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Carolina League playoff preview

Topped by Kinston last year, Frederick faces challenge vs. Wilmington
September 4, 2007
Frederick vs. Wilmington
Frederick Keys (Orioles) (64-74) vs. Wilmington Blue Rocks (Royals) (75-62)
(Best-of-three series begins Wednesday, Sept. 5)

This year's first-half race was pretty ugly as all four teams finished below .500 with the Keys the "best" of the bunch at 32-37. But Wilmington kicked into gear in the second half, finishing up at 45-24. The Blue Rocks would have clinched their second-half title a little earlier had the Potomac Nationals not strung together an 11-game win streak down the stretch to make it interesting.

Disparate season records notwithstanding, the two teams split their season series, 10-10, and even divvied up their six August games, 3-3. The one sweep came in June, when Wilmington allowed two runs in three games to outscore the Keys, 14-2. They did not see each other again for six weeks, a lifetime in the eight-team league.

Head-to-Head Stats:
Frederick: The Keys hit just .233 in 20 games against the mighty Blue Rocks pitching staff but kept things even with a more-than-respectable 3.36 ERA in those matchups. All-Star 3B Ryan Finan wielded the hottest bat, hitting .400 in 16 games with two homers and nine RBIs. The rotation has not worked out in the Keys' favor as Wilmington killer Jason Berken, who posted a 1.42 ERA in three starts, would not get the nod until Game 1 of the finals unless a last-minute change is instituted. Of the three planned starters, Bradley Bergesen had a 5.23 ERA in two starts, Chorye Spoone had 2.57 in four games (three starts) and David Hernandez was 0-3 with a 4.34 in five outings.

Wilmington: The Rocks haven't had much luck against the Keys at the plate either, however, with a .228 average, but their 2.95 ERA makes up for that. All-Star OF Jose Duarte hit .333 against the club in 19 games while OF Jeremy Cleveland batted .438 in five games. On the mound, Game 1 starter Rowdy Hardy was 4-0 with a 1.52 ERA while Game 2 pitcher Julio Cesar Pimentel had an 0.92 ERA in four games and probable Game 3 starter Daniel Cortes was 1-2 with a 4.11 ERA in four games.

Game 1: Wednesday, Sept. 5, Frederick at Wilmington
Bradley Bergesen vs. Rowdy Hardy

Game 2: Thursday, Sept. 6, Wilmington at Frederick
Julio Cesar Pimentel vs. Chorye Spoone

Game 3: Friday, Sept. 7, Wilmington at Frederick
Daniel Cortes vs. David Hernandez*
*If necessary

RHP Bradley Bergesen gets the nod for the series opener at Wilmington, taking his regular spot in the rotation. Up from Delmarva midseason, Bergesen has gone 3-6 with a 5.75 ERA due to basic inconsistency. In five of his starts he's allowed five or six earned runs, while in the other four he's allowed just one or two. The Keys have to hope for the latter in his next one as he'll go head-to-head with the Carolina League Pitcher of the Year in Rowdy Hardy on the road. ... RHP Chorye Spoone will make his professional postseason debut Thursday as the Keys head home. Spoone, 10-9 with a 3.26 ERA, gave up one run on six hits in seven innings in his last regular-season game, striking out seven without walking a man for his third complete game of the summer. He's gone seven innings or more in 10 of his last 11 starts. ... RHP David Hernandez is 7-11 with a 4.95 ERA in 27 starts, but he comes off setting a team record in his last regular season start with a Minor League-high 18 strikeouts against Winston-Salem, including the first seven hitters he faced. ... The Keys will use newcomer RHP Timothy Bascom in relief for now, while tentatively looking ahead to the possibility of the league finals seeing him come on for Game 2 after Jason Berken. Bascom, a fourth-round pick this spring out of Central Florida, had a 3.74 ERA in 12 starts for Delmarva before coming up to join Frederick. ... Also in relief, lanky RHP Jason Burch is back from the DL and has posted saves in his last four games, with a 2.89 ERA in August since his return. ... The Keys have also added Delmarva closer LHP Chad Thall, who had 17 saves and a 4.14 ERA for the Shorebirds. ... Frederick is without top prospect Brandon Erbe, who is out for the postseason with a strained oblique muscle. Erbe was 6-8 with a 6.26 ERA.

