09/11/2007 9:44 AM ET
Eastern League Finals preview
Akron meets Trenton in the best-of-five series
By Evan Mohl / MLB.com
Akron vs. Trenton
Aeros (83-62) vs. Thunder (86-60)
(Best-of-five series begins Tuesday, Sept. 11)
The great thing about the postseason is that it has the possibility to create dream matchups and unimaginable scenarios. This year's Eastern League Championship Series between the Akron Aeros and the Trenton Thunder turns that possibility into reality.
It'll be the classic matchup of pitching versus hitting. Akron's league-leading offense will try to tee off on Trenton's pitching, which not only has the circuit's best ERA, but also the second-best ERA in the entire Minor Leagues.
Don't forget to add history to that dynamic. The Thunder have never been to a Championship Series in their 14 years in the Eastern League. They'll be looking for that long-awaited ring. The Aeros, a heavy favorite to win last year's league title, lost in the finals and will certainly be looking for redemption.
The Aeros and the Thunder met just six times this season, with Akron winning four contests. Trenton's superb pitching staff was unable to quell the Aeros' powerful bats as Akron scored 27 runs. The Aeros also boasted a .276 batting average when Trenton pitchers had limited opponents to hitting .232 all season.
Akron, though, wasn't without some concerns and questions. Their pitching was unable to shut down a weak Thunder offense, allowing Trenton to score 22 runs. This made games close as indicated by the three contests that were decided by two runs or less.
The series seemed to be dictated by which team overcame their weakness. Every time Trenton scored more than four runs, the Thunder ended up winning the game.
Akron actually did pretty well against the dominant Trenton pitching staff, hitting .276 as a team, just one point below their season average. Unfortunately for the Aeros, two of the players who had the most success -- Brian Barton and Asdrubal Cabrera -- have been promoted and are no longer with the team. Among its current players, 1B/OF Jordan Brown led the team with four RBIs while batting .292... OF Ryan Goleski couldn't be kept off base. Goleski had five hits and six walks in six contests for an impressive .458 on-base percentage... 1B Michael Aubrey did well in his limited action against the Thunder, collecting three hits in nine at-bats... The Aeros pitching kept Trenton's hitters in check. As a staff, Akron was 4-2 with a 3.40 ERA against the Thunder. Jake Dittler was great in his lone start. The righty tossed five innings of scoreless baseball, scattering six hits... Chuck Lofgren was the only Akron starter to face Trenton multiple times. Lofgren fanned 12 batters in 10 1/3 innings but did give up five earned runs... Randy Newsom converted both of his save opportunities. The only blemish on his scorecard over 4 1/3 innings was a solo homer.
The Thunder actually hit 15 points better against Akron (.269) than they did during the regular season. OF Matt Carson led the way with a team-high five RBIS and two home runs. The right-handed batter also hit a sizzling .350... IF Carlos Mendoza also fared pretty well. The switch hitter batted .286 with four hits in 14 at-bats... 1B Cody Ehlers was able to get on base against Akron with his four walks. However, the lefty hit just .182 and struck out five times... Trenton pitching did contain the powerful Aeros offense with a 3.98 ERA. Alan Horne was the only Trenton pitcher to make two starts. The righty was effective compiling a 2.45 ERA in 11 innings pitched... The Aeros were one of the few teams that 16-game winner Jeff Marquez was unable to get a victory against. Marquez gave up two runs and four walks in five innings of work... Michael Gardener was spectacular out of the bullpen. He gave up just one earned run in five innings of relief work.
Game 1: Akron at Trenton
RHP Adam Miller (5-4, 4.82 ERA) vs. RHP Tyler Clippard (6-5, 4.50)
Game 2: Akron at Trenton
LHP Chuck Lofgren (12-8, 4.58 ERA) vs. LHP Chase Wright (13-5, 3.85 ERA)
Game 3: Trenton at Akron
LHP Jeremy Sowers (4-5, 4.10 ERA) vs. RHP Alan Horne (12-4, 3.11 ERA)
Game 4: Trenton at Akron (if necessary)
RHP Dan McCutchen (14-4, 2.47 ERA) vs. TBD
Game 5: Trenton at Akron (if necessary)
RHP Jeff Marquez (15-9, 3.65 ERA) vs. TBD
ON THE MOUND
Akron's pitching wasn't spectacular, but it was good enough as the Aeros ranked fourth in the league in ERA. Chuck Lofgren has arguably been the Aeros' best pitcher. The southpaw tied for third in the league in wins (12) and ranked third in strikeouts with 123. At times, Lofgren struggles, as evidenced by his performance against Erie in the first round (7.20 ERA, 5 IP)... Scott Lewis was right behind Lofgren all season with several quality performances. The lefty went 7-9 with a 3.68 ERA and was fifth in the EL in strikeouts with 121 but did not make an appearance in against Erie... Both Jeremy Sowers and Adam Miller joined the Aeros for their playoff run from Triple-A Buffalo. Sowers tossed a gem in his start against the SeaWolves. He went 7 1/3 innings allowing one run and fanning seven batters.
