09/13/2007 12:59 AM ET
New York-Penn League Finals preview
Doubledays, Cyclones tangle for championship
By Evan Mohl / MLB.com
Auburn vs. Brooklyn
Doubledays (47-28) vs. Cyclones (49-25)
(Best-of-three series begins Thursday, Sept. 13)
Whoever said pitching wins playoff games must've known something because the Brooklyn Cyclones and Auburn Doubledays -- who ranked first and second in the New York-Penn League in ERA, respectively -- will begin the championship series on Thursday. Fans who love offense and home runs better beware because this series should be low-scoring and feature several enticing pitchers' duels.
Another battle that could take center stage involves the managers. Both skippers are incredibly experienced: Dennis Holmberg has guided the Doubledays to six straight postseason appearances but has yet to win a ring. Edgar Alfonzo managed the Cyclones to an NYPL title in 2001.
Brooklyn and Auburn met three times during the season, and all three games were nail-biters. The Cyclones, playing at home, won two of the contests, all three of which were decided by three runs or fewer.
Pitching was definitely the theme of the brief series. Each team totaled eight runs as hitting was at premium. Auburn never scored more than three, and its lone win was a shutout. Both teams hit below .220 and sported ERAs under 2.70.
Auburn: Doubledays hitters, like most in the New York-Penn League, struggled against Brooklyn's pitching staff, batting .214 in the three-game series. OF Adam Calderone led the team with four hits and a .364 batting average. The left-handed hitter also walked twice for an impressive .462 on-base percentage. ... C J.P. Arencibia tied for the club lead with two RBIs. He also had three hits, two of which went for extra bases. ... OF Baron Frost drove in two runs but hit .182. ... The Auburn pitching staff was stellar against the Cyclones, limiting them to a .217 batting average while compiling a 2.16 ERA. Marc Rzepczynski had the longest outing of any Doubledays starter, going six innings and fanning 10 batters. ... Brad Mills fanned four in three scoreless frames out of the bullpen. ... Kyle Walter had one of his best starts of the season against Brooklyn, yielding one run over five innings.
Brooklyn: The Cyclones couldn't seem to figure out Auburn pitching in their brief matchup, hitting .217. C Jefferies Tatford had the most success with a .500 average, but it came in only four at-bats. ... OF Raul Reyes led Brooklyn with two RBIs but hit .182. ... 2B Micah Schilling had the most hits against Auburn with four while batting .333. ... The Cyclones posted a 2.67 ERA against Auburn. Dillon Gee was Brooklyn's most effective starter, giving up one run over four innings. ... Steve Cheney struck out four in two perfect frames out of the 'pen. ... Nick Carr struck out seven in his lone start but gave up three earned runs in 4 2/3 innings.
Game 1: Brooklyn at Auburn
RHP Dillon Gee (3-1, 2.47 ERA) vs. LHP Chi-Hung Cheng (1-1, 2.77 ERA)
Game 2: Auburn at Brooklyn
LHP Brett Cecil (1-0, 1.27 ERA) vs. LHP Michael Antonini (0-0, 0.46 ERA)
Game 3: Auburn at Brooklyn (if necessary)
LHP Marc Rzepczynski (5-0, 2.76 ERA) vs. RHP Dylan Owen (9-1, 1.49 ERA)
ON THE MOUND
Auburn's pitching was rock-solid throughout the season. The Doubledays ranked third in the league with a 3.43 ERA and first with 632 strikeouts. In the first round of the playoffs, they were even better, giving up four earned runs in three games against Oneonta. Brett Cecil was Auburn's most dominant pitcher. In 13 starts, the southpaw compiled an impressive 1.27 ERA. However, his inability to keep his pitch count down forced him out of many games before he could get a decision -- he averaged fewer than four innings per start. In 49 2/3 frames, Cecil struck out 56 batters while walking 11. In his playoff start against Oneonta, he fanned five in five shutout innings. ... Rzepczynski, a 2007 draft pick, has been a great addition to the rotation. With Auburn facing elimination in the first round, the southpaw came through with six shutout frames and eight strikeouts. He is undefeated with a 2.42 ERA and has fanned 48 batters in 44 2/3 innings. ... Cody Crowell was spectacular this season -- and in the first round against Oneonta. He tossed 3 1/3 scoreless frames and got the last out in Game 3 with the tying run on second base to clinch a championship series berth.
