09/05/2007 1:48 AM ET
SL South Division playoff preview
Biscuits begin their title defense against scuffling M-Braves
By Jonathan Mayo / MLB.com
Mississippi vs. Montgomery
Braves (67-72) vs. Biscuits (81-59)
(Best-of-5 series begins Thursday, Sept. 6)
If there was some way to match up the first-half Mississippi Braves against the second-half Montgomery Biscuits, then this would be one heckuva series. Instead, it has all the makings of a lopsided affair with perhaps the Minors' hottest team (Montgomery) taking on the team that finished dead last in the division in the second half. But as many baseball people will tell you: that's why you play the games.
The Biscuits won the season series, 12-9. Most of the meetings took place in the first half, when Mississippi was a much better team than its second-half version. Montgomery went 9-7 in 16 first-half meetings. The two teams played each other in one other five-game series right after the break, with the Biscuits winning three of five. They haven't played each other since July 15.
Mississippi: The Braves hit .267 over the 21 games with the Biscuits. Carl Loadenthal hit .338 with 10 steals in 20 games. Matt Esquivel hit five homers and drove in 16 runs, both team highs, in 74 at-bats. He also stole four bases, as did Diory Hernandez, who hit .288 in 20 games. ... Mississippi pitchers posted a 4.44 ERA in the series. James Parr went 2-0 with a 2.08 ERA in two starts. Reliever Jose Ascanio had a 1.42 ERA and two saves in six appearances, holding the Biscuits to a .182 batting average. Brad Nelson and Charlie Morton combined to go just 1-1 with a 6.15 ERA in 10 outings, but just two of them were starts.
Montgomery: The Biscuits hit .282 in the series. The two best hitters against Montgomery -- Evan Longoria and Shaun Cumberland -- are no longer with the team. Fernando Perez hit .341 in 10 games. John Jaso hit .315 with three homers and team-high 15 RBIs. Chris Nowak hit .310 over 16 games with four stolen bases. ... Montgomery had a 4.14 ERA against the Braves. Chris Mason went 3-0 with a 2.08 ERA over four starts, bested only slightly by Mike Prochaska and his 3-0 record and 1.54 ERA in four starts. Wade Davis faced the M-Braves twice, won once and had a 4.09 ERA.
Game 1: Montgomery at Mississippi
Wade Davis (7-3, 3.15 ERA) vs. Ryan Baerlocher (2-1, 3.57)
Game 2: Montgomery at Mississippi
Jacob McGee (3-2, 4.24) vs. Charlie Morton (4-6, 4.29)
Game 3: Mississippi at Montgomery
James Parr (4-5, 4.59) vs. Chris Mason (15-4, 2.57)
Game 4: Mississippi at Montgomery, if necessary
Brad Nelson (5-1, 3.77) vs. Mike Prochaska (7-7, 3.89)
Game 5: Mississippi at Montgomery, if necessary
Kelvin Villa (8-12, 5.39 ERA) vs. TBD
ON THE MOUND
RHP Ryan Baerlocher came down from Richmond and has been steady down the stretch, posting a 3.57 ERA over seven starts. He had a 1.52 ERA over his final four starts in August. ... RHP Charlie Morton has made only six starts compared to 41 relief appearances and he was a little more effective as a reliever (4.15 ERA) than as a starter (4.55), though he was more hittable (.284) coming out of the 'pen than starting a game (.245). He pitched well down the stretch in August and September. ... RHP James Parr came up from Myrtle Beach in late May and finished with a 4.59 ERA over 18 appearances. He had a 3.96 ERA in 16 starts and was effective in August, posting a 3.41 ERA in five starts. ... RHP Brad Nelson has made only five starts, but he's got a 3.14 ERA in them (compared to 4.15 out of the 'pen with Mississippi). In his last two outings of the year, he allowed just one earned run over 13 2/3 innings.
RHP Chris Mason led the Southern League in wins (15) and ERA (2.57) while finishing fourth with 136 strikeouts. ... RHP Wade Davis joined the Biscuits in June and went 7-3 with a 3.15 ERA and just over a strikeout an inning. For the year overall, he went 10-3 with a 2.50 ERA and 169 K's in 158 1/3 IP. He struggled a little bit down the stretch, with a 4.65 August ERA, though he did win his last three decisions. ... LHP Jacob McGee didn't arrive until August and his 4.24 ERA is misleading. Take out his last appearance, when he gave up four earned runs in two innings, and he's got a 2.95 ERA in four Double-A starts. He racked up 175 strikeouts in 140 total innings while holding hitters to a .207 combined average. ... RHP Mike Prochaska doesn't get much attention on a staff full of prospects, but he's been very steady for the Biscuits with a 3.89 ERA in 21 appearances. After spending a month in Triple-A, where he posted a 2.55 ERA, he came back down and went 3-0 with a 2.22 ERA over his final four Double-A starts.
AT THE PLATE
2B J.C. Holt hit .312 over 94 games with the M-Braves, good for third in the Southern League. He also stole 20 bases. ... SS Diory Hernandez finished two spots behind Holt in the batting race with a .307 average. He stole 22 bases, but was caught 20 times. ... OF Carl Loadenthal was 10th in the league with his .300 average and was second in stolen bases with 40. ... OF Matt Esquivel was sixth in the league with his 19 homers. He did that, and drove in 70 runs, in 98 games.
C John Jaso finished second in the batting race with a .316 average, third in OBP (.408) and fourth in OPS with an .893 mark. He also hit 12 homers and drove in 71 runs. ... OF Fernando Perez was fourth with a .308 average, third in OPS (.903), second in OBP (.423), fourth in steals (32) and tied for second in triples (10). ... 1B Chris Nowak hit .304 and went 18-for-21 in stolen bases over 104 games.
This will be the first appearance in the postseason for Atlanta's Double-A team since 2000, when the club was in Greenville, S.C. The Greenville Braves joined the Southern League in 1984 and won championships back in 1997 and 1992. They were runners-up in 1988 and 1989. The Biscuits have been in existence since 2004 and won the Southern League title a year ago. The team moved from Orlando, and the O-Rays won a title back in 1999. Prior to 1997, Orlando was a Cubs affiliate and made just one Southern League playoff appearance in four years.
SERIES COULD TURN ON
The Braves getting some of their first-half players back? Seriously, Mississippi seemingly does face an uphill battle. After going 42-28 to win the first half, the Braves went 25-44 to finish in last place in the second half. The team had half a dozen top prospects to start the season. Now only one, Van Pope, remains, and he had a subpar season. There are only seven players on the current roster who were there when the season began and they've gotten four new reinforcements just since Aug. 25. If they can figure out a way to jell that together, the M-Braves could make this an interesting series.
If ever a series screamed "sweep," this is the one. Mississippi had the worst record in the Southern League in the second half, becoming Exhibit A for the peculiarities of having two champions in a season. Montgomery, meanwhile reeled off 12 straight wins in late August and finished the season by winning 15 of its final 16 games as possibly the hottest team in all of Minor League baseball. To be nice, let's give the Braves a game. Montgomery in four.
Jonathan Mayo 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.