Pioneer League playoff preview

Red-hot Voyagers battle Brewers; Rockies take on Chukars

Colorado second-rounder Ryan McMahon batted .321 over 59 games. (Grand Junction Rockies)

By Greg Rachac / Special to | September 9, 2013 8:54 AM ET

Great Falls and Grand Junction sat on opposite sides of the spectrum in the second half of the 2013 Pioneer League season.

The Voyagers emerged from the halfway point by winning 12 of their first 13 games, including nine in a row from Aug. 2-12, a stretch that helped them clinch the North Division's second-half title going away and sew up their seventh consecutive playoff berth.

The Rockies, on the other hand, rolled to the South Division's first-half crown but stumbled in the second half, winning only eight of 29 games in August and limping into their second straight playoff appearance.

Great Falls faces North Division first-half champion Helena in a best-of-3 first-round series beginning Monday in Great Falls, while Grand Junction opens postseason play against Idaho Falls in the South semifinals.

Helena Brewers (43-33, North Division first-half champion) vs.
Great Falls Voyagers (48-28, North Division second-half champion)

Great Falls won the season series, 10-6

Game 1 at Great Falls, Sept. 9 at 9:00 p.m. ET 
Game 2 at Helena, Sept. 10 at 9:05 p.m. ET 
Game 3 at Helena (if necessary), Sept. 11 at 9:05 p.m. ET

Helena outfielder Michael Ratterree visualizes playing in the big leagues someday soon.

"That's what you've got to do if you want to play there," Ratterree said. "I've been talking to the coaches, and you've got to see yourself there if that's your goal. You've got to set your goals high."

Ratterree does have some business to take care of in the Pioneer League first -- in particular, an opening-round playoff series against red-hot Great Falls. Ratterree was brilliant in his first professional season, winning Pioneer League MVP after hitting .314 with 12 home runs and 58 RBIs.

Winning the award was an important feather in the cap for Ratterree, who was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 10th round (302nd overall) out of Rice University and delivered on his potential right away.

"It's a big honor for me," said Ratterree, whose RBI total ranked in a tie for the league lead. "I didn't really know what to expect coming into my first year of pro ball. I've had a good season. I think I've done well with runners in scoring position. I've been able to knock in some runs and get a good amount of RBIs. That's been a good part of my summer.

"But people have been on base for me all year. You've got to give credit to the team for that, too. We have a great team, a great group of guys."

Helena and Great Falls enter their first-round series fresh off a four-game set between one another that closed the regular season. If Ratterree and the Brewers were looking for a playoff jump-start during that series, they didn't get it. Great Falls won all four of those games.

The Voyagers boast the lowest team ERA in the league and were tough to beat throughout the second half, making them the likely favorites to win the title.

"We're still trying to get better as a team, trying to improve, trying to get hot," Ratterree said of the Brewers. "We've been playing well enough, but I think we can improve going into the playoffs."

Great Falls sends league ERA and strikeouts leader Jake Sanchez to the mound in Game 1 on Monday, followed by Andrew Mitchell and Nick Blount. Helena hands the ball to Taylor Williams in the opener before turning to Barrett Astin in Game 2 and Anthony Banda in a potential Game 3.

Grand Junction Rockies (35-41, South Division first-half champion) vs.
Idaho Falls Chukars (41-35, South Division second-half champion)

Idaho Falls won the season series, 12-4

Game 1 at Idaho Falls, Sept. 9 at 9:15 p.m. ET Watch on MiLB.TV
Game 2 at Grand Junction, Sept. 10 at TBD Watch on MiLB.TV
Game 3 at Grand Junction (if necessary), Sept. 11 at TBD Watch on MiLB.TV

Grand Junction cruised to the first-half championship in the South Division to secure a playoff berth, but they fell flat in the second half.

Infielder Ryan McMahon had a good explanation for the downfall.

"Our intensity dropped," McMahon said. "After clinching, we started taking things for granted. We're definitely trying to build some momentum and bring more intensity. We've played better baseball of late, so we feel good going in."

After a nightmarish August, the Rockies righted the ship to end the year. They won four in a row at the outset of September and were victorious in seven of their final 10 regular-season games.

To keep the season going beyond the first round of the playoffs, Grand Junction will have to beat an Idaho Falls team that put together the second-best record in the second half while securing their first division title since 2007.

McMahon is one player to help take the Rockies where they want to go.

A second-round pick (42nd overall) out of Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, Calif., McMahon hit .321 for the Rockies in the regular season. He belted 11 homers and drove in 52 runs.

McMahon met some rookie predictions, but he didn't put any pressure on himself along the way.

"If there were any expectations, I had no idea about them," McMahon said. "The way the coaches have treated me, it's just like everybody else. And that's what I wanted.

"Nobody needs to be treated differently because of where they were drafted. There was no pressure going into the season."

Jonathan Dziedzic is scheduled to start for the Chukars in Game 1, followed by Patrick Conroy and Yender Caramo.

In brief

Seventh heaven: Great Falls' playoff appearance is its seventh in a row, the longest active streak in the Pioneer League. The Voyagers have won a pair of championships in that span. It will also mark the first playoff appearance for skipper Pete Rose Jr., who managed in Bristol of the Appalachian League the previous two seasons.

One to watch: Idaho Falls right-hander Caramo tossed eight no-hit innings in a win over Grand Junction on Aug. 31. He followed that gem by throwing six strong innings in a victory over Ogden on Sept. 5. Caramo (6-3, 3.84) is scheduled to start Game 3 (if necessary) against Grand Junction.

Look who's back: Idaho Falls got a boost when shortstop Hunter Dozier was reassigned to the Chukars on Aug. 31 after spending some time with Lexington of the South Atlantic League. Since his return, Dozier is hitting .367 with eight RBIs and five extra-base hits. Dozier was the No. 8 overall pick by the Kansas City Royals in the 2013 Draft.

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

View More