American Association South Division Playoffs: Kansas City T-Bones vs. Sioux City Explorers

In American Association Daily, Robert Pannier of the Minor League Sports Report examines the first round matchup between the two playoff teams from the South Division, the Sioux City Explorers and the Kansas City T-Bones, 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. 

In American Association Daily, Robert Pannier examines the first round matchup between the two playoff teams from the South Division, the Sioux City Explorers and the Kansas City T-Bones, 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. Kansas City T-Bones (62-37)


Sioux City Explorers (71-29)

First Round Playoffs – South Division

Tale of the Tape:

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)

Sioux City Explorers:
Last 10: 5-5
Batting Average: .305 (1)
Home Runs: 63 (10)
Runs Scored: 629 (1)
Stolen Bases: 136 (2)
ERA: 3.41 (1)
Saves: 32 (T-2)
Opp. Average: .256 (T-1)
Strikeouts: 873 (1)

Position Comparison (Kansas City T-Bones Player Listed First)

Catcher: Adrian Nieto vs. Dylan Kelly

Adrian Nieto is a former Major Leaguer and he was a true master in how he handled this pitching staff. There was quite a bit of flux as Manager Joe Calfapietra was looking for the right group of hurlers for the starting staff, and Nieto did a great job of getting the most out of this gr0up. He also had an all-star like season, hitting .313 with 40 runs scored and 44 RBI, plus he posted a .384 on-base percentage.

Dylan Kelly could very well be an all-star himself after hitting .293 with 60 runs and 55 RBI in 94 games. It is hard to keep his bat out of the lineup, so even on days when he gets a rest from behind the plate he will DH. Kelly handles this staff masterfully, and has the total respect of the group as well as his manager.

Advantage: Slight Edge Kansas City T-Bones

First Base: Noah Perio, Jr. vs. Dean Green

It took a few weeks for Noah Perio, Jr. to find his stroke after arriving in Kansas City, but he has proven to be one of the top two or three acquisitions that Calfapietra made. Perio hit .301 in a T-Bones uniform. In 51 games he scored 31 runs but drove in 57, including 40 in August. This team is going to need to outscore opponents to win and, with a guy like Perio, they have the talent to do so.

Dean Green was inexplicably let go in the Can-Am league, despite posting a .355 average and hitting 13 homers in 55 games for New Jersey. Manager Steve Montgomery was more than happy to sign the first baseman, and he has added a lot of pop to an already potent lineup, hitting .306 in 19 games with 15 runs scored and 17 RBI. When he gets a hold of one, it takes a while to land.

Advantage: Even

Second Base: Alay Lago vs. Jay Baum

Alay Lago joined with 36 games left in the season and was not only an outstanding second baseman, but he hit well as well. Lago finished with a .284 average with 17 runs scored and 18 RBI and made only two errors. He helps to form a solid double-play combination.

Jay Baum may be the acquisition of the year in the American Association as he has done it all for this team. Baum finished the season hitting .285 in 100 games with 72 runs scored, 77 runs driven in, and 39 extra base hits. He is a slick fielding second baseman who has some speed as well (9 stolen bases).

Advantage: Sioux City Explorers

Third Base: Mason Davis vs. Jose Sermo

Mason Davis came after Calfapietra found himself needing to replace what seemed like player after player who were either signed by affiliate clubs or had their contract purchased by a Mexican League team. He wound up sticking, appearing in 62 games and hitting .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.

Jose Sermo may just be the league MVP this season. He started out the season in a slump in Winnipeg, was released, and then became the best player in the league after signing in Sioux City. Sermo became the first player in American Association history to hit 20 homers (22) and steal 2o bases (24) in the same season. Plus, he hit .316 in 87 games for Sioux City and scored 75 runs.  Add in 22 doubles and 5-triples and it is easy to see how he had an MVP caliber year.

