American Association Championship Preview: Explorers vs. Saints
In American Association Daily, Robert Pannier previews the American Association Championship series between the Sioux City Explorers and the St. Paul Saints. These two teams begin their best of five series on Wednesday night at Mercy Field at Lewis & Clark in Sioux City. Games 1 and 2 will be in Sioux City before moving to St. Paul on Saturday.
Sioux City Explorers vs. St. Paul Saints Tale of the Tape
(League ranking is in parenthesis)
Sioux City Explorers:
Record: 57-43 (T-5)
Record – One-Run Games: 18-12
Record – Score First: 36-15
Record – Last 10: 6-4
Batting Average: .269 (8)
Homeruns: 71 (9)
Runs Scored: 498 (7)
Stolen Bases: 119 (1)
ERA: 4.09 (4)
Strikeouts: 854 (3)
Saves: 25 (T-5)
Opponent Batting Average: .247 (1)
Fielding Percentage: .981 (T-2)
Errors: 70 (4)
St. Paul Saints:
Record: 64-36 (1)
Record – One-Run Games: 24-15
Record – Score First: 43-14
Record – Last 10: 8-2
Batting Average: .272 (6)
Homeruns: 108 (2)
Runs Scored: 550 (4)
Stolen Bases: 72 (8)
ERA: 4.05 (3)
Strikeouts: 732 (6)
Saves: 31 (2)
Opponent Batting Average: .255 (4)
Fielding Percentage: .981 (T-2)
Errors: 71 (5)
A Run to the Championship
Sioux City Explorers
The Sioux City Explorers finished second in the South Division and made the playoffs on the final day of the season when they were able to defeat the Kansas City T-Bones. This was a team that rode impressive June (17-11) and July (18-9) performances to a 57-43 record.
The Explorers are a very streaky team in more ways that one. Offensively, this is a team that could be dormant for six innings, then score seven runs in the seventh and win 7-4. When they score, they do it quickly. They are able to methodically grind out victories, but when the offense gets rolling, they score six plus runs in a single frame.
The Explorers tied for the longest winning streak in the league this season at 10 (July 19-29), but many forget that this team put together winning streaks of five and six games as well. They enter this series on a three game winning steak and it would not be surprising to see them extend that to five before the series shifts to St. Paul.
The South Division Championship series was a great representation of how quickly the Explorers can turn things around. After struggling to shut down the Kansas City offense in Game 1, losing 12-8 at home, Sioux City blanked the T-Bones 11-0 in Game 2. They would allow just five runs over the final three games while scoring 32 runs in the four game set.
Jose Sermo, who had just one hit in the 2018 SDCS, was a monster this year, hitting .375 while driving in eight. He had three doubles and a triple and scored three runs, and his bat was instrumental in those two victories in Kansas City.
The pitching staff was also sensational. After giving up eight runs in the first contest, they would roll behind an impressive bullpen. Tyler Fallwell tossed seven scoreless innings, and closer Matt Pobereyko tossed five scoreless frames, including four in the deciding contest. Only two pitchers on this staff had ERAs over four in the division series.
St. Paul Saints
The Saints have been the cardiac kids all season long. This is a team that knows how to score late, and that was on full display during the North Division Championship series.
The Saints finished with the top record in the American Association going 64-36. St. Paul was consistently tough all season long, going at least four games over .500 in every month during the season with the exception of September, and they won both games played this month.
St. Paul led the league with a 43-14 record when they scored first, but were just 1-2 in the championship series when doing so. However, three times in the series against the RedHawks the Saints won game when they trailed heading into the sixth.
The bullpen was the story for the Saints during the regular season and in the playoffs. Three of their current starters actually began the season in the bullpen, and Chris Lee and Landon Beck will both likely start games in this series.
How the St. Paul Saints reached the championship series is a story that is going to be told for many years to come. This team lost the first two games in Fargo-Moorhead, scoring first in each of those contests, only to give up the leads.
