In American Association Daily, it’s time from the American Association Championship series, and Robert Pannier analyzes the series between the St. Paul Saints (North Division Winner) and the Kansas City T-Bones (South Division Winner), breaking down the two teams, while providing who he believes will win the title.
St. Paul Saints
Kansas City T-Bones
American Association Championship Series
Tale of the Tape: (American Association Ranking in Parenthesis)
St. Paul Saints:
Last 10: 6-4
Batting Average: .289 (3)
Home Runs: 96 (2)
Runs Scored: 552 (3)
Stolen Bases: 65 (9)
ERA: 3.96 (5)
Saves: 29 (4)
Opp Average: .254 (3)
Strikeouts: 791 (3)
Fielding Percentage: .972 (8)
Kansas City T-Bones:
Last 10: 6-4
Batting Average: .296 (2)
Home Runs: 78 (7)
Runs Scored: 563 (2)
Stolen Bases: 121 (3)
ERA: 4.11 (6)
Saves: 32 (T-2)
Opponent Average: .256 (T-1)
Strikeouts: 805 (2)
Fielding Percentage: .977 (T-3)
Position Comparison (Kansas City T-Bones Player Listed First)
Catcher: Adrian Nieto vs. Justin O’Conner
Adrian Nieto is a former Major Leaguer who became the captain of this team behind the plate. Nieto hit .313 with 40 runs scored and 44 RBI in the regular season, plus he posted a .384 on-base percentage. In the first round, the catcher struggled through the first four games, but came up huge when it mattered most, going 2-4 with a homer and 2-runs scored in the deciding game. Overall, Nieto hit .278 with 2- runs and 3-RBI against the Sioux City Explorers.
Justin O’Conner is having an all-star caliber year and was named as the defensive player of the year in the American Association. He stops opposing run games, and had a solid season at the plate as well, hitting .250 with 17 homers and 41 RBI in 82 games. O’Conner did walk just 13 times and was only 1-13 against the RailCats.
First Base: Noah Perio, Jr. vs. Brady Shoemaker
Arguably, the best trade of the season happened between the Saints and the T-Bones when Noah Perio, Jr. was sent to the T-Bones for Zach Walters. Perio became an instant catalyst for Kansas City, hitting .301 with 31 runs scored and 57 RBI in 51 games. That included 40 runs driven in August alone. Perio only hit .167 in the first round, but no one should doubt that there will be a chip on his shoulder after being traded from the Saints. This could be a big series for the infielder.
With Burt Reynolds nursing a hamstring injury, Brady Shoemaker moves from the DH role to first base. Shoemaker was slow out of the gate, at least in the home run department, primarily because of injury. Shoemaker had an outstanding season though, hitting .309 with 58 runs, 14 homers, and 47 RBI in 92 games. He also posted a .406 on-base percentage. Shoemaker had a hot first round, hitting .3578 with a run and 3 RBI. He added 2 doubles and a homer.
Second Base: Alay Lago vs. Zach Walters
Alay Lago came to the team for the final 36 games of the season and helped to form one of the best double-play combinations in the American Association. Lago hit .284, scoring 17 runs and driving in 18 more and he is as slick of a fielder as one could ask for. He only hit .167 against the Explorers, but they need his solid defense more than anything else.
Zach Walters is another Tsamis mid-season addition. He hit .300 in 51 games with 33 runs scored, 9 homers, and 38 RBI. Walters added strong leadership to the clubhouse, and this team really took off after the acquisition. In the playoffs, he is hitting only .235 with 2 RBI, but the second baseman is a real professional and he should have a big impact on this series.
Advantage: St. Paul Saints
Third Base: Mason Davis vs. Dante Bichette, Jr.
Mason Davis appeared in 62 games for Kansas City and had a huge impact. He hit .324 with 46 runs scored, 9 homers, and 31 runs driven in. Davis led the team with 26 stolen bases and would have received some serious consideration as the league’s MVP had he played 25 more games in the American Association. He was another great example of how Joe Calfapietra lost players to affiliate clubs, yet still found top talent to replace them. Davis struggled in the first round, hitting only .143 and he made two of the teams three errors during the series, but he could catch fire at any moment, and can help the T-Bones in an abundance of ways.