Advantage: Sioux City Explorers

Shortstop: Anthony Phillips vs. Nate Samson

Anthony Phillips is the other half of this dynamic double-play duo, coming to Kansas City after an injury led to his release in St. Paul. What a great situation that turned out to be for the T-Bones, as Phillips hit .261 with 13 runs scored in 14 games. The shortstop is a spectacular fielder and has added some clutch hits since joining the team.

If Sermo is not the league MVP, Nate Samson is. Samson had another monster year, hitting .340 with 79 runs scored, 73 runs driven in, and 8 stolen bases. He is one of the best two or three all-around players in the league and is a great leader as well. There are truly not enough accolades for the shortstop.

Advantage: Sioux City Explorers

Left Field: Ryan Brett vs. Blake Schmit

Ryan Brett was added for the final 26 games of the year, and what a great addition he has been. Brett hit .339 with 23 runs scored and stole 7 bases. He is a slick fielder as well.

Blake Schmit came to the Explorers in a late season trade, appearing in 33 games. This is an example of the rich getting richer, as Schmit hit .370 in an Explorers uniform with 27 runs scored and 17 RBI. Left field is not his natural position, but he has played solid defense.

Advantage: Even

Center Field: Todd Cunningham vs. Luis Durango

Todd Cunningham will receive a lot of consideration for MVP and with good reason. The former Big Leaguer hit .331 in 82 games, recording 34 extra base hits, 70 runs scored, and 17 stolen bases. He was on pace to win the batting title, but a bit of a late season slump cost him the title, however, he should have a huge impact on this series.

Like Cunningham, Luis Durango is a former Big Leaguer, and he is a real force at the top of this order. Durango finished with a .303 average, playing in all 100 games. He stole 24 bases, one of the four players on this team to have at least 22 steals, and posted a .383 on-base percentage. He is an outstanding fielder as well.

Advantage: Even

Right Field: Keith Curcio vs. Michael Lang

Keith Curcio hit .309 in 93 games this season, and may have been the team’s best all-around player. Curcio stole 20 bases, recorded 34 extra base hits, including 11 homers, and scored and drove in 57 runs. He is an excellent outfielder with speed, range, and a plus-arm.

Because of the season that Samson and Sermo are having, Michael Lang has been lost in the shuffle. Lang had a monster year, hitting .304 with 82 runs scored and 45 RBI. He set the franchise record for career hits this season and is an outstanding outfielder as well. His versatility at the plate is one of the things that makes him so dangerous, as he can bunt for a base hit or club a three-run homer.

Advantage: Even

Designated Hitter: Danny Hayes vs. Daniel Jackson

Danny Hayes appeared in only nine games for the team, hitting .188 with a homer and 2-RBI.

Daniel Jackson is the backup catcher, but he would be starting on virtually any other team. Jackson hit .261 with 45 runs and 48 RBI in 89 games. He doesn’t have a lot of power, hitting only three homers, but Jackson is the perfect fit for this team and handles the backup catching duties well.

Advantage: Sioux City Explorers

Bench: Tucker Pennell vs. Dexture McCall

This is not going to be a battle of deep benches that is for sure, as each team only has one position player to speak of with Colin Walsh going on the DL just before the playoffs. Tucker Pennell is the backup catcher and may find himself in the DH spot if Hayes does not catch fire. Pennell hit .273 in 52 games with 14 runs scored and 21 RBI and would be the starting catcher on eight other clubs in the is league. He is a leader and handles the staff well.

Dexture McCall will be the only player on the bench, and he will see some time in the DH role as well. McCall hit .283 with 50 runs and 55 RBI in 97 games and can play a variety of positions around the diamond as well.

Advantage: Even

Starting Staff: Tommy Collier, Hunter Adkins, Barrett Astin, Jared Mortensen vs. Luis Mateo, Jason Garcia, Justin Vernia, James Dykstra

This will be the story of the playoff series. Tommy Collier is likely the top pitcher in the American Association this season, posting a 12-3 record with a 3.11 ERA. He looked awesome for the last two months of the season, being named by the American Association as the Pitcher of the Month in both July and August but, after Collier, the staff has underperformed. No other starter has an ERA under four, and two have ones over five. This group is going to need to step up or what should be a dream series will turn into a nightmare for the T-Bones.

