Sep 132011

Phillies minor league team Lehigh Valley IronPigsInternational League Finals, best of five:

Game One: Lehigh Valley @ Columbus, Tues. 9/13 7:05 PM  (Mathieson/McAllister)

Game Two: Lehigh Valley @ Columbus, Wed. 9/14 7:05 PM  (Bump/Talbot)

Game Three: Lehigh Valley v. Columbus, Thurs. 9/15 7:05 PM  (Bush/Martinez)

Game Four (if necessary): Lehigh Valley v. Columbus, Fri. 9/16 7:05 PM  (Edell/Espino)

Game Five (if necessary): Lehigh Valley v. Columbus, Sat. 9/17 6:35 PM  (Bass/Kluber)

Pawtucket may have beaten out Lehigh Valley for the North Division Championship, but it’s the IronPigs that won the games that mattered most.

After last week’s storms delayed the start of their postseason, they used dominating pitching to sweep the PawSox and move within three games of winning their first International League Championship. The IronPigs only scored 10 runs during their series, but it was more than enough when they only allowed five. Combined, starters Dave Bush, Ryan Edell and Brian Bass allowed only two earned runs in 21.1 IP, and now they’ll have to shut down the Columbus Clippers, one of the best teams in Minor League Baseball this year.

Columbus Scouting Report

Columbus finished with an 88-56 record, by far the best in the International League. When the season started, Cleveland had a deep farm system. At this point, it’s getting close to barren after several graduations to the majors and the puzzling Ubaldo Jimenez trade. Despite the farm system losses, the Clippers were able to easily sweep the Durham Bulls, my pick to win the International League, in their semi-final. Columbus is going for their second straight championship after also winning the AAA National Championship last season too.

The Clippers were the International League’s best offense in 2011 with a patient, powerful attack that led the league in runs, home runs, walks and OPS. However, four of their key infielders, Jason Kipnis, Lonnie Chisenhall, Jason Donald and Cord Phelps, are in the majors with Cleveland. They still have seven players with an OPS above the league average, and it’s still a deep lineup that will present problems for the IronPigs’ pitching staff. Jerad Head led the team in home runs with 24, tied for third in the league. Two others had double digit home runs, including * Chad Huffman* who hit two in the opening series against Durham. Major League veteran Nick Johnson is trying to revive his career with Columbus but had a poor regular season.

Columbus also has a solid pitching staff better than league average in most statistics. They’re among the league leaders in strikeouts and fewest walks allowed, so the IronPigs will have their hands full.  Zach McAllister is the team’s ace and will start game one again.  He pitched six scoreless innings against Durham, and even though he’s not considered to be the prospect he once was in the Yankees’ system, he’s still a quality minor league arm.  Mitch Talbot and Joe Martinez each have ML experience, and fans may remember Martinez when he was hit in the head by a line drive while pitching for the Giants.  Zach Putnam has done a good job as the team’s closer.

How will Lehigh Valley win?

Do not issue free passes to Columbus batters.  They led the league in walks and on base percentage, so this is not going to be easy to do.  Fortunately, Lehigh Valley threw more strikes than just about any other International League team, so they should be able to manage.  The pitchers to watch are Scott Mathieson, Phillippe Aumont and Juan Perez. Mathieson’s control has always been suspect, but lately it’s been bad.  He has 18 walks in his last 19 innings.  Both Perez and Aumont have had problems walking batters, but they can’t afford to do that against Columbus.  They’re going to hit home runs, but as long as they’re solo home runs and not three run dingers, they can survive.

Take advantage of the team speed.  The IronPigs were near the top of the league in steals, and that could really aid them against Columbus.  The Clippers were below average in throwing out runners this year, especially starting catcher Luke Carlin.  The pitchers surely have something to do with it, and the majority of Columbus’ staff is right handed.  The opportunities will be there for steals as long as the guys are on base. Rich Thompson stole 48 bases while only getting caught four times, and Domonic Brownand Kevin Frandsen can provide speed as well if they’re reaching base.  On the other hand, Columbus largely plays station to station baseball and won’t be stealing.

Prediction – Lehigh Valley loses in four.  Columbus has such a deep lineup, and their pitching is solid.  There’s a reason they won nearly 90 games this year.

If they win…

Since 2006, the champions of the International League and Pacific Coast League have met in the AAA Championship.  It’s just a single game, and this year it’ll be held in Albuquerque after previously exclusively being hosted by Oklahoma City.  Omaha and Sacramento are meeting in the PCLChampionship.  Sacramento is an Oakland affiliate and can hit and pitch well, while Omaha is a Kansas City affiliate focused on pitching.  Omaha is probably the more prospect-laden team, but it was Sacramento that led the PCL with 88 wins.

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Scott Grauer writes for PSC and Bus Leagues Baseball – check him out!  Scott also regularly updates the PSC Minor League Thread with player stats, game results, and more…