the postseason, won a series, but lost a round shy of the
championship. ... Since joining the Midwest League in 1995, the club from Battle Creek has
captured one title, when the Michigan Battle Cats -- then an Astros affiliate -- won it all
SERIES COULD TURN ON...
The hot hand. While South Bend had the best overall record in the league and won both halves
of the Eastern Division, SW Michigan is riding a high. The Devil Rays won five in a row to
catapult them into the playoffs. They've done that with some ridiculously good starting
pitching: Over the five-game stretch, Rays' starters had a 1.50 ERA. The three projected
starters for this series -- Houser, Lavergne and Mann -- went 3-0 and allowed just one
unearned run over 19 innings, yielding eight hits and striking out 14. Southwest Michigan
will need more of those kinds of performances to keep South Bend's offense at bay.
The Silver Hawks led the Midwest League in just about every offensive category. As good as
the Rays' pitching has been of late, it's hard to imagine them shutting down a South Bend
club that dominated the season series. Silver Hawks in two.
Fort Wayne Wizards vs. West Michigan Whitecaps
REGULAR SEASON SERIES: West Michigan won series, 9-3
The Wizards and Whitecaps met eight times in May, with West Michigan taking three of four in
both series. They didn't meet again until August, but the result was the same: Fort Wayne
won the first game (behind Game 2 starter Cesar Ramos), but lost the next three.
The Wizards hit just .242 against the Whitecaps, but Matt Bush had some success. The former
No. 1 overall pick hit .325 in the 12 games and stole three bases. Peter Ciofrone hit .417
in nine games. A couple of newcomers had limited success, with Drew Davidson (3-for-8, 1 HR)
and Nick Hundley (3-for-10) providing a lift from Eugene. ... Fort Wayne's 4.60 ERA isn't
much better than the batting average, but some starters fared well. Game 1 starter Michael
Ekstrom lost two games but had a 2.14 ERA over three starts. Ramos gave up two runs in 5 2/3
innings, striking out eight in his lone start against West Michigan.
Even though the Whitecaps outscored the Wizards, 58-44, they also hit .242. The big boppers
were Jeff Frazier, who batted .348 and Brent Dlugach, who hit .341 and drove in 12 runs. ...
Pitching is why the Whitecaps dominated the season series. The staff had a 2.92 ERA. Game 1
starter Jair Jurrjens had mixed results with one terrific start and one bad one, but Game 2
starter Dallas Trahern had a 2.51 ERA in two starts and Game 3 starter Jeff Hahn tossed six
shutout innings in his one outing against Fort Wayne.
Game 1: Fort Wayne at West Michigan
Michael Ekstrom (13-6, 3.70 ERA) vs. Jair Jurrjens (12-6, 3.41 ERA)
Game 2: West Michigan at Fort Wayne
Dallas Trahern (7-11, 3.58 ERA) vs. Cesar Ramos (3-2, 4.19 ERA)
Game 3: West Michigan at Fort Wayne (if necessary)
Jeff Hahn (4-2, 3.25 ERA) vs. Brent Carter (2-0, 0.75 ERA)
AT THE PLATE
Paul Ciofrone, 3B: Ciofrone's numbers would've been gaudier if not for missing most
of July. Still, he used a .384 August to build his season average to .301.
Matt Thayer, OF: Thayer missed most of the year with groin injuries but has hit well
since joining the Wizards in July. He's batted .353 in 37 games, can play all over the
outfield and gives Fort Wayne a good option at the top of the lineup, thanks to his .450
on-base percentage in the Midwest League.
Nick Hundley/Chase Headley, C/3B: The Wizards will get some help from this pair of
2005 draftees for the playoffs. The Hundley-Headley combo went one after another in the
second round, both out of big-time college programs and join Fort Wayne after brief stops in Eugene. Hundley hit seven homers in 43 games for the Emeralds, while Headley went deep six times in 57 games. Both bring good plate discpline to the Midwest League.
Jeff Frazier, OF: The Rutgers product led the Whitecaps with 81 RBIs and was second in average (.287), homers (12) and stolen bases (16).
Wilkin Ramirez, 3B/DH: Despite having missed all of the 2004 season, Ramirez put up good numbers in his first full pro year. He led West Michigan with 16 homers and 21 steals, though he struck out 143 times against just 35 walks.
Nick McIntyre, utility: While seeing time at five positions defensively, McIntyre managed to lead the Whitecaps with a .303 average. He also stole 11 bases and posted a team-best .364 OBP.
Fort Wayne joined the Midwest League in 1993 and has never won a championship. The Wizards made the playoffs in 1995, 1997-98, 2000 and 2003, winning one series in both 1997 and 1998. They have yet to win a playoff series since becoming a Padres affiliate in 1999. ... West Michigan became a member of the MWL in 1994 and made the playoffs for five straight seasons. The Whitecaps won two titles during that stretch, in 1996 and 1998. They turned the trick again last year, beating Kane County in five games.
