2022 American Association Playoff Preview: Finals, Milkmen vs. RedHawks
American Association Daily provides insights, features, and recaps of the action from around the American Association of Professional Baseball League, as well as player and coaching profiles and transactions. In today’s edition, Robert Pannier previews the American Association Championship Series that begins on Saturday when the Milwaukee Milkmen, winners of the East Division, take on the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks, winners in the West, in the best-of-five series.
Preview the Championship Series with the Voice of the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks, Jack Michaels.
Preview the Championship Series with the Voice of the Milwaukee Milkmen, Tom Wynn.
The American Association Championship series gets underway on Saturday as the East Division champion Milwaukee Milkmen welcome the West Division winners, the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks, for Game 1. The first two games of this series will be played in Milwaukee with games 3-5 moving to Fargo.
The RedHawks (64-36) finished with the second-best record in the American Association. This was a team that finished in the top five in almost every major statistical category, including boasting the top fielding percentage. The club lost the first game of each of their best of three series, before battling back to win the final two of each to advance. That included taking two of three from the Winnipeg Goldeyes and knocking off the team with the top record in the American Association, the Kansas City Monarchs.
The Milwaukee Milkmen (53-47) finished third in the East, one game behind the Chicago Dogs. Milwaukee is not as dominant statistically, but it has one of the better offenses in the American Association and the pitching staff has been great during the postseason. Milwaukee took two of three from Chicago before sweeping Cleburne to advance to the Finals.
These teams played six times during the regular season, with Fargo-Moorhead winning four of the six contests. However, they have not faced each other in over three months.
Tale of the Tape:
(League ranking shown in parentheses)
Team Batting Average: .279 (3)
HR: 115 (4)
Runs Scored: 585 (5)
Team ERA: 4.52 (3)
Team Fielding Percentage: .986 (1)
Team Batting Average: .280 (2)
HR: 109 (6)
Runs Scored: 587 (3)
Team ERA: 5.39 (9)
Team Fielding Percentage: .973 (12)
Regular Season Results
May 24 – at Fargo, RedHawks, 4-3
May 25 – at Fargo, RedHawks, 3-1
May 26 – at Fargo, RedHawks, 7-5
June 3 – at Milwaukee, Milkmen, 10-1
June 4 – at Milwaukee, RedHawks, 12-2
June 5 – at Milwaukee, Milkmen, 8-5
RedHawks win season series, 4-2
Saturday, September 17 – in Milwaukee, WI, 6:00
Sunday, September 18 – in Milwaukee, WI, 1:00
Tuesday, September 20 – in Fargo, ND, 6:30
Wednesday, September 21 (if necessary) – in Fargo, ND, 6:30
Thursday, September 22 (if necessary) – in Fargo, ND, 6:30
Fargo-Moorhead Pitching Staff vs. Milwaukee Milkmen Lineup
Fargo-Moorhead clearly enters the series with the better pitching staff. The Big Three – Kevin McGovern, Tyler Grauer, and Peyton Wigginton – may be the best starting three in the American Association this season. The trio combined to go 29-11 with all three posting ERAs under 4.00. In the playoffs, they have continued to dominate, especially Wigginton, who not only tossed six shutout innings in the decisive victory over Kansas City, but has a 2.31 ERA in two starts. Davis Feldman will need to make one start in the series, but he has made just one appearance in the last two weeks. Feldman finished 6-6 with a 5.03 ERA.
The bullpen for the RedHawks has been solid for the most part, with Alex DuBord leading the American Association in saves with 23. Tanner Riley was fantastic during the regular season as well (2.84, 4-3), and Joe Jones is one of the best set up man in the league (4-3, 4 Saves, 3.71). Luke Lind has struggled recently and Reid Birlingmair posted a 5.14 ERA during the regular season.
All five have seen extensive action in the postseason, with DuBord tossing five scoreless innings in his four appearances. Ben Allison and Brady Stover have made three combined appearances without allowing a run. Riley has a 3.85 ERA in three appearances, but Lind, Jones, and Birlingmair have all been roughed up. Lind has appeared in just one game.
Lind was very good against Milwaukee during the regular season, tossing three scoreless innings. DuBord had two scoreless frames against the Milkmen. McGovern was 1-0, allowing no earned runs in 13.0 combined innings. Feldman was 1-0 with a 2.08 ERA in four appearances, but Grauer, Jones, and Stover all struggled against the Milkmen. Wigginton did not face Milwaukee.
The Milkmen lineup is a good one. They finished second in team batting average and third in runs scored. Bryan Torres led the American Association with a .374 batting average during the regular season and scored 73 runs in 93 games. Hector Sanchez was acquired with about a month left in the season, and was an absolute find for this team, hitting .386 with five homers and 18 RBI in 19 games. Keon Barnum hit 24 homers, but finished with a .265 batting averages. He struggled through injuries for much of the year. Correlle Prime and Logan Trowbridge had disappointing season’s according to the lofty standards they have set in previous years.
