09/04/2007 1:00 PM ET
Midwest League playoff preview
Dayton may find South Bend to be a true postseason Wild Card
By Benjamin Hill / Special to MLB.com
Dayton vs. South Bend
Dragons (78-62) vs. Silver Hawks (68-70)
(Best-of-three series begins Wednesday, Sept. 5)
2007 marks a return trip to the Midwest League postseason for the Silver Hawks, who in 2006 captured the second-half Eastern Division title before losing to Lansing in the first round of the playoffs.
Despite a losing record, South Bend sneaks back into the playoffs this season on the "strength" of capturing the second-half Wild Card (which they accomplished by finishing fourth among six teams in the season's second-half). They'll meet a formidable opponent in the Dragons, who handily won the first-half division title before playing .500 ball in the second half.
Having met 20 times in the regular season (including a three-game set to close out the regular season), the Dragons and Silver Hawks are certainly no strangers to one another. Dayton won the season series, 11-9, but played better than even that record would indicate.
The Dragons hit .278 compared to the Silver Hawks' .242, and compiled an ERA of 3.60 against South Bend's 4.39. Overall, Dayton scored 90 runs against the Silver Hawks' 78.
Juan Francisco (3B) hit .304 with three home runs and nine RBIs over 18 games. ... Eddy Rodriguez (C) performed in a remarkably similar fashion, as the 21-year-old hit .298 with three home runs and eight RBIs. ... the biggest thorn in the Silver Hawks' side, however, was outfielder Denis Phipps, who hit .303 and scored a team-high 15 runs. ... Righty Daniel Guerrero made four starts against South Bend, but went just 0-1 with a 7.15 ERA. ... Southpaw Travis Webb went 0-1 with a respectable 3.06 ERA over four starts (three appearances) spanning 17 2/3 innings. ... Staff ace Rafael Gonzalez tossed 21 1/3 innings over four starts and went 2-1 with a 2.95 ERA.
Daniel Perales (OF) connected for four home runs, drove in 16 and scored 10 against the Dragons. ... Manuel Ferrer (IF) compiled an impressive .923 OPS over nine games. ... Shea McFeely (3B) hit .370 in 27 at-bats. ... Catcher Justin Brashear mustered just one hit over 28 at-bats, but he worked 10 walks. ... Southpaw Eddie Romero tossed a club-best 24 innings over four starts (five appearances) and compiled a 6.38 ERA. ... Righty Tony Barnette went 1-1 with a 2.08 ERA in two starts. ... Left-hander Jordan Norberto struck out a team-high 24 batters over 21 1/3 innings, but went just 1-2 with a 5.91 ERA.
Game 1: Wednesday, Sept. 5, Dayton at South Bend (RHP Daniel Guerrerovs. RHP Tony Barnette)
Game 2: Thursday, Sept. 6, South Bend at Dayton (LHP Jordan Norberto vs. RHP Rafael Gonzalez)
Game 3: (if necessary) Friday, Sept. 7, South Bend at Dayton (LHP Eddie Romero vs. RHP Anthony Gressick)
ON THE MOUND
Despite relatively modest stats (3.53 ERA, 1.39 WHIP), Rafael Gonzalez is tied for the most wins in the league (13). ... Ramon Geronimo has converted 12 of his 16 save opportunities, and is 7-3 with a 2.45 ERA overall. ... Webb is the only current member of the pitching staff with more than 100 strikeouts. The lefty has accumulated 114 over 114 2/3 innings en route to a 7-5 record and 3.45 ERA.
Quite remarkably, the Silver Hawks have four pitchers -- Barnette, Norberto, Romero and Cesar Valdez -- who have started 20 games or more. Of this quartet, Valdez's 3.41 ERA is the lowest. ... Reliever Jason Urquidez has been lights-out since receiving a promotion from Class A Short-Season Yakima. The 24-year-old has allowed just one run over 21 innings spanning 13 appearances. ... Left-handed groundball specialist Craig Pfautz leads the team with 41 appearances. He is 3-5 with a 4.94 ERA.
AT THE PLATE
Francisco is clearly the Dragons' offensive standout, as the third baseman leads the club in games (135), at-bats (534), home runs (25) and RBIs (90). ... Drew Stubbs (OF) has also been extremely valuable, as the 2006 first-round draft pick has 93 runs scored and 23 stolen bases. ... Logan Parker (1B) cooled down in August after a scorching July, but is still hitting .269 with a .356 on-base percentage.
Brad Miller (1B) functions as the Silver Hawks' primary power threat. The 24-year-old has bashed 22 homers and driven in 91. ... Perales, with 16 dingers and 92 RBIs, has also been productive. ... Joey Side (OF) is second after Perales (80) in runs scored (76). ... Brashear has drawn 81 walks in just 82 games, and has an on-base percentage (.395) that is more than double his batting average (.194).
The Dragons get some of the best fan support in all of Minor League Baseball, but since moving to Dayton in 2000 have been unable to secure a division title (let alone the championship). As mediocre as the Silver Hawks have been this season, the club has traditionally been a force to reckon with in the postseason. South Bend won it all in 1989, 1993 and 2005 in addition to capturing division titles in 1990 and 2001 before losing in the Finals.
SERIES COULD TURN ON
The opener of any three-game series is huge, but that will be especially true here. The Dragons have won nearly twice as many games as they have lost at Fifth Third Field, and Games 2 and 3 are going to be played there. If the Silver Hawks drop Game 1 at home, they could be burying themselves in a hole it would be very difficult to dig out of.
Both squads have played to similar records over the season's second half, but the Dragons have the edge in nearly every statistical category. They'll be tough to beat in a short set, especially with home-field advantage. Dayton 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.