You'd be hard-pressed to find a professional sports team that's enjoyed a better 2013 season than that of the Gulf Coast League Nationals. Consider the following.
Before winning the NBA Finals, the Miami Heat finished with a league-best .805 winning percentage (66-16) in the regular season. The Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks owned a .750 winning percentage (36-7-5), if you include shootout and overtime victories. Major League Baseball's best record belongs to the Atlanta Braves, who are 81-52 and own a .609 winning percentage.
Then there are the Nats, who finished 49-9 in the GCL this season for an incredible .845 winning percentage. With that in mind, it should be no surprise the team will now play for the GCL championship.
On the backs of starting pitcher Hector Silvestre and third baseman Drew Ward, the Nationals defeated the Pirates, 6-1, on Friday in the one-game GCL semifinals to advance to the Finals on Saturday.
The 20-year-old left-hander allowed just one hit and no walks and struck out six over six scoreless innings to earn the win. A native of the Dominican Republic, he hadn't allowed a run over his last five outings (20 1/3 innings) during the regular season, finishing 7-0 with a 1.82 ERA and 0.83 WHIP in 13 appearances (49 1/3 innings). He ranked second and third in the GCL in ERA and WHIP respectively.
Batting from the third spot in the lineup, Ward provided most of the highlights from the Nationals offense, going 2-for-3 with a homer, a double, three RBIs and a walk in the win.
The 18-year-old left-handed hitter was taken by Washington in the third round of this year's Draft. He owned a .292/.402/.387 slash line with 13 doubles, one homer and 28 RBIs in 49 regular-season contests. His round-tripper Friday was his first since going deep on July 31.
Shortstop Osvaldo Abreu went 1-for-4 and chipped in two RBIs of his own in the victory. Left fielder Garrett Gordon doubled and scored from the ninth spot.
Pirates first-round pick (14th overall) Reese McGuire went 2-for-4 to provide half of his team's hit total. Austin Meadows (ninth overall) went 1-for-3 in the loss.
In other Gulf Coast League playoff action:
Red Sox 3, Yankees2 0
The Nationals will take on the Red Sox in best-of-3 series for the GCL title starting Saturday after the latter defeated the Yankees second squad Friday afternoon. Second baseman Wendell Rijo and third baseman Aneudis Peralta each drove in a run in the first inning, while designated hitter Nick Longhi added some insurance with a solo homer in the ninth.
Myles Smith struck out two and allowed two walks over three hitless innings as the Sox starter. Relievers Jake Drehoff, German Taveras and Ellis Jimenez kept the Yanks off the board the rest of the way.
Despite taking the loss, Yankees starter Felipe Gonzalez managed to strike out 10 while allowing two runs on four hits and one walk in his four innings. Box score »