The San Antonio Missions will attempt to put a bow on their outstanding season when they face the Arkansas Travelers in the best-of-5 Texas League Championship series starting Tuesday. The Missions amassed the most wins in the Minors in 2011, comfortably taking both the first- and second-half South Division titles on the strength of the league's stingiest pitching staff.
Arkansas advanced to the finals after eliminating defending champion Northwest Arkansas in four games. The Travelers' success this season has clearly come on the shoulders of their pitching staff as well, as the team finished with the second-best ERA in the league and the lowest team batting average.
Arkansas (68-69, North Division first-half champion) vs.
San Antonio (94-46, South Division first- and second-half champion)
San Antonio won the season series, 8-4
Game 1 at San Antonio, Sept. 13 at 8:05 p.m. ET
Game 2 at San Antonio, Sept. 14 at 8:05 p.m. ET
Game 3 at Arkansas, Sept. 16 at 8:10 p.m. ET
Game 4 at Arkansas (if necessary), Sept. 17 at 8:10 p.m. ET
Game 5 at San Antonio (if necessary), Sept. 18 at TBD
San Antonio manager Doug Dascenzo guided the Missions to 94 regular-season wins, the second-most in franchise history behind the 1908 club that won 95. The Texas League Manager of the Year would like nothing more than to top that with a title.
"It would be the perfect cap on a great season," said Dascenzo, a former Major League outfielder. "If we didn't win a championship, it would be a disappointment -- but it wouldn't make the season disappointing."
Home-field advantage could prove pivotal in this year's Championship series. Not only did San Antonio compile a remarkable 55-15 record within the friendly confines of Wolff Stadium, but the Missions also swept the Travelers in all six games they played there.
"The guys are very comfortable playing here this year," said Dascenzo. "When you win baseball games, you usually have good pitching. And we've pitched well here."
The Travelers, who won both of their series against the Missions at Dickey-Stephens Park this season, will again send Texas League Pitcher of the Year Matt Shoemaker to the mound in Game 1. The 25-year-old righty went 2-0 in three starts against the Missions this year, allowing one unearned run in 21 innings. Shoemaker would also start Game 5, should the series go the distance.
"Pitching is their strength," Dascenzo said of the Travelers. "They were real close to our staff the whole year."
Pitching aside, the 2011 Texas League postseason may be most remembered for a trio of outstanding offensive performances. In Game 3 of San Antonio's semifinal series against the RoughRiders, Cody Decker became just the third player in Texas League history, and the first since 1956, to homer twice in a playoff game on Friday. Not to be outdone, teammate Jaff Decker and Arkansas' Luis Jimenez each repeated the feat the following day in their teams' series-clinching Game 4 victories.
Familiar underdogs: Arkansas, who finished the regular season a game under .500 overall, was last crowned champions of the Texas League in 2008. The Travelers took the title that year despite a 62-78 record that translated into the lowest winning percentage (.443) for a champion in league history.
Even dozen: The only charter member remaining in the Texas League, San Antonio is searching for its 12th league title in team history and fifth since 1997. The Missions last took the crown in 2007.