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California League playoff preview09/04/2012 12:01 PM ET
By Chris Martinez / Special to MLB.com
With the 2012 season winding down, follow along with MiLB.com as the Minors' best teams face off in an attempt to take home their league's crown.
The North Division mini-series has several interesting story lines between two teams that know each other well. Perennial powerhouse San Jose had its streak of seven straight first-half titles snapped, finishing three games behind Bakersfield but worked its way into the playoffs as a Wild Card. Modesto is led by Lenn Sakata, the winningest manager in Cal League history and the man who helped guide San Jose to three titles during his tenure from 1999 to 2007.
The South Division race went down to the final day, when defending champion pulled out a come-from-behind victory and, with help from a Rancho Cucamonga loss, earned the right to face Lancaster in the first round.
Each opening-round series is a best-of-3, and the winners advance to play the first-half champs in their respective division -- Bakersfield in the North and High Desert in the South -- in a best-of-5 set starting Sept. 8.
Modesto Nuts (73-67, North Division second-half champions) vs.
San Jose won the season series, 16-10
Game 1 at San Jose, Sept. 5 at 10:00 p.m. ET
Modesto clinched the North Division second-half title Friday after knocking off San Jose, 3-1, in the opener of a four-game series, but the Giants rebounded to take the next three games to wrap up the regular season and give them a decisive 16-10 advantage in head-to-head matchups. The Giants had locked up a playoff berth Thursday by beating Lake Elsinore, 10-3, and ensuring a Wild Card.
Modesto manager Lenn Sakata has had to juggle his roster down the stretch as injuries and fatigue slowed the team a bit.
"We're trying to set it up so we have some strength going into the playoffs," he said.
The Nuts have set their rotation for the mini-series and will go with 16-game winner Christian Bergman, midseason callup Josh Mueller and 2009 first-rounder Tyler Matzek, who stifled the Giants with six scoreless innings on Saturday.
Though the Giants haven't yet revealed their playoff rotation, pitching coach Steve Kline is comfortable no matter how they match up. Kline saw many of the Nuts' current players last season in the South Atlantic League as Class A Augusta's pitching coach.
"The matchups are even -- we know them and they know us," he said. "Now it's about execution."
Offensively the Giants feature Adam Duvall, who reached both the 100-RBI and 30-homer plateau on the final day of the season.
Lancaster JetHawks (74-66, South Division Wild Card) vs.
Lake Elsinore won the season series over Lancaster, 16-9
Game 1 at Lake Elsinore, Sept. 5 at 10:05 p.m. ET
Lancaster made a splash Friday night when they beat High Desert to clinch their first playoff berth since 2008 and securing home-field advantage for the mini-series. A postseason berth didn't slow down the high-flying JetHawks, who put up 23 runs against the Mavericks the next night.
Lancaster faces Lake Elsinore in the mini-series starting Wednesday night. The defending champion Storm, who earned their playoff berth Monday, hold a significant advantage in the season series, 16-9.
Lake Elsinore is led by catcher Tommy Medica, a California native who finished first on the club in batting average (.330), home runs (19) and RBIs (87).
The winner of the series will face High Desert, who won the first- and second-half South Division title. Lancaster and High Desert matched up in a big series at the end the regular season, culminating in the 23-12 rout Saturday.
Southern discomfort: Rancho Cucamonga and Lancaster finished tied with High Desert for the first-half title, but the Mavericks won the division after defeating Rancho in a one-game playoff on June 25. Lancaster was eliminated from the three-team tie by virtue of having the worst division record, setting up the first-half title-decider between the Quakes and Mavs in their first matchup of the second half.
Blaze on tap: Awaiting the winner of the San Jose-Modesto series are the Bakersfield Blaze, who beat out San Jose by three games to take the first-half North Division title. The Blaze, who ended the season on a three-game winning streak, hold a 10-13 overall record against the Giants and went 10-12 versus the Nuts.
Advantage North: San Jose has won four of the last seven California League titles, and North Division rival Stockton took home the crown in 2008. Lake Elsinore (2011) and Inland Empire (2006) are the lone South Division winners since 2005.