09/10/2007 10:00 AM ET
Pacific Coast League Finals preview
New Orleans to take on Sacramento for the title
By Lisa Winston / MLB.com
New Orleans vs. Sacramento
Zephyrs (75-69) vs. River Cats (84-60)
(Best-of-5 series begins Tues., Sept. 11 at New Orleans)
New Orleans rode a hot streak from third place to the PCL Finals in its final week of action and continued that rush by knocking off three-peating, American Division North-champion Nashville in four games.
The series was capped by newcomer Kevin Mulvey's brilliant seven shutout innings in the clincher. New Orleans won seven of its last eight, hurdling Albuquerque and Oklahoma to make it to the playoffs for the first time since 2001. They shouldn't have to worry much about being hit with anymore call-ups after the Sept. 1 promotions of pitchers Phil Humber, Mike Pelfrey and Willie Collazo.
When Mets 1B Carlos Delgado was sidelined with a strained hip flexor, assistant GM Tony Bernazard went on record as saying that they had no call-up plans from the Zephyrs. After winning the American Division title on Saturday evening, they had a few days to reorganize their rotation as they waited for their Tuesday championship series opener.
Sacramento rallied from two games down versus the Salt Lake Bees. The River Cats have gotten huge postseason dividends from first-year Triple-A guys such as OFs Nick Blasi and Danny Putnam. Although pitchers Bradley Davis and Andrew Bailey, who came up from Class A to pitch gems in the final weekend, are not on their postseason roster, they gave the club's bullpen a needed rest and allowed the 'Cats to reorganize their rotation for the postseason when aces Dallas Braden and Dan Meyer went to the Athletics.
The two teams split a four-game set to open August. The Zephyrs won the opener, 4-1, as now-departed southpaw Collazo got the win while Kaz Tadano took the loss. The River Cats won the next two, 2-1 and 4-1, behind since-promoted Colby Lewis and Brad Knox. New Orleans clinched the split with a 9-5 victory in the final game as Dave Williams came away with the victory over Michael Madsen.
New Orleans: The Zephyrs hit just .206 against Sacramento pitching while their own pitchers posted a 2.91 ERA. ... OF Chip Ambres hit .313 in four games with a homer and four RBIs. ... OF Jesus Feliciano batted .300 in four games with a home run. ... Of the remaining starters left from that series, LHP Jason Vargas allowed one run on four hits in six innings while LHP Dave Williams gave up three earned runs in 5 1/3 frames.
Sacramento: The River Cats hit .244 against New Orleans in their four games and posted a 2.75 ERA. ... 1B Daric Barton hit .308 in that span. ... OF Jorge Piedra hit .286 with a homer and four RBIs. ... Knox beat the Zephyrs, allowing one run on two hits over seven innings.
Game 1: Tuesday, Sept. 11, Sacramento at New Orleans
Shane Komine vs Adam Bostick
Game 2: Wednesday, Sept. 12, Sacramento at New Orleans
Michael Madsen vs Dave Williams
Game 3: Friday, Sept. 14, New Orleans at Sacramento
Jason Vargas vs Brad Knox
Game 4: Saturday, Sept. 15, New Orleans at Sacramento (if necessary)
Brian Lawrence vs Kaz Tadano
Game 5: Sunday, Sept. 16, New Orleans at Sacramento (if necessary)
Kevin Mulvey vs TBD
ON THE MOUND
Despite losing top prospects Pelfrey, Humber and Collazo to Sept. 1 callups, the Zephyrs still have a solid rotation. Vargas is 9-7 with a 4.97 ERA but was brilliant in his lone playoff start. He tossed six innings of three-hit ball in Game 2 against Nashville. Vargas' late-season hot streak prompted the Zephyrs to tweak their rotation in the final weekend to make sure he could pitch earlier in the playoffs and it paid off. ... Williams, 3-4 with a 3.96 ERA in 10 starts for the Zephyrs, was also strong in his playoff-opening stint, allowing one run on three hits while fanning six in 6 1/3 frames. ... Adding 2007 Eastern League All-Star Game starting pitcher Mulvey certainly helped. He pitched both the playoff clincher, allowing four hits over seven shutout innings, and the division clincher, beating Round Rock, 10-2. At Binghamton, the Mets' top pick from 2006 had gone 11-10 with a 3.32 ERA. ... RHP Brian Lawrence has been 8-3 with a 3.81 ERA for the Zephyrs.
