09/09/2006 4:46 PM ET
Carolina League playoff preview
Frederick Keys vs. Kinston Indians
By Lisa Winston / MLB.com
CAROLINA LEAGUE FINALS
(Best of 5)
Frederick Keys (61-76) vs. Kinston Indians (84-54)
G1: Sat., Sept. 9, Frederick at Kinston, 7 p.m. (Matt Bruback vs. Joe Ness)
G2: Sun., Sept. 10, Frederick at Kinston, 2 p.m. (Manny Basilio vs. Mariano Gomez)
G3: Mon., Sept. 11, Kinston at Frederick, 7 p.m., (Chuck Lofgren vs. Luis Ramirez)
G4: Tues., Sept. 12, Kinston at Frederick, 7 p.m., (Scott Lewis vs. Craig Anderson)*
G5: Wed., Sept. 13, Kinston at Frederick, 7 p.m., (TBA vs. Kevin Hart)*
Season series: Kinston won, 13-7
Frederick vs. Kinston
The Keys hit just .247 against Kinston while posting a 5.37 ERA. The current heart of the order, however, did some damage as 1B Mario Delgado hit .351 in nine games with four doubles, two homers and eight RBIs while OF Nolan Reimold batted .382 in 18 games with six of his 19 homers and 17 RBIs. CF Arturo Rivas batted .353 against the Indians in six games since coming up from Class A Delmarva. On the mound, LHP Craig Anderson was the most effective of the current members of the Frederick rotation with a 3.72 ERA in two starts. Reliever Manny Basilio, who will be starting in this series, posted a 2-0 record and 0.87 ERA in five games, including one start. Lefty reliever Richard Salazar was also successful with an 0.69 ERA in 13 innings of relief.
Kinston vs. Frederick
The Indians batted .282 against the Keys pitching and posted a 3.65 ERA. However, the players who are currently with the team combined to hit just .256. OF Jordan Brown hit .311 against the Keys with four doubles, three triples, a homer and 14 RBIs. OF Jose Constanza batted .333. Switch-hitting IF Argenis Reyes hit .304 with 12 RBIs. IF Micah Schilling batted .362 in 13 games. On the mound, Kinston's strength -- the starters -- have been typically impressive but ace Chuck Lofgen was dominant with a 1.01 ERA in five starts. Lefty Scott Lewis posted a 1.76 ERA in three outings.
WHO'S HOT, WHO'S NOT
The Keys were streaky down the stretch, winning 13 out of 16 games before losing eight of their last nine to finish the regular season. Though the club hit .252 during the season, they went just 4-for-56 in the first two games of the Northern Division semifinals against Wilmington (.071) before exploding for 15 hits in the clincher, a 9-4 victory. The bottom four hitters in the lineup went a combined 8-for-17 in that game. Veteran 3B Tripper Johnson batted .347 from August on for the Keys, while Carolina League home run champion OF Jason Fransz had nine of his league-high 24 homers in August. Getting hot at the right moment? Newly acquired 1B Vito Chiaravalloti, signed as a free agent after being released by Toronto. Though he hit just .075 in August and September and didn't play in the first two games of the playoffs, his home run in the first inning of the semifinal clincher opened the floodgates for the Keys' hitters, as he finished the night 2-for-4 with three RBIs. Chiaravalloti won the rare league Triple Crown in the New York-Penn League in 2003. Reimold wielded the hottest bat in the playoffs for the Keys, going 4-for-8 with a homer and three RBIs.
The Indians won three in a row to finish the season, and four of their last five, which gives them a five-game winning streak heading into the finals. Their 84-54 record overall was the best in the league and among the best in the Minors. Carolina League MVP Brown was hot in August, hitting .347 that month with five homers and a league-high 26 RBIs. He's remained toasty in the two postseason games so far, hitting .429 with three runs scored and an RBI. Constanza batted .328 from Aug. 1 on. He also was staying hot in the postseason, batting .400 in 10 at-bats. The Indians hit .301 in their two games against Salem's vaunted pitching, as 1B Stephen Head batted .375 with the team's lone homer of the playoffs so far.