Dante Bichette, Jr. took some time to find his place on the diamond, moving between catcher and third base, but Bichette really turned into a top third baseman and had an outstanding year at the plate. He appeared in in 99 games, hitting .310 with 56 runs and 52 RBI. The third baseman hit just .200 against Gary.
Advantage: Slight Edge Kansas City T-Bones
Shortstop: Anthony Phillips vs. Joey Wong
Anthony Phillips has teamed with Lago to make an incredible double-play combination, as both infielders are outstanding defenders. Phillips came to the Saints after being released by the Rockies, but an injury eventually led to his release. That turned out to be a big bonus for the T-Bones as Phillips not only played stellar defense, but chipped in a.261 average with 13 runs scored in 14 games. The shortstop had a tough series against the Explorers, posting just one hit in 15 at-bats (.067).
Joey Wong took over as the Saints shortstop when Phillips was released and he was an absolute wonder defensively for St. Paul. Wong was a vacuum at short, helping to steady Bichette defensively as well. He also put together a pretty good season offensively, hitting .272 in 26 games with 17 runs scored and 12 RBI. He posted a .385 on-base percentage, making him one of the better all-around shortstops in the league. Wong continued to hit in the first round of the playoffs, hitting .273 with a run and 2 RBI.
Advantage: St. Paul Saints
Left Field: Ryan Brett vs. Dan Motl
Ryan Brett came to the T-Bones for the final 26 games of the season. Brett moved to the top of the order and really came up big there, hitting .339 with 23 runs scored and 7 stolen bases. He is an exceptional fielder as well and had a great Division Championship series, hitting .368 with 2-runs and 3-RBI. His average led the team.
With Reynolds needing to DH, Dan Motl moves into the starting left field position. Motl has played well defensively, but his bat has been slow to come around. The outfielder hit .200 in nine games to close out the season, but he did walk six times giving him a .412 on-base percentage. In the playoffs, Motl is 2-12.
Advantage: Kansas City T-Bones
Center Field: Todd Cunningham vs. Kyle Barrett
Todd Cunningham was clearly the T-Bones MVP this season and was one of the top three or four players in the American Association. The former Major Leaguer hit .331 in 82 games, recording 34 extra base hits, 70 runs scored, and 17 stolen bases. It looked like Cunningham would win the batting title until a late season plunge allowed the Explorers Nate Samson to pass him. The outfielder struggled for much of the Divisions series, but had a 3-3 night in Game 5. That could be a bad sign for the Saints.
Kyle Barrett ended the season with a 26 game hitting streak, helping to raise his average to .338 in his 57 games with St. Paul. Barrett scored 44 runs and drove in 29 others, while adding a .399 OBP. He is also an exceptional fielder, who was smart on the base paths, leading the Saints in stolen bases with 17. Barrett continued to hit into the playoffs, leading the team with a .375 average against Gary. He scored four runs and drove in another. Barrett also stole three bases in the first round.
Right Field: Keith Curcio vs. Max Murphy
After falling in the first game at home, the T-Bones were looking for a catalyst to get them going in Game 2, and Keith Curcio delivered that, hitting a solo home run that helped to propel the team to victory. He finished the series hitting .267, but was walked five times as the Explorers really wanted nothing to do with him. During the season, Curcio hit .309 in 93 games, stealing 20 bases, with 34 extra base hits, including 11 homers. He scored and drove in 57 runs.
When Josh Allen signed with the New York Mets, Max Murphy stepped into leadoff role and he flat out produced. Murphy hit .319 this season was 70 runs scored and 68 RBI in 98 games. Those are extremely impressive numbers for a guy leading off games. Murphy led the team with 31 doubles and had 43 total extra-base hits. He set a Saints record this season with 136 hits. In the first four games of the playoffs, Murphy is hitting .250 with a run scored.
Designated Hitter: Danny Hayes vs. Burt Reynolds
Danny Hayes was a late addition to the T-Bones roster, appearing in only nine games for the team, hitting .188 with a homer and 2-RBI. He only hit .188 in the playoffs as well, but had some key hits, including the three run double in the deciding game that sent the T-Bones onto the championship series.
