Oakland A's MLN: Playoff Preview

Three of the Oakland A's minor league affiliates are heading to the playoffs this week. We have a preview of the Midland Rockhounds, Stockton Ports and Kane County Cougars as they look to capture their respective league championships.

Midland Looks To Repeat

Late last week, the Midland Rockhounds clinched the second-half Southern Division title. The Rockhounds finished the second half of the season with a 42-27 record after dropping the season finale versus Frisco on Sunday.

The Rockhounds will be returning to the playoffs for the second consecutive season, a franchise first for Midland. The Rockhounds won both halves of the Southern Division title in 2005 and went on to win the league championship, their first since 1975.

Midland starts their playoff battle on Tuesday versus Corpus Christi in a best-of-five series. The Rockhounds will be lead by three post-season Texas League All-Stars, pitchers Brad Knox and Brad Ziegler and catcher Kurt Suzuki.

Knox recovered from a poor start to the season to post one of the best pitching performances in the Texas League in 2006. The big right-hander finished the season at 12-5 with a 3.67 ERA. He allowed only 10 homeruns in 161.2 innings and tossed one complete game. Knox was especially effective after the All-Star break, when he went 8-3 with a 2.11 ERA. His 12 wins tied several others for the most in the Texas League.

Ziegler was with Midland for all but one month of the season, when he was filling in for injured starters in Sacramento. The wiry right-hander went 9-6 with a 3.37 ERA in 22 starts and one relief appearance for Midland in 2006. He was with the Rockhounds at the end of last season, when he helped Midland win the title. Ziegler was also on the Southern League roster in the Texas League All-Star game in July and he finished the year second in the Texas League in ERA.

Suzuki will be returning to the Rockhounds at the conclusion of the 2006 COPABE Olympic Qualifying Tournament after helping Team USA qualify for the 2008 Olympics. Team USA will take on Cuba in the tournament finale on Tuesday in Havana. The Cal-State Fullerton alum has hit .471 with two homers and eight runs scored in six games for Team USA. He finished the 2006 regular season with a .285 batting average and an 807 OPS in 99 games for the Rockhounds. Suzuki, who was also a mid-season Texas League All-Star selection, walked 58 times against 50 strikeouts.

The Rockhounds will be relying on a number of other standout players in their push for the league crown, as well. On offense, the Rockhounds finished the season with three players with double-digits in homeruns. Brant Colamarino homered on Sunday to finish the season with 17 homers and a team-leading 91 RBIs. Matt Allegra crushed 15 homers and drove-in 62 runs in 96 games for the Rockhounds. Kevin Melillo had 12 homers for the Rockhounds, while driving in 73 runs. He was with Midland at the end of last season and played a big role during their playoff run in 2005.

Danny Putnam was also on the Rockhounds' playoff roster last season and he should play a big role for the Rockhounds again in 2006. The 2004 supplemental first round pick has been on-fire since returning from a knee injury in August that cost him more than two months of the season. He hit .321 with six homers and 17 RBI in 17 games after returning from the knee injury. Brian Stavisky (.316 in 85 AA games) and Vasili Spanos (.308 in 120 AA games) should also play a big role in the Rockhounds' playoff offense. Stavisky has won league championships in each of his last two professional seasons (2004 with Modesto and 2005 with Midland).

On the mound, Knox and Ziegler will be supported by starters Ray Aguilar (12 wins) and Kevin Olsen (6-1 with a 3.61 ERA in 13 starts) and relievers Connor Robertson (7-2 with a 2.80 ERA and six saves in 83.2 innings) and Marcus McBeth (25 saves and a 2.48 ERA for Midland and 30 saves with a 3.07 ERA in 59 games overall in 2006).

