San Diego Padres
The Missions made it into the Championship series because...of their pitching. Josh Geer, Cesar Ramos and Wade LeBlanc combined to allow four runs over their three-game sweep and the bullpen combined to throw eight shutout innings.
The pitching has been the strength of the team all year, leading the Texas League in ERA (3.81), fewest walks allowed (402) and fewest homers surrendered (104).
The Missions will win this series if...the hitting takes the next step. Springfield led the Texas League in hitting and the pitching will need some breathing room, regardless of the impressive run they are on.
While Chase Headley led the league with a .330 average, the Missions hit .256 as a team – the lowest mark in the circuit. They must continue to be patient, work the count, and execute with runners in scoring position.
The Missions will lose this series if...the defense falters and they can't keep the ball in the park. San Antonio tied for the league lead with a .981 fielding percentage and the pitching staff has a lot of pitch to contact hurlers that can't afford miscues in the field.
Colby Rasmus ran away with the home run title and Juan Richardson is not far behind. They say the difference is as little as six inches – one is a ground ball out and the other is in the bleachers beyond the outfield wall.
The one Missions offensive player who is the key to this series is...outfielder Chad Huffman. The organizational leader in RBIs (104) had just two RBIs over his final 11 games where he hit .200.
He went 2-for-9 in the opening round and has to regain the form that saw him crack 48 extra base hits over two levels and hit well over .300 with runners in scoring position. His presence in the middle of the lineup can turn any series around.
San Antonio and Springfield split the season series, 6-6.
The big three of Josh Geer, Wade LeBlanc and Cesar Ramos eliminated Frisco in three games with dominant performances, and Will Inman, perhaps the best pure pitching prospect, did not even pitch. A few days of rest will actually benefit Springfield more than San Antonio, as the Missions pounded out wins in nine of their last 10 games and are rolling.
The Missions have a full roster of potential major league, many from a Grady Fuson led draft. They want to make a statement. A Championship does that and nothing else is acceptable. Winning the Championship will put many of these same prospects on the Portland roster – where they can look to add another title with the same core group.
Pitching and defense wins Championships. Expect that trend to continue here.
Missions in four
St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals made it into the Championship series because... of a three-game sweep of the Tulsa Drillers in the Texas League North Division playoffs, after they had won both the First Half and Second Half North Division Pennants, becoming the first team to sweep the Division since 2005.
Playing their best baseball since the month of June when Springfield posted a record of 20-8, the Cardinals finished the regular season winning seven of their last ten games, including the last two games of the regular season before sweeping Tulsa in three straight in the North Division Playoffs.
The Cardinals must love home cooking; posting a second half record of 22-13 at Hammonds Field, while struggling on the road with a sub .500 record of 15-19. The potential of playing three of the five games at home for Springfield is a definite advantage during this upcoming series.
The Cardinals will win this series if... they can get on the scoreboard early and can come away with a split in San Antonio. The Cardinals were 56-16 this season when scoring first and if they can carry a lead into the 7th inning they are 60-3. The bullpen will be critical in this series, considering eight of the 12 games between these two teams were decided by two runs or less.
The Cardinals will have their hands full with the San Antonio starting rotation. The Missions are coming off a sweep of the Frisco Roughriders and will be sending their best pitcher to the mound in Game One Tuesday, Josh Geer, the Texas League Pitcher of the Year, followed by Cesar Ramos a post season All-Star and Wade LeBlanc in game three, who won his last five decisions, including six shutout innings in the series-clinching win over Frisco.
The Cardinals rotation hasn't been set as of Sunday, but whomever they send to the mound, they must take one of two in Texas for the Cardinals to have a chance to win their first league Championship in franchise history.
The Cardinals will lose this series if... they can't put runs on the board. This season when scoring four or less runs, the Cardinals record was 22-49, but when scoring more than four runs they improve dramatically to 51-14. If the Missions can keep the ball in the park and stay away from the big innings, Springfield could be in trouble.
The one Cardinals offensive player who is the key to this series is...Colby Rasmus. He led the Texas League with 29 home runs this season. The Topps Texas League Player of the Month for August, Rasmus led the league with a .365 average, 12 home runs, 30 runs scored and a total of 81 bases. His hot bat and home field advantage give the Cardinals the ever so slight edge over the Missions.
Prediction: Cardinals in five