Frederick vs. Salem
Keys (64-74) vs. Avalanche (79-60)
(Best-of-5 series begins Saturday, Sept. 8)
No matter who wins the South Atlantic League's Mills Cup, it's sure to be an underdog after both teams scored upsets in their respective best-of-3 semifinal series.
Salem made it to the playoffs as a wild card after Kinston won both halves of the Southern Division to earn home-field advantage for all three games. But the Avalanche pounded Kinston ace Jim Deters in a 10-3 Game 1 victory and bounced back from a 1-0 loss in Game 2 to pull out a 5-3 triumph in Game 3.
Despite finishing the regular season 10 games below .500, the Keys got hot when it counted. They made it into the finals for the third year in a row by sweeping second-half Northern Division champion Wilmington. The Keys rocked Carolina League Pitcher of the Year Rowdy Hardy for a season-high 13 hits in Game 1 before staff ace Chorye Spoone tossed a one-hitter in a series-clinching 3-1 victory.
REGULAR SEASON SERIES
The Avalanche dominated the Keys this season, winning 14 of the 20 meetings, including a five-game sweep. Salem won two of three in each of the last two series, including a 19-6 rout in the finale. The Keys hit .258 against Salem but posted a whopping 6.67 ERA, while the Avalanche hit .304 off Frederick and posted a 3.78 ERA.
Frederick: OF Chris Amador hit .304 in six games against Salem. ... SS Blake Davis batted .292 in 13 contests. ... All-Star 3B Ryan Finan hit .314 with four homers and 14 RBIs in 20 games. ... 1B Mark Fleisher hit .279 with three home runs in 17 games. ... Here is how the projected Frederick starters fared against Salem this year: David Hernandez (0-2, 5.12 ERA), Brad Bergesen (0-1, 4.85), Jason Berken (0-2, 12.00) and Chorye Spoone (1-3, 4.55). Newcomer Timothy Bascom did not face Salem.
Salem: OF Mitch Einertson, the league's MVP, hit .379 with two homers and 19 RBIs in 16 games. ... Carolina League batting champion Billy Hart hit .333 with two homers and 11 RBIs. ... OF Eli Iorg hit .345 in nine games with two homers and nine RBIs. ... OF Jose Lopez hit .324 in 12 games. ... IF Mark Ori batted .328 in 16 games with 12 RBIs. ... The most dominant Salem hitter against Frederick has been OF Orlando Rosales, who hit .455 in 15 games with 12 RBIs. ... On the mound, Sergio Perez was 1-1 with a 4.32 ERA in three starts. ... LHP Chris Salamida, who was removed from the rotation in the final weeks of the season, was 3-0 with a 2.20 ERA against the Keys. Versatile RHP Rory Shortell appeared in seven games against the Keys, including one start, going 3-1 with a 1.45 ERA in 18 2/3 innings.
