2016 American Association Playoffs: St. Paul Saints vs. Winnipeg Goldeyes
The 2016 American Association playoffs kick-off on Wednesday night with the North Division rivals, the St. Paul Saints and the Winnipeg Goldeyes, facing off in the best of five series. These two teams have faced each other three times in the playoffs before, with the Saints winning three of those series, most recently in 2011.
St. Paul Saints: 61-39, 1st in North Division, Best Record in American Association
Winnipeg Goldeyes: 58-42, 2nd in North Division, 1st in Wild Card, 3rd Best Record in American Association
Winnipeg Won Season Series 9-8
June 17, at Winnipeg, 6-5 Saints
June 18, at Winnipeg, 11-5 Saints
June 19, at Winnipeg, 6-1 Saints
June 24, at St. Paul, 3-2 Saints
June 25, at St. Paul, 12-11 Saints
June 26, at St. Paul, 9-6 Goldeyes
June 27, at St. Paul, 7-5 Goldeyes
July 18, at Winnipeg, 6-4 Goldeyes
July 19, at Winnipeg, 7-1 Goldeyes
August 16, at Winnipeg, 11-9 Goldeyes
August 16, at Winnipeg, 5-3 Goldeyes
August 17, at Winnipeg, 4-0 Goldeyes
August 17, at Winnipeg, 7-6 Saints
August 18, at Winnipeg, 9-3 Goldeyes
August 30, at St. Paul, 18-2 Saints
August 31, at St. Paul, 3-2 Goldeyes
September 1, at St. Paul, 1-0 Saints
Position Comparison: (Saints Player Listed First)
Catcher: Vinny DiFazio vs. Carlton Tanabe
DiFazio will get the lion’s share of the catching duties, even though he is still working to get his swing back into shape after seeing limited action in the Dodgers minor league system. The Saints catcher hit just .222 in 15-games, but last season he was the American Association MVP. If he returns to even 80 percent of what he was last season DiFazio will be a real force for the Saints. He is 8-23 with 4-runs and 2-RBI in his last 6-games. The pitching staff really seems to respond in the games he calls.
Tanabe appeared in 84-games and is an excellent signal caller. He hit .250 with 3-homers and 38-RBI, and is not much of an on-base guy, walking just 10 times. The Winnipeg catcher is a great defensive force, and he will make it hard for the Saints to run.
Advantage: St. Paul Saints
First Base: Angelo Songco vs. David Rohm
Songco had another great year for St. Paul, hitting .285 with 13-homers and 45-RBI. Those are very impressive numbers considering he missed a month with a shoulder separation. He also walked 46 times to lead the team and scored 53-runs. While an impressive offensive force, Songco’s biggest contribution is his presence in the locker room and in the dugout. The Saints respond to him like no other, and when he is fired up the team joins in his enthusiasm.
Rohm led the team in hitting at .339 and added 7-homers and 71-RBI in 98-games. He does not have the power that Songco does, but is one of the best hitters in the league, finishing fourth in the batting race. He is a solid defensive first baseman.
Second Base: Ryan Cavan vs. Casio Grider
Cavan returns to the team after sitting out most of the season working his other job. He has returned just in time to be a big No. 2 hitter for this team. In 13-games, he has hit .231 but had a five-game hitting streak that ended on September 3. Cavan is an outstanding second baseman defensively.
Grider hit .279 with 11-homers and 68-RBI for the Goldeyes. What is most impressive about those numbers is that he is often the No. 7 or 8 hitter in the lineup, telling you what a power packed group that this is. Grider is a solid second baseman, making just 8-errors in 99-games, and he was 5 for his last 14.
Advantage: Winnipeg Goldeyes
Shortstop: Tony Thomas vs. Maikol Gonzalez
Thomas has batted in several places in the Saints lineup, but now founds that the No. 3 slot will likely be his home throughout this playoff run. Thomas was third on the team in hitting (.296) and he clubbed 13-homers, drove in 65 and scored 63. He also had a 26-game hitting streak earlier in the season, proving that he can get hot in an instant. While not a flashy shortstop, Thomas makes the plays and doesn’t make many mistakes.
