08/30/2007 8:00 AM ET
Arizona League playoff preview
Giants improved most in second half to force tilt with Mariners
By Mark Shugar / MLB.com
AZL Giants vs. AZL Mariners
AZL Giants (33-23) at AZL Mariners (37-19)
(First-half division winner vs. second-half division winner, 10 p.m. ET, Aug. 30, )
It has been a tale of two seasons for one club and a season that defines consistency for the other. The Giants, after an even keel, 14-14, in the AZL's first half, exploded down the stretch to steal the second-half honors from the Mariners, who were looking to run away with both regular-season titles. The Mariners dominated the league from start to finish, posting the best overall record at 37-19, but the Giants were red hot in August, including taking all three games against the Mariners. Now, the Giants look to steal a championship that the Mariners no doubt feel is rightfully theirs in a winner-take-all meeting between the AZL's hottest teams.
The Mariners won the season series four games to three, but that stat hardly tells the whole story. The Giants rebounded from four losses to the Mariners in July by taking all three of their August games against the first-half division winners, outscoring the Mariners, 19-6, in doing so.
There was no room for error down the stretch for the Giants, who warded off the Mariners -- winners of seven of their last 10 games -- by ending the regular season with 10 straight victories. The batch of victories allowed the Giants to clinch the second-half division title and force a championship game with the Mariners, who would have won the AZL outright had they won both halves of the season.
Andrew D'alessio hit .440 in 25 at-bats against the Mariners. ... Nick Noonan hit .333 with a home run and team-best five RBIs. ... The Giants hit .295 against the Mariners, who hit .211 versus them. ... Roberto Martinez and Oliver Odle are the only Giants starters to record victories against the Mariners this season, with a 0.00 ERA and 2.00 ERA, respectively.
Israel Nunez hit .429 with six hits and a pair of RBIs in four games against the Giants. ... Alfredo Mateo, Brandon McConnell and Maximo Mendez are the only players remaining on the Mariners roster to have homered off Giants pitchers this year. ... Starters Richard Ortiz and Horacio Ramirez each posted a victory with 0.00 ERA against the Giants.
ON THE MOUND
In 11 starts, Wilber Bucardo is 6-2 with a 1.94 ERA and 34 strikeouts over 60 1/3 innings. He lost one of two starts against the Mariners, despite allowing only eight hits in 10 innings of work. ... Oliver Odle is the only other Giants pitcher with five wins this season. ... The Giants have a steely-eyed pair ready to come out of the bullpen if called upon. Daniel Runzler and Richard Wilshire are tied with each other for fourth in the AZL in saves with four apiece.
Fabian Williamson is the only five-win pitcher remaining on the Mariners staff. His 73 strikeouts rank him second among AZL pitchers. ... In 12 relief appearances, S. Taylor Bills is 3-0 with a 3.00 ERA and 11 strikeouts over 15 innings pitched. ... Travis Moltimore leads all AZL pitchers with his 10 saves. ... The Mariners staff is the most successful in the AZL this season. Mariners hurlers are a collective 36-19 with a league-leading 3.51 team ERA and 466 strikeouts.
AT THE PLATE
Andrew D'alessio, 1B: Born, raised and schooled in Clemson, S.C., D'alessio just kept improving for the Giants as the AZL season progressed. After batting a mediocre .240 in June, the 22-year-old hit .282 in July, then topped that with a .355 average in August. D'alessio's 14 home runs lead the AZL, and he also tops the league in RBIs (51), slugging percentage (.624) and extra-base hits (30). He is second in the league in doubles (15) and third in runs scored (41).
Nick Noonan, SS: The 18-year-old's .316 batting average is the best by any Giants player still on the roster. His 40 RBIs are second only to teammate D'alessio. The native of San Diego, Calif., is also fourth in the AZL in hits with 65. Noonan batted .341 with four extra-base hits and eight RBIs in the Giants last 10 games of the season. He also stole four bases in five attempts during that span, and is 18-for-21 in base-stealing attempts on thes season.
Angel Villalona, 3B: The native of La Romana, Dominican Republic, is having a solid season for the Giants, in which he has hit .285. Villalona, who just turned 17 in August, has 12 doubles, three triples and five homers. His 37 RBIs this season place him fourth in the AZL, and he is currently riding a seven-game hitting streak.
Daniel Carroll, OF: The 18-year-old hit .323 this season, which places him fourth among AZL players. Carroll displayed his versatility by collecting 15 extra-base hits -- nine doubles and six triples -- and stealing 27 bases in 38 attempts, good for third in the AZL. He was also third in the league in hits (65) and fourth in on-base percentage (.415). After batting .423 in June, the Moreno Valley, Calif., native struggled a bit as the season progressed, but eight extra-base hits in August added up to his best monthly production.
Juan Fuentes, C: The native of Ciudad, Venezuela, has been double trouble for opposing pitchers during his abbreviated stint with the Mariners. Nine of Fuentes' 35 hits have nine two-baggers. And while the 21-year-old cooled off a bit in July, batting .264, his .333 average in August approaches his .391 effort in June. Fuentes is hitting .345 with runners on base and .341 when they're in scoring position, making him a welcome site at the plate for the Mariners when they need to put runs on the scoreboard.
Maximo Mendez, OF: Mendez's 27 RBIs are the most by any Mariners player this season, no doubt assisted by his seven triples this year, which tie him for third in the AZL. The 20-year-old was a perfect 4-for-4 in base-stealing attempts over the final 10 games of the regular season, to bring his season mark to 13.
The Giants' last AZL title came in 2005, when they defeated -- guess who? -- the Mariners. Unable to win two of their final three games, the Mariners allowed the Giants to tie them for the second-half division title that year. Since the Giants had won the first-half title, the tie brought an instant end to the AZL season with the Giants declared the outright winners and no need for a championship game. At the time, the Giants were in Scottsdale and the Mariners in Peoria.
SERIES COULD TURN ON
The Mariners would no doubt love to see Daniel Carroll finally come up with a game against the Giants that mirrors his overall success this season. Whereas the Giants' offensive threats have shined against the Mariners, Carroll is hitting a paltry .185 with six strikeouts in 10 at-bats. However, the stats show that the Mariners have the best pitching staff in the AZL, they just need their bats to step up and compete with the heavy-hitting Giants. Carroll will need to be the catalyst for the Mariners offense.
The Giants are red hot and looking to even the season series in the game that matters most, but the Mariners will rally behind a strong pitching performance to win the AZL title they nearly secured outright in the regular season, erasing the memory of their failure to do so in 2005 in the process.
Mark Shugar 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.