Game 1: Salem at Frederick
Sean Walker (3-3, 4.20 ERA) vs. David Hernandez (7-11, 4.95)
Game 2: Salem at Frederick
Casey Hudspeth (2-1, 3.89) vs. Timothy Bascom (1-0, 3.00)
Game 3: Frederick at Salem
Jason Berken (9-9, 4.53) vs. Sergio Perez (7-10, 4.00)
Game 4: Frederick at Salem (if necessary)
Brad Bergesen (3-6, 5.75) vs. Polin Trinidad (2-1, 2.89)
Game 5: Frederick at Salem (if necessary)
Chorye Spoone (10-9, 3.26) vs Bud Norris (1-0, 1.50)
ON THE MOUND
RHP Hernandez, who was originally slated to start Game 3 of the Northern Division semifinals, got an extra day's rest to prepare for the Mills Cup opener. He could use it after posting a Minor League-best 18 strikeouts in his last regular-season start. Hernandez was 7-11 with a 4.95 ERA in 27 starts. ... The Keys will call on newcomer Bascom for Game 2. Bascom, a fourth-round pick this June out of Central Florida, had a 3.74 ERA in 12 starts for Delmarva before coming to join Frederick. He was ironically one of just two relievers used in the Northern Division playoffs, tossing a scoreless inning against the Blue Rocks on Wednesday. ... Berken gets the call for Game 3 after going 9-9 with a 4.53 ERA during the season and tossing seven innings of four-hit ball in his last regular-season start. ... For now, Frederick still plans to go with Bergesen in Game 4 though he is nursing a small blister on his pitching hand. Bergesen, 3-6 with a 5.75 ERA during an inconsistent but often impressive few months since coming up from Delmarva, was impressive in his first playoff start, allowing two runs in seven innings in the series opener against Wilmington. ... If Bergesen can't go, or if the Keys face elimination, don't be surprised to see scheduled Game 5 starter Spoone move up a day since he'd still have ample rest after perhaps the best single pitching performance by a Frederick Keys pitcher this season. Spoone locked up the Keys' trip to the finals with 8 2/3 innings of no-hit ball before allowing a home run Thursday. During the season, he was 10-9 with a 3.26 ERA. ... The bullpen didn't get much work during the two-game sweep, but when they return to action they will be anchored by lanky RHP Jason Burch, who spent most of the season on the DL with shoulder trouble before coming back in August and collecting four saves with a 2.89 ERA in August.
The Avalanche staff has been made up of pitchers who can multi-task. As a result, only Perez has been used exclusively as a starter since the beginning of the season. At 7-10 with a 4.00 ERA in 25 starts, Perez has struck out 84 in 128 1/3 innings. In his Game 1 victory in the semifinals, he allowed one earned run on six hits in six innings, striking out six. ... Newcomer LHP Polin Trinidad has posted a 2.81 ERA in four starts since joining the club from Lexington. He struck out 23 and walked three in 25 2/3 innings. Trinidad was brilliant in the team's 1-0 loss, allowing three hits in seven innings with seven strikeouts. ... The most recent addition to the rotation is RHP Bud Norris, who allowed one run in six innings in his lone regular-season start for Salem before yielding three runs in five-plus innings in Game 3 of the semifinals. ... 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.
AT THE PLATE
3B Finan, the lone Carolina League All-Star for the Keys, hit .284 with 10 homers and 64 RBIs. He went 4-for-7 with a homer and three RBIs in the semifinals. ... The Keys don't have a lot of pop in the lineup. The main power source is 1B Mark Fleisher, who hit .247 with 16 homers and 58 RBIs. ... CF Kennard Jones, is hitting .252 with 26 steals. In Game 1 of the semifinals, he fell a homer short of the cycle. Jones doubled and scored in the clincher. ... OF Chris Amador, signed after being released by the Cubs, was the offensive hero in the first game of the playoffs, collecting three hits and two RBIs.
The Avalanche is led by Einertson, who won his second league MVP award in four pro seasons by hitting .305 with 11 homers and 87 RBIs. ... Hart battled Einertson for the league batting title right down to the final game of the season before 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 batting champion since Brad Hawpe hit .347 in 2002. ... 1B Ori hit .272 with nine homers and 56 RBIs and IF Wladimir Sutil batted .272 with 36 steals.
Though Frederick is making its third consecutive trip to the league championships, neither team is really a "regular" participant in postseason play. The Keys were swept in three games by Kinston last year after ending a 15-year title drought in 2005 by beating the Indians in five games. This is just their fourth trip to the playoffs since the team's inception in 1989. Salem won its lone Carolina League title in 2001 when they were a wild-card participant after Kinston won both halves of the South Division. This marks the first time the team has made it to the playoffs in consecutive years since 1987-88.
SERIES COULD TURN ON
If Keys pitchers can continue to lock in and the defense continues to vacuum up those ground balls, Frederick could be tough to beat. The Keys' bullpen is well-rested but probably not as versatile as Salem's. That can be a disadvantage in a five-game series.
With a well-rested rotation and bullpen, the Keys could be a tough team to beat right now, despite the Avalanche's season-series dominance. Frederick in five.
Lisa Winston is a reporter for MLB.com.