The Blue Rocks have to feel good sending out as good a 1-2-3 punch of starters as they could hope for in Carolina League Pitcher of the Year LHP Rowdy Hardy, RHP Julio Cesar Pimentel and RHP Daniel Cortes. Hardy finished the season at 15-5 with a 2.48 ERA, striking out 91 and walking just 16 in 167 innings. ... Pimentel, also a postseason All-Star, has not lost a decision since July 16 and has allowed two earned runs or less in 11 of his last 13 appearances. Overall he's 12-4 with a 2.65 ERA on the season. ... Cortes, who wrapped up his regular season with two straight Pitcher of the Week nods, is 6-0 with a 0.77 ERA in eight starts since July 28. ... Closing out Blue Rocks wins has been RHP Arthur Santos, who has a 3.16 ERA and 10 saves since joining the team midseason from Double-A Wichita.

3B Ryan Finan, the lone postseason Carolina League All-Star for the Keys, hit .284 with 10 homers and 64 RBIs. ... The Keys don't have a lot of pop in the lineup, with the main power bat belonging to 1B Mark Fleisher with 16 homers and 58 RBIs but just a .247 average. ... Local product out of Maryland, CF Kennard Jones, is hitting .252 with 26 steals. ... The Keys added another speedster who will likely come off the bench by promoting Danny Figueroa from Delmarva, where he stole 35 bases. Figueroa may look familiar to Keys fans even though this is his Frederick debut: his twin brother Paco was a Carolina League All-Star with the club last year.

Hardy and Pimentel were not the only Blue Rocks players to earn end-of-season laurels. CF Jose Duarte not only made the Carolina League All-Star Team, he was also named Kansas City's Minor League Player of the Year. Duarte batted .290 with 34 steals. ... 3B Mario Lisson hit .285 with eight homers, 61 RBIs and 23 steals. ... One of the key power sources comes from RF Brian McFall, who hit .286 with 13 home runs, 72 RBIs and 31 doubles. He hit .367 in August. ... Kansas City's lack of a playoff berth in the Midwest League was the Blue Rocks' gain as they received speedy OF Derrick Robinson from the Burlington Bees for the postseason run. Robinson, 19, was named the organization's Best Athlete by Baseball America. He swiped 34 bases at Burlington and was hitting .385 in three games with the Rocks.

These two teams met in last year's Northern Division semifinal round. But in 2006 it was Wilmington that won the first half, thus earning home field advantage, and the Blue Rocks were a Boston Red Sox affiliate at the time. These two teams squared off in the semifinals last year as well, back when Wilmington was a Boston Red Sox affiliate and threw young phenom Clay Buchholz at the Keys in the first postseason game. This year, however, it's Frederick that won the first-half division title (despite all four teams in the North having sub-.500 records) and with it the home-field advantage. This marks Frederick's third consecutive trip to the postseason, having won it all in 2005 and losing to Kinston in the finals in 2006. For seemingly perennial playoff contender Wilmington, the Rocks make their 12th trip to the postseason in 15 years of existence but look for their first title since 1999.

Who wins the first game. It is almost impossible to pick against the Blue Rocks and that masterful 1-2-3 of a pitching rotation. But if the Keys can manage to beat Rowdy Hardy and company on the road, they would only need to win one of two back at home and would have a trio of terrific starters to choose from.

The Rocks not only have three of the top starters in the league, they also have three of the hottest ones in August. Plus, check out those pitchers' numbers against Frederick this season. It's hard to pick against that trifecta. Wilmington in three.

Lisa Winston is a reporter for