American Association North Division Playoffs: St. Paul Saints vs. Gary Southshore RailCats

American Association North Division Playoffs: St. Paul Saints vs. Gary Southshore RailCats In American Association Daily, Robert Pannier of the Minor League Sports Report examines the first round matchup between the two playoff teams from the North Division, the St. Paul Saints and the Gary Southshore RailCats, breaking down what to expect in the series, providing a position-by-position analysis, as well as providing who he believes will win the series and advance to the American Association championship round. 

American Association North Division Playoffs: St. Paul Saints vs. Gary Southshore RailCatsSt. Paul Saints (59-41)

vs.

Gary Southshore RailCats (59-41)

First Round, American Association Playoffs – North Division

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)

Gary Southshore RailCats:
Last 10: 7-3
Batting Average: .268 (8)
Home Runs: 46 (11)
Runs Scored: 460 (8)
Stolen Bases: 74 (7)
ERA: 3.65 (2)
Saves: 25 (8)
Opp Average: .261 (5)
Strikeouts: 640 (T-11)
Fielding Percentage: .976 (T-4)

Position Comparison (St. Paul Saints Player Listed First)

  Catcher: Justin O’Conner vs. Wilfredo Gimenez, Andy Paz

Justin O’Conner was selected as the All-Star catcher by the American Association on Monday and he is well deserving. The Saints catcher hit .250 with 17 homers and 41-RBI, but where he excelled was behind the plate. O’Conner shutdown most opponents’ running game and was quite adept at picking off a runner that strayed a little too far from the bag. He handles the pitching staff well and is arguably the best the all-around catcher in the league.

It is likely that both Wilfredo Gimenez and Andy Paz will see time behind the plate this series. Gimenez is the veteran who hit .255 with 23 runs scored and 27 RBI in 62 games. Paz hit .283 in 66 games with 30 runs scored and 40 RBI. Gimenez is the better defensive catcher who is as much an extra coach on the field as he is a player. Paz is a guy that can help his team in a number of ways and is still solid behind the plate.

Advantage: St. Paul Saints

First Base: Nathaniel Maggio vs. Alex Crosby

Nathaniel Maggio arrived to St. Paul in a late July deal and he proved to be the shrewdest move Manager George Tsamis made. The rookie hit .297 in 39 games with 23 runs scored and 21 RBI. Plus, he played well at first.

Alex Crosby is the dean of the RailCats in his fourth year with the team. Crosby hit .249 in 90 games with 51 runs scored and 36 RBI. He also stole eight bases and is a quality first baseman.

Advantage: Gary Southshore RailCats

Second Base: Zach Walters vs. Cole Fabio

Zach Walters is another Tsamis mid-season addition. He hit .300 in 51 games with 33 runs scored, 9 homers, and 38 RBI. He also hit the Saints first grand slam in two years. The offensive numbers were solid, but it is his leadership that made the difference. The Saints seemed rudderless in some ways before the arrival of Walters, but the future Navy Seal added a strong voice to the locker room that has helped to solidify this team.

Cole Fabio appeared in 77 games, hitting .252 with 31 runs scored and 31 driven in. He is also a really good infielder.

Advantage: St. Paul Saints

Third Base: Dante Bichette, Jr. vs. Randy Santiesteban

Dante Bichette, Jr. has become one of the most important players to the St. Paul Saints. Early on he was trying to find his role – backup catcher or third baseman – but has settled in as the club’s everyday third baseman and has been solid defensively and a big asset at the plate. Bichette finished with a .310 average in 99 games, clubbing 9 homers and driving in 52 runs. The Saints third baseman posted the second longest hitting streak in the American Association this season (24). While hitting well, he is a bit slow of foot on the base paths.

Randy Santiesteban is a guy who can play many spots on the diamond, including behind home plate, but he will likely be the team’s starting third baseman in the series. The RailCat put together a fine campaign, hitting .255 in 74 games with 50 runs scored and 40 RBI.

Advantage: St. Paul Saints

Shortstop: Joey Wong vs. Andy DeJesus

Joey Wong came to the Saints with an impressive set of credentials in terms of his glove, and he totally lived up to that. Wong was an absolute vacuum, plus he has incredible range and has as good of a baseball IQ as you will find. Plus, Wong delivered at the plate as well, hitting .272 in 26 games with 17 runs scored and 12 RBI.