The Rockhounds are entering the playoffs on a hot streak. Midland finished the season with 19 wins in their last 23 games. Game one of their South Division Championship Series will be on Tuesday at Corpus Christi's Whataburger Field. The Rockhounds finished the 2006 season with a 10-18 record against Corpus Christi. Midland's first home playoff game will be on Thursday at Citibank Ballpark. Games four and five of the series will also be at Citibank Ballpark if they are necessary. The winner of the best-of-five series will take on the North Division Champion in the Texas League Championship Series.

Stockton Captures Second-Half Wild Card; To Play Best-Of-Three Set Starting Wednesday

The Stockton Ports had an up-and-down season, but they were able to put together enough hot streaks during the second half of the season to capture a Wild Card slot in the California League playoffs. The Ports are the third seed in the playoffs and will take on the Visalia Oaks on Wednesday at Banner Island Ballpark in the first game of the series.

Stockton went only 2-6 down the stretch, but they managed to secure their Wild Card bid when San Jose lost on Thursday night. The Ports finished the second half 34-36 and went 69-71 on the season.

The Ports will be leaning heavily on second-half heroes Luis Perez and Myron Leslie on offense during the playoffs. Perez came out of nowhere mid-season to capture regular playing time and the league batting title with a .334 average. Perez is riding a 22-game hitting streak, during which he has hit better than .500. The 23-year old outfielder had seven homers and 58 RBIs on the season.

Leslie reached the 100 RBI plateau on the season's final day, finishing second in the league in that category. He finished second to Tommy Everidge on the team in homeruns with 17. Everidge had 20 homeruns for the Ports and 83 RBIs, both career-highs for the 2004 draft pick.

Outfieler Nick Blasi (848 OPS in 59 games) and infielder Eddie Cornejo (931 OPS in 62 games) should also provide offensive firepower for Stockton. Both players were mid-season additions to a squad that struggled to score early in the season.

On the mound, the Ports have been led by Michael Rogers (11 wins, best on the team) for most of the season. He will be assisted by Ryan Webb (8 wins), Mike Madsen (6 wins) and swingman Scot Drucker (9 wins). The bullpen will be anchored by closer Steven Sharpe (2.00 ERA in 27 innings after a mid-season promotion from Kane County), long-man Trent Peterson (3.17 ERA in 88 innings) and converted starter Jason Ray (1.98 ERA as a reliever).

Kane County Returns To Playoffs On Wednesday

After narrowly missing out on the playoffs last season, Kane County will return to the post-season dance on Wednesday when they take on the Quad Cities Swing in the quarterfinals of the Midwest League playoffs. Kane County earned their playoff berth during the first half of the season with a wild card berth.

The Cougars will be lead by Midwest League MVP Jeff Baisley. Baisley finished the year with a .298 batting average, 22 homers and a league-leading 110 RBIs. He will be aided by second half star Chad Boyd, who hit .346 with 37 RBI in 64 games for the Cougars after joining the team from extending spring training in July.

Steve Kleen (.281 batting average in 126 games), Jose Pineda (15 homers and 21 stolen bases in 130 games) and Anthony Recker (.287 with 14 homers and 74 RBIs) should also play big roles on offense for the Cougars.

On the mound, the Cougars will be showcasing a much different starting rotation from the one they featured for most of the year. Kane County lost starters Craig Italiano (injury), Vince Mazzaro (organization season inning limit), Jared Lansford (promotion) and James Ray (promotion). Trey Shields and Kenny Durost should round-out the Cougars starting rotation in the playoffs.

2006 draft pick Ben Jukich (3-2 2.38 ERA in 13 games, including four starts, for Kane County) will start Game one for Kane County. Swingman Joe Piekarz (8-7 with a 3.29 ERA in 34 games, including 15 starts) and reliever John Herrera (3-1 with a 3.90 ERA in 38 relief appearances and one start) will also be in the starting rotation.

In the bullpen, the Cougars will lean on Brad Kilby, who has been lights-out for Kane County all season. The left-hander went 5-1 with nine saves and a 1.65 ERA in 60 innings. Vancouver relief standout Scott Moore was promoted to Kane County this weekend to bolster the Kane County bullpen for the playoffs.

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