The 'Cats lost ace southpaw Braden to Oakland as soon as rosters expanded to 40, no big surprise after he struck out a Minor League-high 17 batters Aug. 28. Fellow ace Meyer followed him up after LHP Jay Marshall was placed on the bereavement list. ... RHP Shane Komine was 5-12 with a 4.87 ERA in 23 games, but tossed seven innings of one-hit shutout ball in is final postseason tune-up. ... Madsen was 5-1 with a 5.09 ERA in 10 starts. ... Knox was 9-7 with a 4.79 ERA in 23 games.
AT THE PLATE
The Zephyrs welcomed back leadoff hitting SS Anderson Hernandez after a brief hiatus in the big leagues replacing Damion Easley, who sprained his ankle. Hernandez hit .301 this season for the Zephyrs. ... New Orleans had power at the corners in 3B Fernando Tatis, .276 with 21 homers and 67 RBIs, and 1B Andy Tracy, .271 with 23 blasts and 87 RBIs. ... Newcomer IF Chad Hermansen hit .281 with 11 homers and 57 RBIs in time with New Orleans and Albuquerque. ... Feliciano is red-hot, hitting .600 in the postseason, after batting .315 in 90 games for New Orleans in the regular season.
Barton hit .293 with nine home runs and 70 RBIs. He had two homers in the opening game of the Pacific Division series and is hitting a league-best .550 with 10 RBIs in the playoffs. ... Blasi, who hit .316 in 89 games with the River Cats during the regular season, is batting .478 in the playoffs including two homers in Game 4 against Salt Lake. ... C Jeremy Brown hit .276 in 94 games with 14 homers and 58 RBIs. ... 2B Kevin Melillo batted .262 with 10 home runs and 55 RBIs. ... Piedra hit .336 in 71 games with nine blasts and 56 RBIs. ... Former first-round pick Putnam hit .216 with 17 RBIs in 51 games but wound up winning crucial Game 4 against the Bees with a 10th inning three-run homer, his second of that game, and is batting .357 in the postseason.
For New Orleans, postseason is a nice change of pace. The club has not won the PCL title outright since 1998, the year they went on to win the inaugural Triple-A World Series behind the powerful bat of Lance Berkman. In 2001, the Zephyrs shared the league title with Tacoma after the Sept. 11 attacks canceled the playoffs.
Who could blame the Sacramento River Cats for feeling they were back where they rightfully belong? The club returns to the postseason after being ousted in the regular season in 2006 by eventual Bricktown Showdown-champion Tucson. Before that, the 'Cats had been in back-to-back PCL Finals, winning it all under manager Tony DeFrancesco in 2003 and 2004 and falling in the semifinals in 2005, making this their third trip to the finals in the last five years, a league record.
SERIES COULD TURN ON
While New Orleans is on a hot streak and had a relatively easy time dispatching Nashville in the American Division Finals, the River Cats have the major momentum coming in, on their three-game rally after losing the first two to Salt Lake. The River Cats' lineup is certainly more potent than the Zephyrs, and certainly hotter. How much of that heat came from having faced a decidedly weak Salt Lake rotation in the semifinals? The Zs get the emphatic nod when it comes to their rotation.
The combination of veteran pitching and the momentum the Zephyrs have scrambling their way past so many favored teams might be enough to give the edge to New Orleans. Sacramento's lineup can't be taken lightly and it has the home-field advantage. When it's close go with pitching. New Orleans in five.
Lisa Winston 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.