Down on the Dodger Farm

Three Dodger minor league affiliates begin their pursuits of league championships as they open playoff action this week. Single-A Vero Beach (77-56), the Florida State League's East Division first-half champion, lost the first game of the a best-of-three first-round series to second-half champion Palm Beach. They host Game 2 tonight and Game 3, if necessary, on Thursday.

Double-A Jacksonville (79-61), the Southern League's South Division first-half winner, hosts the first two games of the best-of-five opening playoff series against second-half champion Birmingham on Thursday and Friday nights at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville. The Suns, piloted by John Shoemaker, then travel to Birmingham for Game 3 on Friday and Games 4 and 5, if necessary, on Sunday and Monday.

Rookie-level Ogden (39-34) wraps up its regular season on Thursday and then starts the Pioneer League playoffs with a road game on Friday night. Orem currently leads the South Division second-half standings by 2.0 games over Manager Juan Bustabad's Raptors, who captured the first-half crown. Ogden will host Game 2 on Saturday and Game 3 on Sunday, if necessary. The last Dodger farm club to win a league title was Great Falls, which won the Pioneer League crown in 2002.

SOUTHERN STARS-- Two players who contributed heavily to the success of Jacksonville were honored when the Southern League announced its season-end All-Star team, those being shortstop Joel Guzman and catcher Russell Martin. Also recognized was Suns center fielder Todd Donovan, who was named as the league's Best Hustler for the 2005 campaign. Guzman batted .287 in 122 games, collecting 16 home runs, two triples, 31 doubles and 75 RBI. Martin ranked second in the circuit with a .430 on-base percentage and fourth with a .311 batting average, as he compiled nine homers, a triple, 17 doubles, 61 RBI, 83 runs scored and 78 walks in 129 contests. Donovan played in 119 games for the Suns and batted .275, leading the league with 62 stolen bases, finishing third with 89 runs scored and placing second with 10 triples, which tied Jose Macias' single-season club mark set in 1998. In a 13-game stint in which he hit .378 for Las Vegas, Donovan swiped three bases to give him a total of 65 thefts (in 81 attempts) to lead all of professional baseball.

DENKER A SALLY STAR-- Single-A Columbus second baseman Travis Denker made his mark on the South Atlantic League before being elevated to Vero Beach on July 30 and he was rewarded by being named to the season-end SAL All-Star team. In 101 games for the Catfish, he hit .310 with 21 homers, 23 doubles, 68 RBI and 65 runs. Denker, a starter in the June 28 SAL All-Star Game, was the Dodgers' Minor League Player of the Month for July after batting .426 with nine homers and 24 RBI.

RAPTORS REGOGNIZED-- First baseman David Sutherland and third baseman Russell Mitchell of the playoff-bound Ogden Raptors have been selected to the Pioneer League All-Star team. Sutherland ranks fifth in the league with a .342 batting mark and third in on-base percentage at .428. In 65 games, he has produced four homers, two triples, 13 doubles, 47 RBI and 44 runs. Mitchell is the league leader with 53 RBI in 68 games, is tied for second in home runs (13) and ranks second in extra-base hits (33). He is batting .289, adding 19 doubles and 54 runs. Three Raptors, left-handed pitcher Brent Leach, right-hander Ramon Troncoso and shortstop Juan Rivera, received honorable mention accolades.

CLOSING WITH A CYCLE-- Triple-A Las Vegas right fielder Cody Ross ended his season in style yesterday by hitting for the cycle vs. Salt Lake at Cashman Field. In accomplishing the feat, he homered in the second inning, tripled in the third, singled in the fifth and doubled in the ninth, becoming the first Las Vegas player to hit for the cycle since Greg LaRocca on July 1, 1998 vs. Nashville and the sixth Las Vegas player ever to do so. In 115 games for the 51s this season, Ross batted .267 with 22 home runs, 21 doubles and 67 RBI. Seven of his homers came in the last 13 games. Ross, who also appeared in 14 games for the big league club during the 2005 campaign, was presented with the 51s' Mayor's Trophy, as voted on by the fans, prior to last Saturday night's game.

A BLISTERING FINISH-- Also closing out his season on a high note was Las Vegas second baseman Delwyn Young, who, prior to going hitless in yesterday's finale, had put together a 17-game hitting streak. During the stretch which started on Aug. 19, he hit .385 (30-for-78) with four homers, four doubles, seven RBI and 13 runs scored. In 36 games for the 51s since a July 30 promotion from Jacksonville, Young batted .325, compiling four home runs, 12 doubles and 14 RBI. With Jacksonville this season, the switch-hitting Young hit .295, collecting 16 homers, 25 doubles and 62 RBI in 95 games.

ABREU CAPTURES CROWN-- Leading the Florida State League with a .327 batting average in 96 games for Vero Beach at the time of his July 30 promotion to Jacksonville, second baseman Tony Abreu was still atop the heap at season's end, qualifying with enough plate appearances to claim the FSL batting title. For Vero Beach, he collected 129 hits in 394 official at-bats. Tying for second place in the league's batting race was Abreu's Dodger teammate, shortstop Chin-lung Hu, who hit .313. Outfielder Matt Kemp of Vero Beach was fourth at .306. Vero Beach led the FSL with a .285 team batting average.

KEMP NEW KING OF CLOUT-- With his 27 round-trippers this season, Vero Beach outfielder Matt Kemp set a new franchise single-season home run record, eclipsing the previous mark of 26, set by Adrian Beltre in 1997. Kemp, the Florida State League leader with a .569 slugging percentage this season, ranked second in the league in both home runs and RBI (90) and tied for fourth in extra-base hits (52). In addition, he tallied four triples, 21 doubles, 76 runs scored and 23 stolen bases.

A SOLID SENSE OF RELIEF-- With three wins and seven saves for a total of 27 points, Ogden right-hander Ramon Troncoso won the Pioneer League's Rolaids Relief Man competition for the month of August. In his 13 appearances during the month, the Dominican Republic native compiled a 2.16 ERA in 16.2 innings. Overall this season, he is 6-2 with 13 saves, which are tied for second in the league.

STELLAR DOWN THE STRETCH-- Columbus left-hander Scott Elbert finished the regular season in dominating fashion and was moved up to Vero Beach for the Florida State League playoffs. In his final start for the Catfish on Saturday night vs. Charleston-SC, he pitched 5.0 innings and yielded just one run, four hits and two walks while striking out 10 batters, receiving a no-decision. In his last five starts, he was 2-0 with a 0.78 ERA, allowing just two earned runs and 10 hits with 37 strikeouts in 23.0 innings. Elbert, the Dodgers' No. 1 draft pick in 2004, won his final four decisions and six of his last seven to finish with an 8-5 record and a 2.66 ERA in 25 games, including 24 starts. He struck out 128 batters in 115.0 innings. His 2.66 ERA ranked fifth in the South Atlantic League.

DeWITT A HIT IN BRIEF STINT-- After batting .283 with 11 homers, 31 doubles and 65 RBI in 120 games for Columbus, third baseman Blake DeWitt was promoted to Vero Beach for the final week-plus of the regular season and in a short time, he proved to be a productive force for the Dodgers. DeWitt, the Dodgers' second first-round draft choice in 2004, played in eight games for Vero Beach and hit .419 (13-for-31) with a home run, three doubles, seven RBI and four runs scored.