New York-Penn League playoff preview

ValleyCats open title defense versus Tigers; Renegades face Spikes

Austin Chrismon struck out 73 batters and issued 23 walks over 100 2/3 innings this year. (Gordon Donovan/

By Craig Forde / Special to | September 3, 2014 10:00 AM ET

If the end of the regular season is any indication of how the New York-Penn League playoffs will unfold, we should be in for a great show. Prior to the final day of regular-season play, a lot was left to be determined, most notably the matchups as the top seed and Wild Card were still very much up in the air.

Defending-champion Tri-City was able to hold off State College for the honor of top seed after winning its last five games of the season.

The Spikes, who lost to the ValleyCats in last year's final, will face off against Hudson Valley, who returns to the post-season after a one-year layoff. Meanwhile, the Connecticut Tigers really took things to the brink as they defeated the Lowell Spinners in a thrilling 9-8 victory, mere moments after Brooklyn had also won.

With the Cyclones' victory, the Tigers, who were up 9-5 heading into the ninth inning, needed a win to make their first-ever playoff appearance, but as Lowell tried to repeat their closing-day spoiler role on Connecticut as they had in 2011, the Tigers were barely able to close the door.

Tri-City ValleyCats (48-28, Stedler Division champion) vs.
Connecticut Tigers (42-34, Wild Card winner)

Tri-City won the season series, 7-3

Game 1 at Connecticut, Sept. 3 at 6:35 p.m. ET
Game 2 at Tri-City, Sept. 4 at 7:00 p.m. ET
Game 3 at Tri-City (if necessary), Sept. 5 at 7:00 p.m. ET

Division foes face off in this best-of-3 series as the ValleyCats start on the road to repeat, searching for their third title in the last five seasons.

Besides owning the season series against the Tigers, Tri-City enters the playoffs as the hottest team in the league, winning five straight as they captured their third consecutive Stedler Division title.

Starters Joe Musgrove and Austin Chrismon, who went a combined 13-4 in the regular season, lead a solid Tri-City staff that is backed by a consistent bullpen with Ryan Thompson as closer.

Both teams can score runs in bunches, so solid pitching will go a long way, and the Tigers will counter with the likes of Chase Edwards and Fernando Perez, who combined for 19 of the team's franchise-best 42 victories.

Tigers top prospect Derek Hill, the 23rd overall pick in the June Draft, has been slow out of the gate, hitting just .203 in 19 games for Connecticut, but could become a difference maker if he gets hot at the right time.

The ValleyCats, which finished second in the league with 207 extra-base hits, has seen a good portion of their offense get promoted throughout the season, but still have All-Star MVP Nick Tanielu, who led the team in hits (70) and RBIs (40).

The two feline-branded ball clubs will put it all on the line starting Wednesday night at Dodd Stadium, which last hosted post-season play in 2009 when the Eastern League's Connecticut Defenders were the park's inhabitants.

State College Spikes (48-28, Pinckney Division champion) vs.
Hudson Valley Renegades (46-30, McNamara Division champion)

Hudson Valley won the season series, 3-0

Game 1 at Hudson Valley, Sept. 3 at 6:35 p.m. ET
Game 2 at State College, Sept. 4 at 7:05 p.m. ET
Game 3 at State College (if necessary), Sept. 5 at 7:05 p.m. ET

Despite the fact that the Renegades swept the only series between these two teams in the regular season, they will have their hands full with a complete State College club that has excelled in all facets of the game.

"We have a little bit better team [now]," said Spikes Game 2 starter Will Anderson. "That was then. I think we have really short memories."

That early August sweep came in the midst of a 1-10 stretch for State College, which until that point in the season had only endured one losing streak of three games. They were able to rebound and caught fire down the stretch, going 15-3 to finish the season while fighting until the last day for the league's top spot.

"We started August pretty poorly," said Anderson. "We put it together really nicely these last few weeks. We have really good character coming into this. There's a lot of confidence within our clubhouse."

The team certainly backs things up on the stat sheet, where they lead the league with a team .269/.343/.399 slash line while having the second-best team ERA (2.97) and WHIP (1.20).

Credit that confidence and balance to the long months that the majority of the Spikes spent together in extended spring training.

After all that hard work and waiting to get their assignment, they've been given the opportunity to extend their season, and they want to make the most of it.

"We were grinding for three months [in extended spring training], waking up at 6 and 7 a.m.," said Anderson. "Any time we go out there, we're going to put our best guys out there and we're going to compete. I think we have a great shot at taking this home."

Hudson Valley will look to ride the bats of Hunter Lockwood, the team leader in homers (13), RBIs (46) and runs scored (47) and Rays No. 1 prospect Casey Gillaspie, who drove in 42 on the season.

The Renegades will send Enderson Franco (7-3, 3.28 ERA) to the mound for Game 1, opposite the Spikes' Daniel Poncedeleon (3-3, 2.44 ERA).

In brief

An island all his own: Connor Spencer became the first Staten Island Yankees player to win the league's batting title. His .364 average was the highest since Pittsfield's Jason Payton hit .365 in 1994. Spencer, who finished the season on a 12-game hitting streak, also batted .364 earlier in the year while playing out his junior season at UC-Irvine.

Coney Island ace: Marcos Molina had a dominant 12 starts for the Brooklyn Cyclones this season, allowing just 15 earned runs over 76 1/3 innings. The right-hander led the league in ERA (1.77), WHIP (0.84) and was tied for the league lead with seven wins. Molina was also tops with 91 strikeouts, 24 more than the next closest pitcher.

Turn out the lights: After 21 seasons, the Jammers have played their final game in Jamestown. The team will relocate to Morgantown, West Virginia, starting in 2015, following a season in which they averaged just 758 patrons per game. On Monday the team hosted its final two games at Diethrick Park in front of 950 fans, winning the opener over Mahoning Valley, 3-2, before dropping the second, 12-3.

Craig Forde is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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