09/11/2006 10:39 AM ET
PCL Championship Series Preview
Round Rock Express vs. Tucson Sidewinders
By Kristen Zimmerman / Special to MLB.com
Round Rock Express vs. Tucson Sidewinders
Round Rock and Tucson played just one four-game series in the regular season, but if those games are indicative of anything, the teams match up evenly. The Express and Sidewinders split the series, with Tucson outscoring Round Rock by one run, 19-18.
Hector Gimenez batted .540 in four May games against the Sidewinders ... Brooks Conrad hit .300 and scored four runs ... Royce Huffman was Round Rock's leading run producer against Tucson, driving in five runs while batting .280 ... In his only start against Tucson, Philip Barzilla held the Sidewinders to one run on four hits in 6 innings ... Alan Zinter was hitless in nine at-bats with four strikeouts, and Cody Ransom was 1-for-15 with six strikeouts against Tucson pitching.
Alberto Callaspo devoured Round Rock pitching just like he did every other pitching staff in the league, batting .380 and scoring four runs ... Scott Hairston hit .350 with five RBIs in four games against the Express ... Robby Hammock batted a solid .300 with three runs scored ... Jeff Bajenaru held Round Rock scoreless in two relief appearances ... Chris Carter had just one hit in 13 at-bats.
ON THE MOUND
In the first round against Salt Lake, the Sidewinders got dominating performances from almost every pitcher who's supposed to give them dominating performances. Dustin Nippert gave up two unearned runs on three hits in 7 1/3 innings to the Bees to earn a win in Game 2. Micah Owings remained undefeated with the Sidewinders, giving up a run on five hits in six innings to help Tucson to a win in the opener. Bill Murphy was strong in postseason relief, earning two wins in two appearances after posting a 5.58 regular-season ERA. Adam Bass and Evan MacLane struggled in their starts, posting a 13.50 and 15.00 ERA, respectively.
Like Tucson, the Express got strong starts in the first round from a few of their key pitchers, the most notable being Ezequiel Astacio's complete-game shutout in Game 5. However, they also lost a key component when Chris Sampson, who was 12-3 with a 2.51 ERA in the regular season, was called up to the Astros on Friday. Matt Albers scattered three hits and gave up a run in his Game 3 start, and Philip Barzilla did the same over eight innings but took the hard-luck loss in Game 4. Jared Gothreaux also put together a respectable outing, surrendering three runs in 5 2/3 innings in Game 2.
AT THE PLATE
In the last five games, Hector Gimenez was one of the only bright spots in the Express lineup. The catcher batted a scorching .500 (9-for-18) with five RBIs to anchor the offense against Nashville. In fact, if it wasn't for Gimenez, you might be reading about the Sounds' offense right now. Four of Round Rock's top regular-season hitters -- J.R. House, Joe McEwing, Royce Huffman, and Brooks Conrad -- combined to hit .180 in the first round.
Looking at the relative ease with which the Sidewinders got through the first round against Salt Lake, you would expect names like Scott Hairston and Alberto Callaspo to jump out at you in the box score. But instead, Jon Weber, Robby Hammock and Juan Brito proved what a solid all-around lineup they have. Weber, who batted .283 in the regular season, batted .412 and scored five runs against the Bees. Hammock led the Sidewinders with five RBIs and batted .333, while Brito hit .300 in four games. Callaspo, who finished the regular season with the highest average in the PCL, was 5-for-18, while Hairston was held to just two hits in 14 at-bats.
POINTS OF INTEREST
Both the Express and Sidewinders had the benefit of clinching their divisions early and preparing for the playoffs without a pennant race to worry about. Tucson clinched the Pacific South title on August 27, and Round Rock secured a playoff berth the following day. Tucson's last PCL title came when the Toros won the championship in 1993. The Express just made their first playoff appearance since becoming a Triple-A franchise, and they're now making their first showing in the finals. However, the Express did win the Texas League Championship as a Double-A club in 2000.
SERIES COULD TURN ON
The middle of Round Rock's batting order waking up ... just in time. Good hitters don't stay in slumps for very long, and the Express have a lot of struggling good hitters. If just a few of their stars find their swings by Tuesday, they'll give Tucson's pitching a hard time.
Minor League fans couldn't ask for much more in this series. Tucson and Round Rock are arguably the top two teams in the PCL, and you can expect to see two excellent lineups facing two excellent pitching staffs. However, Tucson may have the edge talent-wise and the loss of Chris Sampson to Houston puts a slight damper on the Round Rock starting rotation. Tucson in five.
Kristen Zimmerman is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.