Clippers, Cats gear up for final title game

Resilient Indians, Giants prospects seek Triple-A championship

Columbus' Bobby Bradley and Sacramento's Francisco Pena lead their clubs in Tuesday's title game. (David Monseur, Dave Michael/MiLB.com)

By Kelsie Heneghan / MiLB.com | September 17, 2019 10:15 AM

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Anything can happen in one game. Early in the postseason, the River Cats found themselves on the brink of elimination. But one game changed everything.

"Got down to Vegas, 2-1, and came back and won the last two games," said Steven Okert, a reliever in the Giants system. "We didn't roll over, and say, 'Whatever, season's over.' We just kept fighting and kept coming back."

Sacramento went on to win five straight against Las Vegas and Round Rock en route to the Pacific Coast League crown. The club now faces International League champs Columbus (an Indians affiliate) in the Triple-A National Championship, which is set for 8:07 p.m. ET on Tuesday at AutoZone Park. The game will be broadcast on MiLB.TV and Fox Sports 1.

Such resiliency is key for all clubs at the highest level of the Minors as they battle an endless list of transactions depending on the needs of the big league club. The two teams that make it to the final winner-take-all contest often are the ones who handled the revolving doors the best.


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"We never give up. We believe in each other and we've [overcome] a lot because of all the transactions and all the guys coming through," River Cats catcher Francisco Pena said. "[We're] just believing in each other and believing in the next guy, and just putting a little bit of faith in everybody on this team. We just pick each other up and that's why I think we're so successful."

The Clippers handled both of their series easily by downing Gwinnett, 3-1, and sweeping Durham in three games en route to their International League-leading 11th Governors' Cup. Since the National Championship switched to a single-game format in 2006, Columbus has gone 2-1 with Sacramento sporting a perfect 2-0 mark. Those two River Cats wins were as an A's affiliate and this year's PCL title was the Giants' first since 1977.

While home runs are up across the Minors' highest level due to the use of Major League balls, Columbus outpaced the rest of the IL with 213 long balls, including 33 by Indians No. 7 prospect Bobby Bradley, who topped the circuit on an individual level.

Video: Bradley blasts off for Columbus

"I think just our work, our routines and sticking with our routines while making necessary adjustments and just putting good swings on the ball [has been key]," Clippers center fielder Ka'ai Tom said. "I think our strikeouts were up, but at the same time, that [reflects] our aggressiveness at the plate, and it definitely has been helping us."

Columbus hitters did lead the league with 1,392 strikeouts, but also with 564 walks. Manager Tony Mansolino noted that while they had a lot of big boppers earlier in the season, the team adapted and became more "contact-oriented" as the roster evolved.

That Clippers lineup will face southpaw Caleb Baragar, who was called up at the start of the postseason. After beginning the year with Class A Advanced San Jose, the 25-year-old went 5-6 with a 3.57 ERA, 135 strikeouts and 53 walks in 141 frames over 28 games (26 starts) across three levels.

In his first career playoff start Sept. 8, Baragar allowed a run on two hits and three walks with eight punchouts over five frames to wrap up the PCL semifinals for the River Cats.

Video: Baragar notches K for Cats

"He threw the ball real well last time for us at Vegas, so I think we have a pretty good chance of hopefully winning this game," Pena said. "He's a pitcher that has really good fastball command, and that's about it. I'm not going to tell you more because I don't want the other guys to know. So hopefully we'll get some good innings from him and try to get that 'W.''

Pena and his Sacramento squad will step in the box against Kyle Dowdy, who also joined his team right before the playoffs.

The 26-year-old right-hander battled a right elbow impingement in June, and was designated for assignment by the Rangers in July. That's when the Indians picked him up. Across three levels and two organizations, Dowdy went 2-2 with a 3.53 ERA, 39 punchouts and 21 walks in 43 1/3 innings, making five starts in 17 appearances.

Mansolino feels confident the University of Houston product will handle the Memphis heat with ease, particularly since Dowdy spun 22 1/3 innings in the Majors with Texas this season.

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After 140 regular-season games and six postseason wins, both teams already have a trophy for their respective cases. But there's one more champion to be crowned in the Minor League season.

"We're going to come in and we're going to be competitive," Mansolino said. "I think we do come in here with a sense that we have accomplished our championship at this point. But we're going to go out and try to win the game and put on a good show."

And that show, of course, will run for one night only.

"It's one game," River Cats manager Dave Brundage said. "Anything goes in one game."

Kelsie Heneghan is a reporter at MiLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @Kelsie_Heneghan. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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