09/12/2007 3:37 PM ET
California League Finals preview
San Jose takes on Lake Elsinore in best-of-five series
By Jonathan Mayo / MLB.com
San Jose vs. Lake Elsinore
Giants (73-67) vs. Storm (74-65)
(Best-of-five starts Thursday, Sept. 13)
A matchup of two fairly even teams that have met (or were supposed to meet, as was the case in 2001) at this time twice in the past six years could come down to players who have not logged all that much time in the California League.
This was a very even series, with San Jose having a slight edge in games at 6-5. The Storm swept a four-game series from the Giants in early June at home, then lost two of three in San Jose at the start of July. The Giants took four straight at home at the end of that month to take the season series.
The Giants hit .267 in the series with 13 homers in the 11 games. Travis Ishikawa and David Maroul each hit four of them, with Ishikawa hitting .381 in seven games and Maroul at .350 in 11. Antoan Richardson hit .425 in 10 games with six stolen bases. Michael Mooney hit .370 over 27 at-bats with four steals. ... San Jose had a 3.94 ERA in the series. Henry Sosa made two starts, won one of them and had a 1.80 ERA to go along with 11 K's in 10 IP. Paul Oseguera went 1-0 in his two starts, with a 3.75 ERA and 11 K's in 12 IP. Joseph Martinez made three starts and, though he went 1-2, he had a 3.50 ERA.
The Storm hit .263 over the 11 games. Kyle Blanks led the way with a .400 average and 10 RBIs in eight games. David Freese also drove in 10 runs, though he hit just .227 in 10 games. Craig Cooper hit .282 and drove in six runs. ... Lake Elsinore's pitching staff posted a 4.78 ERA. Steve Garrison lost his one start, but allowed just two runs on three hits over seven innings. None of the other probable starters for the Storm faced the Giants during the regular season. Richie Daigle, now pitching in relief, had a 7.59 ERA in three outings, two starts.
Game 1: San Jose at Lake Elsinore
Paul Oseguera (10-6, 3.54 ERA) vs. Steve Garrison (10-7, 3.25)
Game 2: San Jose at Lake Elsinore
Adam Cowart (14-7, 2.39*) vs. Nathan Culp (13-7, 3.89) or Corey Kluber (1-1, 3.51**)
Game 3: Lake Elsinore at San Jose
Stephen Faris (9-7, 4.27) vs. Joseph Martinez (10-10, 4.26)
Game 4: Lake Elsinore at San Jose (if necessary)
Cory Luebke (5-3, 3.07) vs. TBD
Game 5: Lake Elsinore at San Jose (if necessary)
TBD vs. TBD
Note: Stats are overall from 2007 and in some cases involve more than one league.
* Stats are from the South Atlantic League.
** Stats are from the Northwest League.
ON THE MOUND
LHP Paul Oseguera finished fourth in the California League with a 3.54 ERA and fifth with 132 strikeouts. He tossed seven innings of shutout ball, striking out eight, in Game 1 of the Giants' series against Visalia. ... RHP Adam Cowart spent all year with Augusta in the South Atlantic League, finishing third in ERA (2.39) and tied for fifth in wins (14). He made his California League debut in the previous round of the playoffs, blanking Visalia over eight innings. ... RHP Joseph Martinez led the California League with 151 strikeouts while walking only 36 in 162 2/3 innings. His 4.26 ERA was seventh lowest in the hitting-friendly league, though he did not pitch well in his postseason start, picking up San Jose's lone loss. ... RHP Sergio Romo was one of the best relievers in the league, with a 1.36 ERA and .155 batting average against. He struck out 106 and walked just 15 in 66 1/3 innings. He picked up two saves in two scoreless outings in the last round of the playoffs.
