2017 American Association Playoffs: Gary Southshore RailCats vs. Wichita Wingnuts

The Gary Southshore RailCats open up the 2017 American Association playoffs against the Wichita Wingnuts starting Wednesday night. The RailCats enter the playoffs as the Wild Card winner, finishing with a 57-43 record, tied for the fourth best record in the league. The Wichita Wingnuts were 61-38, winners of the South Division and had the second best oveall record in the American Association.

By The Numbers….

Gary Southshore RailCats:
Record: 57-43
Team Batting Average: .261 (6)
Home Runs: 39 (11)
Runs Scored: 442 (9)
Stolen Bases: 124 (3)
Team ERA: 4.01 (5)
Saves: 30 (1)
Strikeouts: 671 (9)
Team Fielding Percentage: .979 (2)

Wichita Wingnuts:
Record: 61-38
Team Batting Average: .294 (2)
Home Runs: 76 (7)
Runs Scored: 617 (1)
Stolen Bases: 118 (4)
Team ERA: 3.65 (2)
Saves: 18 (10)
Strikeouts: 643 (10)
Team Fielding Percentage: .977 (5)

Position Evaluation: (Wichita Wingnuts Player(s) Listed First)

Catcher: Martin Medina vs. Wilfredo Gimenez

Medina has been exceptional behind the plate since his arrival in Wichita last season, handling the staff like a conductor controls a symphony, but this season he has stepped up his game at the plate, finishing the season hitting .314 with 6-homers and 51-RBI. Defensively he’s a cat behind the plate, and calls as good of a game as you can find in this league.

Gimenez does not have the offensive numbers that Medina does, but the team has a great deal of trust in the catcher when he’s behind the plate. He finished the season hitting .226 with 25 RBI in 60 games, but it is his defense that really makes him stand out.

Advantage: Wichita Wingnuts

First Base: Brent Clevlen vs. Alex Crosby

With Matt Chavez not fully healthy, the veteran Clevlen moves to first where he has looked quite comfortable over the last couple of weeks of the season. The veteran has been one of the best hitters in the American Association over the past four seasons, and enters the playoffs with a .302 average, 9-homers, and 78 RBI. He also set a club record with 34 doubles this season. Clevlen does not have the same speed of four years ago, but he is still one of the best hitters in the league.

Crosby has moved up in the order to become the leadoff batter for the RailCats and has done a fine job in that position. Hitting .291 in 70 games this season, he also stole six bases and drove in 24 runs. Crosby enters the playoffs on a six-game hitting streak.

Advantage: Wichita Wingnuts

Second Base: Christian Stringer vs. Cole Fabio

Stringer may very well move to the leadoff spot during the playoffs, and he is an incredible threat in that spot in the order. Entering the playoffs, the Wingnuts second baseman is hitting .307 with five homers and 44 RBI. Those are solid numbers, but it is his ability to get on base (55 walks) and take the extra-base (18 stolen bases) that really add to his game. Throw in the fact that he is an exceptional second baseman, and it is easy to see why he has become such a key member of this team.

With a name like Fabio, you got to think that he has some flair, and with 26-games under his belt the Gary Southshore second baseman has played quite well. He hit .260 with 7-RBI and walked 12 times giving him an on-base percentage of .356. He also played strong defensively, making just three errors.

Advantage: Wichita Wingnuts

Shortstop: Leo Vargas vs. Andy DeJesus

Vargas made a high number of errors season (20), but that is because he has a greater range than most shortstops within the league. The Wichita infielder is a sleek in the field as one can imagine, and hit .242 this season with 48 runs scored, 46 runs driven in, and 14 stolen bases.

DeJesus appeared in 73 games and hit .254. He is another outstanding defensive shortstop, who has great range and incredible hands.

Advantage: Even

Third Baseman: T.J. Mittelstaedt vs. Kris Goodman

Mittelstaedt is kind of the heart and soul of this Wichita Wingnuts team as he is a star at the plate and in the field. Mittelstaedt hit .303 with nine home runs, 83 runs scored, and 75 RBI. He also led the league in walks, stole 27 bases, and plays an exceptional third-base. He is arguably one of the best two or three players in the league.

Goodman hit .246 and 87 games with 36 runs scored and 33 RBI. He also has some speed, stealing 13 bases this season and is a solid infielder.

Advantage: Wichita Wingnuts

Outfield: Brennen Salgado, Jacob Morris, Richard Prigatano vs. Reggie Wilson, Colin Willis, Cameron Newell

If Chavez were in better health, it would likely be that Clevlen in left field, but that will not be the case, so Salgado mans left field. He hit .236 with 5-homers, and 28-RBI. Morris was a late addition and is playing the outfield for the first time in three seasons. He is still looking to get his swing back, hitting .250 in 10 games. Prigatano would be the MVP on most other teams, and he is a star, hitting .316 with 8 homers, 67-runs scored, 61 RBI, and he was second in the league with 34 stolen bases.

