Kinston vs. Salem
Kinston Indians (87-52) vs. Salem Avalanche (79-60)
(Best-of-3 series begins Wednesday, Sept. 5)
It's another case of "you, again?" in the Carolina League as both semifinal series feature rematches of the 2006 playoffs. This time, however, first-half division winner Kinston managed to hold off Salem in the second half, thereby earning home-field advantage for all three games. The Indians, who are Carolina League defending champions, boasted the best record in the league and certainly head into postseason as the team to beat, once again.
The Indians held a 12-8 season advantage over Salem, including winning four out of six in August as several games postponed back in June were made up in back-to-back doubleheaders. That said, there were no series sweeps.
The Indians batted a robust .280 against the Avalanche, with IF Matthew Whitney leading the charge with a .353 average in 10 games to go with four homers and 10 RBIs. OF Jose Constanza batted .333. On the mound, ace RHP James Deters, who gets the call in the opener, was 3-0 with a 1.76 ERA against Salem. Game 2 hurler RHP Frank Herrmann had a 4.43 ERA in four starts while RHP Sung-Wei Tseng, who will get the ball for Game 3 if necessary, was 1-0 with a 2.45 in two starts. ... LHP Ryan Edell had a 2.63 ERA in six games, four of them starts, striking out 23 in 24 innings. ... Overall, Kinston had a 3.23 ERA against Salem.
The Avs hit just .250 against Kinston pitching this season while Carolina League MVP OF Mitch Einertson hit a less spectacular .265 against the Indians pitching in 18 games while league batting champion Billy Hart's .262 average in 14 games was also below his dominance elsewhere in the league. However Mark Ori's .358 average in 16 games, along with three homers and nine RBIs, probably makes him one of the more feared hitters in the lineup for this series. ... On the mound, where Salem's rotation has been less than constant, Game 1 starter RHP Sergio Perez has gone 0-3 with a 6.65 ERA in five starts. Overall, Kinston hit up the Salem pitching staff for a 4.74 ERA.
Game 1: Wed., Sept. 5, Salem at Kinston
Sergio Perez vs. James Deters
Game 2: Thu., Sept. 6, Salem at Kinston
Pollin Trinidad vs. Frank Herrmann
Game 3: Fri., Sept. 7, Salem at Kinston
TBA vs. Sung-Wei Tseng (if necessary)
ON THE MOUND
Ace RHP James Deters just moved into the Kinston rotation a month ago so his cumulative numbers don't show his dominance, but his 12-4 record and 2.24 ERA do. His 112 1/3 innings also qualified him for the league leader board, putting him in first place ahead of Carolina League Pitcher of the Year Rowdy Hardy. ... RHP Frank Herrmann was 11-5 with a 4.01 ERA in 26 starts with three complete games. ... RHP Sung Wei Tseng was 6-9 with a 4.05 ERA in 26 starts. ... Recently arrived RHP Josh Tomlin, up from Lake County, has gone 1-1 with a 3.58 ERA in six games, five starts. Tomlin was 10-3 with a 3.30 ERA for the Captains. ... RHP Scotty Roehl has been an effective closer with 24 saves and a 2.66 ERA earning him All-Star status.
The Avalanche staff has been made up of pitchers who can multitask, and as a result only one starter, RHP Sergio Perez, has actually been exclusively a starter since the beginning of the season. At 7-10 with a 4.00 ERA in 25 starts, he has struck out 84 in 128 1/3 innings. ... Newcomer LHP Trinidad Pollin has posted a 2.81 ERA in his four starts since joining the club from Lexington, with 23 strikeouts and just three walks in 25 2/3 innings. He could go in Game 2 for Salem. ... Salem will hold off on deciding who to use in Game 3 until they see which of their many potential long relief/spot starters are fresh. They could also choose to go with newcomer Bud Norris, who allowed one run in his Salem debut last week. ... Among other potential starters, LHP Chris Salamida was last year's New York-Penn League Pitcher of the Year at Tri-City but was moved into the bullpen last week. Overall he's 8-8 with a 5.85 ERA. ... RHP Raymar Diaz posted a 3.87 ERA in 33 games, 20 of them starts.
AT THE PLATE
All-Star SS Joshua Rodriguez batted .262 with 20 home runs and 82 RBIs as well as 21 steals, joining the 20-20 club. ... Switch-hitting OF Jose Constanza, who was with the Indians during their title drive down the 2006 stretch, hit .274 in a full season with the team and stole 39 bases. ... 3B Wes Hodges is hitting .290 with 15 homers and 71 RBIs in 104 games. ... C Chris Gimenez flip-flopped between Kinston and Akron, hitting .283 with 20 home runs and 53 RBIs in 83 games with Kinston. ... 1B Matthew Whitney, a former first-round pick, hit .288 in 57 games with 16 homers and 49 RBIs. ... A first-rounder this year, IF Beau Mills, joined the club down the stretch and has hit .275 with five RBIs in 10 games.
The Avalanche is led by Carolina League MVP OF Mitch Einertson, who won his second league MVP award in four pro seasons by hitting .305 with 11 homers and 87 RBIs. ... IF/OF Billy Hart battled Einertson for the league batting title right down to the final game of the season, finally edging him by fractions of a point (.3054 to .3049). Einertson had led the league until the next-to-last day of the season when Hart edged past him. He became the club's first league batting champion since Brad Hawpe hit .347 in 2002. ... Though they were the only two hitters over .300, the club had six others hitting .270 or better, including 1B Mark Ori who was hitting .272 with nine homers and 56 RBIs and IF Wladimir Sutil who was hitting .272 with 36 steals.
Home-field advantage notwithstanding, don't rule Salem out just yet. The last time the team won the Carolina League title was in 2001 when, as a Wild Card team, they beat Kinston (which had won both halves in the South) in the semifinals. That marked the last time that the Indians had swept both halves. ... The Indians look to make their fourth consecutive trip to the Finals and are making their seventh playoff appearance in a row. The club has won the Southern Division title 12 of the last 21 years. Last year they swept all five postseason games against Salem and Frederick. ... Salem won its lone Carolina League title in 2001 when, again, they were a Wild-Card participant after Kinston won both halves of the South Division race. This marks the first time the team has made it to the playoffs in consecutive years since 1987-88. ... Salem's pitching staff does not quite stack up with its 2006 punch of Troy Patton and Jimmy Barthmaier, but then neither does Kinston, which lost its remarkable southpaw tandem of 2006 Carolina League Pitcher of the Year Chuck Lofgren and Minor League ERA leader Scott Lewis, so it all evens out. ... Salem actually holds a 5-4 advantage over Kinston in postseason play even though the club was swept by the Indians in two games last fall.
SERIES COULD TURN ON
After Deters for Kinston, both rotations have holes that can be taken advantage of. While Salem has arguably the two top hitters in the league in Einertson and Hart, both have been remarkably average against Kinston pitching so it's hard to give the advantage to them on that basis. Kinston also has more depth when it comes to power up and down the line. With no clearly dominant or ultra-hot club right now, this would seem to be one of those series where Kinston with the full-series home-field advantage should have the edge. One point in Salem's favor, however, is the surplus of pitchers in the bullpen who can come in and eat innings if needed.
When in doubt go with the home-field advantage, the season series and history on their side. Kinston in three.
Lisa Winston is a reporter for MLB.com.