09/06/2007 2:36 PM ET
Northwest League playoff preview
David and Goliath matchup may turn on how improved Dust Devils are
By Mark Shugar / MLB.com
Salem-Keizer Volcanoes vs. Tri-City Dust Devils
Salem-Keizer Volcanoes (57-19) vs. Tri-City Dust Devils (37-39)
(Best-of-five Finals between East and West Division champions, begins Thursday, Sept. 6)
It's a regular David and Goliath scenario for the Northwest League title this season.
The Salem-Keizer Volcanoes coasted into the postseason with a league-best record of 57-19, a hefty 19 1/2 games ahead of Vancouver in the West Division. In fact, the Volcanoes were the only club in the league to finish the season with a record better than .500.
It was a far different story for the Tri-City Dust Devils, who found themselves in the middle of the East Division pack virtually all season before rallying to finish 37-39, a record that tied them with Boise for the division lead. It came down the regular season series between the two teams, and the Dust Devils secured a 7-5 advantage by taking one of those final three contests against the Hawks.
The Volcanoes and Dust Devils haven't seen each other since a pair of five-game series in July, and that was probably good news for Tri-City. Salem-Keizer outscored them by a whopping 63-30, easily taking nine of 10 contests. It's tough to say if the Dust Devils improved against the Volcanoes as the series progressed. They were outscored 3-to-1 in the first five-game series and just 2-to-1 in the second. But everyone knows the regular-season results go out the window, anyway, when the postseason begins. At least that's what the Dust Devils have to be hoping.
The Volcanoes averaged 6.3 runs per game and hit .302 with 36 extra-base hits, including 11 home runs, in 10 games against the Dust Devils. ... Chad Rothford hit .414 with a team-best 11 RBIs in nine games against Tri-City. ... Garrett Baker, Shane Jordan and Sean VanElderen each stole a pair of bases against the Dust Devils. ... Nine different Volcanoes pitchers have recorded a victory over Tri-City this season, and all of them are still on the team. ... Starters Jared Cranston (1-0, 0.00 ERA, 8 IP, 2 BB, 6 K) and Craig Clark (1-0, 1.93 ERA, 9 1/3 IP, 1 BB, 8 K) fared the best in two starts apiece against the Dust Devils.
The Dust Devils averaged three runs per game and hit .223 with 25 extra-base hits, including eight home runs, in 10 games against the Volcanoes this season. ... Maruis Loupadiere hits a team-best .455 with a team-high seven RBIs in six games against Salem-Keizer. ... Everth Cabrera went a perfect 4-for-4 in base-stealing attempts against the Volcanoes. ... Starter Marco Duarte is the only Dust Devils pitcher to record a win against the Volcanoes this season. In two starts, he went 1-0 with a 6.97 ERA and five strikeouts over 10 1/3 innings. ... Starter Bruce Billings struck out a team-high 13 batters in 10 innings against the Volcanoes.
Game 1: Thu, Sept. 6, Salem-Keizer at Tri-City (Thomas Brewer, 9-1, 3.05 vs. Robinson Fabian, 4-6, 3.96)
Game 2: Fri, Sept. 7, Salem-Keizer at Tri-City (Jared Cranston, 5-1, 2.77 vs. Conner Graham, 1-0, 2.37)
Game 3: Sat, Sept. 8, Tri-City at Salem-Keizer (Bruce Billings, 4-2, 2.97 vs. Waldis Joaquin, 3-0, 2.84)
Game 4: (if necessary) Sun, Sept. 9, Tri-City at Salem-Keizer (Cory Riordan, 2-3, 4.25 vs. Oliver Odle, 0-0, 7.36)
Game 5: (if necessary) Mon, Sept. 10, Salem-Keizer at Tri-City (TBD vs. Sheng-An Kuo, 5-4, 4.69)
ON THE MOUND
Starters Thomas Brewer and Andrew De La Garza finished the season tied for the Northwest League lead in wins with nine apiece. ... Brewer's 3.05 ERA was third-best in the NWL. ... Closer Daniel Otero's 19 saves were the most by any pitcher in the league. ... Salem-Keizer pitchers combined for a league-leading 27 saves.
Starter Bruce Billings struck out a Northwest League-leading 89 batters. ... Closer Riquy Pena finished the season with 16 saves, second best in the league. ... Pena led all pitchers with 31 appearances. ... Tri-City pitchers produced a 4.33 team ERA, fourth best in the NWL.
AT THE PLATE
Infielder Matthew Downs hit .367 in 287 at-bats over 73 games this season, which ranked him second among Northwest League hitters. ... Downs led the league in runs scored with 68. ... Outfielder Garret Baker's 64 RBIs led the league. ... Downs, outfielder Sean Van Elderen and Baker finished the season one-two-three in doubles with 33, 27 and 24, respectively. ... Downs (41) and Baker (37) finished one-two in extra-base hits.
Third baseman Darin Holcomb hit 12 home runs to finish third in the Northwest League. ... Holcomb also recorded 51 RBIs, 23 doubles and 36 extra-base hits to rank fourth in each of those categories. ... Holcomb and teammate Helder Velazquez finished three-four in hits with 84 and 83, respectively. ... Tri-City hitters combined to clout 46 home runs this season. ... Dust Devils players stole a Northwest League-leading 97 bases.
Tri-City gets no help here. Salem-Keizer is going for its fourth title in 10 seasons and is fresh off its championship last season. The Volcanoes bounced the Boise Hawks in four games by outscoring them, 13-5, in the final three games of the 2006 series. Some Dust Devils players were probably in diapers around the last time the club brought home a title, in 1984. Tri-City, an original Northwest League franchise, has four other titles (1971, 1968, 1966 and 1965), but is still seeking its first since returning to the league in 2001 after a 16-year hiatus.
SERIES COULD TURN ON
Which Tri-City team shows up for the Championship Series. The Dust Devils need to be the club that hit .272 in August and September to have any chance of keeping up with Salem-Keizer offensively. Likewise, the Dust Devils would no doubt love to see their pitching corps perform as it did in August, when the staff combined to go 19-11 with a 4.03 team ERA. Why? The Volcanoes have the best team batting average (.289) in the Northwest League this season -- and you can throw in the best team ERA (3.40), as well. Anything less than season-best performances from Tri-City, on the mound and at the plate, will likely lead to an early exit.
As much as it's tempting to root for the obvious underdog in this series, a postseason fate similar to the regular-season results between the clubs appears to await Tri-City. Salem-Keizer in four.
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.