Gonzalez played in all 100-games for Winnipeg, hitting .256 with 3-homers, 72-runs scored and 43-RBI. He is on-base machine however, walking an incredible 75 times, second most in the American Association, and he led the team with 31-stolen bases. Batting in the No. 2 slot for the Goldeyes, he gives Manager Rick Forney a lot of options on how to attack a defense, and he is an outstanding defensive shortstop.
Third Base: Nate Hanson vs. Wes Darvill
Hanson finished second on the team in batting (.304), hit 12-homers, drove in 63 and scored 63. All of those numbers, except for homeruns, were second on the Saints. His bat is really heating up heading into the playoffs. In the four-game series against Lincoln, the third baseman was 10-21 with 4-RBI. He is 17-43 (.395) over hit last 10-games. Hanson is one of the best defensive third basemen in the American Association.
Darvill may not have the pop in his bat that Hanson has, but he is no less valuable. The Winnipeg Goldeyes third baseman finished the season at .262 with 2-homers, 41-RBI, and 51-runs scored. He also walked 41 times and stole 18-bases. Darvill does not have as much range as Hanson, but is a solid third baseman, and his bat near the bottom of the order will be a key in this series.
Advantage: St. Paul Saints
Left Field: Brady Burzynski vs. Willie Cabrera
Burzynski has really earned the confidence of Manager George Tsamis of late. The outfielder finished the season hitting .271 with 12-RBI and 27-runs scored in 44-games. He is a solid outfielder with good speed who can handle the bat well, giving his manager some flexibility in how to employ him.
Cabrera has been a huge addition for the team since joining the Goldeyes from Joplin. In 45-games with Winnipeg, Cabrera has hit .324 with 9-homers, 34-runs batted in and 39-runs scored. Combined he has 17-homers and 77-RBI in 89-games and has fit perfectly into this lineup. Burzynski is a much better fielder, but the bat of Cabrera puts him ahead in this matchup.
Advantage: Winnipeg Goldeyes
Center Field: Alonzo Harris vs. Reggie Abercrombie
Harris has been the Saints MVP this season, leading the team in hitting (.307), and setting a team record for stolen bases with 43. He also led the team in in homeruns (15) and was third in RBI (58) all while primarily hitting lead-off. Harris is an outstanding outfielder, and his speed and power gives him the ability to change the tide of a game in many different ways.
Abercrombie is the heart and soul of the Winnipeg Goldeyes and has proven to be one of the top five players in the league over the last few seasons. He hit .297 this season with 20-homers, 71-runs scored, and 68-runs drive in. He also stole 21-bases and is an outstanding defensive center fielder. Abercrombie may be 35 but he is as good as ever.
Right Field: Breland Almadova vs. Josh Romanski
Almadova has not had the average that the team was hoping for, but he has shown a great deal of speed, and he has the best arm in the American Association. Anyone who runs on him quickly realizes what a foolish mistake that was. Almadova hit .256 in 87 regular season games, with 4-homers, 40-RBI, and 57-runs scored. He also stole 29-bases.
Romanski has been a Saints killer all season, and he could get five more chances to bedevil them here in the playoffs. In 91-games, the outfielder hit an impressive .305 with 9-homers and 64-RBI. He also walked 60 times. Romanski is not as good of an outfielder defensively as Almadova is, but he is a premier hitter in the league.
Advantage: Winnipeg Goldeyes
Designated Hitter: David Bergin vs. Adam Heisler
Bergin was acquired from Sioux Falls late in the season, and he has been the power bat the team really needed. Bergin hit .279 in 11-games with 4-homers and 13-RBI for St. Paul. In Sioux Falls he hit .262 with 15-homers and 58-RBI in 79-games. His 19 total homers is fifth in the American Association and his 71-RBI is tied for fifth. He is a huge bat in this lineup and should have the same impact for St. Paul that Cabrera has had on Winnipeg.