Andy DeJesus joined the team about two weeks into the season and was on fire early on, hitting well over .300 through June. He finished at .290 in 78 games with 32 runs scored and 39 RBI. He is not the defensive wizard that Wong is, but is a very good shortstop and he knows how to handle the bat.

Advantage: Even

Left Field: Burt Reynolds vs. Colin Willis

The theme of the Saints this season has been how much of a difference the in-season additions have made, and maybe no one solidifies that better than Burt Reynolds. Reynolds was struggling in Sioux Falls, but came to Saint Paul and found his stroke again. The left fielder hit .280 in 54 games with 15 homers and 43 RBI. He hit 19 homers overall.  He has a hamstring injury but is expected to play.

Colin Willis may be one of the most unsung players in the league, hitting .297 in 92 games with 50 runs scored, 50 RBI and 9 homers. He has speed and is an outstanding defender. Likely the MVP of the team and one of the toughest outs in the league.

Advantage: Even

Center Field: Kyle Barrett vs. KC Huth

Kyle Barrett was added to the team just before the midway point in the season, and what an addition the center fielder has been. Not only did he play exceptional defense, but Barrett finished the season on a 26-game hitting streak, longest in the American Association this season. He finished with a .338 average, scoring 44 runs in 57 games with 29 RBI and 17 stolen bases. Barrett finished with a .399 on-base percentage.

KC Huth hit .241 in his eight games with Gary Southshore, but he is not hear for his bat. Huth has a good of a range as anyone in the American Association and is a smart baserunner. He handles the bat well and is a pitcher’s best friend in how he plays center.

Advantage: St. Paul Saints

Right Field: Max Murphy vs. D.K. Carey

Max Murphy set the St. Paul Saints record for hits in a season, recording 136 in 98 games as part of a .319 average. The right fielder scored 70 runs and drove in 68 from the leadoff spot, stealing 10 bases.

D.K. Carey became a pleasant surprise for the RailCats, hitting .311 in 80 games with 38 runs and 38 RBI. He had 21 extra base hits and stole eight bases.

Advantage: St. Paul Saints

Designated Hitter: Brady Shoemaker vs. Tillman Pugh

Brady Shoemaker started out slow in terms of home runs, primarily because a nagging injury kept him from being able to drive the ball. However, the injury improved as the season went along, and the slugger finished with 14 homers, a team leading 69 RBI and a .309 average. His .892 OPS was second only to Reynolds (.921) among regulars.

Tillman Pugh will also see time in the outfield, but you can be sure that he will be in the lineup somewhere. Pugh returned to the place where he built a solid reputation, hitting .357 in 42 games with 27 runs and 24 RBI. He is an incredibly professional hitter who does all the little things well.

Advantage: Even

Bench: Aaron Gretz, Trevor Sealey, Dan Motl vs. Garrett Copeland, Will Savage, Jeffrey Sneed, Ronnie Mitchell

A 23-man roster leaves a limited bench, but the Saints have a good group. Aaron Gretz returned to the Saints after being released from the Canaries and was a huge re-sign, hitting .350 in 20 games with 2-homers and 12-RBI. Dan Motl and Trevor Sealey were acquired 1o days before the season ended and have been perfect additions. Motl is a slick outfielder who has combined to hit .257 in 66 games. Sealey has hit .280 in seven games for St. Paul, but has an overall average of .268 in 92 games with 24 extra base hits and 60 runs scored.

The Gary Southshore RailCats have a very deep bench and all of them will see action. The team’s manager, Greg Tagert, likes to keep everyone involved and so he has a team that has guys that can play several positions and contribute in many ways. Jeffrey Sneed appeared in five games, hitting .364. Will Savage will start in a few of these games as well after hitting .309 in 45 games. Garrett Copeland is a quality fielder with a limited bat (.193). Ronnie Mitchell hit .316 in 34 games.

Advantage: Gary Southshore RailCats

Starting Staff: Eddie Medina, Chris Nunn, Trevor Foss, Jake Matthys vs. Keaton Steele, Lars Liguori, Jeff McKenzie, Austin Wright

Eddie Medina had the best season of his professional career, posting a 9-5 record with 2.80 ERA in 19 starts. The righty led the team in innings pitched (115.2) and strikeouts (104). Jake Matthys moved from the bullpen to the starting staff and has shown his moments of brilliance, but also endured quite a rut about a month ago. He was solid down the stretch, finishing with a 9-8 record and a 4.10 ERA. Chris Nunn was another midseason addition and has solidified the No. 2 spot in the rotation. The lefty went 7-3 in 11 starts, posting a 3.05 ERA, striking out 49 in 59.0 innings pitched. Trevor Foss was acquired by Tsamis from the Frontier League and has stepped in as the club’s No. 3 starter. Foss was 4-2 in 10 starts with a 3.04 ERA.

