08/29/2007 9:09 AM ET
Appalachian League playoff preview
Elizabethton, Danville face off for third consecutive year
By Benjamin Hill
Danville vs. Elizabethton
Danville Braves (47-20) vs. Elizabethton Twins (49-18)
(Best-of-three series begins Thursday, Aug. 30)
Stop me if you've heard this one before: This season's Appy League championship features the Elizabethton Twins taking on the Danville Braves. This is the third straight year that these powerhouse clubs have compiled the two best records in the league en route to meeting in the championship. The Twins won it all in 2005, while the Braves captured their first-ever title in 2006.
The Braves won four of the first six games played between the two clubs and outscored the Twins, 32-21. However, the Twins swept the Braves in a two-game series just last week to even the series at 4-4, and have now been outscored just 37-34.
Nonetheless, the Braves still outperformed the Twins over these eight contests. Danville hit .262, while its pitching staff compiled a stellar 3.47 ERA. Despite possessing the league's best-offense and second-best pitching staff, Elizabethton hit just .246 and posted a 4.11 ERA.
HEAD TO HEAD STATS
OF Cody Johnson led the team with three home runs and six RBIs against the Twins, although he batted just .219 and struck out a staggering 15 times over 32 at-bats. ... 3B Adam Coe went yard twice, but hit .217. ... 2B Cole Miles hit .321, although just one of his nine hits went for extra-bases, and he knocked in and scored just one run. ... SS Chad Lundahl hit a solid .333 over 15 at-bats. ... Left-hander Chad Rodgers went 1-0 with a sparkling 2.08 ERA over three starts spanning 13 innings. ... Fellow southpaw Steve Evarts made two starts and went 1-0 with a 1.64 ERA over 11 innings. ... Right-handed reliever Nicholas Fellman picked up two saves in as many opportunities, striking out four batters over 2 2/3 innings.
C Gregory Yersich drove in a team-leading seven runs over 28 at-bats. ... OF Mark Dolenc compiled a .355 batting average and a team-leading 11 hits, while 1B Rene Leveret hit .300 (9-for-30). ... 3B Deibinson Romero hit .375 over 24 at-bats, with three doubles, a triple, and a home run. ... LHP Henry Reyes suffered his only two defeats of the season at the hands of the Braves. He was 7-0 otherwise but was promoted just before the playoffs. ... On August 3, righty Mitchell McCardell struck out nine over six innings while allowing just one run, but did not factor into the decision. ... 7'1" righty Loek Van Mil struck out 11 batters over three relief appearances spanning seven innings.
Game 1: Danville at Elizabethton
Braves LHP Jose Ortegano (3-3, 3.30) vs. Twins RHP Michael Allen (0-2, 4.91)
Game 2: Elizabethton at Danville
Twins RHP Michael McCardell (5-1, 2.00) vs. Braves LHP Jeffrey Locke (4-3, 4.22)
Game 3: Danville at Elizabethton
(TBD, if necessary)
ON THE MOUND
Jose Ortegano's 1.48 ERA is the league's best, and the lefty has posted a 6-1 record over 13 appearances (nine starts). ... Left-hander Edgar Osuna's stats are only slightly less striking, as the 19-year-old's 2.47 ERA ranks fourth in the circuit, and he has struck out 66 batgters over 54 2/3 innings. ... Yet another southpaw, Jeffrey Locke, has compiled a 7-1 record and 2.66ERA over 13 appearances (11 starts), and his 74 strikeouts lead the team and rank second in the league. ... Fellman -- a right-hander! -- has compiled a league-leading 16 saves in as many opportunities, and opponents are hitting just .153 against him.
It's hard to find any fault with the performance of staff ace David Bromberg, who has gone 8-0 with a 2.72 ERA over 12 appearances (11 starts) spanning 54 2/3 innings. The 19-year-old has struck out a league-leading 77 batters, and opponents are hitting .206 against him. ... McCardell has been dominating since making his Elizabethton debut on July 18, as the Pennsylvania native has struck out 70 batters over just 45 innings pitched, and is 5-1 with a 2.00 ERA overall. ... Blair Erickson has converted all 11 of his save opportunities, and opponents are hitting just .209 against him.
AT THE PLATE
The Appy League's greatest power threat, OF Cody Johnson bashed a circuit-leading 17 home runs and drove in a team-leading 55 runs. ... 2B Cole Miles' .332 average led the league, while his 77 hits tied for tops. The Utah native hit .364 against lefties and .375 at home. ... C Chris Anderson played in just 21 games but reached base at a .444 clip en route to an impressive .924 OPS.
1B Rene Leveret's 63 RBIs led the league, and he accumulated just as many walks (34) as strikeouts this season. His .301 average isn't too shabby either. ... 3B Deibinson Romero is another top run producer. The 20-year-old Dominican hit .317 with nine homers and 51 RBIs. Nearly half of those RBIs came over just four games, however, as the 20-year-old drove in 10 on July 9, six on August 13, five on July 11, and four on August 5. ... OF Ozzie Lewis excelled across the board (.330-9-50). He hit .343 in August and .412 on the road.
As mentioned in the intro, there is plenty of recent history between these two Appy League juggernauts. After rain delayed the start of last season's series, Danville claimed its first-ever title by sweeping a championship doubleheader on the road. In 2005, the Twins won game three on the road and captured their seventh championship. If the Twins win it all in 2007, it will mark the fourth time they have done so over the past eight seasons.
SERIES COULD TURN ON
The Twins' offense is indisputably the best in the league, as the club ranks first in average and runs scored. The Braves' top-ranked pitching staff did an admirable job of keeping Elizabethton's bats in check, and they'll need to perform similarly in the postseason. If they can continue the improbable feat of shutting down such a potent offense, then a second-straight title will be theirs.
The bottom line is that both of these clubs are remarkably strong. In the regular season, they outperformed the rest of the league so thoroughly that only one other team in the circuit was able to muster a winning record. This makes sense: the Twins ranked first in batting and second in ERA, while the Braves ranked second in batting and first in ERA. Elizabethton's recent two-game sweep evened the season series, making this one even tougher to predict. Due to historical trends, the recent emergence of McCardell as a staff ace, and a line-up that can be accurately described as "relentless," I'll go with Elizabethton in three.
Benjamin Hill 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.