SERIES COULD TURN ON...
Fort Wayne turning things around. After winning the first-half wild card with a 38-32 record, the Wizards had the worst second-half record in the Midwest League (27-43). They'll have to rediscover some of their first-half magic to have a chance to advance.
West Michigan had the league's second-best second-half record and the Whitecaps obviously had Fort Wayne's number, even in the first half. It's a trend that doesn't seem likely to change. Whitecaps in two
Wisconsin Timber Rattlers vs. Beloit Snappers
REGULAR SEASON SERIES: Wisconsin and Beloit split series, 8-8
Talk about evenly matched, not only did the season series end 8-8, but Wisconsin and Beloit
split each four-game series they played.
Yung Chi Chen led the way with a .381 aveage and eight RBIs. He also stole four bases. Josh
Womack hit .327 with six steals and Chris Colton went 10-for-22 (.455) with a pair of homers
in seven games. ... Game 1 starter Mark Lowe made two appearances against Beloit, going 1-1
with a 3.97 ERA. Aaron Jensen made four starts and went 2-0 with a 3.38 ERA
RBI leader David Winfree drove in 13 runs and hit three homers in 15 games against
Wisconsin. Jeremy Pickrel hit .321 with five extra-base hits in eight games. ... Game 2
starter Kyle Waldrop went 2-0 but had a 5.57 ERA in four starts against the Snappers. Game 3
starter Kevin Slowey made three appearances and posted a 0.93 ERA in 9 2/3 IP, striking out
13. Closer Jonatha Martinez didn't allow a run and saved three games in nine appearances,
spanning 15 innings.
Game 1: Wisconsin at Beloit
Mark Lowe (6-6, 5.47 ERA) vs. Kyle Asleton (6-2, 2.49 ERA)
Game 2: Beloit at Wisconsin
Kyle Waldrop (6-11, 4.98 ERA) vs. Aaron Jensen (10-13, 5.56 ERA)
Game 3: Beloit at Wisconsin (if necessary)
Kevin Slowey (3-2, 2.24 ERA) vs. Robert Rohrbaugh (5-2, 3.84 ERA with Everett)
AT THE PLATE
Jeff Clement, C: The No. 3 overall pick in this year's draft has made a big
impression after a very brief stop in Everett since signing. In 113 at-bats with Wisconsin,
the Southern Cal product hit .319 with six homers and 20 RBIs.
Yung Chi Chen, 2B/3B: Signed out of Taiwan, Chen has had pretty good success during
his first full year in the States. Shuttling between second and third, he's second on the
Timber Rattlers with 80 RBIs and third with 15 steals while hitting a respectable .292,
thanks to a .317 August.
Brent Johnson, Utility: Johnson wasn't even playing every day until July and he's
played all three outfield positions, first and third base. But once he got in the lineup, he
erupted by hitting .383 in July and .391 in August to bring his season average up to .310
(fifth in the league) with a .403 OBP (fourth in the MWL), all while tying for the team lead
with 22 steals and entrenching himself as Wisconsin's leadoff hitter.
David Winfree, 3B: Winfree won the league RBI title with 101 and hit .294 with 16
homers and 31 doubles. He was tremendous in the second half, batting .311 (with 29 RBIs) in
July, .303 in August and .364 in five September games.
Deacon Burns, OF: It's hard not to like a guy who had more triples (13) than homers
(12). He also stole 13 bases and drove in 78 runs, good for eighth in the league.
Paul Kelly, 2B: The 2005 second-rounder just arrived five games ago, but four of them
were agaisnt Wisconsin. He's gone 5-for-16 in those five games with a homer and four
Since joining the Midwest League in 1962 (as Appleton), Wisconsin has won eight
championships, starting in 1967. The franchise also won titles in 1969, 1978 and 1982-84. It
became a Mariners affiliate in 1993 and changed its name to the Timber Rattlers two years
later (the team had been known as the Foxes). They made it to the postseason every year from
1996-2001, losing in the championship round in 1996 and 1999. ... Beloit was added to the
Midwest League in 1982. The Snappers have won one title, in 1995, though they made it to the
championship series in 1992, 2000 and 2003.
SERIES COULD TURN ON...
Luck? Seriously, with no apparent edge, it may come down to who gets a bloop hit with a
runner in scoring position at the right time. Both clubs have been helped by callups, so
perhaps it will come down to a Kevin Slowey vs. Jeff Clement showdown in Game 3.