The RailCats have a very dynamic outfield, led by Willis who hit .319 with eight home runs and 49 RBI. He also stole 15 bases and scored 54 runs. Newell can play anywhere in the outfield and has great speed. On top of that, he made zero errors in 57 games, while hitting .264 with 35 runs scored in 19 RBI. Wilson hit .239 in 81 games, and added 14 stolen bases and 40 runs scored. He is also very quick and can cover a large amount of ground.

Advantage: Gary Southshore RailCats

Designated Hitter: Matt Chavez, Zac Fisher vs. Frank Martinez

A month ago, Chavez was the runaway MVP of the American Association, but an injury slowed down his game and limited his at-bats over the last few weeks of the season. He hit .330 with 17 home runs and 84 RBI in 84 games. If Chavez is unable to go, there is no real drop-off, as Fisher proved to be a star at the plate as well, hitting .330 would nine homers and 40 RBI and 51 games.

Martinez hit .275 for Gary this season in 88 games, with a team-leading 66 runs driven in. He hasn’t shown a lot of power, but is one of the most complete hitters in the lineup.

Advantage: Wichita Wingnuts

Starting Pitchers: Danny Gutierrez, Jordan Cooper, Alex Boshers, Eddie Medina vs. Alex Gunn, Jeff McKenzie, Daniel Minor

While a lot of the talk is around the great rotation in Winnipeg, the truth of the matter is that there are no better group of arms and no greater depth than what Wichita has to offer. The late addition of Gutierrez to the staff has only made this team better, as he has only given up three runs in 16 innings since joining the team. Boshers was his usual brilliant self, winning 11 games and leading the team in innings pitched (128.1). Cooper started out red-hot but hit a midseason funk. However, he regrouped to win eight games and post a solid 3.97 ERA. Medina spent a little time on the DL in August with an arm injury, but he’s having a career year, posting a 9-3 record with a 3.08 ERA.

The RailCats used to four-man rotation during the regular season, so it would be no surprise to see them turn to a three-man group in the playoffs. If that occurs, they have a pretty good group to send to the hill each night. Minor came from the Goldeyes in the Charle Rosario deal and he has been absolutely brilliant since moving to the starting rotation, posting a 3-1 record with a 1.47 ERA in six starts. McKenzie was 4-4 with a 3-72 ERA, and Gunn made 25 starts to lead the league, going 8-5 with a 3.47 ERA.

Advantage: Slight Edge Wichita Wingnuts

Bullpen: Tyler Kane, Ryan Kussmaul, Mike Devine, James Campbell, Tim Brown, Seth Harvey, Josh Goosen-Brown, Austin Boyle vs. Jorge De Leon, Drasen Johnson, Jake Mathys, Sam Myers, Darrell Thompson, Aryton Costa, Carlos Pinales

 

 

 

 

The Wingnuts bullpen has been a work in progress during the season, as Kussmaul has stepped into the closer’s role and Kane has become an integral part of the bullpen after winning 11 games in the starting rotation. It has really been the back end that has been an issue the season, because the guys working their way from the starter to the closer have been brilliant. Boyle, Devine, Goosen-Brown, and Campbell are about as good of a group of set up guys as a team could ask for.

 

 

 

 

 

The Gary Southshore bullpen has been one of the strengths of the team. De Leon, Myers, and Thompson all posted ERAs under two, and De Leon  won 9 games and saved 10 more. Johnson led the team in saves with 12 and posted a 2.25 ERA. This group makes it extremely difficult to battle back if you haven’t scored against the starter early.

Advantage: Slight Edge Gary Southshore RailCats

Managers: Pete Rose, Jr. vs. Greg Tagert

In his second season with Wichita, Rose, Jr. has 131 victories under his belt and his second trip to the playoffs. He’s a true players manager that is pushing the right buttons and helping his team toward the American Association championship series once again.

When the RailCats traded away Rosario most believed that Gary was hanging up the season. However, Tagert has done an absolutely amazing job with this team, and will likely be named as the Minor League Sports Report Manager of the Year. No offense to Rose whatsoever, but Tagert has proven this season to be the best manager in the league.

Advantage: Gary Southshore RailCats

Outlook

This is one of the more interesting series you were ever going to find in baseball, as you find two teams that are quite diametrically opposed to one another. The RailCats are a team that is focused on the fundamentals, is young, and does all the little things to keep them in games. The Wingnuts, on the other hand, are a veteran team that plays for the big inning and relies on an outstanding starting staff. Most people love the underdog in this kind of situation and there will be a lot of people out there who will point out that the last three American Association champions were the Wild Card entry, but that run is about to end this year. Wichita is simply too good and this is the part of the season they had waiting for since mid-July.

Take the Wingnuts in 4.

By Robert Pannier
Member of the IBWAA

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