2017 American Association Playoffs: Lincoln Saltdogs vs. Winnipeg Goldeyes

A year after winning the American Association title, the Winnipeg Goldeyes won the North Division and enter the postseason with the best record in the league. The Goldeyes are really in a prime position to make a run for their second straight title, as they have three of the top five hitters in the league, and may have the best overall starting pitching staff. Lincoln can also boast strong pitching, and has the best defense in the league to boot. They were the winners of the Central Division, and despite a late-season swollen, they have consistently been one of the best teams in the American Association this season.

By The Numbers….

Lincoln Saltdogs:
Record: 58-41
Team Batting Average: .279 (4)
Home Runs: 97 (5)
Runs Scored: 480 (6)
Stolen Bases: 69 (11)
Team ERA: 3.45 (1)
Saves: 27 (5)
Strikeouts: 720 (7)
Team Fielding Percentage: .982 (1)

Winnipeg Goldeyes:
Record: 62-38
Team Batting Average: .296 (1)
Home Runs: 100 (4)
Runs Scored: 607 (2)
Stolen Bases: 104 (6)
Team ERA: 4.18 (7)
Saves: 28 (3)
Strikeouts: 751 (5)
Team Fielding Percentage: .971 (11)

Position Evaluation: (Winnipeg Goldeyes Player(s) Listed First)

Catcher: Mason Katz vs. Daschenko Ricardo, Brent Dean

Katz will get the lion’s share of the catching duties during the playoffs. While he spent some time at second base as well, he’s done a fine job in handling the pitching staff, and also produced a .268 average with 19 home runs and 66 RBI. He’s got a huge bat, a fact that is sometimes lost in this very prolific batting order.

Ricardo and Dean are both given opportunities to handle the pitching staff, as both backstops for Lincoln appeared in over half of the team’s games. Ricardo hit .270 was six homers and 29 RBI, and Dean finished with a .225 average with five home runs and 19 RBI. Dean also stole 10 bases. The likely choice to appear in the playoffs will be the one that Saltdogs Manager Bobby Brown thinks has the hot hand.

Advantage: Winnipeg Goldeyes

First Base: Shawn Pleffner vs. Nathaniel Maggio

Pleffner won the batting title with a .340 average, adding 10 home runs and 76 RBI. He is a smooth in the field as he is at the plate, giving the Goldeyes a No. 5 hitter who has not only protected the hitters in front but has set the table for the bottom half of this batting order as well.

Maggio isn’t a name you hear a lot, but he had an outstanding season since arriving in Lincoln. In 49 games, the first baseman hit .288 with 7 homers and 35 RBI. He also played a solid first base, making just two errors.

Advantage: Winnipeg Goldeyes

Second Base: Jordan Ebert vs. Cesar Valera

Ebert played so well at second base that it allowed the Goldeyes to play Katz more behind the plate. In 48 games, the infielder hit .316 with 24 runs scored and 13 RBI. He’s solid second baseman who just adds another bat to make this lineup one where there are no holes.

There are a lot of people who are going to tell you that the Saltdogs don’t have a particularly potent lineup, but one player who has a lot to say about that is Valera. He hit .327 this season, with four homers and 52 RBI in 98 games. He can play all over the infield with great skill, and his bat is a solid one to say the least. Valera also scored 70 runs.

Advantage: Lincoln Saltdogs

Shortstop: Andrew Sohn vs. Christian Ibarra

While some may find this statement surprising, Sohn deserves serious consideration as the American Association MVP this season. Batting at the top of the Winnipeg order, Sohn hit .302 and stole 30 bases while scoring 88 runs. He is the guy that gets this offense going, and also blasted 11 homers with 45 RBI. He is a defensive liability, making 28 errors, but his bat makes him a legit top five player in the league.

Ibarra is not the offensive threat that Sohn is, but he is an outstanding shortstop, who made just eight errors in 84 games this season. The Lincoln infielder hit .243 with seven home runs and 37 RBI, with 47 walks and 46 runs scored.

Advantage: Even

Third Baseman: Wes Darvill vs. Ivan Marin, Juan Martinez

Darvill is another one of these Winnipeg players who deserves serious consideration for the MVP award. He finished the season hitting .309 with four home runs, 49 RBI, and 30 stolen bases. He is a solid third baseman who makes the bottom of this order as potent as virtually any top of the order in the league.

Tommy Mendonca is on the inactive list, which is a huge blow for Lincoln. This will mean that Marin and Martinez will fill in for him, but will likely cause a shift around in this entire infield. Neither has a particularly potent bat, but Marin has spent the longest time on the active roster with this team, hitting .218 in 78 games this season.

