Many fans credit manager Ryne Sandberg with getting the Lehigh Valley IronPigs to the finals of the Governor's Cup Playoffs. There is no denying that Sandberg instituted a completely different brand of baseball than Lehigh Valley had in the past. Aggressiveness and Fundamentals were the two things that Sandberg preached over and over again and the players listened.
Certainly, the Phillies deserve credit for bringing some talented players to the Lehigh Valley roster. Players like Erik Kratz and Brandon Moss became huge parts of the IronPigs offense. Much of the pitching staff were either holdovers or players who graduated from the lower levels of the Phillies system, but again, credit must be given for acquisitions like Dave Bush, who nicely filled out the starting rotation late in the season.
As for Sandberg, the holdover players will tell you that they enjoy playing in the new atmosphere. "It's different, I'll tell you that," said Rich Thompson earlier this season. "For me, it's great, because he [Sandberg] likes to run and make things happen and I like playing that type of game."
Thompson benefited greatly, leading the International League with 47 steals, many of which came at key points for Lehigh Valley. Needing wins late in the season, Thompson was a demon on the bases, stealing 22 straight without being caught. Sure, the other teams knew he was going, but he just wasn't stoppable. Leading off for Lehigh Valley, Thompson is a key part of what the IronPigs will need to win the IL Championship. He simply sets the stage for the bigger bats, who have taken advantage of having Thompson getting on and then getting himself over.
Brandon Moss figures to be Brandon Moss. Spending his first season in the Phillies organization, the left-handed power-hitter came up big with 23 home runs - a career-high - and 80 RBI on the season. If there is any downside to Moss, it's that his hitting drops dramatically on the road. At home this season, Moss hit .326 with 13 of his 23 home runs and 45 of his 80 RBI, but on the road, Moss' average dipped over 100-points. With the first two games of the series in Columbus, the IronPigs need Moss to find his stroke and chip in with some power.
Brown, of course, was the Phillies top prospect coming into the season. He battled through rehabbing a broken bone in his wrist early in the year and eventually seemed to have found his stroke. Much of the season though, Brown has struggled to find his stroke and at times down the stretch, he was outright horrid both offensively and defensively. Things got so bad that Brown was roundly booed at home, something that hasn't happened to him in his career. Sandberg has basically relegated Brown to being a DH and has even used him off the bench in a few games. Much as the Phillies needed a player like Hunter Pence - who they may not have needed, had Brown been playing at the level he was expected to - the 'Pigs need a player named Domonic Brown to step up in the series.
Cody Overbeck started the year at Double-A Reading and has found himself as his time in the International League started to add up. Since August 11, Overbeck is hitting .415, the second highest mark in the league since that time. One reason why Overbeck is so valuable is that with left-handed hitters Moss and Brown in the lineup, the 'Pigs are in need of someone who can hit lefties and he has done just that, hitting .379 in his last 29 at-bats against southpaws. Overbeck has to be looked at as a key to helping the IronPigs offense.
Defensively, the continued strong play of shortstop Freddy Galvis and Thompson in center should continue. They've added a speedy, veteran outfielder in Scott Podsednik, who can help to cover ground and other players like Overbeck, Moss and third baseman Kevin Frandsen are chipping in with big plays. Sandberg's emphasis on fundamentals includes a lot of defensive work and Lehigh Valley doesn't give up much in the way of extra outs.
The pitching has been a strong point all season. The bullpen led the International League in saves with 46 and posted a 2.82 ERA on the season. The rotation combined for a 3.03 ERA over the final 24 games, after posting a 4.47 ERA prior to that. The addition of Dave Bush to the rotation has helped, as has flip-flopping Scott Mathieson and Ryan Feierabend. Mathieson is now in the starting rotation and finding success there, while a relief corps job has helped Feierabend to turn things around, as well. Another key addition was Ryan Edell, who arrived from Reading in mid-June and has become a huge part of their rotation.
Edell, 28, finished the season with a 3.27 ERA at Lehigh Valley. Edell started his sting with the 'Pigs in the bullpen before moving to the rotation. Ironically, had Cleveland not released Edell in May of 2010, he could very well be pitching against Lehigh Valley in this series.
The bottom line is that the IronPigs need to stay aggressive. It's a formula that worked well for them all season long and they'll need to do just that in this series with Columbus. Offensively, they need Thompson to stay hot and fast, key hits at big times and a bomb here and there from one of the big boys. Defensively, they can't give the Clippers extra outs and may need a big play here and there to help their pitching staff along. And finally, the starters have to be able to get to the back end of the IronPigs bullpen, since that was the dominant part of the club all season long.