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09/06/2008 4:16 PM ET
Pitching key in Cal League playoffs
Lancaster manager believes championship will come down to mound work
Lancaster's Blake Maxwell was moved from the bullpen into the starting rotation this year.  (Ken Weisenberger/MLB.com)

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While the Lancaster JetHawks featured several offensive stars this season, manager Chad Epperson believes pitching is the reason his team is still in the mix as the second round of the California League playoffs begin Saturday.

"It came down to pitching," said Epperson, who is in his second season as the Lancaster skipper. "Our walk ratio is the lowest in the league. We're pitching to contact and making people earn their way on base so when we give up home runs, we're giving up more solo shots."

Epperson cited Travis Beazley (7-10, 4.68 ERA), Blake Maxwell (5-9, 3.32 ERA) and Felix Doubront (1-1, 3.86 ERA) as some of the main contributors, though he said they weren't alone.

"Everyone contributed," he said. "Our starting rotation did a real nice job of getting deep into games, allowing our bullpen to be fresh.

"Maxwell was a reliever last year, and for him to start and dominate was really great."

Maxwell, a 24-year-old right-hander, made 40 relief appearances for the JetHawks in 2007, going 6-3 with a 6.04 ERA. This season, he started in 15 of his 37 outings.

The JetHawks, who are in the playoffs for the fourth time in the last five seasons, also boasted the California League's leading hitter in Daniel Nava, who batted .341 with 10 homers, 59 RBIs and 110 hits in 85 games.

Kris Negron, who played in 33 games for Lancaster after being promoted from Class A Greenville of the South Atlantic League, batted .328.

Lancaster, like San Jose, entered the playoffs with a first-round bye after winning the first-half South Division title. Epperson welcomed the hiatus.

"We hadn't had a day off since Aug. 4," he said. "Some managers think that a break can throw you off your rhythm, but we needed a breather. We had some guys banged up."

Matchup

San Jose Giants (42-28) vs. Stockton Ports (34-36)
Best-of-5 series begins Saturday, Sept. 6

Head-to-Head Statistics
San Jose
vs.
Stockton
11-11
W-L
11-11
.275
BA
.260
127
Runs
106
27
HR
16
18
SB
14
4.26
ERA
5.15
195
K
200
81
BB
79

San Jose has been a perennial contender for the league title. The Giants took the crown in 2007 and 2005, both times beating Lake Elsinore in five games. The Ports missed the playoffs in 2007 after making the postseason for five straight years. They won the title in 2002, beating the Storm in four games.

Head-to-Head

San Jose and Stockton split 22 regular-season meetings with the Giants going 6-3 at home and 5-8 on the road.

San Jose's Jesse English made six starts against the Ports, going 4-2 with a 3.55 ERA, while Daryl Maday was 1-0 with a 1.50 ERA. On offense, Andy D'Alessio hit .294 with six homers and 20 RBIs and Sharlon Shoop belted three roundtrippers and drove in 14 runs. Chris Carter only hit .169 during the season series for the Ports, but had five homers and 13 RBIs. On the mound, Scott Moore was 2-0 against the Giants with a 2.70 ERA in two starts, while James Heuser was 1-0 with a 3.66 ERA in six appearances, only one of them a start.

Players to Watch

San Jose: The Giants' big strength this season was starting pitching, with a rotation featuring Tim Alderson (13-4), who led the league with a 2.76 ERA, and Kevin Pucetas (10-2), who was second with a 3.02 mark, but was named the California League's Outstanding Pitcher. The Giants' first-round pick, Buster Posey, joined the team after winning the Rookie Arizona League title and a short stint in the Short-Season Northwest League playoffs. Matt Downs provided power at the plate with 17 homers and 75 RBIs to go with a .302 average.

Stockton: Carter provided plenty of power this season with league highs of 39 homers and 104 RBIs. Matthew Sulentic hit .309 with nine homers and 55 RBIs. Heuser went 9-3 with a 4.53 ERA and Moore was 5-2 with a 6.57 mark.

Matchup

Lancaster JetHawks (40-30) vs. Lake Elsinore Storm (39-31)
Best-of-5 series begins Saturday, Sept. 6

Head-to-Head Statistics
Lancaster
vs.
Lake Elsinore
12-9
W-L
9-12
.302
BA
.286
121
Runs
132
21
HR
14
11
SB
18
4.81
ERA
5.28
102
K
145
62
BB
55

Since 2004, the JetHawks have only missed the playoffs once. Last year, they were beaten in four games in the South Division Finals by the Storm. Lake Elsinore, which swept Inland Empire to reach the second round, has made the playoffs eight of the last nine years. The Storm lost to the Giants in five games in last year's finals.

Head-to-Head

Lancaster won the season series, 12-9, but each team played better on the road. The JetHawks were 8-2 on the road while the Storm went 7-4 away from home.

Daniel Nava hit .356 with a homer and 13 RBIs while Chih-Hsien Chiang batted .313 with two homers and 11 RBIs. On the mound, Blake Maxwell went 1-0 with a 5.06 ERA in six appearances, including one start, and reliever Jason Blackey was 2-0 with a 1.86 ERA and one save in five appearances. The Storm's Jeremy Hunt batted .361 (22-for-61) with three homers and 17 RBIs. Mitch Canham hit .298 with 18 RBIs and Sam Carter batted .288 and plated 16 runs. On the mound, Nathan Culp was 3-2 with a 3.94 ERA in six starts and Drew Miller went 2-1 with a 4.91 ERA in five appearances, including four starts.

Players to Watch

Lancaster: Along with Nava and Negron, Chiang had a solid season, batting .303 with nine homers and 59 RBIs, while Jon Still amassed 22 homers and 83 RBIs. Beazley was the workhorse of the rotation, pitching 140 1/3 innings, while Derrick Loop went 6-0 with a 3.04 ERA in 17 appearances, including six starts.

Lake Elsinore: There was plenty of offense as Kellen Kulbacki batted .332 with 20 homers and 66 RBIs in 84 games, Cedric Hunter hit .318 with 11 homers and 84 RBIs and Sam Carter slugged 14 home runs and drove in 82 runs. On the mound, Culp (14-8) led the Storm in innings (157 1/3) and Drew Miller went 10-7 with a 6.10 ERA.

Alan Friedman is a contributor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.