California League South playoff preview

Inland Empire opens at home before playing two at Lake Elsinore

David Freese, who finished third in the league in runs (104) and seventh in RBIs (96), is part of a potent Lake Elsinore offense. (Mike Huffstatler)

By Jonathan Mayo / | September 4, 2007 7:13 AM ET

Lake Elsinore vs. Inland Empire
Storm (74-65) vs. 66ers (72-67)
(Best-of-3 series begins Wednesday, Sept. 5)

The road to a repeat begins here for Inland Empire. Of course, the personnel has changed, with the 66ers becoming a Dodgers affiliate after the 2006 season (they won the '06 title as part of the Mariners organization).

Inland Empire won the season series, 14-11. Lake Elsinore seemed to have the edge late, going 9-4 at the end of July through August. But the Storm took two of three in the final series of the season to clinch the No. 2 seed. Matthew Buschmann had a 1.16 ERA in six outings, but won't start in this series.

Head-to-Head Stats
Lake Elsinore: The Storm hit .261 in the 25-game series. David Freese led the way with a .316 average, four homers and 20 RBIs, playing in all 25 games. Kyle Blanks hit .287 with three homers and 14 RBIs, while Craig Cooper hit .318. ... Lake Elsinore had a respectable 3.73 ERA in the series, despite going 11-14. Stephen Faris' two wins in the California League both came against Inland Empire. Steve Garrison went 1-2 with a 4.50 ERA in four starts while Nathan Culp went 1-2 with a 4.80 ERA in his three outings.

Inland Empire: The 66ers hit .277 as a team against the Storm. Adam Godwin hit .324 in 20 games, driving in nine runs and stealing five bases. Russell Mitchell hit five homers and drove in a team-high 17 runs. Shane Justis hit .388 in 20 games with a pair of homers and 14 RBIs. ... The Indland Empire pitching staff posted a 4.11 ERA in the series. Alberto Bastardo went 3-0 with a 2.89 ERA over six appearances, four of them starts. Jesus Castillo didn't fare nearly as well, going 2-3 with a 5.29 ERA in seven outings, five starts. Cody White, however, went 2-2 with a 2.70 ERA in his five starts.

Game 1: Lake Elsinore at Inland Empire
Steve Garrison (2-3, 2.79) vs. Alberto Bastardo (6-5, 4.57)
Game 2: Inland Empire at Lake Elsinore
Jesus Castillo (6-9, 4.78) vs. Stephen Faris (2-0, 4.09)
Game 3: Inland Empire at Lake Elsinore (if necessary)
Cody White (2-3, 3.90) vs. Nathan Culp (4-4, 4.91)

Lake Elsinore:
RHP Matthew Buschmann has been an anchor for the Storm staff, going 12-6 with a 2.89 ERA. That places him third in the league in ERA and wins. He's tenth with 115 strikeouts, but he's also only allowed 26 walks in 149 1/3 innings. Unfortunately for the Storm, he won't be available for this opening-round series. ... LHP Nathan Culp has gone 5-4 with a 4.81 ERA in 12 outings since joining Lake Elsinore, but the Padres' fourth-round pick in 2006 has a 3.34 ERA in August and September, including wins in the playoff clincher and the game that earned the Storm the No. 2 seed. ... LHP Steve Garrison has a 2.79 ERA in seven starts since joining the Padres system via a trade with the Brewers. Overall, the 2005 10th-round pick is 10-7 with a 3.25 ERA.

Inland Empire:
LHP Alberto Bastardo is 6-5 with a 4.57 ERA overall, but has been particularly good down the stretch. He had a 2.70 ERA in five August outings, striking out 30 in 26 2/3 innings. ... LHP Cody White has a 3.90 ERA in 12 starts for the 66ers. Overall, he's 10-8 with a 3.14 ERA combined between Great Lakes and Inland Empire. ... Closer Kyle Wilson has 14 saves and a 1.09 ERA, striking out 30, walking just five in 33 innings and keeping hitters to a .210 batting average against.

Lake Elsinore:
1B/DH Kyle Blanks has had an impressive year, hitting .301 with 24 homers, 100 RBIs and even 11 steals, though he's struggled a little bit in the final month of the season. Still, he's tied for sixth in home runs, seventh in SLG (.535) and fourth in RBIs in the league. ... Fellow 1B Craig Cooper has also been productive, hitting .317 (good for seventh in the league) with 10 homers, 78 RBIs and a .398 OBP (tenth). 3B David Freese hit .302 with 17 homers and 96 RBIs, good for seventh in the league. Not sure how much he'll play, but Padres 2007 supplemental first round pick, C Mitch Canham joined the roster recently after making his debut in Eugene. He hit .293 in 116 at-bats there.

Inland Empire:
C Lucas May finished tied for second in the California League with 25 home runs. His 89 RBIs were 10th. ... OF Ryan Rogowski finished third in the league with 39 stolen bases and went 20-for-22 in stolen-base attempts in the second half. ... OF Jamie Hoffman was ninth in the league with a .312 batting average. He also drove in 81 runs, second on the team.

Since joining the California League in 1994, the Storm has gone to the postseason eight times before this season. They won their first title as an Angels affiliate in 1996 and were declared co-champions in 2001, the first year of the team's affiliation with the Padres. In both 2002 and 2005, the Storm lost in the championship. ... Since the team became the Indland Empire 66ers in 2003, it's won two titles, in that inaugural year as well as last season, when the 66ers beat Visalia in five games. As the San Bernardino Stampede, they won back-to-back championships in 1999 and 2000. The first title in town came as the Spirit in 1995.

Who wins Game 1. It's crucial for Inland Empire to take the one game it hosts in this first round of the postseason. Otherwise, the 66ers will face an uphill battle trying to win two in Lake Elsinore. The Storm went 46-23 at home during the 2007 season, second only to Lancaster among California League teams.

The winner of this series has the unenviable task of facing the Lancaster JetHawks, who won the division title in both halves. In the end, Lake Elsinore's combination of offense, which scored the second-most runs in the league in 2007, and pitching, which finished with the second-best ERA in the circuit, will be too much for the 66ers to overcome. Lake Elsinore in three.

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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