Billings Mustangs (50-25) vs. Missoula Osprey (41-34)
Billings went 11-5 against Missoula this season. ... The Mustangs won two out of three in late June, early July, late July and early August before splitting a two-game series Aug. 12-13 and sweeping the final two-game set. Billings outscored Missoula in the games, 91-77.
The Mustangs hit .269 through the first 15 games against the Osprey. ... League MVP Chris Valaika led the way with a .375 average and 19 RBIs. ... Justin Turner hit .326 with three homers and 10 RBIs. ... Logan Parker hit .360 with 11 RBIs. ... First-round pick Drew Stubbs hit a pair of homers and went a perfect 5-for-5 in stolen-base attempts.
Jordan Smith was outstanding in his two starts against Missoula, going 1-0 and allowing just one run in 10 innings. He walked none and struck out nine. ... Terrell Young had three of his nine saves come against Missoula, allowing just one run in six innings of relief work. ... The Mustangs had a 4.05 ERA over 15 games vs. the Osprey.
The Osprey managed to hit just .232 against the Mustangs. No one hit more than one homer, with Matthew Oxendine faring best among those who faced Billings all season with a .286 average, a homer and eight RBIs. ... Shea McFeely only played in eight games against the Mustangs but hit .320 and drove in a team-leading nine runs in his 25 ABs.
The Osprey pitching staff posted a 4.51 ERA in the series. Anthony Barnette went 2-1 with a 1.93 ERA in three starts, striking out 16 in 14 IP and keeping the Mustangs to a .212 batting average. ... All-Star Osbek Castillo, who combined with Hector Ambriz on a no-hitter of the Casper Rockies earlier this year, tossed five shutout innings in his one outing against Billings. Ambriz, for his part, had a 2.35 ERA in 7 2/3 IP of work vs. the Mustangs, striking out 13 and walking just two. ... Clay Zavada was the most effective out of the 'pen, allowing just one earned run on four hits and three walks, while striking out 14, in 13 IP.
ON THE MOUND
Billings' 3.94 ERA was second-lowest in the league, behind only Orem. ... Smith led the staff with a 3.01 ERA, while posting a 6-3 record. The league hit just .227 against the right-handed All-Star. ... Anthony Gressick also won six games, though his 4.50 ERA isn't as tidy. ... Young's nine saves placed him third in the league. He allowed just 11 hits and struck out 31 in 22 1/3 IP.
The Ospreys finished just behind Billings with a 4.01 team ERA. ... Castillo, whose 1.04 ERA doesn't qualify for the league lead because of a lack of innings, has gone 6-0 and struck out 72 (vs. 10 walks) in 52 IP. He's tossed 27 consecutive scoreless innings dating back to Aug. 10, and the league has hit just .159 against him for the season. ... Barnette has gone 6-4 with a 3.89 ERA, striking out nearly a batter per inning and is coming off a stellar performance at Great Falls (7 IP, 1 ER). ... Closer Daniel Stange has a 4.41 ERA, but he leads the league with 12 saves and has struck out 45 in 34 2/3 IP.
AT THE PLATE
The Mustangs led the league with a .289 average and .793 OPS. ... SS Valaika hit .327 for the season, ninth in the league, and was second in RBIs with 60. He also finished in the top 10 in SLG and OPS and made headlines with his 32-game hitting streak. ... Fellow All-Star (and Valaika's double-play mate) Justin Turner hit .333 and also stole 12 bases. ... Mustangs OF Daniel Dorn was poised to win the batting title, hitting .358. His 1.037 OPS topped the league as well.
All-Star Gerardo Parra was sixth in the league with a .332 average, though he hit just .204 in 13 games against Billings. He also drove in 43 runs and stole 23 bases. ... After a rough start, OF Tyler Jones hit .306 in July and .314 in August to raise his average to .284 while stealing 21 bases. ... Missoula's .258 team average was seventh in the Pioneer League and their .732 OPS was sixth.
Missoula defeated Billings in a two-game sweep for the Pioneer League Championship in 1999, the team's first year back in the league (It was part of the Pioneer League from 1956-60). Missoula's Lyle Overbay was the MVP of the league that season. ... Billings would extract some revenge in 2001, when it beat Missoula in the first round en route to the title that season. ... Missoula hadn't been back to the playoffs since 2001 until this year. ... Billings has won a league-best 10 titles and has made it to the playoffs now for six straight seasons.
SERIES COULD TURN ON
How Osbek Castillo pitches. Castillo only faced the Mustangs once and hasn't allowed a run in nearly a month. He matches up against any starter Billings will throw out there. He's been going deeper in his last few starts and if he's on, that could give The Ospreys a big edge early (assuming he goes in Game 1). ... If Castillo and company can limit the damage the double-play duo Valaika and Turner inflict at the plate, they've got a chance to steal the series.
Castillo shuts out the Mustangs. Valaika and Turner peform well, but are basically contained by the Osprey pitching staff. But Drew Stubbs, who hit .255 but also contributed 15 extra-base hits and stole 19 bases, gets red-hot and sends Billings on to yet another championship series. Billings in three.
Orem Owlz (45-30) vs. the Idaho Falls Chukars (39-36)
Orem, winners of both halves of the South Division, dominated the season series against Idaho Falls, going 13-5. The two teams split a six-game home-and-home series at the beginning of July, but it was pretty much all Owlz after that. They swept a five-game set at the end of July into the beginning of August, then swept four more about two weeks later. The Chukars did stage a little comeback, winning two of three in their most recent meeting.