It would be easy to say that this is an entirely different staff after Daniel Minor signed to play in Mexico, but they have continued to impress and have been a big part of why this team has the second best ERA in the league. Keaton Steele has stepped into the No. 1 spot, posting a 4-6 record and a 3.33 ERA. He will be followed by Lars Liguori, who was 4-7 with a 3.51 ERA. Jeff McKenzie was 6-9 with a 4.51 ERA and Austin Wright was 1-1 in four appearances with a 3.66 ERA. The statistics don’t look impressive, but this group has been pitching on three days rest since they joined the rotation so they are well equipped for playoff baseball.

Advantage: St. Paul Saints

Bullpen: Zack Jones, Ken Frosch, Mike Devine, Beck Wheeler, Evan Mitchell, Andrew Thome, Ryan Zimmerman vs. Myles Smith, Mario Samuel, Adam Quintana, Jorge DeLeon, Jack Fowler, Robbie Counsel

 

 

 

 

The St. Paul Saints would not be in the playoffs had it not been for the job this bullpen has done. This is probably the best group in the American Association, giving most opponents just six innings to try to win games before this bullpen shuts them down. Mike Devine and Beck Wheeler have established themselves as arguably the two best setup guys in the league, with Devine going 5-4 with 5 saves and a 2.56 ERA and Wheeler posted a 3-1 record with a 2.21 ERA. Ken Frosch went 33 outings before he was finally scored upon and finished with a 2.05 ERA and a 3-1 record in 52 appearances. Zack Jones was another midseason addition, recording 10 saves and a 2.02 ERA.

 

 

 

 

Adam Quintana has stepped into the closer’s role, recoding 12 saves in 31 appearances with a 2.01 ERA. Jorge DeLeon has closed games for Tagert, but this season returned as a setup guy where he was outstanding, going 2-1 with a 2.82 ERA in 10 appearances. Myles Smith had a 1.36 ERA and a 4-1 record in 32 appearances, and Mario Samuel was 2-0 in seven appearances with a 1.54 ERA. Like St. Paul, if the opposing teams don’t get to the starters, they will not find success with the bullpen.

Advantage: Even

Manager: George Tsamis vs. Greg Tagert

George Tsamis reached the 1000 win total as a manager this season, and has a championship to his credit with the Saints, but that was 14 years ago (2004). Tsamis has had teams that have been more talented (2015 for example), but this team has as good of a chance as any of winning it all. He has adapted as the season has gone along and made several acquisitions that have put him in the running as the top manager in the league.

Every accolade you can say about Tsamis, you can say about Greg Tagert. He won his 1000th game three seasons ago, and has turned his team into the club that no one wants to face. Most spend the season mocking the style of play of the RailCats, but they do it from beneath Tagert in the standings. He is a great manager and a great leader in general.

Advantage: Even

What You Need to Know:

These two teams had an interesting season against one another. The Saints went to Gary to start the year and won two out of three. A week later, the RailCats came to St. Paul where they took two out of three. The Saints then went to Indiana on July 20 where they were swept in a three game series, but then took three out of four from the RailCats in mid-August. Gary Southshore finished with a 7-6 record against St. Paul and that is why they were the North Division winners.

The RailCats had 11 homers through June, but have hit 35 since then. They are 18-13 since August 1. Gary Southshore was a perfect 42-0 when leading heading into the ninth.

The Saints were 48-1 when leading after eight this year. They also won four games this year when trailing heading into the ninth, the most ninth inning comeback wins by a team in the American Association.

Rain could very likely postpone Game 1 until Wednesday.

Who Wins

On paper, the St. Paul Saints look like the far superior team. Games are not played on paper however. The concern to have about the RailCats is that this is a team that looks very much like last year’s squad. A team that go hot down the stretch, entering the playoffs on fire, but were then swept by Wichita. They won’t get swept this year, but they will not advance either. Take the Saints to win in four.

By Robert Pannier

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