Richmond vs. Durham
Braves (77-64) vs. Bulls (80-63)
(Best-of-5 series begins Tuesday, Sept. 11)
Durham and Richmond fought hard down to the end of the season, jousting for playoff positioning on both the Divisional and Wild Card level. It seems only fitting that these two South Division teams meet one more time to decide who will win the Governors' Cup and head to Oklahoma City for next week's Bricktown Showdown.
The two teams split eight games during the regular season, but the Bulls won four of the six games in August. Durham led the league with 146 homers, with 15 against the Braves. The Bulls hit .265 while Richmond hit .226 with 11 homers. Richmond had a better team ERA, though, 3.13 to 3.57.
Richmond: Buddy Carlyle was 2-0 in two starts and and struck out 19 over 12 2/3 scoreless innings. Blaine Boyer was 1-1 with a 1.72 ERA in four appearances (two starts), fanning 11 in 15 2/3 frames. Trey Hodges was 0-1 with a 5.40 ERA in three games (two starts). He walked seven in 11 2/3 innings and allowed the Bulls to hit .314. Doug Clark led the team with eight RBIs but he hit only .184 (9-for-49). Graham Koonce hit .320 with three homers and seven RBIs. Gregor Blanco, who hit .322, had a team-high 19 hits and 10 walks.
Durham: Jason Pridie hit .371 with three homers and seven RBIs. He also drew four walks and stole a base. Justin Ruggiano hit .304 with a homer and seven RBIs, but struck out 15 times in 56 at-bats. Jorge Velandia also fanned 15 times, in 51 at-bats. 3B Evan Longoria played in only six games but hit .417 (10-for-24) with a homer and six RBIs. Elliot Johnson struggled, hitting .213 with 13 strikeouts in 47 at-bats. Jae Kuk Ryu was 2-0 with a 3.18 ERA in two starts. J.P. Howell was 1-0 in two starts with a 2.57 ERA, along with 18 strikeouts in 14 innings. Jeff Niemann was 1-1 with a 5.17 ERA in three starts, and Jae Seo was 1-0 with a 4.15 ERA in two starts.
Game 1: Richmond at Durham
RHP Jeff Bennett (3-5, 3.35) vs. LHP J.P. Howell (7-8, 3.38)
Game 2: Richmond at Durham
RHP Blaine Boyer (4-3, 4.30) vs. RHP Jeff Niemann (12-6, 3.98)
Game 3: Durham at Richmond
RHP Jae Seo (9-4, 3.69) vs. LHP Francisley Bueno (1-0, 2.79)
Game 4 (if necessary): Durham at Richmond
TBD vs. TBD
Game 5 (if necessary): Durham at Richmond
TBD vs. TBD
ON THE MOUND
The Bulls posted a 3.00 team ERA in the opening round, thanks in large part to the effort from their starting staff. J.P. Howell, Jeff Niemann and Jae Seo combined for a 2.54 ERA. Though Howell allowed seven runs in the series opener, only one was earned. He has allowed two earned runs or less in 12 of his last 14 starts. Niemann settled in after a shaky start in Game 2 while Seo was nothing short of brilliant in the clincher. Shawn Camp pitched in all three games, earning a save and allowing a run in three innings, while Chad Orvella pitched three scoreless innings.
Of the four teams in the playoffs, Richmond pitched second only to Durham in the opening round. They had the second-best team ERA (3.41), allowed the second-fewest hits (34) and had the second-most strikeouts (27). The Braves also had Joey Devine, who had three saves in the series, allowing one run over 3 2/3 innings. Richmond's bullpen posted a 1.93 ERA, while the starters had a 4.90 ERA. Of the four starters, Jeff Bennett fared the best, allowing one run in 5 1/3 innings in Game 1. Kevin Barry, Blaine Boyer and Francisley Bueno combined to allow nine runs in 13 innings over the final three games.
AT THE PLATE
The Bulls connected for 10 homers in the opening round, including a franchise playoff-record of six in the opener. It wasn't a total shock, since they did lead the league in regular season homers. Elliott Johnson, Justin Ruggiano, Jon Weber and Evan Longoria each had a pair of homers. The Bulls hit .349 as a team with Longoria, Ruggiano and Chris Richard each collecting six hits apiece. ... The Bulls lost SS Jorge Velandia, who was called up by Tampa Bay. A replacement may be coming from Double-A Montgomery to fill his spot on the roster, but it will be difficult to fill the leadership void in the clubhouse and defensive void in the infield.
The Braves were not even close to explosive against Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Though they scored 17 runs in the four-game series, none of those runs came via the homer. As a team, they hit .274 with Larry Bigbie (.556, four RBIs) pacing the attack. Brent Lillibridge hit .389, but was the only other Richmond hitter to top .300. Most of the Braves runs resulted from a team effort. They only drew 10 walks and collected just seven extra-base hits, making the most of their scoring opportunities. They left 28 runners on base in the four games as opposed to the 27 runners the Bulls left stranded in three games.
Durham won back-to-back titles in 2002-03, but was thwarted in its bid for a three-peat by Buffalo in 2004. The Bulls, at 28-13, have the highest playoff winning percentage in IL history (.683). They, along with Havana (9-6, .600) are the only teams with a winning percentage of .600 or better. In winning the 2002 title, they went undefeated, sweeping Buffalo after an opening-round sweep of Toledo. Richmond has won four Governors' Cup titles, the last of which came in 1994. The Braves have made 21 playoff appearances, with their last bid coming in 2004, when they fell to Buffalo in the finals. Overall, Richmond enters the finals with a 65-71 postseason record.
SERIES COULD TURN ON
If Richmond can keep Durham in the yard, something Toledo was unable to do. If the Bulls start smacking homers at the rate they did in the opening round, then it's going to be a short week for the Braves.
The Bulls are way too homer-happy and have the pitching to back it up. Durham in four.