The Cyclones' pitching was absolutely dominant. They led the league in virtually every category, including ERA (2.91), shutouts (10) and hits (511). The opening round against Staten Island was no different as Brooklyn posted a 2.00 ERA. ... Owen was the staff ace and possibly the best pitcher in the league, going 9-1 with a 1.49 ERA, both of which ranked first. Over 72 1/3 innings, he issued 12 walks and fanned 69 batters. Against Staten Island in the playoffs, Owen struck out seven in five scoreless frames. ... After Owen, it's only slightly less spectacular. Gee finished with the fifth-best ERA (2.47) in the circuit. He walked nine in 62 innings. ... Nick Waechter went 5-4 with a 3.88 ERA and was one of two pitchers in the league to toss a shutout. ... Carr was 5-2 with a 3.80 ERA and tied for third in the league with 74 strikeouts.
AT THE PLATE
Auburn has a do-or-die approach, which has pros and cons. The Doubledays led the NYPL in homers (54) and strikeouts (657). They ranked second in runs scored (370) but ninth in batting (.254). All-Star OF Benjamin Zeskind was Auburn's most consistent hitter, batting .301 while tying for the league lead with eight homers. ... 1B Manny Rodriguez, another All-Star, led the team with 45 RBIs and also hit eight roundtrippers. He batted .290 and his 80 hits ranked fifth. He was even better against the Tigers in the playoffs, hitting .364 with three doubles and three RBIs. ... 2B Darin Mastroianni was the tablesetter all season for the Doubledays, leading the team with 49 runs scored while batting .280. He hit .385 with three runs scored in the first round. ... Brad Emaus caught fire against Oneonta, leading the team in batting (.545), hits (6), homers (2) and RBIs (4).
The Cyclones were consistent, supplying a steady dose of runs. Their batting average ranked fourth in the league, but Brooklyn struggled in the first round of the playoffs with a .242 mark. ... 1B/OF Lucas Duda led the team with a .299 batting average and tied for third in the league in doubles with 20. He batted .444 against Staten Island in the opening round. ... C/1B Jason Jacobs anchored the lineup, leading the league with 12 homers and topping the team with 46 RBIs while batting .273. ... Schilling has a knack for getting on base. He hit .283 but had a .427 on-base percentage that ranked third in the NYPL.
The Cyclones and Doubledays have never met in the postseason. The last time Brooklyn was in the championship series was 2001, when they shared the league title. Auburn made it to the Finals in 2005 but was swept by Staten Island. The Doubledays' lone championship came in 1998.
The managerial matchup is an intriguing one. Alfonzo, who guided the Cyclones to their 2001 title, returned to Brooklyn this year in hopes of rekindling that magic. Holmberg, meanwhile, is no rookie. He has 37 years of Minor League experience and has led Auburn to six straight playoff appearances.
SERIES COULD TURN ON
Defense could be a key factor. Brooklyn committed 64 errors during the season, a big reason why its pitching has been so good. The Cyclones can't afford to get sloppy and give the Doubledays extra chances. Auburn, however, made an alarming 101 errors in 76 games. Their defense has to be better during the championship series. ... The top of Auburn's lineup has been hot. Four players hit over .350 in the three games against Oneonta. If the Doubledays can continue that and neutralize the Cyclones pitching, Brooklyn could be in trouble. ... Ramon Castro, who joined the Cyclones for their playoff run, has played 45 games in the Major Leagues this season. His impact was immediately felt against Staten Island as he went 2-for-5 in two games. Castro could have a profound influence on this series.
This series has everything you could want. As evidenced by the regular season, both teams have the ability to shut down opponents with their pitching. The clubs are far from one-dimensional, they can hit and manufacture runs. It's a real toss-up, since it's not easy to find weaknesses. Still, Brooklyn's starting pitching gives it a slight edge. Brooklyn in three.
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.