(PK Park - Eugene, OR) - Both the Eugene Emeralds and Vancouver Canadians swept past their Division rivals this past week, setting up what should be a very well-pitched Northwest League Championship Series, presented by Scotiabank.
Canadians manager Rich Miller has announced that his first three arms out of the gates will be RHP Juan Nunez (September 9), LHP Jose Espada (September 10) and RHP Nate Pearson (September 11) while the Emeralds, led by Jesus Feliciano, will trot our RHP Keegan Thompson, LHP Brendon Little and RHP Cory Abbott in response.
Neither manager has committed to naming anything beyond Game 3 as this best-of-five series is sure to have a number of curveballs offered up at every turn, so let's breakdown the three match-ups that we do know.
Game 1 - Saturday, September 9th - PK Park, Eugene, Oregon - 8:05pm
Canadians RHP Juan Nunez (2-8, 5.05) at Emeralds RHP Keegan Thompson (1-2, 2.37)
On paper, Vancouver might want to reconsider as Nunez is 0-8 with a 5.32 ERA in his past 10 outings, but, NONE of those decisions or outings have come against Eugene. Nunez has managed just two wins this summer, and they are BOTH against Eugene. Nunez is 2-0 with a 1.74 ERA in 10 1/3 innings of work with seven (7) strikeouts and only two earned runs against. This was very early in the season, but for a guy who is 0-8 over his past 10, you take anything possible heading into the biggest game of his season.
Eugene will counter with RHP Keegan Thompson who has never faced the Canadians arriving in Oregon on July 26th. The Chicago Cubs 3rd Rounder has 23 strikeouts in just 19 innings, with his longest appearance of the season being three innings (five times). He has walked just four hitters all summer. Not intimidating in prototypical stature, Thompson has the look of someone who wants to dominate, and after going 7-4 with a 2.41 ERA in 15 starts for the Auburn Tigers, you know the NCAA standout wants to win this series opener especially knowing that the Emeralds only have two home games to get as much distance from the Canadians as possible before the series shifts back to Vancouver.
Game 2 - Sunday, September 10th - PK Park, Eugene, Oregon - 5:05pm
Canadians LHP Jose Espada (1-3, 5.14) at Emeralds LHP Brendan Little (0-2, 9.37)
There are days where LHP Jose Espada can dominate, and days where he does not. Perhaps at just 20 years of age we can cut the native of Ponce, Puerto Rico some slack, no? No. This is the Northwest League Championship and if the Toronto Blue Jays were to ever peek in and see their future prospects, this might be the time.
Back in time, July 2nd, Espada pitched against the Emeralds and not did fact in the decision as Vancouver topped Eugene 9-8. That evening, he went 4 2/3 innings of work allowing three earned runs while striking out seven and since then the battle for Espada has been his consistency. In his most recent outing the left-hander offered up six scoreless innings to help the Canadians shutout the Tri-City Dust Devils.
The proverbial 1st Rounder will get the ball a day before the Blue Jays 1st Rounder does. Brendon Little hasn't overwhelmed thus far going 0-2 with a 9.37 ERA and 12 strikeouts in 16 1/3 innings of work. The Cubs loved the pitcher in the 1st Round, and has never gone more than four, or given up a news. He has twice pitched in Eugene out at PK Park and the kid from Bryn Mawr, PA is looking for answers. At home, Little has allowed 14 earned runs in 11 2/3 innings. On the road, Little's ERA is three full points better.
Game 3 - Monday, September 11th - Scotiabank Field at Nat Bailey Stadium - 7:05pm
Emeralds RHP Cory Abbott (0-0, 3.86) at Canadians RHP Nate Pearson (0-0, 0.90)
Abbott, 21, is the Chicago Cubs 2nd Round Draft Pick in this year's Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft meaning that the Canadians in Game 1, 2 and 3 will have seen the Chicago Cubs 1st Round, 2nd Round, and 3rd Round pitchers as the Emeralds look to lock up a second straight NWL title.
The Loyola Marymount standout was outstanding in his five (5) outings although in each game he did allow at least one run as he never went past three full innings of work. 18 strikeouts and just three walks over 14 1/3 innings this season, Abbott has been a force as he gets acclimatized to the Northwest League. Abbott has a 1.42 ERA against LH and a whopping 5.87 ERA against RH.
It will be hard to top Big Nate's efforts from Game 1 of the North Division Final as the kid from Florida had nine (9) strikeouts over his first three innings this past Wednesday. This will be Nate's 9th appearance of the season, and his last as the 100mph+ flamethrower looks to take this pivotal NWL Championship Series game. Pearson has 26 strikeouts and just five (5) walks in 20 innings this summer with his last outing going a season-high four full innings.
Pearson is the 'ace' and if he's on his game, the Canadians could be looking at either clinching or setting their rotation up the rest of the way this post-season. Few have ever had the presence that Pearson has slowly started to evolve since arriving back on July 23rd. NWL hitters had a .106 average this summer vs. Pearson.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.