Championship Series Preview: NH vs. Akron

Fisher Cats Can Clinch E.L. Title at Home This Weekend

By New Hampshire Fisher Cats | September 11, 2018 3:33 PM

Manchester, NH - The New Hampshire Fisher Cats (Toronto Blue Jays Double-A affiliate) are set to begin the Eastern League Championship Series against the Akron RubberDucks (Cleveland Indians) on Tuesday night at Canal Park. Akron will host Game 1 and Game 2 of the five-game series before the teams head to Northeast Delta Dental Stadium to crown a champion in Manchester this weekend.

The Fisher Cats have advanced to the title round for the first time since 2011, while Akron is in search of its second Eastern League championship in the last three seasons (2016). Both teams finished in second place in their respective divisions in the regular season, and won the first two games of the divisional round at home to take control of their first-round series.

Game 1: Tue., Sep. 11 at Canal Park (6:35 p.m.)

RHP T.J. Zeuch (1-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. RHP Jake Paulson* (0-0, 1.29 ERA)

Game 2: Wed., Sep. 12 at Canal Park (6:35 p.m.)

RHP Jon Harris (first 2018 playoff start) vs. RHP Kyle Dowdy (1-0, 2.70 ERA)

Game 3: Fri., Sep. 14 at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium (6:35 p.m.)

RHP Jordan Romano (1-0, 0.00 ERA), vs. RHP Zach Plesac (0-0, 4.15 ERA)

Game 4: Sat., Sep. 15 at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium (6:35 p.m.) if nec.

RHP Hector Perez (0-0, 8.10 ERA) vs. LHP Sean Brady (1-0, 0.00 ERA)

Game 5: Sun., Sep. 16 at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium (1:35 p.m.) if nec.

TBD vs. TBD

*Akron RHP Cody Anderson is scheduled make a brief MLB rehab start

How They Got Here

The Fisher Cats (76-62 regular season) completed a three-game sweep of the Trenton Thunder (New York Yankees) in the Eastern Division Championship Series with a 5-1 win at ARM & HAMMER Park, in a game that concluded at 1:30 a.m. on Saturday; first pitch was delayed until 10:59 p.m. due to rain.

After an 8-0 win in Game 1 behind dominant pitching from T.J. Zeuch (6 IP), Kirby Snead (1.1 IP), Dusty Isaacs (0.1 IP) and Travis Bergen (1.1 IP), New Hampshire used a hot stretch of timely hitting to secure the final two games. In their 10-4 win on Thursday and 5-1 win on Friday, the Fisher Cats scored all 15 runs with two outs. 

Trenton was outscored 23-5, and held a lead for exactly one half inning throughout the series: a 1-0 edge in Game 2 thanks to a leadoff home run from Gosuke Katoh. Max Pentecost hit a three-run homer in the bottom of the first to put the Fisher Cats quickly in front, and the Thunder never led again. 

New Hampshire's pitching staff was dominant in the opening round, posting the lowest ERA (1.33), hit total (25) and walk total (9) of any playoff team. Along with terrific starts from Zeuch (W, 6 IP, 0 R, 8 H, BB, 5 K) and Jordan Romano (W, 5.2 IP, 1 R, 3 H, BB, 2 K), the Fisher Cats bullpen allowed just one run on eight hits in 12 relief innings (0.75 ERA). That lone run came in the top of the ninth in Game 2, with New Hampshire comfortably ahead 10-3. 

Offensively, the Fisher Cats led the four playoff teams with a .287 batting average, 23 runs scored and eight stolen bases. Akron, Altoona and Trenton had one combined stolen base in the divisional round. 

2B Cavan Biggio  went 4-for-10 with a playoff-high seven RBIs, three walks and two steals. His two-out, two-run single in Game 3 proved to be the decisive blow. 

RF Harold Ramirez  led the divisional round with a .545 average (6-for-11), driving in three runs with a double, a triple and adding three walks. 

SS Bo Bichette , who was limited to one hit in 11 at bats in last year's Florida State League playoffs, hit .462 (6-for-13) with five runs and two RBIs in the sweep of Trenton.

The RubberDucks (78-62 regular season) knocked off the defending champion Altoona Curve (Pittsburgh Pirates) in four games in the Western Division Championship Series. 

In Game 1, Akron scored three runs in the third inning -- highlighted by a two-run homer from MLB rehabber Josh Donaldson -- en route to a 5-3 win behind 6.2 strong innings from RHP Kyle Dowdy

1B Nellie Rodriguez  was the hero in Game 2, hitting a walk-off homer to lead off the bottom of the 10th inning, breaking a 1-1 tie and giving the 'Ducks a 2-0 series lead. 

Akron looked destined to sweep the series with a 5-0 advantage midway through Game 3, but Altoona stormed back and tied the game on grand slam from Cole Tucker. With three more runs in the eighth, the Curve pulled off an 8-5 comeback win to keep their season alive for another day. 

The RubberDucks left no doubt in Game 4, jumping out to another 5-0 lead after three innings and adding four more runs in the seventh as part of a 9-0 win. 

RHP Jake Paulsen and LHP Sean Brady each went seven innings in their respective starts, allowing just one run combined. Akron's bullpen hasn't been quite as sharp, allowing six of the pitching staff's 11 runs in the four-game series. 

The 'Ducks hit just .248 as a team in round one, with only two players posting averages above .300: RF Jodd Carter  went 6-for-14 (.429), and C Daniel Salters went 4-for-13 (.308). A good chunk of Akron's offense came via the long ball, with a league-high three homers in the opening round. 

Head-to-Head

The two teams split the six-game regular season series, 3-3, with Akron taking two of three in New Hampshire, and the Fisher Cats winning a pair at Canal Park. 

1B Gunnar Heidt  and RF Harold Ramirez stood out in those six games. Heidt hit .300 (6-for-20) with two doubles and two RBIs, while Ramirez had eight hits in 23 trips (.348) with a home run and three RBIs.

RHP T.J. Zeuch had perhaps his best start of the season against the RubberDucks, allowing just two hits over eight shutout innings with one walk and four strikeouts as part of a 3-0 win on June 14 at Canal Park. 

For Akron, LF Tyler Krieger  hit .313 (5-for-16) with two doubles, three RBIs, three steals and six walks in the six regular season meetings, and CF Andrew Calica  hit two homers and three doubles while posting a .464 OBP in those matchups. 

If the Fisher Cats win the Eastern League Championship, they'll have gone through the top two pitching staffs in the circuit. After scoring 23 runs in three games against Trenton's top-ranked unit (3.25 team ERA), they'll take on an Akron team that posted a 3.59 ERA in the regular season, second best in the league. 

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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