All it takes is two pitchers with their "A" games to win a best-of-three series. With that
in mind, it's tempting to give Beloit the edge with the stuff its starters can bring to the
table. That being said, Clement has already shown the ability to dominate the league with
his bat. Timber Rattlers in three
Clinton LumberKings vs. Swing of Quad Cities
REGULAR SEASON SERIES: Clinton won the series 7-5
Clinton won two of three in the teams' first meeting in mid-April, then won one game at the
end of the month (a makeup). The Swing answered with a three out of four effort in early
May. It wasn't until early August that the clubs met again, this time with the LumberKings
winning three out of four.
The LumberKings hit .252 as a team against the Swing, with Emerson Frostad leading the way
with a .323 average, three homers and seven RBIs. William Susdorf hit .313 with four steals
in eight games. ... The pitching staff posted a 4.06 ERA. Game 3 starter Michael Schlact had
a 3.75 ERA in two starts. Game 2 starter Kae Kometani threw five shutout innings in his lone
start and Game 1 starter Eric Hurley did him one better with seven one-hit frames.
The Swing didn't, hitting just .216 over the 12 games. The two most successful hitters --
Derry Hammond and Jarrett Hoffpauir -- are not on the roster. Pitchers fared a touch better
with a 4.29 ERA. Game 1 starter Phillip Anderson gave up two earned runs and struck out
seven over 5 2/3 IP in his one start. Closer Mike Sillman had a 1.59 ERA and picked up three
saves, despite walking 10 in 5 2/3 IP.
Game 1: Clinton at Quad Cities
Eric Hurley (12-6, 3.77 ERA) vs. Phillip Anderson (5-1, 2.96 ERA)
Game 2: Quad Cities at Clinton
Mark McCormick (1-2, 5.48 ERA) vs. Kae Kometani (3-2, 2.40 ERA)
Game 3: Quad Cities at Clinton (if necessary)
Nicholas Webber (0-4, 3.41 ERA) vs. Michael Schlact (10-7, 4.17 ERA)
AT THE PLATE
Jim Fasano, 1B: Even though Fasano played just 10 games in April, he still leads the
team in average (.302) among regulars and RBIs (74). He's coming off a monster August in
which he hit .362 with four homers and 24 RBIs.
Brandon Boggs, OF: The 2004 fourth-rounder out of Georgia Tech didn't debut until
late May, but still showed an intriguing skill set by hitting 13 homers and swiping 14
bases. When he gets hot, he can do what he did in July, when he hit .309 with six homers, 27
RBIs and four steals.
William Susdorf, OF: The Rangers' sixth-round pick in 2004, he missed about a month
in May and June, but hit .323 in August to bring his totals up to .277 with 17 steals in 85
Matt Shepherd, INF: Playing second, short and third, Shepherd hit .292 (the highest
average for anyone with more than 300 at-bats) and stole 21 bases. He hit .324 in July and
.303 in August.
Michael Ferris, 1B: The average was surprisingly low (.230), but he still led Quad
Cities with 16 homers and 69 RBIs.
Matt Lemanczyk, OF: Speed can be a difference-maker in the playoffs and Lemanczyk has
plenty. He had a strong second half to bring his average up to .266, and his 48 stolen bases
were third in the Midwest League. He also was in the top five with 92 runs scored.
The league's oldest team, Clinton has been around since 1956. In all that time, though, the
franchise has won just two championships, the last coming in 1991, when it was a Giants
affiliate. The other came way back in 1963 when they were the C-Sox, a White Sox affiliate.
Since joining the Rangers organization in 2003, the LumberKings (the club took that name in
1994) have made the postseason in all three years -- including this one -- but have yet to
advance to the championship. ... Quad City has had an entry in the Midwest League since
1960. Championships have come in 1968, 1971, 1979 and 1990.
SERIES COULD TURN ON...
Mark McCormick. The Cards' pick in the supplemental round this past June, he's got No. 1
starter stuff, particularly with a fastball that has reached triple digits in the past. He's
struck out 55 in 48 2/3 pro innings, but command is often an issue (31 walks). Since joining
the Swing, his ERA is 5.48 and his last start on Saturday -- 4 2/3 IP, seven hits, six
earned runs, three walks and four strikeouts -- was not encouraging. But if he brings his
good stuff in Game 2, he'll be the best pitcher on either team (with Eric Hurley the
possible exception) and can either pitch Quad Cities to the next round or extend the season
at least one more day.
With Clinton's pitching lining up well in terms of having their ace, Eric Hurley, pitch the
opener, there's a good chance they'll head back home with a 1-0 lead. That means that even
if the McCormick scenario plays out, the LumberKings will have Game 3 at home to win the
series. Considering McCormick's about as big a wild card as can be in the Midwest League,
things are looking pretty good for the LumberKings. LumberKings in two.
Jonathan Mayo 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.