TOLEDO VS. NORFOLK
The two teams split the season series, each winnings six games. But Toledo has won the last four games between the two teams, outscoring Norfolk 18-4 in the process.
Brian Daubach was 10-for-26 (.385) in eight games while teammate Anderson Hernandez was 13-for-43 (.302) with five stolen bases. IL All-Star Jason Scobie started three games against the Mud Hens, going 2-1 with a 1.66 ERA. Reliever Tim Hamulack, since promoted to New York, was also 2-1, posting a 2.70 ERA in five appearances.
Gookie Dawkins' average has hovered around .250 this season but he's owned Norfolk, hitting .344 (11-for-32) with nine RBIs and a .688 slugging percentage. Alexis Gomez (.414), Kevin Hooper (.308) and Marcus Thames (.333) have all had success against the Tides. Joel Zumaya has 12 strikeouts in six innings against Norfolk while Matt Ginter is 1-1 with a 1.38 ERA against the team for whom he pitched last season.
ON THE MOUND:
The rotation isn't quite what it was during the regular season. Jae Seo is lighting it up in New York, Brian Bannister is playing for Team USA in Holland. Relievers Heath Bell and Juan Padilla are also with the Mets. While that doesn't leave the completely Tides short-handed, it does present some problems. But with Scobie (15-7, 3.34), who led the IL in victories and was third in ERA, and Eric Junge (10-7, 3.80), who is scheduled to start the opener, Norfolk has a solid top of the rotation to start the series. Scobie's 15 wins ties the franchise record previously set by Jim Bibby (1971) and Mike Fyhrie (1996). Yusmeiro Petit is also expected to get a look -- most likely in Game Two -- though he is 0-3 with a 9.20 ERA in three starts after earning a promotion from Binghamton. He has given up 24 hits in 14 2/3 innings and the opposition is hitting .375 against him. Petit hasn't found a groove after going 9-3 with a 2.91 ERA in the Eastern League, where the opposition hit .209 against him. Padilla, Hamulack and Bell combined for 23 saves during the season but now it appears that Manny Aybar will head the closer by committee.
Andrew Good (9-5, 3.68) is slated to start the opener with super prospect Joel Zumaya (1-2, 2.66, 56 strikeouts in 44 IP) getting the nod in Game Two. Rookie Kenny Baugh (12-8, 3.38) and Jason Grilli (12-9, 4.10) have combined for 24 victories though Grilli, who led the league with three complete games, hasn't faced the Tides this season. Good and Zach Miner (5-8, 3.71) join Baugh in the league's top-10 in ERA. Toledo led the league with a staff ERA of 3.71 while Norfolk checked in second at 3.74. They were the only teams with a lower than 4.00 ERA.
AT THE PLATE:
The Tides have won without two of their most productive players -- Craig Brazell and Jeff Keppinger -- both of whom have missed much of the season because of injuries. While Anderson Hernandez (.303, 24 steals in 66 games since his promotion from Binghamton) has been a pleasant surprise (though he finished the season in a 3-for-22 slump), there isn't much production left in a lineup that now features the journeyman Daubach, who finished second in the IL with a .325 batting average and first with a .426 on-base percentage, and light-hitting outfielder Angel Pagan (.271, eight homers, 40 RBIs) and third baseman Rodney Nye (.288, eight homers, 54 RBIs) as its best options.
From top to bottom, Toledo has a more-balanced lineup with a better ability to produce runs. Thames has been steady since spending the early part of the season with the parent club, hitting .340 with 22 homers and 56 RBIs in 72 games. Gomez (55 RBIs) and Ryan Raburn (64 RBIs) can also drive in runs as can Mike Hessman (28 HR, 74 RBIs), though Hessman has struggled overall with a .214 average.
POINTS OF INTEREST:
The Mud Hens became the first team in 41 years to finish with the league's worst record one year only to finish with the best record the next. Toledo hasn't reached the postseason since 2002 and hasn't captured a championship since 1968. The Hens have the best record in all of Triple-A and as a result, Larry Parrish was named as the International League Skipper of the Year. Toledo has 40 come-from-behind victories this year. ... Norfolk hasn't reached the postseason since 2001 though its championship drought only reaches back to 1987. Tides skipper Ken Oberkfell has reached the postseason in each of his last three seasons, winning the Florida State League crown in 2003 at St. Lucie before getting eliminated in the first round of the Eastern League playoffs last year at Binghamton.
SERIES COULD TURN ON ...
Yusmeiro Petit. If the youngster figures out what he has done wrong in making the jumping to Triple-A, he could make a big difference. He has been dominant at every level, a difference maker. He hasn't shown that with Norfolk.
The Tides have stumbled over the last month, losing 12 of 19 while Toledo has the momentum and the pitching. Mud Hens in four.
BUFFALO VS. INDIANAPOLIS
The Indians took five of the eight meetings between the two teams, which haven't met since August 2, when they finished a four-game split in Buffalo.
Ryan Garko hit .333 (9-for-27) against the Indians with five RBIs but was called up last week by Cleveland. Mike Kinkade (11-for-33) also hit .333 and drove in four while Jose Morban (.455) had success in lesser role, going 5-for-11. Andy Abad only hit .259 in the eight games but he had three homers and drove in nine.
