09/17/2006 12:28 PM ET
Bricktown Showdown Preview
PCL, IL champs battle for Triple-A title in inaugural one-game playoff
By Kevin T. Czerwinski / MLB.com
Mike Hessman led the Mud Hens at the plate in the postseason, hitting five homers and driving in nine runs in 10 games for Toledo. (Joy R. Absalon/MiLB.com)
WHAT: Toledo Mud Hens vs. Tucson Sidewinders in the inaugural Bricktown Showdown
WHEN: Tuesday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2
WHERE: AT&T Bricktown Ballpark on Mickey Mantle Plaza, Oklahoma City
ON THE MOUND
Eulogio De La Cruz will get the start simply because of attrition. Chad Durbin was being considered but he got promoted to Detroit, which put Colby Lewis on the mound Tuesday night. To make room on the 40-man roster for Durbin, though, the Tigers had to designate Lewis for assignment and he is now ineligible, leaving Larry Parrish with little choice but to start De La Cruz. He was 5-6 with a 3.43 ERA in 38 games (12 starts) for Erie of the Double-A Eastern League before moving up to Toledo, where he did not fare well in his only regular-season appearance for the Mud Hens, a start against Columbus that lasted only 2 1/3 innings. He allowed three runs on four hits in that affair but that didn't prevent Parrish from going back to him in the postseason. De La Cruz has started a pair of games with mixed results, going 1-1, allowing seven runs over 11 innings. He's fanned 15, though, and has walked only one in those two appearances. He's coming off a four-inning effort against Rochester in which he allowed five runs on eight hits. He was brilliant against Charlotte, though, in the semis, allowing two runs on six hits over seven innings while striking out 11. The Toledo bullpen has been brilliant in the playoffs, posting a 1.09 ERA in 33 innings. The ERA would be 0.00 if not for the four runs surrendered by Lance Davis. Lee Gardner hasn't allowed a run in six appearances while John Ennis, Bobby Seay and Preston Larrison have kept the opposition scoreless in four outings apiece.
Wow, where do you start? The Sidewinders seemed to breeze through the PCL playoffs and pitching was a big reason why. Tucson manager Chip Hale said Friday that former Tulane star Micah Owings will start Tuesday. He has had a brilliant season and that's carried over into the playoffs. Though he didn't record a decision in two starts, his ERA was 1.35 over 13 1/3 innings. He's fanned 13 and walked only two. Owings was 16-2 with a 3.33 ERA in 27 starts between the Southern and Pacific Coast leagues, but he really blossomed once he reached Tucson, going 10-0 with a 3.70 ERA in 15 starts. Overall, he allowed eight homers in 162 innings, a ratio that certainly won't favor the homer-happy Mud Hens. There aren't many pitchers who'll have a better time of it than Dustin Nippert has in the postseason. He's started a pair of games and won them both, posting a 0.63 ERA in 14 1/3 innings. He's struck out 13, walked only four and has scattered seven hits over that stretch. And with "Mike squared" closing out games, the Sidewinders have been nearly unhittable. Mike Koplove and Mike Schultz each have a pair of saves and neither has allowed a run in a combined 8 2/3 innings. Tucson's 2.81 team ERA was the best of the four PCL semifinalists.
AT THE PLATE
Rochester manager Stan Cliburn likened the Mud Hens to the '27 Yankees after they pounded out eight homers in the final two games of the Governors' Cup. While Toledo isn't nearly as prodigious as the legendary Murderer's Row, it does have a great deal of pop and an all-or-nothing approach that became almost comical during the playoffs. Toledo led the league in homers (152) and strikeouts (1,194) during the regular season and didn't slow down during its 10 playoff games. The Hens connected for 22 homers and fanned 110 times to blow past Indianapolis, Charlotte and Rochester. In fact, 31 percent of Toledo's hits in the playoffs have been homers. Mike Hessman led the way with five homers and nine RBIs while hitting .306. The left-field wall, only 325 feet from home plate, should make for an inviting target. While there was no MVP named in the Governors' Cup, it was clearly Hessman. Dustan Mohr and Josh Phelps each connected for four home runs while leadoff man David Espinosa added three. The drawback -- Toledo only hit .218 as a team.
The Sidewinders have used pitching and defense to win games, hitting only two homers in seven playoff games, and those roundtrippers didn't come until the seventh inning of Friday night's clincher. Robby Hammock had one of those homers and was named the Pacific Coast League Finals MVP. He's hitting .320 with six RBIs through seven playoff games. Kenny Perez has appeared in five games and is hitting .364, while Jon Weber, who has appeared in every game, is hitting .310. The Sidewinders, though, only hit .238 as a team through the PCL playoffs, and stole just three bases in four attempts. As evidenced by the fact they didn't hit their first home runs until the end of the seventh game, this club has displayed the ability to take advantage of opportunities when they are presented. Outfielder Scott Hairston had 26 homers during the regular season but hasn't gone deep in the playoffs. ... The Sidewinders played four games in Oklahoma City this season, losing three of them. They hit .194 (25-for-129) as a team in those games with three homers, but that had more to do with the RedHawks' pitching than it did with the ballpark.
POINTS OF INTEREST
Tidewater won the Triple-A World Series in 1983 when it was a round-robin event with the Pacific Coast League and the now-defunct American Association. ... The International League lost all four Triple-A Classics against the American Association between 1988 and 1991. In addition to the Wings' 1990 loss to Omaha, they also lost in six games to Indianapolis in 1988. ... The Pacific Coast League won two of the last three Triple-A World Series held between 1998 and 2000. New Orleans and Vancouver were victors in the first two series before Indianapolis won the final Triple-A World Series in 2000, topping Memphis three games to one in Las Vegas. Overall, the International League has participated in a postseason championship 64 times since 1905, winning 27 times. ... Toledo has won three Governors' Cups, including the last two. ... Toledo came into existence as a franchise in 1883, going 56-28 to finish in first place in the Western League, which was disbanded three years later . ... Tucson won its first Pacific Coast League title since 1993 and back then, the club was known as the Toros. ... The Toros also won a title in 1991. The Sidewinders began the season with a 4-11 mark but quickly righted things and finished with a PCL-best 91-53 record. ... The winning team will split a $30,000 purse while the losers will receive $15,000.
SERIES COULD TURN ON...
Tucson's pitching. The Sidewinders have been brilliant for much of the season and have shown no signs of slowing down over the past two weeks. Even if Owings falters, Nippert will be available to pick up the slack.
With such tremendous starting pitching and the inconsistency displayed by the International League champs, it is difficult not to go with Tucson.
Kevin 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.