Huntsville vs. Montgomery
Stars (75-62) vs. Biscuits (81-59)
(Best-of-five series begins Wednesday, Sept. 12)
Pardon me, but have we not met before? If the Southern League has a kind of deja vu feeling to it these days, it's for good reason. This is a rematch of the 2006 finals, won by Montgomery in four games.
Huntsville won seven of 10 from Montgomery to exact a small measure of revenge from the 2006 playoffs. The Stars won three of five in the teams' first meeting in Montgomery in late April. Then they took four of five at home in a May 28-June 1 series, the last time the squads met.
The Stars hit .303 in the 10 games against the Biscuits. Steve Moss, Adam Heether and Steven Sollmann all hit over .400. Moss drove in 14 runs with a pair of homers, while Sollmman had 11 RBIs and four stolen bases. Brendan Katin hit .389 with a pair of homers and 11 RBIs as well. ... With that kind of offense, Huntsville's pitchers didn't have to be perfect, but they weren't bad with a 3.90 ERA. The starters scheduled to go in this series, though, don't have much of a track record oustide of Lindsay Gulin's one win and two runs allowed in a five-inning start. Sam Narron has a win and a 5.54 ERA in two starts. Corey Thurman made two relief appearances spanning two innings -- albeit scoreless ones. Steve Hammond gave up 11 earned runs in two starts spanning 9 2/3 innings.
The Biscuits hit .270 against the Stars. John Jaso hit .320 in seven of those games, though he drove in just one run. Josh Asanovich hit .321 and drove in five in eight games of action. Chris Nowak hit .353 with a homer, playing in all 10 games, while Reid Brignac hit a rather pedestrian .250. ... Montgomery's pitching staff got lit up to the tune of a 6.55 ERA against Huntsville, but it was before Wade Davis and Jacob McGee got there. Chris Mason was brilliant in two starts, winning both outings and allowing just a single unearned run combined. In 13 innings, he walked none and struck out 14. Mike Prochaska went 0-2 but had a respectable 3.65 ERA over 12 1/3 IP.
Game 1: Huntsville at Montgomery
Sam Narron (7-9, 4.21 ERA) vs. Wade Davis (7-3, 3.15)
Game 2: Huntsville at Montgomery
Corey Thurman (5-8, 4.36) vs. Jacob McGee (3-2, 4.24)
Game 3: Montgomery at Huntsville
Chris Mason (15-4, 2.57) vs. Derek Miller (6-2, 3.18)
Game 4: Montgomery at Huntsville, if necessary
Mike Prochaska (7-7, 3.89) vs. Lindsay Gulin (12-6, 3.29)
Game 5: Montgomery at Huntsville, if necessary
TBD vs. Steve Hammond (7-9, 4.69)
ON THE MOUND
RHP Corey Thurman had a 4.36 ERA splitting time between the bullpen and the rotation. He actually had much better numbers as a reliever, though he combined for a no-hitter, the third postseason no-no in Southern League history, in Game 2 of the first round. ...
LHP Lindsay Gulin was tied for second in the league with 12 wins, sixth with a 3.29 ERA and ninth with 117 K's. He won Game 4 in the first round of the playoffs with a three-hit, complete-game shutout. ... LHP Sam Narron lowered his ERA over a run and a half -- from 4.86 to 3.20 -- in the second half of the season. He gave up four runs in four innings while losing Game 1 of of the opening round of the playoffs. ... After posting a 5.36 ERA in the first half of the season, LHP Steve Hammond had a 3.62 mark after the break. He didn't pitch well in Game 5 against Tennessee, but he got a no-decision.
RHP Chris Mason led the Southern League in wins (15) and ERA (2.57) while finishing fourth with 136 strikeouts. He got knocked around in the first round of the playoffs, allowing five runs in four innings.... RHP Wade Davis joined the Biscuits in June and went 7-3 with a 3.15 ERA and just over a strikeout an inning. For the year overall, he went 10-3 with a 2.50 ERA and 169 K's in 158 1/3 IP. He did struggle a little bit down the stretch, with a 4.65 August ERA, though he did win his last three decisions before allowing five runs in four innings in his postseason start. ... LHP Jacob McGee didn't arrive until August and his 4.24 ERA is misleading. Take out his last appearance, when he gave up four earned runs in two innings, and he's got a 2.95 ERA in four Double-A starts. He racked up 175 strikeouts in 140 total innings while holding hitters to a .207 combined average. In his playoff start, he allowed two earned runs over five innings but didn't get a decision... RHP Mike Prochaska doesn't get much attention on a staff full of prospects, but he's been very steady for the Biscuits with a 3.89 ERA in 21 appearances. After spending a month in Triple-A, where he posted a 2.55 ERA, he came back down and went 3-0 with a 2.22 ERA over his final four Double-A starts. He's also the only starter who won a game in the first round, winning the clincher against Mississippi.
AT THE PLATE
2B Hernan Iribarren finished fifth in the Southern League with his .307 batting average. He led the circuit with 12 triples and he also stole 18 bases, though he was caught 16 times. In the first round, he went 9-for-21 (.429) and drove in five runs. ... Iribarren's double-play partner, Alcides Escobar, was just as hot, also hitting .429 in five games. ... 3B Adam Heether was a solid performer all year, hitting .299 and posting a .818 OPS, both just outside of the top 10 in the league. He hit .357 with five RBIs in the first round. ... OF Steve Moss hit .400 and scored six runs against Tennessee in the opening round.
C John Jaso finished second in the batting race with a .316 average, third in OBP (.408) and fourth in OPS with an .893 mark. He also hit 12 homers and drove in 71 runs. ... He hit just .222 in the opening round, but he did drive in six runs over the four games. ... OF Fernando Perez was fourth with his .308 average, third in OPS (.903), second in OBP (.423), fourth in steals (32) and tied for second in triples (10). He hit just .167 in the first round of the playoffs. ... OF Erold Andrus hit .375 against Mississippi, as did SS Reid Brignac. Brignac also drove in six runs. ... 2B Josh Asanovich went 4-for-10 with a homer in his three games of playoff action.
Huntsville joined the league in 1985 when the Double-A club from Nashville moved there. As an A's affiliate, the Stars won a title in their inaugural 1985 season, then again in 1994. The team became part of the Brewers organization in 1999 and shared the title in 2001 with Jacksonville. They've twice been to the finals with the Brewers, losing last year and in 2003. The Biscuits have been in existence since 2004 and won the Southern League title a year ago. The team moved from Orlando, where the O-Rays won a title back in 1999. Prior to 1997, Orlando was a Cubs affiliate which made just one Southern League playoff appearance in four years.
SERIES COULD TURN ON
If the Stars can stop the Biscuits juggernaut. This is not the same Montgomery club Huntsville played earlier in the season. While the Stars were the models of consistency, winning both halves in the North, the Biscuits actually finished with a better overall record thanks to their ridiculous second half. The Montgomery that played Huntsville was a .500 team. The current Biscuits have won 18 out of their last 20 games. It's going to take a Herculean effort to stop that train.
The difficulty in beating the Biscuits is their well-roundedness. The Davis-McGee-Mason trio is among the best in the Minors right now. But even if they get touched up -- the Biscuits had a 5.35 ERA in the first round -- the offense picks up the slack (.840 OPS in the opening round). Huntsville bashed its way into the SL Finals, though it got a couple of pitching gems as well. That's all going to have to happen at the same time if the Stars want to keep the Biscuits from repeating. Montgomery in five.