Alfredo Amezaga spent some time with the Rockies and Pirates earlier in the season but did some damage in the four games he played against Buffalo, collecting five hits in nine at-bats. Graham Koonce has supplied the power for the Indians and much of it has come against Buffalo. He's hitting .429 with three homers and 13 RBIs in seven games while Ronnie Paulino has added some pop. He's hitting .440 with three homers and nine RBIs against the Bisons since his promotion from Double-A Altoona.
ON THE MOUND:
The starters didn't fare well against the Indians, going 1-4 with a 6.54 ERA in 42 2/3 innings. Their strikeout-to-walk ratio was also abysmal, with 23 strikeouts to 16 walks. Buffalo's bullpen wasn't much better, posting a 6.03 ERA even though it did earn a pair of victories and a pair of saves. Jeremy Guthrie (12-10, 5.10) was one of the starters whom Indy cuffed around but he was called up by the Tribe last week as well. Jason Davis (8-5, 4.61) will get the nod in the opener with Steve Watkins (9-2, 4.16) slated for Game Two. Fausto Carmona (7-4, 3.25) has been tabbed for the third game and if the series stretches to a fourth game, Jason Young (2-0, 5.87) will pitch. Buffalo hasn't decided who will be starting if there is a fifth game. Jake Robbins had 23 saves, three shy of the Buffalo record set in 2000 by Chris Nichting. The opposition is hitting .251 while his strikeout-to-walk ratio isn't very good at 28:25.
Indian starters fared much better, going 4-1 with a 4.53 ERA against the Buffalo and that was without Zach Duke getting a start before he was promoted and Ian Snell (11-3, 3.70) only getting one start. In fact, Snell, who appeared in 12 games for Pittsburgh this season, suffered the only loss the Indy starters had against Buffalo this season, allowing seven runs (four earned) in 6 2/3 innings on June 17. Cory Stewart earned a pair of victories, though one came in relief. Snell will start the series opener followed by Brian Bullington (9-5, 3.38) and Mike Connolly (2-4, 4.42). Former big leaguer Mark Corey figured in the decision in 38 of his 61 appearances, going 10-10 with a league-leading 28 saves and a 4.02 ERA.
AT THE PLATE:
Ernie Young earned an All-Star berth with a strong first-half for Buffalo. But the affable slugger has slumped badly since, hitting .238 (29-122) with one homer and 12 RBIs in 35 games since playing in the All-Star game. He has not hit a homer since July 17 and only gone yard once since July 3, the result of lingering back trouble. Brian Finegan, a 15th-round pick in 2004, spent the entire season with Class-A Lake County of the South Atlantic League, where he had nine homers, 60 RBIs and hit .292 before getting promoted to Buffalo over the weekend. He has four hits in eight at-bats since an 0-for-4 debut. Journeyman Andy Abad has 20 homers, 85 RBIs and hit .293. Jason Cooper, who has spent time at Double-A Akron in each of the last two seasons, has combined to hit 25 homers and drive in 100 runs in the Eastern and International Leagues this year. Buffalo finished tied for second with Ottawa in the IL with a .278 team average.
The Indians finished fourth in team batting at .275 and were one of six teams to record more than 1,000 strikeouts. But they also led the league with 163 stolen bases, which is second only to Nashville of the Pacific Coast League in all of Triple-A baseball. The Tribe has stolen 22 bases in 27 attempts over the last 17 games, including a string of 17 consecutive steals. Former big-leaguer Cesar Crespo (nine homers, 51 RBIs, .266) has led the running game with 31 steals. Yurendell De Caster (.280, 11 HRs, 61 RBIs) has had a solid first season in Triple-A. Infielder J.J. Furmaniak has hit safely in 20-of-24 games, hitting .305 with 17 RBIs over that stretch. He's hitting .288 overall in 36 games for the Tribe.
POINTS OF INTEREST:
Buffalo has been a consistent team throughout its history in the postseason, never staying away from a title for too long. The Bisons won the crown last season and in 1998 while playing in the finals in 2002. Buffalo manager Marty Brown is one of 12 people to play for a Governor's Cup winner (Rochester, 1990) and manage a team to a championship, joining other notables such as Dick Williams, Bobby Cox, Davey Johnson and Johnny Oates. This will be Buffalo's ninth trip to the playoffs in 11 years. ... Indianapolis was a dominant team in the American Association for decades, winning 19 pennants overall, seven of which came between 1982 and 1995. The Indians last made the IL playoffs in 2000, the year they beat Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in five games to win the title. Indy also won the IL crown in 1963. ... Indianapolis and Buffalo met twice in the American Association finals with both series going five games. The Indians won in 1996 and the Bisons returned the favor the following year.
THE SERIES COULD TURN ON ...
Indy's speed. If the Indians get on base early and set a quick tone, small-balling their way to a few runs in the first or second inning, they could run Buffalo out of the series.
The Indians have better starting pitching. And while both teams have played well down the stretch, the Tribe has lost by more than two runs only once in the last 39 days. Their last 19 losses have been by a combined 29 runs. It will be close but it looks like Indy in five.