There will be many who will tell you that the St. Paul Saints season turned around when Burt Reynolds was signed after being released by the Sioux Falls Canaries. That’s not inaccurate at all. Reynolds hit .280 in a Saints uniform, hitting 15 home runs to give him 19 total for the season. Reynolds drove in 43 runs in 54 games while scoring 37 others, plus he stole 12 bases. When healthy, he joins Murphy and Barrett to form arguably the best outfield in the American Association. In the playoffs, Reynolds is hitting just .154, but he has scored three runs and driven in three others and his RBI single in Game 4 produced the only run of the game.
Advantage: St. Paul Saints
Bench: Tucker Pennell vs. Aaron Gretz, Trevor Sealey, Nathaniel Maggio
Colin Walsh leaving the team at the end of the season has put Kansas City with only one position player on the bench. Pennell had a solid season, hitting .273 in 52 games with 14 runs and 21 RBI. He would be the starting catcher on eight other teams in this league. Pennell did not have an at-bat in the first round.
The St. Paul Saints did not really use their bench much during the first round of the playoffs, but they have a good one. Aaron Gretz hit .350 in 20 games after coming to the Saints. Nathaniel Maggio is another in season acquisition, who hit .297 in 39 games with 23 runs scored and 21 RBI. Trevor Sealey was acquired at the same time as Motl, hitting .280 in seven games.
Advantage: St. Paul Saints
Starting Staff: Tommy Collier, Hunter Adkins, Barrett Astin, Jared Mortensen vs. Eddie Medina, Chris Nunn, Trevor Foss, Jake Matthys
Tommy Collier split his two starts in the first round and had an incredible season, posting a 12-3 record with a 3.11 ERA. He looked awesome for the last two months of the season, and was fantastic in the Game 5 outing, but he pitched on Sunday, meaning he will only have one opportunity to start in the championship series. That is a huge break for the Saints and will put a lot more pressure on the rest of the staff. No other starter had an ERA under four during the regular, and two have ones over five, but this group looked pretty good against the Explorers. Barrett Astin allowed one run in five innings and Hunter Adkins posted a 3.86 ERA in his lone start. Only Jared Mortensen had an ERA above four (5.40), but he hurt himself with walks. This group is a lot better than they are given credit for.
The St. Paul staff was very good during the regular season, but they stepped up their game against the RailCats. Eddie Medina started the season as the ace, going 9-5 with a 2.80 ERA, striking out 104 in 115.2 innings pitched. He allowed two runs in his seven innings of work in Game 2 of the Division series. Chris Nunn was signed about halfway through the season and give St. Paul an incredible 1-2 punch. Nunn started 11 games, posting a 7-3 record with a 3.05 ERA. He tossed a real gem in Game 1 against Gary, blanking the RailCats on three hits over eight innings pitched. Jake Matthys has been inconsistent for the Saints this season, but enters the championship series tied for the team lead in victories with nine. Trevor Foss would be a No. 2 on many staffs. He made 11 starts, posting a 3.04 ERA and a 4-2 record, and he tossed six shutout innings in the deciding game against Gary.
Advantage: St. Paul Saints
Bullpen: Joe Filomeno, Cody Winiarski, Jackson Lowery, Nick Lee, Kevin Hill, Adam Bleday, Pasquale Mazzoccoli vs. Zack Jones, Ken Frosch, Mike Devine, Beck Wheeler, Evan Mitchell, Matt Solter
The Kansas City T-Bones bullpen is arguably the best in the American Association. The group was dominating during the regular season and they upped their game during the Division series. Only two of the seven relievers were scored upon. One of those was Joe Filomeno, who allowed only one run in three appearances. Cody Winiarski saved all three games and Marcus Crescentini and Nick Lee each tossed two scoreless outings. They have a great blend of arms, including lefties and righties.
The same accolades that can be given to the Kansas City bullpen can be said of St. Paul. This is a very deep group, that starts with Mike Devine and Beck Wheeler, who were awesome in a variety of roles for this team. Wheeler finished 3-1 with a 2.21 ERA in 46 appearances while Devine was 5-4 with six saves and a 2.56 ERA. Wheeler even set an American Association record this season, striking out 94 solely in relief. Zack Jones was added by the team midway through the season and became the team’s closer, posting 10 saves and a 2.02 ERA, striking out 38 in 26.2 innings pitched. Ken Frosch went 36 appearances to start the season before finally giving up a run and finished with a 2.05 ERA in 52 outings. Add in Evan Mitchell and this is a group that simply looks unbeatable. The bullpen made eight appearances in the Gary series, going nine innings without allowing a run and only two hits.
