Minor League Notebook: Pennant Clinching Edition

<b>This is a free preview of premium content.</b> The Oakland A's have spent a lot of their resources on drafting and signing minor league talent in recent years. That philosophy has resulted in an impressive collection of minor league affiliates, four of whom are heading to the playoffs as their respective division champion.<br> Find out who is in the post-season dance and more in this edition of <i>Minor League Notebook</i>...

SACRAMENTO RIVER CATS – The River Cats clinched their second consecutive South Division Championship this week, despite posting only a 3-4 record. Sacramento will take on the Portland Beavers in the Pacific Conference championship series. The River Cats and Beavers should be very familiar with each other by the time they meet on Wednesday, as they are finishing a four game series against each other on Monday. Portland and Sacramento had the rare treat of both clinching their division titles on the same day while playing each other on Saturday, September 4. Portland won the game, 8-6, on a three-run ninth inning homerun by Xavier Nady off of closer Justin Lehr, allowing the Beavers to clinch their division. However, Sacramento was also guaranteed a playoff spot that day when second-place Tucson dropped their game, 8-2.

The River Cats will be without two of their top offensive players for the playoffs, as the Oakland A's recalled Nick Swisher and Esteban German last week. German, who served as the River Cats' lead-off hitter when he was with the club, hit .329 for Sacramento on the season. He also stole 18 bases. Swisher, however, will be the biggest loss for the River Cats, as he led the team in homeruns, on-base percentage and walks and finished third on the team in runs batted in. Swisher had a good first weekend for the A's, gathering three hits in five official at-bats, including his first homerun. He also walked three times, was hit by a pitch and scored four runs. Nelson Cruz was rewarded for his strong AA season by being promoted to Sacramento to take Swisher's roster spot. Cruz had one hit in nine at-bats with a walk in his first three games with the River Cats. Starter Joe Blanton had a good outing last week, getting the win with seven innings of solid work, where he allowed two earned runs and struck out 10 batters and walked none in a 7-4 win over Tacoma on September 1st.

The Pacific Conference Championship series is a best-of-five series. The River Cats will host the first two games and Portland will host the remaining three games, if necessary. Portland finished the season with the best record in the PCL. The River Cats' playoff schedule will be as follows:

Wednesday, September 8
Portland at Sacramento- 6:30 PM

Thursday, September 9
Portland at Sacramento- 6:30 PM

Friday, September 10
Sacramento at Portland- 7:05 PM

Saturday, September 11
(if necessary)
Sacramento at Portland- 7:05 PM

Sunday, September 12
(if necessary)
Sacramento at Portland- 2:05 PM

Tickets can be purchased on-line through www.rivercats.com.

MIDLAND ROCKHOUNDS - There will be no playoff games for Midland, but the RockHounds finished their season on an up note, going 5-2 in their final week. The RockHounds finished the second-half at 37-33, four games behind the Round Rock Express. Round Rock ended up winning both halves of the division championship.

As was the case for much of the season for the RockHounds, offense ruled the roost for Midland last week. The RockHounds scored 53 runs in seven games, a 7.5 run per game average. They hit a collective .318 during that span, led by Brant Colamarino's .522 clip and Brian Sellier's .423 average. Drew Dickinson made his last start of the season count, as he threw his first complete game shutout of the season against Arkansas on September 1st. Dickinson gave up five hits, struck out three and walked one.

MODESTO A'S – The Modesto A's will finish the season as the first and second half champions for the North Division, gaining them a first-round bye for the playoffs. The Lil'A's have gone an impressive 46-23 going into the final game of the second half.

Stockton and San Jose will meet in a best-of-three first-round series September 8-10, while Modesto enjoys their bye. The A's will host the winner of that series in the first two games of the North Division championship series, which begins on September 11. Like in the Division Series for Major League Baseball, Games 3 and 4 would be played on the road, and a Game 5, if necessary, would be played in Modesto on September 15.

If the A's win in Round Two, they will play in the best-of-five league championship series. The first two games would be played in Modesto on September 16-17 and the series then would move to the home of the South Division champion for the remainder of the series. Playoff tickets can be purchased at www.modestoatheltics.com.

It was announced this week that Brian Stavisky was the 2004 winner of the MVP Award for the California League. He has hit .344 on the season (one point higher than teammate Jason Perry) with a .413 OBP, 19 HR and 83 RBIs. He joins Dan Johnson as the second A's minor leaguer to win their league's MVP award this season.

Jason Perry may have stolen the award from Stavisky if he had played the entire season in Modesto. Perry hit .343 with 110 hits in only 82 games played. He led the league with 24 homers and managed to get 80 RBIs in only those 82 games.

KANE COUNTY COUGARS – The Kane County Cougars also clinched the second half Western Division title this week, which gave them their first full-season sweep of the division titles in team history. The Cougars had a down week, finishing only 2-5, but are geared up for the playoffs nonetheless. The first round of the Midwest League Playoffs will begin on Wednesday, September 8, and it is a best-of-three series, as is the second round. Kane County will have home field advantage for both series, if they should advance to the second round. The Championship round is a best-of-five series. Home field advantage for the Championship round goes back and forth between the Eastern and Western division, with 2004 being a year for the Eastern division champions to have home field.

The Cougars' first round opponent will be the Peoria Chiefs. They will begin the first round in Peoria on Wednesday, September 8 at 6:00 p.m. The Cougars will then return to Kane County to play Game 2 at Elfstrom Stadium on Thursday, September 9 and, if necessary, Game 3 on Friday, September 10 at 6:30 p.m. both evenings.

Vasili Spanos had a good week, as he hit .522 with three doubles, one triple, one homer, and eight RBI in seven games. He and teammate Brian Snyder are tied for the best batting average on the team (.311) going into the last day of the season. Trent Peterson finished off an impressive campaign, as he threw his first complete game shutout in a 6-0 win against South Bend last Monday. Peterson struck out six and walked one in the outing. He finished the regular season 8-5 with a 3.42 ERA.

VANCOUVER CANADIANS - Vancouver clinched their division title on the final game of the season, with a heart-stopping 6-4 victory over the Eugene Emeralds in 11 innings. The Canadians will now square off with the Boise Hawks in the Championship Series, which begins today at 6:05 p.m. in Boise. It is a best-of-five game series. The Canadians will be on the road for the first two games and will be home in Vancouver for the remaining games of the series.

The Canadians finished their final week at an even 4-4 record. Nicholas Blasi had a good week, hitting .321 with three doubles and three RBI in eight games. Landon Powell drove in five runs despite hitting under .200 for the week. Steven Sharpe, who is normally a starter, came on in relief for the Canadians in the extra-innings of that must-win 6-4 victory over Eugene. He got the victory after tossing a scoreless 10th inning. Richie Robnett doubled home the winning run in the top of the 11th, as he sent Javier Herrera in from first base. Herrera had started the inning with a walk. Robnett was then doubled home by Myron Leslie, plating the insurance run. Robnett also homered earlier in the game and drove in three in total. Scott Drucker pitched a scoreless 11th inning for his 6th save on the year.

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