Winston-Salem was clearly the best team in the Carolina League this season. Manager Tommy Thompson's group won the Southern Division in both the first and second halves while compiling the best overall record in Minor League Baseball.
The Dash are looking for their first league title since 2003, when the franchise played as the Warthogs. They meet Myrtle Beach in a best-of-3 semifinal series starting Sept. 5.
Wilmington took charge late in the second half to win the Northern Division and earn a spot in the playoffs against Lynchburg, the first-half champ.
The winners meet in the Mills Cup Championship series, a best-of-5 set in which the Southern Division champion hosts the first two games and the remaining contests are held at the stadium of the Northern Division winner.
Winston-Salem Dash (87-51, Southern Division champions, both halves) vs.
Myrtle Beach Pelicans (74-65, Southern Division runner-up, second half)
Winston-Salem won the season series, 11-9
Game 1 at Winston-Salem, Sept. 5 at 7 p.m. ET
Game 2 at Winston-Salem, Sept. 6 at 7 p.m. ET
Game 3 at Winston-Salem (if necessary), Sept. 7 at 7 p.m. ET
Led by Carolina League MVP Dan Black and Manager of the Year Tommy Thompson, Winston-Salem rolled to the Southern Division title in both halves and compiled the best record in the Minors, despite dealing with a roster in constant flux. In fact, according to Thompson, only eight of the 26 players who opened the year with Winston-Salem are still with the club.
"We've moved more guys this year and had more transactions than I can ever remember in 30 years," Thompson said. "This was [my most] fun year ever, the most challenging year."
Thompson said he and his staff kept teaching and reteaching through the year. In fact, they dedicated time before a game last week reinforcing the fundamentals of pickoffs and bunts.
"If somehow we don't win this all, it's still been a very rewarding and productive season for the development of these kids," Thompson said. "It's been very rewarding."
Myrtle Beach, the only 2012 Carolina League playoff team who also made the postseason last year, earned its spot thanks to a second-place finish in the second half. The Pelicans finished the year with the lowest ERA in the league, but also had the lowest batting average.
Reliever Ben Rowen, who went 5-0 with a 1.57 ERA and 19 saves, was the lone Pelican to make the postseason All-Star team.
Lynchburg Hillcats (72-68, Northern Division first-half champions) vs.
Wilmington Blue Rocks (66-74, Northern Division second-half champions)
Wilmington won the season series, 11-9
Game 1 at Wilmington, Sept. 5 at 6:35 p.m. ET
Game 2 at Lynchburg, Sept. 6 at 6:05 p.m. ET
Game 3 at Lynchburg (if necessary), Sept. 7, 6:05 p.m. ET
Lynchburg's been consistent throughout the season. The Hillcats earned a playoff berth by winning the first half by eight games, then battled for the second-half crown until Wilmington took command over the final days.
"We've had pretty good consistency," said shortstop Nick Ahmed, one of the three Hillcats who earned postseason honors. "Our core group has been the same the whole year. ... We've had decent chemistry here."
The team's No. 2 hitter, Ahmed had a .269 average and led the league with 84 runs scored.
"My job is to get on base," he said. "That's something I take pride in."
Schlosser, who worked as a reliever during his pro debut in 2011, was 13-7 with a 3.38 ERA in 27 starts. Schlehuber finished with a .270 average, eight homers and 42 RBIs.
Wilmington went on a late-season run to capture the Northern Division's second-half crown. The Blue Rocks were 16-8 before losing in Monday's season finale. Offense is going to be the question as Wilmington in the playoffs had a .247 team average while leading the league in strikeouts this year.
No repeats: This year's champion won't be a repeat winner. Frederick, who beat Kinston to take the Mills Cup last year, didn't make the playoffs despite a strong run late in the second half.
Looking for 12: Winston-Salem leads the Carolina League with 11 championships, though the team hasn't won since 2003. The Dash made the Finals in 2010 but fell to Potomac, three games to one.
Comeback kids: Entering the last game of the season, Wilmington had compiled half its wins by coming from behind. The Blue Rocks had 66 victories on the season, 33 of which came after rallying from a deficit.