OF Christopher Pettit hit .424 and slugged .712 with two homers and 20 RBIs in 16 games against the Chukars. ... Ryan Mount hit .333 with two homers, nine RBIs and three steals in 15 games. ... Luis Rivera, Abel Nieves and Tadd Brewer all hit over .300 in extended playing time as the Owlz hit .267 as a team against Idaho Falls; they outscored Idaho Falls, 105-86.
If Orem has a lead late in the game, Idaho Falls could be in trouble. Felipe Arredondo, Orem's closer, was unhittable against the Chukars (the rest of the league didn't hit him much, either), tossing 10 scoreless innings, allowing just four hits and one walk while striking out 17. He won two games and saved four others. ... Of the starters, Sean O'Sullivan has had the most success, albeit without a win. Over three starts, he's posted a 2.25 ERA and held Idaho Falls to a .200 batting average in 16 IP.
The Chukars hit .253 against Orem, led by Kurt Mertins, the infielder who hit .361 against the Owlz in 16 games. He also went 8-for-9 in steals. ... O.D. Gonzalez showed some speed as well in the series, going 11-for-13. The Chukars stole 42 bases in 50 attempts against Orem. ... Power-wise, Jase Turner led the team with five homers and 13 RBIs.
From the mound, Everett Teaford was outstanding, though he had no record to show for it. The lefty posted a 0.96 ERA over four starts spanning 18 2/3 IP. He held the Owlz to a .179 batting average against. Fellow southpaw Rowdy Hardy went 1-1 with a 2.00 ERA over three starts as the Chukars had a 5.18 ERA against Orem.
ON THE MOUND
Game 1: Orem at Idaho Falls:
Sean O'Sullivan (4-0, 2.14 ) vs. TBD
Game 2: Idaho Falls at Orem:
TBD vs. David Herndon (5-2, 2.21)
Game 3: Idaho Falls at Orem, if necessary:
TBD vs. Trevor Bell (4-1, 3.66)
The Owlz led the league in team ERA at 3.57 as of Sept. 7, one of only three teams below 4.00. ... O'Sullivan and Herndon were big reasons, standing 1-2 in the ERA race. O'Sullivan, a league All-Star and Pitcher of the Year nominee, had a 2.14 ERA in 71 1/3 IP, while Herndon had a 2.21 ERA over 69 1/3 IP. ... Trevor Bell (4-1, 3.66 ERA) and Jeremy Haynes (3-1, 2.96) give Orem one of the deepest rotations in the league. ... Felipe Arredondo may have been the most over-powering closer in the league, with 11 saves, a 2.20 ERA, 56 K's in 41 IP and only 22 hits allowed for a .162 batting average against.
Hardy, a league All-Star, was not behind the Orem tandem in the ERA race, going 5-3 with a 2.91 mark, good for fourth in the league. He also had a ridiculous 51/4 K/BB ratio. ... Teaford went 5-1 with a 3.71 ERA (10th in the league) in his 63 innings of work. ... Idaho Falls' 4.66 ERA placed it sixth among eight teams in the league.
AT THE PLATE
A Pioneer League All-Star, Pettit was among league leaders with a .335 batting average. He was third in OPS (1.011) and fifth in RBIs (51). ... Mount, the shortstop, hit .296 and was leading the team with nine homers. ... OF Peter Bourjos paced the club with 12 steals. Orem, carried more by pitching, was seventh in the league with a .258 batting average and .727 OPS.
The Chukars' .270 team batting average was third-best in the league. Getting on base helped them use their speed as they easily led the circuit in stolen bases. ... Mertins and Gonzalez were in the top four in steals, both with over 20 steals on the season. Alvi Morel and Brett Bigler were threatening to give them two more 20-steal guys. ... Mertins hit .336, fourth-highest in the league. ... 1B Jase Turner, despite a low average, topped the Chukars in homers (8) and RBIs (41).
Orem will be going for its third straight Pioneer League crown, having won two years ago as the Provo Angels and last year in its first turn as the Orem Owlz. ...The club has played in the championship for five consecutive seasons, every year it's been a part of the league. The team has met Billings three times, losing twice and winning once. ... Idaho Falls last won a title in 2000, then as a Padres' affiliate. The Chukars made the playoffs in 2004, but lost to the eventual champions, the Provo Angels. ... Idaho Falls first joined the Pioneer League back in 1940, then as the Russets, and have been a part of the league from 1946 forward. ... The Pioneer League has been a short-season rookie-level circuit since 1964. The split-season, the only one of its kind in short-season ball, was instituted in 1995.
SERIES COULD TURN ON
If the Orem pitchers can keep the Idaho Falls' speedsters off the bases. In their head-to-head matchup, the Chukars did steal 42 bags in 18 games, but that didn't keep the Owlz from winning the set, 13-5. If the Owlz can at least slightly contain the Chukars' running game, that should make things a little easier for them. If Idaho Falls can solve the Owlz' top two starters, assuming they go in Games 1 and 2, they could have a chance.
Throwing aside a clunker in his last start on Sept. 3, O'Sullivan has been brilliant, going 3-0 with a 1.97 ERA in six August starts. Herndon has been equally stingy, with a 2-0 record and 1.67 ERA in five August outings. They say pitching wins championships. It will at least give Orem a chance to play for one. Orem in two.