Playoff Preview: SAL Championship Series

In the first round, Augusta swept a depleted Rome team that had lost many of the players that won it a first half championship. Now, the GreenJackets face the Lakewood Blueclaws, the best pitching team in the league. Can the GreenJackets find a way to win?

If pitching wins championships, the GreenJackets have their work cut out for them.  While the GreenJackets boasted the league’s third best ERA with a 3.26 ERA, Lakewood had a league best 3.10 ERA.  Lakewood led the league in complete games, shutouts, strikeouts and had the least home runs allowed.

The Blueclaws, affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies, are making their first playoff appearance in their 6 year history.  They are doing it on the backs of their rotation, frontlined by Carlos Carrasco, Matt Maloney and Josh Outman.  Maloney was the pitcher of the year in the SAL, with a 16-9 record and a 2.03 ERA, with 180 K’s against 73 walks in 168.2 IP.  Carrasco has a 2.26 ERA with a 12-6 record, and Outman had a 2.95 ERA with a 14-6 record.

That easily outmatches the GreenJackets rotation, which is formidable in its own way, but is also depleted by injuries.  Sergio Romo, one of the team’s top starters, is missing the playoffs.  The rotation is now fronted by Joe Martinez, who has been the steadiest starter in the rotation, taking his 15-5 record and 3.01 ERA with a team high 27 starts.  He hasn’t faced Lakewood this season, so he could bring a measure of surprise.  Behind him are two intriguing starters: Dave McKae had the lowest ERA of any starter, 1.80, after getting a late start on the season.  There’s also Ronnie Ray, who was the only other starter to spend nearly the entire season in the rotation, with a 3.53 ERA.

The one big difference between the pitching staffs is control.  Despite their dominance, Lakewood pitchers issued 490 walks, 213 by the Big 3 starters.  That’s a rate of 3.96 walks per 9 IP.  Meanwhile, Augusta’s staff allowed just 367 walks, by far the lowest amount in the league.  Their top three gave up just 90 walks, just 2.02 walks per 9 IP.

That opens up a door for the Augusta offense.  Augusta’s 244 stolen bases was second most in the league, and they have 4 legitimate stolen base threats in outfielders Antoan Richardson, Michael Mooney, Ben Copeland and shortstop Eugenio Velez.  Augusta batters also had a .338 OBP, good for fourth best in the league.

While Augusta’s offense was 6th best out of 16 teams in runs scored, it wasn’t because of power.  Their 2nd best average of .271 was offset by a .378 slugging percentage, 8th in the league.  They used speed and batting to score, and if the GreenJackets can exploit the Lakewood rotation’s penchant for walks by using speed after getting them, the GreenJackets have a chance.

Lakewood’s offense is less robust.  Their 637 runs scored was 8th best in the league, and while they had 131 stolen bases, it was only 7th best in the league.  All their other batting stats were consistently middle of the road, and always under Augusta’s rankings, except in home runs.  Augusta’s 60 home runs were a league worst, while Lakewood’s 66 were 14th in the league.

Lakewood’s offense is led by two outfielders, Mike Spidale and Jeremy Slayden.  Spidale, who only played 80 games in the season, batted .345/.418/.435 and led the team with 29 stolen bases.  Slayden, meanwhile, was one of the team’s sluggers, with a .310/.381/.510 line and 10 home runs in 107 games.  The other big bat was second baseman Clay Harris, who had a team leading 13 home runs despite a .255.

What this series will be is a matchup of two of the league’s pitching staffs, but the key matchup could be the GreenJackets runners against Lakewood catcher Lou Marson’s arm.  If the GreenJackets can turn the majority of walks and singles into extra bases, that may tip the scales.  Otherwise, Lakewood’s three aces might trump whatever cards Augusta might hold.

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