2023 American Association West Division Finals Preview
American Association Daily provides insights, features, and recaps of the action from around the American Association of Professional Baseball League, as well as player and coaching profiles and transactions. In today’s edition, Rob Pannier looks at the West Division Finals, examining the strengths and weaknesses of both teams, plus provides a prediction on who will advance to the Miles Wolff Cup Finals.
Sioux City Explorers vs. Kansas City Monarchs
What has become arguably the greatest rivalry in the American Association is renewed when the Sioux City Explorers and the Kansas City Monarchs face off in the West Division Finals beginning on Monday. These teams will be meeting for the four time in the last five playoffs with Kansas City winning two of the previous three series.
The Monarchs finished with the top record in the American Association for the third straight season. Sioux City finished 7.5 games behind the Monarchs, finishing with the fourth best record in the league. Both teams have incredible pitching staffs, but Kansas City has the far superior offense.
The odds would seem to be stacked in favor of Kansas City, but the Explorers have not been intimated by their division rivals one bit. In fact, the Explorers were 9-3 against the Monarchs this season. There have been a lot of changes to the Kansas City lineup over the last month that have improved the team greatly, but the same can be said of the Explorers.
Tale of the Tape
(Ranking in American Association listed in parenthesis)
Sioux City Explorers
Overall Record: 52-48 (2nd in West, 4th overall)
Home Record: 30-19 (3)
Away Record: 22-29 (9)
Last 10: 5-5
Average: .256 (11)
Home runs: 83 (10)
Runs Scored: 493 (9)
Slugging %: .394 (9)
On-Base %: .351 (8)
Stolen Bases: 122 (7)
ERA: 4.47 (4)
Saves: 22 (7)
Walks: 388 (5)
Strikeouts: 829 (3)
Opponent Average: .239 (1)
WHIP: 1.36 (2)
Fielding %: .978 (8)
Errors: 75 (T-6)
Kansas City Monarchs
Overall Record: 59-40 (1st in West, 1st Overall)
Home Record: 31-18 (2)
Away Record: 28-22 (1)
Last 10: 6-4
Average: .286 (1)
Home runs: 140 (1)
Runs Scored: 603 (2)
Slugging %: .476 (1)
On-Base %: .368 (3)
Stolen Bases: 128 (6)
ERA: 4.33 (1)
Saves: 19 (9)
Walks: 400 (8)
Strikeouts: 855 (2)
Opponent Average: .248 (2)
WHIP: 1.42 (T-3)
Fielding %: .971 (12)
Errors: 103 (12)
Starting Pitching Analysis
Pitching is a strength for both clubs. The Monarchs finished with the second-best ERA in the league while the Explorers were fourth. The starting rotation for Kansas City was floundering for much of the season as it was Jalen Miller having a dominating season and the other starters were simply eating up innings. However, the addition of Zac Grotz and Ashton Goudeau has changed that. The two combined to allow just five earned runs in 25.0 innings after joining the team. Miller is out and Miller Hogan has been amazing in his spot, posting a 3.63 ERA in 18 starts during the regular season. He was dominant in the first round series against Sioux Falls, tossing six shutout innings while Goudeau tossed five scoreless frames.
Sioux City can bring the heat as well. Even with ace Solomon Bates listed as questionable, this team has an impressive set of starters. Austin Drury allowed the only earned run in the first run, giving up one in 5.0 innings. Mitchell Verburg tossed six shutout innings in the series clinching victory. John Sheaks did not get into the series, but was acquired from the Gary SouthShore RailCats to be guy who can win a Game 3 and he has the stuff, going 1-1 with a 3.85 ERA in an Explorers uniform.
The K.C. bullpen had been a question mark all season, as Manager Joe Calfapietra did not have a truly assigned roll for his hurlers, especially when it came to the seventh and eighth innings. Patrick Weigel was the primary closer, but he had his struggles. This looked like an area that could be exploited.
However, the group came alive in the opening round. Only Jordan Martinson allowed a run, giving up one in one inning. The rest of the group appeared in six games, throwing six innings of scoreless ball. In seven total innings, the Monarchs bullpen allowed four hits and a walk while striking out eight.
The bullpen is the strength of the Explorers team. They have arguably the best closer in Sean Rackoski, who was literally carrying this team the first month of the season. Carlos Diaz has completely turned around his career and Max Kuhns returned to give this team the best back end of the bullpen in the playoffs. That does not even include Parker Caracci, who gave up one run in 10.0 innings after joining Sioux City.
In the playoffs, this group dominated. They made seven appearances, giving up only two unearned runs. In seven innings, they yielded three hits and two walks, striking out 12.
Advantage: Sioux City Explorers
This is the area where Kansas City has the clear advantage. The Monarchs ranked first in average, slugging, and home runs, and were second in runs scored. They have Chris Herrmann, who was chosen by the league as the Batter of the Year, and the lineup is stacked overall.
Taylor Snyder was a late season addition and he has been crushing the ball, hitting. 300 with five homers in 19 regular season games, but he dominated the first round series, homering in each game while recording five hits in eight at-bats. Justin Wylie (.309, 17 HR, 73 R, 56 RBI, 16 SB) was a serious MVP candidate as well, and Micker Adolfo (.301, 14 HR, 60 RBI) had a phenomenal season. Seven players in this lineup hit at least 10 home runs and six regulars hit .300 or better.
Sioux City cannot get close to matching the Monarchs offensively. They ranked near the bottom in most offensive categories, scoring 110 fewer runs and hitting 57 fewer home runs. Chase Harris had a disappointing season and Vince Fernandez led the team in homers (16), but hit only .246. Only two players hit double-digits in home runs.
However, Matt Lloyd (.321, 14 HR, 61 RBI) was an MVP candidate and some late season additions have made this lineup a lot better. John Nogowski returned from Mexico and hit .317 overall and Scott Ota (.311, 29 R, 25 RBI, 38 games) has been a beast at the top of the order. Plus, the acquisition of Daniel Lingua makes this team a lot more dangerous as well.
Advantage: Kansas City Monarchs
Kansas City is an amazingly well-constructed team in every area except on defense. While there are some very good defensive players on this team, the Monarchs ranked dead last in fielding percentage (.971) and made the most number of errors (103). This is playoff time and, in a series where it may be difficult for both teams to score runs, one or two costly errors could cost a team the series. We see this in Game 5 of the championship series last season. This will be an area to keep an eye on.
The Explorers are not a whole lot better defensively (.978), but they are better. Plus, they made 20 fewer errors. Up the middle this team is sound and that gives Sioux City a decided advantage.
Advantage: Sioux City Explorers
Cleary Kansas City enters the series as the favorite and with good reason. They are the best team in the American Association and have earned the right to be called the favorite. However, consider that this team was the favorite last season and was upset by the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks. They are beatable and the Explorers have had the Monarchs number this season.
That may be true, but the one thing to consider is that the RedHawks were every bit as talented as Kansas City last season, both in pitching and hitting. They could produce seven or eight runs just as easily as the Monarchs could have done. That is not true of Sioux City who is going to need win two low scoring games if they are going to win. That is going to be hard to do against a Kansas City team that could average three homers per game in the post-season.
Prediction: Take Kansas City in Three
By Robert Pannier