Pitching and defense may go a long way in determining the success of a team, but the hitting has to be there too. The Montgomery Biscuits got theirs in early August.
That was when first-round pick Evan Longoria and Reid Brignac arrived from Class A Advanced Visalia and injected some offensive swagger into a team that already was loaded with arms and gloves. The Biscuits began to rise.
Montgomery had ridden its pitching staff all season, but now those guys got some runs to work with. The Biscuits started winning and didn't stop. Montgomery wound up defeating the Huntsville Stars in the Southern League Championship Series and won six out of seven playoff games on the way to their first title in their third season of existence. For that accomplishment, the Biscuits were named MiLB.com's Double-A Team of the Year.
"The beautiful thing about this team is that a different guy was doing something good for the team each night. We weren't just depending on a few guys, everyone was doing something to win a game," Biscuits manager Charlie Montoyo said. "It was a great ending. Everybody did something."
Some did more than others, of course. Right-hander Mitch Talbot pitched consecutive shutouts in the postseason. Veteran designated hitter Michael Coleman slugged four home runs and had 10 RBIs in the playoffs to win MVP honors. Second baseman Elliot Johnson hit for the first cycle in franchise history as the Biscuits routed Huntsville, 12-4, in the title-clinching game.
Montgomery slugged its way to victory in the Championship Series, scoring in double digits in two of its last three games. The Biscuits had scored 10 or more runs only five times previously all season and only twice in the first four months.
Despite the offensive outburst, this team was still driven by its pitching. The Biscuits had six starters who made at least 10 starts and had ERAs under 3.00. Andrew Sonnanstine posted ace-like numbers, going 15-8 with a 2.67 ERA and 153 strikeouts in 185 2/3 innings. He also threw a league-high four shutouts and had a nearly 5:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Jim Magrane and Tony Peguero won 11 and 10 games respectively. Jeff Niemann was 5-5 with a 2.68 ERA in 14 starts. He struck out 84 in 77 1/3 innings. The staff received a boost when Mitch Talbot arrived late in the season and seemed to dominate every time he took the mound. Talbot's record may have been 4-3, but he had a 1.90 ERA in 10 starts down the stretch.
"Sonnanstine, Talbot and Niemann. In the playoffs, when you have those three guys you always have a chance," Montoyo said. "In the playoffs against Jacksonville and Huntsville, everybody pitched. Everybody did something."
Perhaps the very definition of the Biscuits season occurred Sept. 9 in the deciding game of the South Divisional Series against the Jacksonville Suns. There was pitching, there was defense and there was hitting, probably the biggest hit in the franchise's brief history.
Biscuits starter Mitch Talbot turned the Suns bats into sawdust, tossing a five-hit shutout with 14 strikeouts. Jacksonville nearly got on the board in the top of the ninth, but right fielder Justin Ruggiano threw Jimmy Rohan out at the plate after Tydus Meadows' two-out single. Talbot needed every scoreless inning because Montgomery didn't score until Evan Longoria clubbed a two-run walk-off homer against Mark Alexander with one out in the ninth inning to give the Biscuits a 2-0 victory.
As soon as Longoria's bat connected, the crowd of about 4,600 at Riverwalk Stadium went into party mode. Even better, the home run meant the Biscuits wouldn't have to play Saturday, when the big Auburn-LSU football game was to be played.
"When those guys arrived, we just got better. We always pitched well, but the offense didn't do too good. We just took off from there," Montoyo said. "It was a beautiful thing. Every game we were losing was 3-2 or 4-3. We just got those kids and scored more runs after that. New blood, that helps a lot. It helps when they're good too."
Sonnanstine threw seven shutout innings and struck out nine while limiting Jacksonville batters to eight hits and outdueling Suns starter Scott Elbert in the second game. The Biscuits got single runs in the second, fourth, fifth and seventh innings to build a 4-0 lead before Jacksonville got two back. But Jean Machi pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning to put the game away.
Montgomery had demoralized Jacksonville in late August with an improbable five-game sweep that vaulted the Biscuits into first place. Montgomery arrived at the series two games behind the Suns, but left Jacksonville with a three-game lead and never looked back. Combined with the three wins in the playoffs, the Biscuits defeated the Suns in eight straight games.
"You could tell we had a shot," Biscuits general manager Greg Rauch said. "The pitching staff started to come together and gave us good outings time and time again. We started to realize we could do something."
They certainly did.