Even with the loss of Taylor Jordan, this is a deep starting staff that can toss seven shutout innings on any given night. Justin Vernia leads the staff, going 12-2 with a 3.32 ERA in 20 starts. He will likely face Collier in Game 1 and Game 5, if needed, and these contests should be must see battles. Newcomer Jason Garcia was 3-0 in his three starts, posting a 1.57 ERA. James Dykstra was the opening game starter and had a solid 9-4 record with a 3.49 ERA. Luis Mateo was an 11-game winner and will likely be the Game 4 starter.

Advantage: Sioux City Explorers

Bullpen: Joe Filomeno, Cody Winiarski, Jackson Lowery, Nick Lee, Kevin Hill, Adam Bleday, Pasquale Mazzoccoli vs. Patrick Schuster, Ryan Flores, Eric Karch, Dominic Topoozian, Ryan Horstman, Ian McKinney, Parker Markel, Keith Picht






The Kansas City T-Bones bullpen is arguably the best in the American Association. It starts with three guys (Joe Filomeno, Marcus Crescentini, and Cody Winiarski) who all have ERAs under two. Winiarski missed the first half of the season with an injury, but has returned with a vengeance, reclaiming the closer’s role with a 1.69 ERA and 12 saves. He struck out 43 in 32-innings. Jackson Lowery (3.11), Nick Lee (3.26), Kevin Hill (4.50), Adam Bleday (4.50), and Pasquale Mazzoccoli (4.53) all have great stuff. If the starters don’t perform, this group should see a lot of action, and they look up to the task.





The Explorers bullpen can also lay claim to the top staff in the American Association as well. Patrick Schuster was brilliant from the left-side, posting a 4-1 record and a 1.64 ERA in 33 innings. Eric Karch took over the closer’s role and saved 21 games with a 2.27 ERA. Ryan Flores may be the most underrated reliever in the league, making 46 appearances and posting an 8-2 record and a 2.63 ERA. Dominic Topoozian also had an ERA under three (2.94) and Ryan Horstman (3.06) and Ian McKinney (3.19) were just over that number. In fact, only one pitcher in the team’s group of relievers had an ERA above four (Parker Markel – 4.14).

Advantage: Even

Manager: Joe Calfapietra vs. Steve Montgomery

Sometime next season, Joe Calfapietra will become the seventh manager in independent baseball history to reach 1000 wins. He is likely the Manager of the Year in the American Association as he has not only done a great job with this team, but has had to replace 11 players this season who had their contracts purchased. To have that much talent leave and yet still win 62 games is miraculous to say the least.

There is no doubt that Calfapietra has earned the accolades, but it will mean that the job that Steve Montgomery has done will be overlooked in some ways. Montgomery built this team to win early on and they have been a machine, rolling to 71 wins, the fourth highest total in league history, and have been masterfully handled all season by the Explorers skipper. No one said a manager could win a championship in Sioux City. He is about to prove them wrong.

Advantage: Even

What You Need to Know:

The Sioux City Explorers won the season series between these two teams, 8-7. That included a split of the two four-game series these teams played early on. The Explorers took three out of four in an early August four-game set, while the T-Bones won two out of three at home a week before the season ended.

Michael Lang became the all-time hit leader for the Explorers this season. He now has 570 in a Sioux City uniform.

The T-Bones had 11 players who had their contracts purchased this season. Eight were by Major League affiliates and three in Mexico. That is the most in any single season by any single team in league history…The T-Bones set a franchise record for wins in a single season this year with 62.

Who Wins

Not to sound overdramatic, but this series has the potential to be one of the best the American Association has ever seen. These two teams have already played some incredible games between them, including Kansas City rallying from eight runs down to defeat the Explorers 14-13 in the last game they played against each other. They are very evenly matched, with the exception of the starting pitching staff and that will be the difference. For that reason, take the Sioux City Explorers in five games in a series people will be talking about for years.

By Robert Pannier