Sep 072011

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

Game One: Lehigh Valley v. Pawtucket, Wed. 9/7 7:05 PM (Bush/Fox)
Game Two: Lehigh Valley v. Pawtucket, Thurs. 9/8 7:05 PM (Edell/Pena)
Game Three: Lehigh Valley @ Pawtucket, Fri. 9/9 7:05 PM (Bass/Wilson)
Game Four (if necessary): Lehigh Valley @ Pawtucket, Sat. 9/10 6:05 PM (TBA)
Game Five (if necessary): Lehigh Valley @ Pawtucket, Sun. 9/11 1:05 PM (TBA)

For the first time in franchise history, Lehigh Valley is in the playoffs.  After not being over .500 for a single day in the team’s first three years, new manager Ryne Sandberg has guided a talented group of mostly ex-major leaguers to the best season in team history by far.  Although it’s a little disappointing that they led the division for most of the year and only ended up as the wild card, the IronPigs fans, some of the most dedicated in minor league baseball, are surely happy to see their team in the postseason.  They’ll be competing against the team that chased them down for the division, the Pawtucket Red Sox.

Pawtucket Scouting Report

Pawtucket is obviously a Red Sox affiliate, and they’re in the playoffs for the first time since 2008, looking for their first championship since 2003.  They boast one of the better offenses in the International League that’s third in runs and top five in most categories.  They’re a patient lineup that can hit home runs, kind of a watered down version of their parent club.  However, their lineup was significantly weakened when Boston called up power hitting catching prospect Ryan Lavarnway recently.  That’s somewhat mitigated by the promotion of third baseman Will Middlebrooks from AA, but he hasn’t adjusted to AAA pitching yet.  Daniel Nava, who Phillies fans might remember for hitting a grand slam against Joe Blanton on his first ML pitch last year, is a solid contributor.

Their pitching is even better even though they’ve had to go through a number of starters due to promotions and injuries.  Among those injuries is former Phillie Brandon Duckworth who has been a reliable minor league starter recently.  Former first rounder Matt Fox will be their game one starter, a minor league veteran with the stuff to succeed in AAA.  He’ll be followed by Tony Pena Jr., probably most well known for being an incredibly light hitting shortstop for the Royals. They have a pretty deep bullpen even though the team’s primary closer Michael Bowden is up in the majors.  Randy Williams and Scott Atchinson have had very good seasons, and Junichi Tazawa and Trever Miller could contribute as recent additions.

How will Lehigh Valley win?

Scoring runs early in games will help.  The Pawtucket staff is very good, but their strength is probably in the bullpen.  The starters are closer to league average, so that’s when the IronPigs‘ best opportunity to score runs will be.  With Pete Orr added to the major league roster, someone will need to step into the #2 hole behind Rich Thompson, and that might be Freddy Galvis.  He’s not hitting quite as well as he did at Reading, but his average is near .300, and he’s familiar with batting at the top of the lineup.  Domonic Brown returning from his illness and snapping out of his slump could be a big addition to the middle of the lineup looking for more power.

The bullpen will need to shorten the game.  Some of Lehigh Valley’s starters have been hot lately, particularly Ryan Edell, but the starting rotation is not the team’s strength.  The IronPigs bullpen is deep, so there’s no pressure on the starters to pitch more than five or six innings.  It seems that Justin De Fratus has taken over as the team’s closer with Michael Schwimer in the big leagues, and fellow prospect Phillippe Aumont has shown the ability to pitch two inning outings.  They’re joined by lefties with some brief ML experience in Ryan Feierabend and Juan Perez, and Joe Savery has apparently revived his career again this season.

Prediction: Lehigh Valley wins in five.  Pawtucket’s overall offensive stats this season are better, but a lot of their key hitters are now in the majors.  Neither team has a standout starter, and the bullpen is a strength for both.

Eastern League Semi-Finals, best of five

Game One: Reading @ New Hampshire, Wed. 9/7 7:05 PM (Cloyd/Jenkins)
Game Two: Reading @ New Hampshire, Thurs. 9/8 7:05 PM (Ramirez/Molina)
Game Three: Reading v. New Hampshire, Fri. 9/9 7:05 PM (Hyatt/Hutchinson)
Game Four (if necessary): Reading v. New Hampshire, Sat. 9/10 7:05 PM (TBA)
Game Five, (if necessary): Reading @ New Hampshire, Sun. 9/11 5:05 PM (TBA)

Reading clinched the postseason on the last day of the season with a win over Mets’ affiliate Binghamton. They beat out Twins’ affiliate New Britain by two games and finished only three behind division winner New Hampshire. The Phillies finished the season on a five game winning streak to earn the wild card, and that helped them survive a subpar August that featured a six game losing streak. This is their first time in the postseason since 2009 when they lost to Akron in the first round. 10 years ago, they were declared co-champions, and they’ll try to win their first true championship since 1995.

New Hampshire Scouting Report

The Fisher Cats are a Blue Jays affiliate managed by ex-Phillie Sal Fasano, and that means the Phillies will have to slow down Anthony Gose and Travis D’Arnaud.  New Hampshire has one of the better offenses in the league that’s among the league leaders in runs, home runs and steals, mainly thanks to Gose who nearly stole more bases than entire teams.  D’Arnaud was by far their best hitter and the league MVP with a team leading 21 home runs and .914 OPS.  Moises Sierra was second on the team with 18 home runs, and Gose and Mike McDade added 16 each.  One player the Phillies won’t have to see is the slick fielding shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria.  He can’t hit, but he might be the only shortstop in the minors better than Freddy Galvis.

New Hampshire also has one of the league’s better pitching staffs, but they’ve had a lot of roster turnover due to Toronto’s pitching struggles at the higher levels.  Only two pitchers threw over 100 innings for the Fisher Cats, and three members of their rotation to start the year find themselves in the majors now.  Their game one starter will be Chad Jenkins, and he might be Reading’s easiest foe in the first three games.  In games two and three, they’ll have to deal with two recent call-ups that have dominated in small sample sizes so far, Nestor Molina and Drew HutchinsonBobby Korecky, a 31 year old who was drafted by the Phillies and traded for Eric Milton, has done a good job closing games for them.

How will Reading win?

Game one is pivotal for Reading.  It obviously is in most series, but especially in a short series where the pitching matchups aren’t in their favor.  Reading has Tyler Cloyd pitching in game one, and it’s arguably the only game in the first four where they’ll have an advantage (my assumption is that 2010 first rounder Deck McGuire will start for New Hampshire in game four.)   A game one win would take homefield advantage away from the Fisher Cats, and that’s always important even if they were only .500 at home this year.  For whatever reason, Reading has had success at New Hampshire this year, so maybe they’ll welcome playing three games up there.

The good J.C. Ramirez needs to show up.  That hasn’t happened much since April, although his last two starts of the season weren’t headache-inducing.  He was expected to be a durable anchor of the rotation this year, and while he has taken the ball every time out this year, most of the season wasn’t very good.  Against New Hampshire this year, aside from a couple clunkers, Ramirez has been good.  In five starts, he allowed 11 earned runs in 30.2 IP on 21 hits, 10 walks with 14 strikeouts.  The Phillies probably expect good starts from Cloyd and Austin Hyatt in games one and three, and Ramirez giving them one in game two gives them a shot to win the series.

Prediction: Reading loses in four.  I think New Hampshire’s advantage in the rotation will prove to be too much, but it was a great job by Mark Parent to guide his second straight team into the postseason.

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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…