San Diego Padres
The TinCaps made it into the playoffs because...of its dominating performance in both halves. The team hit well, fielding well, and pitched superbly throughout the year, getting contributions from everyone. Even when four All-Stars were promoted, someone else stepped in and did an extraordinary job.
Anthony Bass and Nick Schmidt were terrific in the first half before moving up and when their spots were vacated, Erik Davis, Simon Castro, Michael Watt, and Stiven Osuna stepped in and performed admirably. Offensively, Sawyer Carroll, Matt Clark, and James Darnell provided the first half muscle. Now, the team is seeing more production out its small ball lineup from top to bottom.
The TinCaps will win this series if...the pitching staff continues its dominance. From the rotation to the bullpen, the pitching has been reliable and consistent. Starters Castro has been filthy of late and Chris Fetter – up from Eugene – has a 27-inning scoreless streak. Erik Davis has won each of his last five starts.
The bullpen has been just as devastating. Closer Brad Brach has a 0.88 ERA over his last 28 appearances and has blown just one save opportunity. Nick Schumacher has a 1.13 ERA for the season. Alexis Lara has allowed just two runs in his last 32.2 innings. Nick Greenwood, the Northwest League ERA champ, adds even more stability to the backend.
The TinCaps will lose this series if...the clutch hitting they have shown goes defunct. The TinCaps have shown a propensity for scoring runs and doing it in bunches. Once one player gets going, the rest of the team has piggybacked upon the momentum.
With Allan Dykstra heating up – hitting .305 over his last 31 games – the lineup has seen an even bigger boost. Dan Robertson is as clutch as they come and sets the table with Blake Tekotte and Drew Cumberland. Cole Figueroa has found himself in the Midwest League and Jaff Decker is an on-base machine that has had a MVP type season.
The one Fort Wayne offensive player who is the key to this series is...Blake Tekotte. The leadoff hitter has the ability to change a series with his combination of speed and power. If Tekotte can reach base consistently, the rest of the lineup has shown a penchant for following his example and stacking up runs on the opposition.
Tekotte has been streaky this season but appears to be on the upward trend again. When he is hitting well, the team generally wins. It is no coincidence that during his best hitting months of June and July the TinCaps posted a 41-13 record.
Fort Wayne went 16-4 versus South Bend during the regular season and posted a 2.63 ERA while hitting .304 as a team, outscoring its division rivals, 120-59. The Sliver Hawks come into this series not really believing it can beat the TinCaps after getting thrashed throughout the year.
With a combination of solid starting pitching that can give Fort Wayne six solid innings and an unmatched bullpen, this series should be a rout. The offense simply has to do its job with timely hitting for this to end quickly.
Fort Wayne in two
The Silver Hawks made it into the playoffs because...no one else wanted to be there. South Bend was 14 games under .500 in the first half, five under in the second half, and backed its way into the postseason after losing seven of its final 10 games. They lost an embarrassing 21 of 23 games during a feeble June stretch and 15 of their first 16 contests against Fort Wayne. There is nothing playoff-caliber about this team on paper.
The Silver Hawks will win this series if...the starting pitching can get the ball to the bullpen. The Hawks have three shutdown relievers in Justin Mace, Bryan Woodall, and Victor Capellan. Mace didn't allow a run in 19 of his final 20 appearances. Woodall enjoyed a stretch of 28 innings earlier this summer in which he did not allow an earned run. Capellan has a 1.01 ERA in 35.2 innings.
The challenge will be keeping the game close in the early innings. Ace Ryan Cook, a sinkerballer, won't be available until game three and allowed a dozen baserunners and seven runs in his final start of the season. Eric Smith and Keny Sosa have been solid in their brief time with South Bend, but are hardly an intimidating duo facing the best offense in the Midwest League. Conversely, the Hawks have scored the fewest runs in the league and cannot expect to win a slugfest if one of their starters struggles.
The Silver Hawks will lose this series if...the TinCaps take an early lead. In the most recent series between these two clubs, the team that led after two innings won all four games. Despite taking three out of four in that series, the Hawks lack confidence against the TinCaps and will be hard pressed to recover from a demoralizing early deficit.
That makes it all the more important for leadoff hitter A.J. Pollock to reach base and generate some early offense. The former Notre Dame star has thrived on his home turf this year, batting .285 in South Bend but just .254 on the road. You can bet that he will have friends and family make the short trip to Fort Wayne, so perhaps that can spark him to similar success there.
The one South Bend offensive player who is the key to this series is...Ryan Wheeler. Although he has only been with South Bend for eight games, the large first baseman was arguably the best hitter in the Northwest League this year and is easily the biggest threat in the Silver Hawks' lineup.
Wheeler finished second in the Northwest League in batting average (.363) and slugging (.538) while leading in on-base percentage (.461) and on-base-plus-slugging (.999). He has compiled similar rate stats in his short time with the Silver Hawks and should be able to handle the TinCaps' pitching if he does not press.
This is one of the biggest playoff mismatches you will ever see, and it would be an upset for South Bend to even take it to a game three. 2008 Manager of the Year Mark Haley has a way of getting mediocre teams to overachieve, however. If anyone can pull this big of a rabbit out of a baseball cap, it's him.
The series may be a lot closer than anticipated. Expect Haley to get a great effort from his players and perhaps even steal a game from the TinCaps, but ultimately fall short against a far more talented team.
Fort Wayne in three Talk about this story on our subscriber-only message boards
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