Springfield vs. San Antonio
Cardinals [73-63] vs. Missions [73-66]
The established veteran vs. the virtual rookie -- that is what the Texas League Championship Series will be about. San Antonio has a long, storied history in the circuit, while Springfield has fewer seasons in the league than the Missions have titles. While that history, or lack thereof, won't help either club when it comes time to play the games, it serves as a fine reminder that the Texas League is one of the oldest and most celebrated circuits in all of Minor League Baseball.
San Antonio: Missions starters were 4-3 with a 3.73 ERA, a number that was inflated by the fact that Sean Thompson allowed 11 runs over 6 2/3 innings. Mike Ekstrom made four starts, going 1-1 with a 2.45 ERA. He struck out 17 over 25 frames and walked 13. Wade LeBlanc tossed five shutout innings in his only start. San Antonio's bullpen posted a 5.09 ERA against the Cardinals and Edwin Moreno earned three saves while tossing 3 1/3 scoreless frames. ... 3B Chase Headley hit .368 [17-for-44] with four RBIs. Nick Hundley provided the pop, hitting two homers and driving in 10 runs in eight games. Will Venable hit .342 with two homers and six RBIs.
Game 2: Missions LHP Cesar Ramos [13-9, 3.41] vs. Cardinals RHP Cory Rauschenberger [11-8, 4.68]
Game 3: Missions LHP Wade LeBlanc [13-8, 2.95] vs. Cardinals RHP P.J. Walters [12-6, 2.55]
Game 4: TBD vs. TBD
Game 5: TBD vs. TBD
ON THE MOUND
Mitchell Boggs and P.J. Walters were sharp in Games 1 and 2 of the divisional round, allowing only two earned runs over 13 innings. They walked just one batter, but Eric Haberer struggled in the clincher, allowing three runs on five hits in 3 2/3 innings. He has a 7.71 ERA over his last three starts and it is not known if he will start during the Finals, having lost his turn in the first three games. Cory Rauschenberger will take his spot, starting Game 2. He finished the regular season strong, winning his last three starts and posting a 2.25 ERA in his last four outings. He didn't pitch in the opening round. Poor performances by Motte and Zach Zuercher skewed the bullpen's numbers, inflating its ERA to 6.10. The duo combined to allow six runs in 2 2/3 innings. Scherer and Kyle McLellan were sharp though. Scherer was 1-0 and didn't allow a run in 2 2/3 innings, while McLellan pitched three scoreless frames. Springfield [4.07] finished with the second-best team ERA in the circuit behind San Antonio [3.81]. Haberer, however, has not looked sharp of late. Over his last three starts [two regular season, one playoff] he's pitched to a 7.71 ERA and has gone only 14 innings. He's allowed 19 hits over that stretch. Conversely, Walters, including his playoff outing, has a 1.08 ERA in his last five starts, striking out 25 and walking eight. Luke Gregerson, promoted from Class A Advanced Palm Beach before the series, was effective in his only appearance, throwing a shutout inning and recording a save.
San Antonio pitchers proved nearly untouchable in the sweep of Frisco, allowing only four runs while holding the RoughRiders to a .196 batting average. The bullpen didn't allow a run over eight innings. Overall, the Missions struck out 33 and walked only four. San Antonio has a formidable starting three with Josh Geer, Cesar Ramos and Wade LeBlanc. Geer and Ramos have received much of the publicity this season, but Ramos deserves kudos as well. He's 8-3 with a 3.13 ERA in 12 starts for San Antonio, striking out 10 and allowing only two hits over six frames against Frisco. Of the nine pitchers who took the mound vs. the RoughRiders, only Geer and Ramos allowed runs. Geer has a 1.82 ERA over his last four starts [29 2/3 innings].
AT THE PLATE
So much about worrying where the Cardinals would find offense. Sure, Springfield was hammered by injuries heading into the postseason, losing Rico Washington, Sean Danielson and Juan Richardson, but the Cards exploded for 24 runs against Tulsa, with 1B Mark Hamilton leading the assault. He had a club-record three homers and a record-tying seven RBIs in Game 3. Led by Hamilton, Springfield racked up a club-record 21 hits in Friday night's clincher. C Bryan Anderson hit .462 [6-for-13] with five RBIs, while OF Cody Haerther went 5-for-8 with a homer and two RBIs. Jose Martinez hit .417 [5-for-12] with a homer and three RBIs. Even Allen Craig, who was called up from Palm Beach to help bolster the offense, got into the act, going 3-for-10 with a homer and three RBIs. Colby Rasmus, the league home run leader, didn't have to provide as much offense. He hit .286 [4-for-14] with a homer but must have a bigger output, regardless of the effort put forth by his supporting cast, against the Missions.
The Missions may not have had the type of offensive outburst that Springfield had in the opening round, but they scored 16 runs in the sweep of Frisco. Brett Dowdy had the hottest bat, hitting .455 [5-for-11] with two homers and three RBIs. Will Venable hit .417 [5-for-12] with two RBIs. The biggest surprise might have been Chase Headley, the league's Most Valuable Player, who was not much of a factor, going 3-for-13 with a homer and two RBIs. He did, however, have two hits in the clincher.
SERIES COULD TURN ON
Kevin Czerwinski 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.