09/06/2006 10:36 AM ET
Northwest League playoff preview
Boise vs. Salem-Keizer for Northwest title
By Alex Gyr / MLB.com
Editor's Note: Stats are through Sunday's action, though head-to-head stats are complete.
Boise Hawks (43-30) vs. Salem-Keizer Volcanoes (53-20)
The Volcanoes dominated the series, 8-2. The teams met in a pair of five-game series early in the season, with Boise winning just once on each occasion. The last time the teams met was an 11-2 Hawks' win on Aug. 1 at Memorial Stadium in Boise. The Volcanoes have beaten the Hawks in six of the last seven meetings.
The Hawks hit .224 in the 10 games against the Volcanoes and scored only 3.5 runs per game. OF Alfred Joseph hit .300 in 30 at-bats with two home runs. SS Matt Matulia batted just .091 (2-for-22) and struck out eight times. Starting pitching was a major problem for the Hawks. The only starting pitcher to earn a win was LHP Billy Petrick, who was promoted to Class A Advanced Daytona and is no longer on the roster. LHP Mark Pawelek spent the most time on the mound, going nine innings in two starts with a 3.00 ERA. The Hawks committed 16 errors as a team.
The Volcanoes had four players bat at or over the .400 mark against the Hawks this year, although one (Will Thompson, who hit .500 in 22 at-bats) is no longer with the team. The three still on the roster are C Henry Gutierrez (.438, but hasn't played since July 24), OF Thomas Neal (.400) and OF Robert Felmy (.400 and three home runs). RHP Gib Hobson was nearly flawless on the mound in his two starts. He allowed only three hits and one unearned run while going 2-0 in 11 innings. RHP John Odom took both losses, with a 17.36 ERA in 4 2/3 innings.
On the Mound
Pawelek is among the league leaders in ERA, but the wins haven't been there this season for the left-hander. He is fifth in the Northwest League among eligible pitchers, with a 2.51 ERA, but has a 3-5 record as a member of the rotation since mid-July. RHP Michael Cooper has acted as the team's closer for most of the season, leading the squad with nine saves in 12 opportunities. His 1.23 ERA is the best on the team, but at just 22 innings pitched, he doesn't qualify as a league leader. LHP Jeremy Papelbon has received attention as the brother of Red Sox closer Jonathan, but he has been one of the Hawks' best out of the bullpen. He is 4-0 with three saves and a 1.83 ERA in 18 appearances in relief.
The Volcanoes have three pitchers in the top six in the league in ERA. RHP Adam Cowart is the league leader in both ERA and wins, with a 10-1 record and a 1.08 ERA. The 35th-round draft pick out of Kansas State has held opposing batters to a .178 batting average. RHP Kevin Pucetas (2.23) and Odom (2.62) are also in the top six in the league and have helped the Volcanoes to a 2.92 team ERA, the best in the Northwest League. Closer Juan Trinidad leads the league with 16 saves.
At the Plate
The Hawks had the top offensive unit in the Northwest League this season, totaling a team batting average of .271. Joseph has been one of the best hitters in the league, hitting .309 in 65 games. Former North Carolina State standout Matt Camp has hovered around the .300 mark all season, while starting all but three of Boise's games at the leadoff spot. He is hitting .299 with three games to go in the regular season. 3B Russell Canzler leads the league in home runs with 16 and RBIs with 59.
The Volcanoes lead the league in runs scored, and trail only Boise in team batting average. SS Emmanuel Burriss led the way this season with a .305 batting average in 63 games. His 35 steals are also by far the most in the league, 13 ahead of Yakima's Edwin Roman. C Adam Witter leads the team in both home runs (15) and RBIs (51). Witter became the first Volcanoes player to hit for the cycle when he accomplished the feat in on Aug. 30 against Vancouver. He also set a franchise mark in that game with seven RBIs.
Since joining the league in 1987, Boise has won nine division titles and six league championships, the last coming in 2003. Only two of the six championships came since the Hawks became a Cubs affiliate in 2001 -- the first four titles came while Boise was a member of the Angels organization. This year's division championship marks the fourth time that Salem-Keizer has earned that title since moving to its current location in 1997. The Volcanoes have won two league titles, in 1997 and 2001.
Series could turn on
Getting to the Salem-Keizer pitching staff. This series is a matchup of the league's strongest pitching staff against the league's most potent offense. Boise's best chance will be if it can put up big run totals and play high-scoring games. To do that the Hawks will have to do a better job at the plate than they did against Salem-Keizer during the regular season. In 10 games, Boise scored just 35 runs.
Salem-Keizer was by far the best team during the regular season and the Volcanoes enter the playoffs as hot as ever, winning 23 of their last 26 games. Boise may be able to take a game at home, where the Hawks went 24-14, but if the regular season results were any indication, the Volcanoes have the upper hand. Salem-Keizer in four.
Alex Gyr is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.