Advantage: Winnipeg Goldeyes

Outfield: Josh Romanski, Reggie Abercrombie, David Rohm vs. Joe Robbins, Randolph Oduber, Brandon Jacobs

Not to sound like a broken record, but Romanski is another player who can stake claim as the league’s best player. After an outstanding season where he hit .324 with 11 home runs and 81 RBI, the Winnipeg outfielder continues to be a dominant force in the American Association. Abercrombie is one of the leagues oldest players, but continues to be an absolute star, tying for the team lead in RBI with Romanski, while clubbing 16 homers and batting .272. Rohm can also play first, and hit .279 with 64 runs scored and 47 RBI.

There aren’t many teams in the league who can compete with the Winnipeg outfield, but Lincoln can stake a claim to their own group. Robbins had an outstanding campaign since arriving with the Saltdogs, hitting .302 with seven homers and 23 RBI in 49 games. He is also an outstanding defensive outfielder and can play the infield as well. Oduber hit 17 home runs and drove in 60, and is also an exceptional outfielder. Jacobs hit .249 with 12 homers, 30 extra-base hits, and 49 RBI. He doesn’t have the range of the other two outfielders, but honestly doesn’t need it.

Advantage: Slight Edge to Lincoln Saltdogs

Designated Hitter: David Bergin vs. Curt Smith

This isn’t just a comparison of two outstanding hitters, but of two of the best hitters in the American Association who have dominated this league for years. Bergin had a monster season, hitting .323 with 20 home runs, 77 RBI, and 74 runs scored. He is just an absolute beast at the plate, and has carried this team on his back at times during this season.

Every accolade you could give to Bergin can equally be said about Smith. The veteran hit .322 with 11 homers and 62 RBI, doing so in a lineup that doesn’t have six players that hit over .300. He is a professional in every way imaginable, and has really become the heart and soul of this team because of his smile and attitude about the game.

Advantage: Even

Starting Pitching: Kevin McGovern, Charle Rosario, Mikey O’Brien, Edwin Carl vs. Bennett Parry, Derek Gordon, Seth Webster

The Goldeyes have arguably the best starting rotation in the league, especially after adding Rosario from Gary. They literally have three aces, with McGovern establishing himself as maybe the top picture in the American Association. He tied for the league lead in wins with 13, and posted a minuscule 2.55 ERA. Rosario gave up just six runs in 40.1 innings pitched since being acquired from the RailCats, and Carl and O’Brien combined for 19 wins. This is a fantastic pitching staff.

It will be likely that the Saltdogs will go with a three-man rotation during the playoffs. Parry spent some time on the disabled list, but in his 13 starts he had a microscopic 1.92 ERA. Gordon not only has the numbers, but the pedigree to be a top flight starter, and he won 9 games and posted a solid 3.46 ERA. Webster has also looked quite good the season, posting a 3.56 ERA.

Advantage: Winnipeg Goldeyes

Bullpen: Victor Capellan, Ryan Chaffee, Zack Dodson, Mitchell Lambson, Kenny Mathews, Evan Rutckyj vs. J.R. Bunda, Casey Crosby, Parker Frazier, Dimitri Kourtis, Fabio Martinez, Shairon Martis, Cameron McVey, Brad Orosey, Michael Wagner

 

 

 

 

 

The Goldeyes don’t have a particularly deep bullpen, but both Capellan and Chaffee are outstanding relievers. Capellan has experience from last year’s title team, and Chaffee was one of the best closers in the league. Matthews has also pitched well as has Lambson.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The one area where the Lincoln Saltdogs have a huge advantage is in the bullpen. Wagner saved 21 games, and was one of six pictureson the staff who had ERAs under three. The most dominant on the staff is McVey, who posted a minuscule 1.62 ERA in 36 appearances, striking out 48 in 33.1 innings pitched.

 

Advantage: Lincoln Saltdogs

Managers: Rick Forney vs. Bobby Brown

Forney has two titles under his cap and has proven himself to be not only an outstanding manager, but also a person who can put together as good a club as any in the league. His players love playing for him and he has a ton of big game experience as a manager.

Brown earned the American Association Manager of the Year award as named by the league, and has done a fantastic job with Lincoln the season. He simply doesn’t have the experience of Forney, but has put together an absolutely fantastic team built on pitching and defense.

Advantage: Winnipeg Goldeyes

Outlook

It is easy to understand why these two teams are in the playoffs. They have been at or near the top of their division since the first game of the season, and have enjoyed a great deal of success because of the way that the teams have been built.

What you are going to see here is a classic battle of starting pitching and offense versus bullpen and defense. The Winnipeg Goldeyes are the superior team in many ways, but one huge area of concern is the fact that they lead the league in errors, while Lincoln committed the fewest. One mistake could be pivotal in this series, but the Goldeyes are simply too good to go against.

Take the Goldeyes in 5.

 

By Robert Pannier
Member of the IBWAA

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