09/07/2007 2:23 PM ET
Pioneer South Division playoff preview
Orem meets Idaho Falls in a first-round series
By Mark Shugar / MLB.com
Orem's Gordon Gronkowski batted .343 with an OBP of .415 this season, fourth best in the PIO. (Brent Asay)
Idaho Falls vs. Orem
Chukars (45-30) vs. Owlz (36-39)
(Best-of-three series begins Saturday, Sept. 8)
For the second season in a row, Idaho Falls and Orem are set to clash in the first round of the Pioneer League playoffs.
The Chukars enter the matchup as the first-half division winners and purveyors of the best record in the South at 45-30. Idaho Falls coasted atop the division all season, posting a .600 winning percentage along the way.
Orem, on the other hand, had to battle with Ogden for the duration of the second half to secure a postseason berth. The Owlz ultimately finished two games ahead of the Raptors, three behind the Chukars and found their way into the playoffs in untraditional manner. A game shortened due to power failure was ruled official with Orem the victors. Talk about seeing the light.
In 14 games, each club took seven games with Orem holding an advantage in runs scored, 89-71. The series has gone back and forth with both teams sweeping three-game series this season, Idaho Falls accomplishing the task twice. The inconsistency in the regular-season series may have something to do with the 250-mile bus trip between Idaho Falls and Orem. Four hours rarely works wonders on visiting players' rest and game preparation.
Idaho Falls: The Chukars averaged 5.1 runs per game and hit .267 with 30 extra-base hits, including 22 doubles, against the Owlz this season. ... O.D. Gonzalez hit .364 with a team-high 12 RBIs. Gonzalez was also walked a team-high 12 times when facing Owlz pitchers... Anthony Seratelli went 7-for-8 in base-stealing opportunities. ... The Chukars pitching staff went 7-7 with a 4.30 team ERA and 134 strikeouts against the Owlz.
Orem: The Owls averaged 6.4 runs per game and hit .276 with 26 extra-base hits, including 21 doubles and 11 home runs, against the Chukars this season. ... Starter Vladimir Veras won both of his outings against the Chukars, posting a 4.09 ERA and six strikeouts through 11 innings pitched. ... Jeremy Moore stole a team-high five bases. ... The Owlz pitching staff went 7-7 with a 4.24 team ERA and 121 strikeouts against the Chukars.
Game 1: Idaho Falls at Orem - Sept. 8
TBD vs. TBD
Game 2: Orem at Idaho Falls - Sept. 9
TBD vs. TBD
Game 3: Orem at Idaho Falls - Sept. 10 (if necessary)
TBD vs. TBD
ON THE MOUND
Starter Chris Chavez's 3.41 ERA is the best on the Chukars staff this season. In 15 appearances, 14 of them starts, he went 3-2 with 47 strikeouts through 60 2/3 innings pitched. ... Closer Greg Holland racked up six saves this year, fifth most in the Pioneer League. ... Idaho Falls' 3.68 team ERA was the best in the league this season. The Chukars hurlers went a combined 44-30 with 15 saves and 646 strikeouts.
Starter Jordan Walden has the best ERA, 3.08, on the Owlz staff this season. In 15 starts, he went 1-1 with 63 strikeouts through 64 1/3 innings pitched. ... Closer Ryan Brasier posted nine saves this season, second-most in the Pioneer League. Brasier also made the second-most appearances (26). ... Robert Fish tied for the league lead in strikeouts this season with 77. He also tossed the second-most walks (31).
AT THE PLATE
First baseman Clint Robinson hit .339 this season, eighth best in the Pioneer League. Robinson led the league in RBIs (66), was second in home runs (15) and was fifth in slugging percentage (.598). ... Shortstop Anthony Seratelli led the league in stolen bases with 28. ... Outfielder O.D. Gonzalez was second in the league in runs scored with 56. ... The Chukars hit a collective .273 this season.
Infielder Jay Brossman lost a bit of time this season due to injury, but he still posted the best batting average of any Owlz player (.348) and finished second in the Pioneer League in hits (93). ... First baseman Gordon Gronkowski's .415 on-base percentage was fourth best in the league this season. ... Outfielder Jeremy Moore finished fourth in the league with his 54 RBIs this season and also tied for third in home runs (14).
Chances that die-hard fans of both clubs have forgotten what happened last season are slim to none. The Owlz were looking to three-peat as Pioneer League champions when they were quickly swept out of the playoffs by the Chukars. It was Idaho Falls' first postseason appearance since 2004.
SERIES COULD TURN ON
Superstitions? Weather? The alignment of the stars? Anything and everything could probably affect how this tight series could turn out. Idaho Falls swept Orem in August only to have the favor returned in September. For every one-run game this season between the two clubs there was also a 15-8 blowout. Honestly, if the cliché holds true that good pitching defeats good hitting, then the Chukars should wrap this series up easily, especially with two games slated in front of the Idaho Falls faithful. But one should never count the Owlz out.
If one was to follow the trend of the regular-season series, it would be the Owlz turn to fall to the Chukars. This isn't some namby-pamby regular-season series, however, this is the postseason, and it's doubtful Orem has forgotten about its unceremonious exit from the 2006 playoffs. Owlz in three.
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.