Heisler battled an injury early on in the season and the Goldeyes offense was not the same. He is the guy that makes this team go. In 84-games, he hit .300 with 60-runs scored, 8-homers, and 49-RBI. He also walked 48 times and stole 27-bases. If he is healthy enough Heisler will play the outfield, but they will not risk his health.
Bench: Aaron Gretz, Tony Caldwell, Tanner Vavra, Jon Kirstoffersen vs. Jacob Rogers, Ridge Hoopii-Haslam, Tanner Murphy
Caldwell and Gretz were the two primary catchers for the Saints for most of the season, but they move to the bench with the return of DiFazio. They both swing the bat well and handle their duties behind the plate quite effectively. Vavra also used to be starting, but Cavan makes him a great option to play short, third, or second off the bench if needed. He hit .270.
Rogers will see some time at first, but he is a quality bat off the bench when not doing so. In 82-games, Rogers hit 8-homers with 44-RBI. He is solid at first. Murphy and Hoopii-Haslam are serviceable options.
Advantage: St. Paul Saints
Starting Rotation: Mark Hamburger, Robert Coe, Corey Williams vs. Kevin McGovern, Mikey O’Brien, Duke Von Schamann,
Through the first three months of the season, many were talking about how Hamburger may have been the league’s MVP, posting an 11-0 record. However, he has come back to earth, winning just one of his last seven decisions. The right-hander was still 12-6, tied for the most wins in the American Association, and his 3.29 ERA was seventh. Robert Coe was tied for fourth in the league with 11 wins, and posted a respectable 4.23 ERA. He has looked like the Robert Coe of 2015 over his last five starts and will be a key for the Saints if they expect to advance. Williams is just getting used to the idea of starting and has done well in his four opportunities.
McGovern has been brutal on the Saints this season. He is 3-0 against St. Paul and the Goldeyes have won all four of his starts against their playoff foe. Overall, he finished the season 8-3 with a 3.55 ERA. O’Brien was tied for the team leads in wins (10-4) and posted a respectable 4.34 ERA. He and McGovern combined to throw five complete games. Von Schamann finished 8-7 with a 4.87 ERA.
Advantage: Slight Edge St. Paul Saints
Bullpen: Benji Waite, Cody Wheeler, Kody Knaus, Gene Escat, Ryan Rodebaugh, Caleb Thielbar vs. Winston Abreu, Kyle Anderson, Victor Capellan, Eric Eadington, Cameron McVey, Brandon Shimo
This is likely where this series is going to be won. The Saints have a little bit better starting rotation, but it will be a question if their bullpen can hold those leads. That will especially be true as Hamburger will likely not be going 8 or 9-innings if he will be pitching every three-days the rest of the way. Rodebaugh led the American Association in saves (23) for the second straight season and is as good as it gets. Thielbar has been a big arm out of the bullpen, posting a 5-2 record with 4-saves and a 2.39 ERA. Waite will be the big key. He struggled over the last few weeks, giving up runs in five of his last nine outings out of the bullpen, after giving up runs just four times in 18-outings. However, he looked brilliant in a spot start on the final day of the season, tossing four no-hit innings while striking out 6. If Waite falters, Wheeler has proven that he can give the Saints one or two outstanding innings, posting a 2.91 ERA, striking out 36 in 34-innings pitched.
Eadington is the closer of this team and he can be as dominating as any in the league. The left-hander posted a 4-4 record with 9-saves and a 3.00 ERA, best on the staff. He struck out 63 in 45-innings pitched. Capellan and Abreu are going to be the keys for the Goldeyes to win. The starting staff is solid for Winnipeg, but not dominating, which means that bullpen is going to play a key role. The concern is that these two have not been as successful since their arrival from Joplin. If either of them falters it would be a bad sign for the Goldeyes.
Advantage: St. Paul
Managers: George Tsamis vs. Rick Forney
This has the makings of an incredible series, but the fact of the matter is that the Winnipeg Goldeyes have added some key pieces that should put them over the top. The heart would like to say that the St. Paul Saints grab this series, but Winnipeg is simply the best team in the American Association right now. Take Winnipeg in four.
By Robert Pannier