The Saints looked all but dead when Tyler Pike was tossing a perfect game through six in Game 3, but St. Paul would rally to win that contest before earning a dramatic 1-0 walk-off victory in Game 4. That set up Game 5, where the Saints trailed 5-0 heading into the bottom of the sixth, but would rally to tie the score on homers by Brady Shoemaker and Chris Baker. Fargo-Moorhead would retake the lead in the top of the eighth, but the Saints would score four in the bottom of the inning to take the lead and advance.
Nothing tells the story of that series more than Chris Baker. Baker did not have a hit in his first 13 trips to the plate, but blasted a three run homer in the bottom of the sixth that tied the score at five. This team is clearly starting to look like a team of destiny.
St. Paul won the season series, 4-2
May 24 – Sioux City Explorers 1, St. Paul Saints 8
May 25 – Sioux City Explorers 0, St. Paul Saints 2
May 26 – Sioux City Explorers 1, St. Paul Saints 5
August 6 – St. Paul Saints 2, Sioux City Explorers 3
August 7 – St. Paul Saints 2, Sioux City Explorers 3
August 8 – St. Paul Saints 4, Sioux City Explorers 0
Explorers Leaders Against Saints:
Nate Samson: .292, Run
Drew Stankiewicz: .273, R, 2 RBI
Matt Pobereyko: 0.00, Save
Eric Karch: 2.84, 6.1 IP, 4 K
Taylor Jordan: 3.27, 11 IP, 9 K
Saints Leaders Against the Explorers:
Chesy Young: .391, 5 R, HR, 5 RBI
Jeremy Martinez: .333, 3 R, 3 RBI
Ryan Zimmerman: 0.00, 1-0, 6 IP, 4 K
Tanner Kiest: 0.00 1.2 IP, Save
Eddie Medina: 1.35, 1-0, 13.1 IP, 13 K
These two teams have met in playoffs once before. In 2015, the Explorers defeated St. Paul 3-1.
Keys to the Series
- Hold Leads – the Explorers have arguably the best bullpen in the American Association, and it is going to be put to the test. St. Paul is notorious for battling back late in games, so this bullpen is going to have to deliver its best performance of the season.
- Run Baby, Run – St. Paul is not very good at holding runners on. Sioux City is and excellent running team. They are going to have to produce runs with their speed and smart baserunning.
- Win at Home – for the Explorers, they simply have to win their two home games. They proved against Kansas City that they can split at home and then win two games on the road, but they should not count on that here. They got swept in St. Paul early in the season, so they should not expect to win two games there in the championship.
- Get Credible Starting Pitching – much like the series against the RedHawks, all the Saints need is to get credible enough starting pitching. If they can get four or five innings where the starter gives up three runs or less, then they are going to win the series.
- Get Some Production from the Bottom of the Order – the top six in the Saints order is as good as it gets, but they are going to need production out of the bottom third of their lineup. They got that against the RedHawks and that is why they were able to advance.
- Realize You Are a Team of Destiny – sometimes it pays to just embrace who you are. The St. Paul Saints three times looked like they were on the verge of elimination against the Fargo-Moorhead Redhawks, only to battle back to win each of those contests. It’s time to start believing that maybe you were destined to win.
So, Who Wins?
These are two fairly different teams in many ways. Both have outstanding bullpens, but the starting rotation is much better for Sioux City. The Explorers offense is built on speed, while the Saints enjoy the benefits of a power laden lineup. The differences should help to make this an exciting series.
If Game 5 of the North Division series would have been played on Monday, this would’ve been an entirely different championship series. A better rested St. Paul team could have taken advantage of their awesome bullpen, but they are forced to come back to start the championship series after an emotionally draining victory on Tuesday.
That will play a big role in this series. Look for Sioux City to win the first two games of this series at home and then win one of the next two games in St. Paul. It’s hard to vote against a team of destiny, but these Explorers proved that they can score runs against one of the best pitching staffs in the league (the Kansas City T-Bones), and they have as deep and potent of the bullpen as St. Paul does. Take the Explorers in four.
By Robert Pannier