LHP Steve Garrison had a 2.79 ERA in seven starts since joining the Padres system via a trade with the Brewers. Overall, the 2005 10th-round pick was 10-7 with a 3.25 ERA. He picked up a clinching win with seven shutout innings against Inland Empire in the first round of the playoffs. ... LHP Nathan Culp went 5-4 with a 4.81 ERA in 12 outings since joining Lake Elsinore, but the Padres' fourth-round pick in 2006 had a 3.34 ERA in August and September, including wins in the playoff clincher and the game that earned the Storm the No. 2 seed. He pitched well in Game 1 against Lancaster, getting a no-decision after allowing two runs over six innings. ... RHP Cory Kluber joined Lake Elsinore from Eugene in the Northwest League, where he had a 3.51 in 33 1/3 innings. His one playoff start was a disaster, as he allowed six runs in 2 1/3 innings. ... LHP Cory Luebke made just two appearances for Lake Elsinore during the regular season, allowing six runs in seven innings. But the Ohio State product went a combined 5-3 with a 3.07 ERA with just eight walks and 61 strikeouts in 58 2/3 innings. He's made two postseason starts and has a win to go along with a 2.45 ERA over 7 1/3 IP.
AT THE PLATE
2B Travis Denker spent most of the year with Inland Empire, hitting .294 for the 66ers. Joining the Giants late by way of the Mark Sweeney trade, he made an immediate impression by hitting .400 over seven games. He's kept that up in the postseason, going 4-for-8 with three homers and five RBIs in three games. ... 1B Travis Ishikawa had a rough 2007 season, picking up only 371 at-bats combined between Double-A Connecticut (where he hit .214) and San Jose (where he hit .268). In two playoff games, he went 3-for-7 with a homer. ... C Pablo Sandoval hit .287 with 11 homers in 401 at-bats during the year, but he struggled against Visalia in the postseason, going just 2-for-11. ... OF Fred Lewis joined San Jose for a Major League rehab assignment and hit two homers to get the Giants past the Oaks in Game 4 and into the finals. It was unclear whether he'd still be in San Jose for the championship.
1B/DH Kyle Blanks had an impressive year, hitting .301 with 24 homers, 100 RBIs and even 11 steals. He finished tied for fifth in home runs, was sixth in SLG (.540) and fourth in RBIs (100) in the league. He's been very impressive in the postseason, with three homers, eight RBIs and a .333 average in six games. ... SS Juan Ciriaco had an up-and-down year, finishing with a .228 average in 94 total games. He hit .268 in 47 of those games with San Jose and has saved his best for last. He hit .464 with seven RBIs in six games. ... 2B Seth Johnston drove in six runs in six postseason games. ... 1B Craig Cooper also was productive, hitting .370 in the playoffs after finishing with a .317 average (good for sixth in the league) with 10 homers, 78 RBIs and a .397 OBP (ninth). 3B David Freese hit .302 with 17 homers and 96 RBIs, good for seventh in the league. He only hit .222 in the first two rounds of the playoffs, though he did have a pair of homers and five RBIs.
Since joining the California League in 1994, the Storm have gone to the postseason eight times before this season. They won their first title as an Angels affiliate in 1996 and were declared co-champions in 2001, the first year of the team's affiliation with the Padres. In both 2002 and 2005, the Storm lost in the championship. ... San Jose last won the title in that 2005 season and the Giants shared it with Lake Elsinore in 2001. The Giants have made the postseason for four years in a row and have only missed out on the postseason four times since 1994. They joined the California League as a San Francisco affiliate in 1988, following in the footsteps of other San Jose clubs in the league, like the Owls, Bees and Expos, which date back to the inception of the league.
SERIES COULD TURN ON
Which California League newcomers fare better on the mound. Both the San Jose and Lake Elsinore pitching staffs received boosts via promotion near or at the end of the regular season and even into the postseason. San Jose got one of the South Atlantic League's best in Adam Cowart when Augusta was bounced from the playoffs, and he stepped up with eight shutout playoff innings in his debut at this level. Lake Elsinore, meanwhile, got Cory Luebke at the very end of the season and Corey Kluber once the regular season was over. Both were 2007 draftees, with Luebke coming in the supplemental first round and Kluber a fourth-round selection. It's a big leap for all of these hurlers to make, and whoever can do it the most successfully -- like Cowart did in the previous round -- could have an edge.
San Jose was a stronger club in the first half, when the Giants went 39-31, but were under .500 in the second half. Lake Elsinore was a little more consistent, finishing above .500 in both portions of the season, and the Storm have to be riding high after upsetting the favored Lancaster JetHawks in the last round and hitting .326 in the postseason overall. San Jose, on the other hand, didn't hit a ton in the last round, but yielded just eight earned runs in four games. That Oseguera-Cowart combination will get the job done on the road, making it easier for the Giants to win it at home. San Jose in four.
Jonathan Mayo 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.