ON THE MOUND
RHP Matt Bruback will get the call for the Keys in the opener after not seeing time in the semifinals. He was the Keys' most effective starter down the stretch and posted a team-best 3.69 in the rotation. RHP Luis Ramirez posted a 4.23 ERA and his 122 strikeouts ranked him fourth in the league. Anderson had a 4.78 ERA in 11 regular-season starts but pitched a gem in the playoffs to win Game 2 against Wilmington, allowing one run on five hits over seven innings. RHP Kevin Hart, a Maryland product, was 6-11 on the season with a 4.61 ERA but he had his best start of the summer in his next-to-last game, tossing seven shutout innings, and coming through with a crucial eight innings of five-hit ball, allowing one unearned run, to win Game 3 for the Keys and propel them back into the finals. Anderson and Hart's heroics also allowed the Keys to rest their bullpen for the finals, setting up a situation to allow hard-throwing Basilio (2.56) to make the spot start in Game 2. Southpaw closer Rommie Lewis Jr. (2.09) will be the back-of-the-bullpen guy.
The Indians boast one of the best one-two starters in the Minors in Carolina League Pitcher of the Year Lofgren (17-5, 2.32 ERA) and Lewis (3-3, 1.48 ERA). Both lefties, Lofgren led the Minors in wins while Lewis, on a pitch limit all year, led all full-season pitchers in ERA. RHP Joe Ness didn't get the attention that pair did but he was one of the most consistent and successful pitchers in the league all season, going 9-3 with a 3.62 ERA. Lanky LHP Mariano Gomez moved down from Double-A Akron in late May and posted a 3.86 ERA between starting and relief. His presence in the likely No. 2 spot means the Indians will throw three lefties in a row at Frederick. RHP J.D. Martin, who underwent Tommy John surgery last summer, has sparkled in his rehab, tossing 11 1/3 scoreless innings. He's been piggybacking with Lewis in the southpaw's last few starts and tossed three hitless innings in that role in the semifinal clincher. The Indians have two legitimate closers in T.J. Burton, who was second in the league with 19 saves before leaving in mid-August to close for Team Canada in the Olympic qualifier, and Kyle Collins, who notched six more with a 2.00 ERA as his replacement. Burton is back but Collins will likely be the first alternative closing, giving the team a strong pair in the back end of the pen.
AT THE PLATE
The Keys led the Carolina League with 112 homers, as Fransz's 24 ranked first and Reimold was third with 19. Fransz was also second in the league with 84 RBIs. 1B Delgado, who led the Keys in hitting in 2005, returned to the club from Double-A Bowie after the All-Star break and hit .286 with 11 homers and 49 RBIs in that span. 2B Paco Figueroa was one of the Keys' two All-Stars (along with Fransz), hitting .284 and leading the club with 20 stolen bases. Johnson hit .305 with five home runs and 24 RBIs after joining the club with Delgado. IF Pete Maestrales landed in the top 10 in average, hitting .285 with seven home runs and 41 RBIs.
Brown was named league MVP as he led the league with 87 RBIs. His 290 average ranked third while he also finished top five in the league in hits (137, tied for third), slugging (.469, third), extra-base hits (48, fifth) and runs scored (71, tied for fourth). Reyes' 137 hits tied him for third with Brown, and he also tied with Brown in runs scored with 71. 1B/DH Rodney Choy Foo hit .293 with 12 homers and 60 RBIs in just 89 games while Constanza batted .327 after joining the team from Class A Lake County.
POINTS OF INTEREST
This year's Mills Cup Finals feature a rematch of last year's two contenders. In that series, Frederick beat Kinston in five games, with pitcher Brian Finch earning series MVP honors as he won Games 1 and 5 for the Keys. ... Kinston has won the Southern Division title 11 of the last 20 years, and is making its sixth straight appearance in the playoffs. The Indians beat the Wilmington Blue Rocks in five games in 2004 to win the league title. ... The visiting team won all three games in the Northern Division semifinals as the Keys lost their home opener to the Blue Rocks, 3-1, before winning two at Wilmington, 2-1 and 9-4. They won the first road game, despite collecting just one hit, ending an 0-for-5 postseason history against the Rocks. ... The Indians swept second-half Southern champion Salem in two games.
SERIES COULD TURN ON
Though they probably won't be able to get to their one-two punch of left-handers Chuck Lofgren (17-5, 2.32) and Scott Lewis (1.48) until Games 3-4, few if any teams in the Minors can match a front-of-the-rotation like that of the Indians. In that pair, they have the Carolina League Pitcher of the Year, who led the Minors in wins and finished second in the league in ERA and strikeouts, and the Minors' ERA leader, who won the Most Spectacular Pitcher award. And if that's not enough, Kinston also has the reigning league MVP in red-hot OF Jordan Brown. Frederick, while its pitching can't compare to that of Kinston, did get some outstanding starts when it needed them in the semifinals and has an experienced heart of the lineup, and six players return from the team that beat the Indians last year in this series. In a best-of-3, anything can happen, but in a five-game set, look for Kinston's superior pitching to prevail.
Lisa Winston 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.