Although it took them until the final week of the season to clinch a spot in the playoffs, the Rockhounds were the best team from a win-loss perspective in the Texas League in 2009 with a 78-62 record. This team knows how to win. Many of the members of the Rockhounds' roster were a part of the team that won the California League championship in 2008 with Stockton.
The Rockhounds will win this series if...Midland's offense continues to swing the bats and the pitching staff can perform like it did late in the season. Midland's pitching staff ranked last in the league in ERA for the year, but the team posted a 3.73 ERA in August.
Offensively, the Rockhounds must make-up for the fact that they are playing without Carter or Cardenas, both of whom will be playing in the Pacific Coast League post-season. Midland still has enough offense to score a lot of runs without those two, but they will need good health from centerfielder Corey Brown, a 30-homer hitter in 2008 who missed more than 70 games this season with a myriad of injuries, and a resurgence from Spencer, who scuffled during the season's final week. The Rockhounds' pitching staff will need to continue to get good work from Graham Godfrey (the team's best starter with 11 wins and a 3.50 ERA), Travis Banwart (10 wins), Kyle Middleton (2.69 ERA in nine starts), Tyson Ross (three runs allowed over his final 23 innings) and Arnold Leon (six runs allowed in last seven starts).
The Rockhounds will lose this series if...the pitching can't hold up. Second-half additions Middleton, Ross and reliever Mickey Storey (no runs allowed in 7.2 innings pitched) have helped stabilize a pitching staff that also benefited from Arnold Leon's shift from the bullpen (4.74 ERA) to the starting rotation (1.76 ERA). However, the bullpen still has its vulnerabilities and the Rockhounds haven't pitched well against San Antonio this season (4.85 team ERA).
Jared Lansford will be key to this series. The late-inning reliever has struggled with his command all season, but he has posted a 1.63 ERA since the All-Star break with 12 saves. He can't afford to be wild late in games in the playoffs, however.
The one Midland offensive player who is the key to this series is...Jemile Weeks. Weeks, the A's top pick in 2008, struggled in 30 late-season games with Midland (.238 BA and a 645 OPS). However, he has the skills to be a dynamic table-setter, and the Rockhounds will need someone to get on-base regularly in front of the meat-of-the-order.
Weeks has demonstrated that he can lead an offense before. He hit .299 with an 853 OPS in 50 games for Stockton before being promoted to Midland. Weeks struggled with leg injuries early in the season, but he is healthy and running well again. If he can get on-base and be a distraction with the big boppers up, the Rockhounds' offense should hum.
The Rockhounds fared well against San Antonio this season, going 19-13. The offense led the way with a .293 team average and 23 homers in only 32 games. The pitching staff was mediocre against the Missions, posting a 4.85 ERA and allowing 17 long balls.
The Rockhounds' top-two offensive performers against the Missions this season (Carter and Tom Everidge) are both in Triple-A, but Matt Sulentic (830 OPS), Josh Horton (17 RBIs), Corey Wimberly (.319 BA) and Alexander Valdez (864 OPS) found success against San Antonio. Donaldson (702 OPS) and Spencer (662 OPS) will need to pick-up the pace from their regular season output versus San Antonio. Look for the Rockhounds to be active on the bases in this series. Midland swiped 37 bags and attempted 49 steals in only 32 games versus the Missions this year.
Despite some inconsistency from the pitching staff, Midland has been a good all-around team throughout the season. Texas League Manager of the Year Darren Bush has pushed the right buttons all season and the Rockhounds' roster is filled with players who have minor league post-season experience. Midland was in a tight pennant race until the season's final weekend, so the team should benefit from having to play in a playoff-like atmosphere over the past month.
Midland in four.
San Diego Padres
Mat Latos, Ernesto Frieri and Will Inman anchored the rotation early on while relievers Mike DeMark and Evan Scribner were automatic in shutting the door on the opposition. The club won six of Latos' nine starts, and he was a catalyst that is no longer present.
The Missions will win this series if...it gains consistency from its starting rotation. The starters have not been very consistent down the stretch and San Antonio finished the second half in last place in the Texas League's Southern Division.
Frieri must limit his walks and work deep into the game to kick the series off. Inman must be just as strong. The back half of the rotation has been riddled with question marks and will need to come up big when it counts. Nathan Culp could play a pivotal role in swinging the series in the Missions favor.
The Missions will lose this series if...the bullpen can't hold a slim lead. There will be times in this series that a tight game calls for the bullpen to put the clamp down. Scribner suffered four of his blown saves against Midland with an ERA nearly double his season mark. The team ended the season with a 19-24 in one-run games and that will have to change to give this squad a chance.
Brandon Gomes has been lights out in the second half and could play a pivotal role in this game as the man they call upon early in often. He posted a 0.78 ERA in the second half.
The one San Antonio offensive player who is the key to this series is...Lance Zawadzki. The shortstop is the type of player that can take over a series and put the team on his back to carry them to the next round. Three of his five homers in the Texas League came against Midland, as he hit .367 off them.
Zawadzki has had a fine season, flashing all five tools throughout the campaign. This is the time that a prospects standing can reach its zenith. If the number three hitter can come through in the clutch with consistency, he can drive the rest of the offense to follow suit.
San Antonio went 13-19 versus the Rockhounds this season, sporting a 5.28 ERA – more than a full run higher than their cumulative season ERA of 4.02.
The positive news is Chris Carter was promoted to Triple-A. Carter hit six homers off San Antonio pitching and contributed 22 RBI while posting a .440 on-base percentage in 28 games. Missing his bat will give the Missions a chance.
Still, a unit that has not received consistent production from its staff or lineup will have to improve in order to beat a team that ended the season 15 games over .500 while San Antonio ended the year with an even 70-70 record.
Midland in five.