Vero Beach Dodgers vs. Palm Beach Cardinals
Regular-season series: Vero Beach won series, 10-8.
If you break down the numbers, the series appears much more lopsided. Vero Beach's team ERA in 18 games was 3.54, which was 1.14 runs lower than that of the Cards. The Dodgers also hit .281 as a team and scored 89 runs, while Palm Beach hit .201 with 64 runs.
Andy LaRoche played in only nine games between the teams before earning a promotion to Double-A Jacksonville, so much of the damage Vero hitters did came without the benefit of his protection. Cory Dunlap (.275) had 11 RBIs and 12 walks while posting an impressive .413 on-base percentage in 15 games. Matt Kemp had two homers, 10 RBIs and seven stolen bases. Charles Tiffany was 4-0 with a 0.78 ERA in five games (four starts) against the Cards and was 7-7 with a 5.05 ERA in 16 games against the rest of the FSL.
First-round pick Tyler Greene hit .385 in three games against Vero after his promotion from the New York-Penn League. Joe Mather hit three homers and knocked in five runs while batting .304 after his promotion from Quad Cities.
On the mound:
Danny Muegge, who was part of the Shawn Green trade last winter, has been strong since moving into Vero's starting rotation. Other than a relief appearance on Friday, he has been in the rotation since June 16, going 5-1 with a 3.03 ERA. Julio Cesar Pimentel (8-10, 5.08) has lost four consecutive decisions and seven of his last nine after beginning the season 6-3 with a 3.75 ERA through 14 appearances. Brian Pilkington (7-9, 3.71) has also lost two straight for the Dodgers, picking up his last victory (in relief) on Aug. 10. Closer Mark Alexander has 23 saves to go along with 91 strikeouts in 65 1/3 innings.
Mark Worrell leads the FSL with a Minor League-best 35 saves. He's only given up one earned run since June 29, none in nine outings since Aug. 10. Eric Haberer is 8-6 with a 3.71 ERA in 17 starts but is 1-3 in his last six outings with a 6.57 ERA since July 30. Mark Michael (4-5, 4.04) has been inconsistent over the last month, allowing only one earned run three times but 11 earned runs in his other three starts. Oscar Alvarez is 3-2 with a 1.80 ERA in seven games (four starts) for Palm Beach and 9-4 in 36 games (18 starts) with a 3.00 ERA splitting time between the FSL and Double-A Springfield. Michael Parisi (5-6, 3.23) will get the nod in the opener for the Cards, followed by Haberer and Mark Michael, if necessary.
At the plate:
A sixth-round pick in 2003, Kemp has picked up the slack left by LaRoche's promotion. He hit .306 and was second in the league in homers with a franchise-record 27 while tying for second with 90 RBIs. Anthony Raglani has 19 homers and 77 RBIs (no homers, three RBIs in his last eight games) while Dunlap has 78 RBIs (two RBIs in his last eight). Blake Dewitt spent most of the season with Columbus of the South Atlantic League, where he hit .283 with 11 homers and 65 RBIs. In seven games since his promotion to Vero Beach he is hitting .419 (13-for-31). Vero tied Dunedin for the league lead in hitting at .285.
Greene has been steady and looks to be finding a rhythm in his first full season, hitting .265 (59-for-223) at New Jersey and Palm Beach. He is, however, riding a five-game hitting streak heading into the postseason and has hits in nine of his last 10 games. Greene had three homers and 23 RBIs in 55 combined games, stealing 19 bases in 20 attempts. His strikeout-to-walk ratio (65-19) suggests impatience. Matt Dryer had 21 homers and 76 RBIs, though he hit only .219, while Reid Gorecki has 41 RBIs in 64 games since coming down from Springfield.
Points of interest:
Vero was bumped out of the playoffs last season by Daytona in the opening round before Hurricane Ivan canceled the remainder of the postseason. Weather doesn't appear to pose any threat this year. The Dodgers have won a pair of titles since joining the FSL in 1980, the last coming in 1990. Palm Beach, in one machination or another, has won two crowns (1974 and 1991).
