After cramming 54 regular-season games into two hot summer months, 62 young Minor Leaguers will get their first taste of professional playoff baseball today.
Round one of the 2006 Gulf Coast League playoffs begins today when the GCL Dodgers take on the GCL Tigers in a one-game, do-or-die playoff matchup. The game's winner will advance to the second and final round to play the GCL Red Sox, who earned a first-round bye with a league-leading 35-19 record, in a three-game series starting tomorrow.
The Tigers were red hot in the month of July, going 19-6 to power themselves to the North Division championship and the second-best record in the league (32-18). First baseman Christopher Carlson has been a driving force for the Tigers all season, leading the league in home runs (11), RBIs (47) and doubles (16) while batting .311. Pitching has also been a strong point for the team with starters Matthew Righter and Eleazar Aponte combining to go 8-1, and Aponte posting the league's fourth-best ERA at 1.77.
The Dodgers finished 2 1/2 games over the Marlins in the East with a 32-22 record, despite getting swept by the division rival in their two-game series last week. Right-hander Jhonny Nunez has been the ace of their starting rotation, and possibly the entire league, all season.
Nunez leads the GCL in wins with a 6-0 record, while posting a third-best 1.58 ERA and striking out 56 (second in the league) in 57 innings. Preston Mattingly, son of former New York Yankee captain Don Mattingly, led the Dodgers at the plate with 29 RBIs, three home runs and a .290 batting average.
Momentum will likely be on the side of the Red Sox in this year's GCL playoff series, as they ended the regular season with a torrid 15-3 record in the month of August.
The Sox used the deadly combination of good hitting and solid pitching to drive themselves to the top of the GCL and finish a commanding 7 1/2 games above the Pirates in the South Division. Their team ERA of 3.02 and .260 team batting average both rank third in the league. Left-hander Felix Doubront fronts an impressive starting rotation with a 2.52 ERA in 11 starts, and outfielder Michael Jones leads the way at the plate with team bests in home runs (nine), RBIs (28) and slugging percentage (.607).