As the Augusta GreenJackets prepare for the best-of-5 South Atlantic League Championship series that begins Monday, it's clear from the first round that they are "armed" and ready.
The GreenJackets swept the Asheville Tourists behind a pair of sparkling mound performances by Madison Bumgarner, the league's Outstanding Pitcher for 2008, and Scott Barnes.
While Augusta manager Andy Skeels is obviously proud of his hurlers, he also gives a lot of credit to pitching coach Ross Grimsley, a former Major Leaguer who is in his fourth season with the GreenJackets. Grimsley had an 11-year Major League career, during which he went 124-99 with a 3.81 ERA, and was this season's Coach of the Year.
"We've had outstanding pitching and the credit goes to Ross," said Skeels. "The recognition is well-deserved. For two years running, he's had the Minor League Pitcher of the Year."
This season, Grimsley's success story was Bumgarner, the 19-year-old lefty who won the pitching Triple Crown, leading the circuit in wins (15-3), ERA (1.46) and strikeouts (164 in 141 2/3 innings). Last year the success story was Kevin Pucetas, who became this season's California League Pitcher of the Year with the San Jose Giants, going 10-2 with a 3.02 ERA.
"Our starters did a great job taking us deep into games," Skeels added.
The 21-year-old Barnes only made six starts for the GreenJackets, but showed plenty of promise, going 3-2 with a 1.38 ERA.
"He's been a great addition," Skeels noted.
There were also other reasons for Augusta's success this season, the skipper said. "We caught the ball," he noted. "And we had timely hitting all year. When we needed a hit, someone would always find a way to step up. We need to continue to do the same things we've been doing all year.
"We were solid fundamentally all year," Skeels added. "We take pride in the fact that we work hard on all this stuff."
Augusta GreenJackets (47-22) vs. West Virginia Power (45-25)
Best-of-5 series begins Monday, Sept. 8
The GreenJackets, who are in the playoffs for the third straight season, are looking for their first title since 1999. They lost in the 2006 Finals to the Lakewood BlueClaws. The Power were beaten in last year's Championship Series by the Columbus Catfish.
Augusta won the season series, 5-3, going 3-1 at home and 2-2 on the road.
For the GreenJackets, Juan Ciriaco batted .438 (7-for-16) with three RBIs in the series, while Thomas Neal smacked a pair of homers and Garrett Baker ripped four doubles and drove in five runs. On the mound, Scott Barnes tossed seven innings of one-hit ball to notch the win in his only start against West Virginia and T.J. Brewer went 1-1 with a 5.19 ERA in two outings. For the Power, Curt Rindal, Zelous Wheeler and Steffan Wilson each homered once against the GreenJackets and Eric Fryer batted .313 (5-for-16). On the mound, Evan Anundsen went 1-1 with a 6.00 ERA in two starts.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Augusta: Along with Bumgarner and Barnes, the GreenJackets got solid pitching this season from Oliver Odle (10-7, 3.77 ERA), Craig Clark (8-4, 3.51 ERA) and T.J. Brewer (10-4, 2.95 ERA). Angel Villalona (17 homers, 64 RBIs) and Thomas Neal (15 homers, 81 RBIs) provided punch to the lineup.
West Virginia: Eric Fryer led the Power in hitting with a .335 average, smacking 10 homers and driving in 63 runs while Wilson topped the team in homers (19) and RBIs (100). Wheeler added 13 homers and 87 RBIs. The pitching rotation was anchored by Evan Anundsen (12-8, 4.28 ERA) and R.J. Seidel (9-5, 4.51 ERA).