Series could turn on:
The Palm Beach bullpen. If the Cards can get the ball to Worrell, they'll be in good position.
Talking about getting the ball to Worrell and doing it are two different things. Vero can hit -- the Dodgers led the league with 1,368 hits -- and may make Worrell's presence a moot point. The Dodgers in three.
Lakeland Tigers vs. Dunedin Blue Jays
Regular-season series: Dunedin won series, 11-7.
The Blue Jays closed out the series by winning four of six games against Lakeland in August.
FSL Most Valuable Player Brent Clevlen had four homers and 15 RBIs vs. the Jays. Derek Nicholson (12), Garth McKinney (11) and Kelly Hunt (11) also supplied the offense. Former first-round pick Justin Verlander went 2-0 with a 1.29 ERA in two starts, but he is long gone from the FSL. Virgil Vasquez was 1-0 with a 1.80 ERA in two starts, but he has been promoted to Double-A Erie. Nathan Bumstead was 1-1 with a 2.95 ERA in two starts. Excluding Verlander and Vasquez, Lakeland starters went 2-6 with a 6.68 ERA in 60 2/3 innings against Dunedin.
Dunedin starters as a group didn't fare well against Lakeland, going 5-3 with a 5.31 ERA, but those numbers are a bit skewed because of some bad performances. Kyle Yates was 2-0 with a 3.86 ERA. Dunedin's Brian Reed was 2-0 with a 1.00 ERA in five appearances (nine innings). Robinzon Diaz only had 61 RBIs during the regular season but an eye-popping 16 came in 14 games against Lakeland. Adam Lind didn't match that run production but he did collect 22 hits and bat .355 in 16 games.
On the mound:
Bumstead and Jordan Tata have combined to go 25-6 with a 2.68 ERA. Bumstead was 8-2 on the road, but his 1.57 ERA at home was impressive, as was the fact the opposition hit only .187 against him in Lakeland. Closer Chris Homer had 29 saves (second only to Worrell) during the season. He allowed only four homers in 64 innings while posting a 7-4 mark with a 3.09 ERA. Lakeland was tied with Ft. Myers for the league's team ERA lead at 3.37.
Top pick Ricky Romero has a 3.82 ERA in eight starts for Dunedin. He's gone five innings in each of his last two outings and picked up his first victory on Saturday. Opposing hitters are batting .283 against him. Yates, a 13th-round pick in 2004, is 7-3 with a 1.91 ERA in 14 starts after going 4-3 in 14 starts with Lansing. Kurt Isenberg was tied for second in the league with 12 wins along with Bumstead and Brevard County's Tim Dillard. Closer Milton Tavarez has 13 saves in 51 appearances. The opposition is hitting .197 against him in the ninth inning but .318 in the eighth.
At the plate:
Lind, a third-round pick in 2004, has paced Dunedin all season and been one of the most consistent players in the FSL with 12 homers and 84 RBIs. He ended up second in the league in hitting at .314, second in hits (154) and was 7-for-16 with four RBIs in his last four games. Carlo Cota was having a minimal impact in the Eastern League, but since the Jays sent him back to Dunedin, he hit .304 with 10 homers and 35 RBIs in 68 games. Eric Arnold has 19 homers and 72 RBIs.
Clevlen was the league's most productive hitter, collecting 18 homers and driving in 102 runs while scoring 77. He's riding an eight-game hitting streak (9-for-25). Derek Nicholson, Danilo Sanchez, Kody Kirkland and Garth McKinney averaged 20 homers and 68 RBIs among them, with McKinley checking in with the worst batting average of the group at .242.
Points of interest:
Dunedin was swept by Tampa in the opening round last season and has never won a league title. Lakeland captured the last of its five titles in 1992. The Tigers won their first crown in 1924, the fifth year of the FSL's existence.
Series could turn on:
Starting pitching. Both teams have strong tops of the rotation and need their starters to pitch to form. A key for Dunedin will be keeping people off base in front of Clevlen.
Dunedin seems to have Lakeland's number. Romero and Yates have been just a bit hotter than Bumstead and Tata. Blue Jays in three.