Beyond Barnum, this is not a club with a lot of pop in the lineup, but a couple of players have really stepped up their performance in the postseason. Miguel Gomez has three home runs in five games, hitting .353 with five runs scored and seven RBI. Trowbridge has caught fire as well, hitting .333 in five playoff games. However, Barnum and Carl Chester are both hitting .118 and Jeremiah Burks and Aaron Hill are both hitting below .100. With Sanchez also hitting below .200 in the postseason, 55% of the starting lineup has not crossed the .200 barrier. The Milkmen are hitting .199 as a team in the playoffs and have scored 18 runs in five games. Adding to the challenge is the fact that this team has just eight walks. That is not a good combination against a very good Fargo-Moorhead pitching staff.
The sad part for the Milkmen is that the two best hitters against Fargo-Moorhead during the regular season are both gone, as Dylan Kelly was traded to Sioux City and Chad Sedio had his contract purchased. Christ Conley and Will Kengor each hit .273. Barnum had two homers in six games against the RedHawks.
Milwaukee Milkmen Pitching Staff vs. Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks Lineup
The Milwaukee Milkmen pitching staff was not very impressive during the regular season, finishing ninth overall with a 5.39 ERA. Milwaukee struggled to find a set of starters they could depend upon to give them at least five solid innings each night. A.J. Schugel came out of the bullpen and became a star in the starting rotation, going 4-4 with a 3.37 ERA. However, Ryan Zimmerman was the only other starter who finished with an ERA under 5.00 (4.45). Myles Smith struggled over the final two months of the season and Christian Young finished with a 5.09 ERA. All four are likely to see at least one start in the series, and their ability to give at least two quality starts combined is going to be critical for the Milkmen to win the championship.
The heart of this Milkmen team is their bullpen. The combination of Peyton Gray, Rodrigo Benoit, Kyle Huckaby, Frankie Bartow, and Jack Mahoney have been great. This is the heart and soul of this team, and they have continued to dominate in the playoffs, especially Bartow, who has appeared in four of the five games, and is yet to allow an earned run in 7.1 innings. Gray has struggled a little, allowing three runs in 3.0 innings and Benoit has a 4.15 ERA, but three saves.
The starting staff has really stepped up their game in the postseason as well. Schugel has allowed one earned run in 12.0 innings while Zimmerman is coming off a 12-strikeout performance in the series clinching victory over the Railroaders. Smith has worked only in the bullpen, but has looked good in his two postseason appearances and this should boost his confidence as he will return to the rotation. How this team handles the two extra games in this round will be interesting to see, but the staff has definitely stepped up their game in the playoffs.
The RedHawks were one of the best offenses in the American Association and have a multitude of proven performers. Leobaldo Piina and Drew Ward each hit .345 or better and John Silviano and Peter Maris were two of the best players in the league over the final month of the regular season. This team can hit and there is really not a weak link in this lineup.
That has continued into the postseason where the RedHawks have scored 32 runs in six games (5.33 per contest) and easily lead the other seven playoff teams with a .279 batting average. They are doing all the small things right as well, leading in stolen bases (6) and tied for first in walks (26), but can deliver the big hits, first in doubles (13) and homers (8).
Silviano has continued where he left on in the regular season, hitting .400 through the first six games with two homers and eight RBI. Pina is hitting .370 and Alec Olund has been a real late-season find, hitting .300 in six games.
Silviano had a great season against Milwaukee, hitting .409 in six games with five runs scored and five RBI. Ward hit .368. The RedHawks only hit three homers in the six games against Milwaukee in the regular season.
This is one of the most intriguing matchups in the Finals. Chris Coste is leading the RedHawks to the championship series for the second straight season, while Anthony Barone is taking the Milkmen to their second finals in three seasons. They won in 2020. Coste made it all the way to the Major Leagues, winning the World Series in 2008. Barone has had an unremarkable playing career but has established himself as a real genius in the dugout.
In addition, this is a matchup of two teams where the manager is not the one making all the moves to acquire players. With Coste coaching at Concordia, Jeff Bittiger is tasked with building the RedHawks, while Dan Kuenzi is heavily involved in player procurement for the Milkmen. What this means is that you have two skippers who have made their reputations by their performance on the field and both have excelled in that area.
At this point in the season, you expect both Coste and Barone to know their teams well and to be able to put their guys in the best position to win. This series should also be great because the two skippers have figured out a way to get every last ounce out of all 25 players on their roster.
Who Wins the Series
On paper, the RedHawks clearly look like the better team. They have the most dominant starting three in the league, a group that led this team to the finals. They also have the better lineup, particularly one that is putting up better names in the postseason.
However, that may be a bit of a mirage. Beyond Matt Hall, the Monarchs pitching is solid and the Goldeyes can be hit, so Fargo-Moorhead did not face nearly the same pitching competition that Milwaukee did. The Railroaders had the best pitching staff in the league over the final five weeks and the Dogs have two of the better starters and a solid bullpen, so it is not surprising that the Milkmen’s numbers were down.
That being said, it seems like these Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks are a team of destiny. They made it to the finals last season where they were swept by Kansas City. This year they looked like they are about to be knocked out by the Monarchs again, but then make an improbable comeback behind that starting pitching and some timely hitting to advance to the championship series. Milwaukee has been great, but it is going to be too much to expect that bullpen to continually come through for four or five games.
Take the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks to win in four.
By Robert Pannier