SAL Southern playoff preview

Top pitching staffs square off when Catfish take on GreenJackets

Columbus' Heath Rollins went 3-0 with an 0.90 ERA against Augusta this year. (John M. Setzler Jr./MLB.com)

By Jonathan Mayo / MLB.com | September 3, 2007 7:46 PM

Columbus vs. Augusta
Catfish (82-53) vs. GreenJackets (89-51)
(Best-of-3 series begins Wednesday, Sept. 5)

This is a matchup of the league's two best pitching staffs, with the league's ERA and wins leader doing battle to start things off. Augusta has been one of the Minor Leagues' best teams throughout the entire season, but Columbus isn't far behind.

REGULAR-SEASON SERIES
Columbus took the season series, 8-4. The Catfish won six straight at one point before Augusta won the final meeting at the end of July.

Head-to-Head Stats
Columbus: The Catfish hit .243 in the series. Ryan Royster hit .344 and Desmond Jennings hit .314. Quinn Stewart hit .314 with three homers and eight RBIs. ... Columbus clearly won eight games because of pitching, with a 2.84 ERA over the 12 games. Heath Rollins went 3-0 with a 0.90 ERA over 20 innings, walking just one and striking out 23 in three starts. Jeremy Hellickson had just one start, but it was a good one, allowing just one run and striking out 11 over six innings.

Augusta: The GreenJackets hit just .215 against Columbus this season. OF Matthew Weston had as much success as anyone, hitting .306 with seven RBIs in 10 games. Emmanuel Burriss hit .313 in four games. Brett Pill hit .295 over 12 games. ... Augusta had a 3.17 ERA as the pitchers went 4-8 due to lack of run support. Kevin Pucetas made two relief appearances against Columbus, allowing two runs over nine innings. Clayton Tanner went 1-2, but with a 1.32 ERA in three appearances, including one start.

PROBABLES
Game 1: Augusta at Columbus
Kevin Pucetas (15-4, 1.86 ERA) vs. Heath Rollins (17-4, 2.54)

Game 2: Columbus at Augusta
Jeremy Hellickson (13-3, 2.67) vs. Clayton Tanner (12-7, 3.29)

Game 3: Columbus at Augusta, if necessary
TBD vs. TBD

ON THE MOUND
Columbus:
RHP Heath Rollins tied for the league and overall Minor League lead with 17 wins. His 2.54 ERA placed him fourth in the SAL and he was second in Ks with 149. ... RHP Jeremy Hellickson was right behind Rollins with a 2.67 ERA. He had a 13-3 record as hitters managed just a .214 average against him. ... It will be interesting to see what kind of role Devil Rays' 2007 second-round pick Will Kline will have in the postseason. The right-hander has pitched well of late, allowing just two earned runs over his last 14 innings.

Augusta:
RHP Kevin Pucetas won the SAL ERA title with a 1.86 mark. He walked just 21 and struck out 104 in 145 1/3 innings while compiling a 15-4 record. ... LHP Benjamin Snyder, perhaps the Game 3 starter, wasn't far behind, finishing 16-5 with a 2.09 ERA, second in the league. He was third with 145 Ks. ... RHP Clayton Tanner won 12 games and finished eighth in the league with a 3.29 ERA.

AT THE PLATE
Columbus:
OF Ryan Roster was third in the league with a .329 batting average while winning the home run title (30) and driving in 98 runs, second best in the league. ... 3B Cesar Suarez hit .306 with 11 homers, 87 RBIs and 31 steals. ... OF Desmond Jennings finished sixth in the league with a .315 average. He also stole 45 bags, good for fourth in the SAL.

Augusta:
The GreenJackets like to make things happen on the basepaths, as evidenced by their league-leading 208 stolen bases. SS Emmanuel Burriss was third in the league with 49 steals in just 88 games. He also hit .320, good for fifth in the league. ... 2B Marcus Sanders had 29 steals in 94 games and hit .323 in August. Two other current GreenJackets have 25 or more steals. Ryan Rohlinger led the team with 18 homers while Brett Pill was tops with 91 RBIs (sixth in the league).

HISTORY LESSONS
The Columbus Catfish came into existence in 2004 and spent their first three years as a Los Angeles Dodgers affiliate before joining the Devil Rays organization. This is the team's first playoff appearance. Augusta is hoping to avenge last year, when the GreenJackets made it to the championship, but lost to the Lakewood BlueClaws. Last year was Augusta's first playoff appearance since 2001, when it was a Boston Red Sox affiliate.

SERIES COULD TURN ON
Who can figure out the opposing pitching. Augusta had the best ERA in the league by far at 2.98. But Columbus was No. 2 at 3.61. The pair of pitching matchups to start this series are as good as any around the Minor Leagues and it will be the team that can figure out a way to squeak out some runs that will win.

PREDICTION
It appears that Rollins has Augusta's number and Hellickson has been outstanding. It's not like they're facing slouches on the mound. Augusta's ability to run should help in manufacturing some runs, but the guess here is that the Catfish pitching staff won't allow enough baserunners for that to be the difference maker. Columbus in three.

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for 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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