Manager: Joe Calfapietra vs. George Tsamis
Joe Calfapietra was chosen by the Minor League Sports Report as the Manager of the Year and with good reason. The T-Bones Manager lost 11 players to affiliate ball or Mexico yet still led his team to 62 wins. It was arguably the best season any manager has ever had in this league. Like Manager George Tsamis, Calfapietra has not won a championship since 2004, and that will be one of the big story lines of the series.
George Tsamis won his 1000th game as a manager this season, and has long established himself as one of the most revered within the American Association. It has been a long time since he has won a championship with the team, but this season may have been his very best in terms of making moves on the fly. As difficult as Calfapietra has had it, it hasn’t been much easier for Tsamis, who has only two players on his roster from last season.
Regular Season Series:
July 12 – St. Paul 9, Kansas City 2
July 13 – St. Paul 4, Kansas City 1
July 14 – St. Paul 10, Kansas City 8
July 15 – St. Paul 2, Kansas City 5
August 3 – Kansas City 1, St. Paul 4
August 4 – Kansas City 2, St. Paul 10
August 5 – Kansas City 3, St. Paul 9
What You Should Know:
The Kansas City T-Bones set a franchise record this season with 62 victories…This is only the third time in franchise history that the T-Bones have reached the finals. In 2008, they defeated the Gary Southshore RailCats for their only title. In 2010, the team was swept by the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks in the championship series.
This is the 14th trip to the postseason for the Saints franchise. Eight times they have reached the finals, winning four championships, with the latest occurring in 2004 with George Tsamis as the team’s manager. They last reached in 2011, a five-game series loss to Grand Prairie and lost in the 2006 and 2007 finals to Fort Worth both times, both in five games.
Why the St. Paul Saints Will Win This Series:
- The St. Paul Saints have a much deeper starting staff. This series could very easily be 2-0 in favor of St. Paul heading back to Kansas City because of the starting rotation. Kansas City just can’t matchup against them.
- The Saints have already proven they can dominate Kansas City this season. They have a much more balanced lineup and, if Burt Reynolds is able to play left field, this team will only get better with Maggio at first.
- No disrespect to Kansas City’s bullpen, but the combination of Wheeler and Devine is just ridiculous. The two combined to make 95 appearances this season, tossing 127.2 innings, while allowing 100 hits and just 36 walks. They struck out a combined total of 162. Add Jones to the mix and these three truly make games a six inning affair.
Why the Kansas City T-Bones Will Win This Series:
- People have doubted Kansas City all season, and all the T-Bones have done is win. No one expected them to be able to hold that final playoff spot in the South. Everyone expected them to fold because of the numerous players signed by affiliate teams. No one expected them to beat the top team in the American Association. They just simply find a way to defeat the odds.
- Tsamis is a great manager, but Calfapietra has done a job this season that no one can match. He has seemingly made the right moves in every instance, both on and off the field. As a tactician, no one seems to be able to match him this year.
- This lineup can turn things around quickly. Against the top pitching staff in the league, the Explorers, Kansas City came from eight down to win a contest 14-13. They are never out of games, which puts a lot of pressure on opposing staffs to be perfect with every pitch.
Who Wins the American Association Championship?
Both of these teams have proven they deserve to be here. It’s a real shame that one is going to lose this series, but a championship series has to have a champion. It would be easy to look at the St. Paul Saints starting staff and give them an edge, but Astin and Adkins both pitched well in the division series, and it wouldn’t be wrong to say that Jared Mortensen is pitching better than Jake Matthys right now.
With all that said, the deciding factor in this series is going to be that Tommy Collier will only make one start. That he was needed in Game 5 to reach the championship series puts Kansas City in a tough position. Look for St. Paul to win the first two games at home, lose against Collier in Game 3 and then close it out in Game 4. Therefore, take the St. Paul Saints in four.
By Robert Pannier