Trenton's pitching has been the club's key ingredient to success all season long. As a staff, the Thunder led the league in just about every pitching category including: ERA by an astounding .40 points, saves, strikeouts, shutouts and fewest hits allowed. During their first-round matchup with Portland, Trenton allowed a miniscule six runs in four games ... Alan Horne was the ace and anchor of the pitching corps. Horne ranked first in the league in ERA (3.11) and strikeouts (165) while finishing fourth in innings pitched with 153 1/3. In his start against the Sea Dogs, Horne went seven innings striking out six and giving up two runs ... Jason Marquez was just slightly less dazzling for the Thunder. Marquez led the circuit in wins with 15, was second in innings pitched (155 1/3) and had a sparkling 3.65 ERA that ranked 10th. Marquez pitched a beautiful series clincher in the postseason, tossing seven innings of shutout baseball to tie the franchise record in wins ... Newcomer Daniel McCutchen, who joined the team in August, has lessened the loss of uber-prospects Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain with his performance. The Texas native went 3-2 with a 2.41 ERA in six starts for the Thunder during the season and silenced Portland batters in Game 3 with six innings of one-run baseball.
AT THE PLATE
Akron's hitting has been its bread and butter all season long as it tied for the Eastern League lead in both runs scored in batting average. Jordan Brown showed why he was selected both the Eastern League's Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year. Brown hit .421 with one homer and four RBIs in his first Double-A postseason experience. During the regular season, Brown led the league in batting average (.331) and ranked second in hits (158) ... Trevor Crowe has been a key cog for the Aeros all year. While he's only batting .257, Crowe led the Aeros in runs scored with 85 and stolen bases with 28. In the Division Championship, Crowe stole two bases and drove in six runs ... After raking in August, Michael Aubrey continued his torrid streak in the playoffs. Aubrey hit .353 with two homers and six RBIs... Stephen Head led the team in batting average (.444), homers (three) and RBIs (seven) in the series against Erie.
Trenton's hitting has not been nearly as dominant as its pitching. The Thunder hit the fewest home runs on the circuit, and their batting average ranked just ninth in the 12-team league. OF Noah Hall was the club's best hitter during the regular season as he compiled a .292 average with 50 RBIs and eight home runs. Hall has struggled, though, in the postseason with just three hits in 13 at-bats... OF Matt Carson was the team's major source of offensive production. He led the team in both homers (16) and RBIs (76). Against Portland in the Division Championship, Carson hit .313 with two RBIs. ... 1B Cody Ehlers became a key contributor down the stretch, batting .273 the final month. He finished with 97 hits, 29 runs scored and 53 RBIs.
The Aeros and Thunder have never faced each other in the postseason, and Trenton is making its first-ever Championship Series appearance. Akron, on the other hand, has been a mainstay in the final round of the playoffs. The Aeros have now won the EL Southern Division three straight years and are making their fourth Championship Series appearance in five seasons. Last year, they lost to Portland with current manager Tim Bogar at the helm. The Aeros last title came in 2005.
SERIES COULD TURN ON
Trenton's offense has been the team's Achilles heel all season long. We all know they will get stellar pitching, but will the Thunder be able to score consistently? When Trenton scores at least four runs in a game, the Thunder are an astounding 63-13. However, when they don't reach that magic number of four, the Thunder are a disappointing 25-43. Trenton needs to score runs this series, especially going against a high-powered Akron offense. The Aeros speed could also be a huge factor. Akron led the league with 147 stolen bases. If speedsters like Crowe (28 steals) and Argenis Reyes (27 steals) get on base, they could disrupt Trenton's defense and great pitching staff. In addition, the Aeros pitching was very mediocre in the first round against Erie, compiling a 5.66 ERA. Akron's offense bailed the staff out by scoring an average of eight runs a game, but the Aeros can't expect that against a brilliant Trenton rotation. An ERA of over five won't cut it in the Championship Series.
This is a pick-your-poison matchup. Akron has the best offense while Trenton has the best pitching. It's strength versus strength. Playoff history and baseball common sense says go with the pitching, but Trenton's offense is just too weak. In the first round, the Thunder only managed 12 runs in four games against a Sea Dogs pitching staff that had an ERA of 4.37. Also, while offense is Akron's strength, its pitching is still good. The Aeros were fourth in the league in ERA, and the additions of Adam Miller and Jeremy Sowers from Buffalo make their pitching staff even better and more experienced. Aeros in four.
Evan Mohl 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.