Midwest League playoff preview

Surging Cedar Falls faces faltering Clinton in the first round

(Paul Gierhart/MiLB.com)

September 4, 2007 11:05 AM ET

Cedar Rapids vs. Clinton
Kernels (78-61) vs. LumberKings (70-67)
Best-of-three series begins Wednesday, Sept. 5

The Kernels are unlikely second-half division champs, winning 15 of their final 19 games en route to securing the title on the last day of the season. In this three-game set, they'll take on a Clinton squad that secured a first-half Wild Card berth before sinking to the cellar in the season's second half.

The LumberKings outscored the Kernels, 87-69, over 15 games, and posted a better batting average and ERA. Nonetheless, they won the season series by only a slim 8-7 margin. Cedar Rapids has won the last three games played between the two clubs.

Cedar Rapids: SS P.J. Phillips hit just .196 over 13 games, but led the team with three home runs and tied for the lead with seven RBIs. 3B Matthew Sweeney batted .309 in 55 at-bats, with eight runs scored and six batted in. 2B Ryan Mount stole six bases in 10 games and was caught just once. IF Abel Nieves went 6-for-15 over four games. Game 1 starter Trevor Bell struggled in two starts against Clinton, going 0-2 with a 11.00 ERA. Game 2 starter David Herndon was not much better at 0-1 with a 9.90 ERA. Game 3 starter Sean O'Sullivan was solid, however, going 1-1 with a 3.09 ERA in four starts and fanning 25 batters over 23 1/3 innings. Closer Warner Madrigal converted three of four save opportunities against the LumberKings and logged two victories while compiling a 2.06 ERA in six appearances.

Clinton: While the LumberKings will miss the presence of promoted 3B John Whittleman, they still have several players in their lineup who massacred Kernels' pitching this season. OF Chad Tracy hit .368 and drove in 16 runs in 15 games. 2B Jose Vallejo batted .403, scored 15 runs and drove in 10 in 15 contests. 1B Mauro Gomez bashed four home runs and five doubles in 52 at-bats. OF K.C. Herren stole four bases in as many chances. Game 1 starter Zachary Phillips went 1-1 with a 5.23 ERA in two starts spanning 10 1/3 innings. Game 2 starter Kasey Kiker compiled a 3.86 ERA over two starts spanning 11 innings but did not factor in a decision. RHP Christopher Dennis appeared in two games and notched two saves.

Game 1: Clinton at Cedar Rapids
LumberKings LHP Zachary Phillips (11-7, 2.91 ERA) vs. Kernels RHP Trevor Bell (8-4, 4.14 ERA)

Game 2: Cedar Rapids at Clinton
Kernels RHP David Herndon (13-8, 4.02 ERA) vs. LumberKings LHP Kasey Kiker (7-4, 2.90 ERA)

Game 3 (if necessary): Cedar Rapids at Clinton
Kernels RHP Sean O'Sullivan (10-7, 2.22 ERA) vs. TBD

Cedar Rapids
RHP Sean O'Sullivan led the league with a 2.22 ERA, while RHP David Herndon tied for the league lead with 13 wins. LHP Barret Browning made 48 relief appearances and went 9-4 with a 2.80 ERA and eight saves. RHP Marco Albano made five appearances and tossed a scoreless inning in each.

LHP Zachary Phillips ranked second in the league with 157 strikeouts, while his 2.97 ERA was the circuit's third-best. RHP Kasey Kiker made his Clinton debut on May 21 and went 7-4 with a 2.90 ERA and 112 strikeouts over 96 1/3 innings. RHP Julio Santana did not allow an earned run in six appearances spanning 9 2/3 innings.

Cedar Rapids
3B Matthew Sweeney's 18 home runs were the fifth-most in the league. 1B Mark Trumbo hit .272 with 14 home runs and a team-leading 76 RBIs. SS P.J. Phillips stole 34 bases, while OF Stantrel Smith had 23, IF Wilberto Ortiz had 21, and 2B Ryan Mount and OF Peter Bourjos each swiped 19.

1B Mauro Gomez hit 21 home runs -- the league's third-highest total -- and collected 74 RBIs. 3B Jose Vallejo stole 47 bases and was caught just three times. OF Chad Tracy led the LumberKings with 84 runs batted in and 35 doubles.

Over the past decade, both clubs have specialized in making early exits from the playoffs (if they got there at all). Cedar Rapids last won a Western Division title in 1997 and hasn't won the championship since 1994. Clinton last won its division in 1998 and hasn't topped the league since 1991.

Kernels starting pitchers Bell and Herndon put up strong numbers overall, but both were knocked around by the LumberKings during the regular season. For Cedar Rapids to win this series, they will have to pitch against Clinton like they did against the rest of the Midwest League.

Injuries wreaked havoc on Cedar Rapids throughout the regular season, but right now the Kernels are healthy and riding a hot streak. Clinton, meanwhile, limped to a last-place finish in the second-half of the season. Cedar Rapids in two.

Benjamin Hill is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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