2023 American Association East Division Finals Preview
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, Rob Pannier examines the East Division Finals which will feature the Chicago Dogs taking on the Milwaukee Milkmen in the best of three. Rob provides analysis and makes a prediction on who will win.
Chicago Dogs vs. Milwaukee Milkmen
One of the things that separates the East Division from the West (besides geography) is that there are not longstanding rivalries that go back decades. In fact, there are no rivalries that go back even a decade as only one team (the Gary SouthShore RailCats) has been in the league for more than six years.
That would seem to take some of the bitterness out of series, but that is not the case when the Chicago Dogs and the Milwaukee Milkmen square off. These two teams have built up a lot of animosity since 2020 and the fact that Milwaukee has been in two of the last three Championship Series only adds to the fire.
The clubs meet for the second time in the postseason, with last year’s three-game series victory being the only other occasion. The Milkmen had the best of the rivalry during the regular season, going 8-4. The teams finished with identical 56-44 records.
Tale of the Tape
(Ranking in American Association listed in parenthesis)
Overall Record: 56-44 (T-1st in East, T-2nd overall)
Home Record: 30-21 (5)
Away Record: 26-23 (2)
Last 10: 6-4
Average: .275 (3)
Homeruns: 108 (5)
Runs Scored: 572 (4)
Slugging %: .437 (5)
On-Base %: .362 (T-4)
Stolen Bases: 152 (3)
ERA: 4.50 (5)
Saves: 23 (6)
Walks: 369 (2)
Strikeouts: 876 (1)
Opponent Average: .263 (7)
WHIP: 1.44 (5)
Fielding %: .977 (9)
Errors: 83 (9)
Overall Record: 56-44 (T-1st, T-1st overall)
Home Record: 30-20 (4)
Away Record: 26-24 (3)
Last 10: 5-5
Average: .284 (2)
Homeruns: 95 (9)
Runs Scored: 595 (3)
Slugging %: .431 (6)
On-Base %: .373 (1)
Stolen Bases: 213 (1)
ERA: 4.41 (3)
Saves: 27 (2)
Walks: 284 (1)
Strikeouts: 774 (7)
Opponent Average: .261 (5)
WHIP: 1.34 (1)
Fielding %: .982 (T-2)
Errors: 62 (T)
Starting Pitching Analysis
This is one area where Milwaukee should have a clear advantage, but their staff has been struggling over the last month of the season. Kyle Mora had a 6.67 ERA in August and Frankie Bartow was at 6.19. Christian Young had dominated through the first 10 weeks but saw his ERA spike to 4.62 and Gregori Vasquez was at 4.33 in the final month.
The group still finished with very solid numbers overall, including Vasquez, who finished second in the league in ERA at 3.25. However, Ryan Zimmerman was rocked in Game 1 and Vasquez was chased early from Game 2. Both Bartow and Young looked good out of the bullpen and Mora was dominant in Game 3, but this has to be an area of concern, one that no one would have expected six weeks ago.
The Chicago Dogs seemed to be group trying to figure out their starting rotation, but this group is finally firing on all cylinders. Joe Wieland looked incredible in his three starts after joining the team, posting a 1.76 ERA and Steven Lacey has been amazing (3.12, 2-1). The numbers for Nick Green have not been great, but he looked very good in Game 2 against Cleburne.
Advantage: Chicago Dogs
The bullpen is another area where Milwaukee should have a huge advantage but they do not. There is no denying that Peyton Gray is one of the beat all-around closers in the league, posting a 1.37 ERA in 37 appearances. He struck out 64 in 39.0 innings and gave up only eight walks.
However, after Young the bullpen is shaky. Nate Hadley was the best closer in the American Association through June, but he has fallen on hard times, finishing with a 5.66 ERA. He did put together a solid August, posting a 0.79 ERA in 11 appearances. However, the fact that Manager Anthony Barone turned to Bartow and Young in Game 2 against Kane County may say something about how much confidence he has in the bullpen beyond Hadley and Gray. Newly acquired Francys Peguero was very good in two appearances against the Cougars, allowing one walk in two frames.
The Chicago Dogs bullpen is unreal. Joe Cavallaro (2.26), Bryan Warzek (2.73), Jonathan Cheshire (2.78), and Jake Newberry (1.82) have been ridiculous. That does not even include closer Brian Schlitter, who had a little hiccup during the season, but finished with a 3.24 ERA and 18 saves.
During the playoffs the group a little shaky. Flamethrower DJ Shelten and Schlitter both pitched well in their one appearance, but Cavallaro was rocked for six runs in three innings and Newberry gave up two in 2.1 innings. Combined, the group allowed nine earned runs in nine innings. The Milkmen bullpen gave up seven earned runs in 15.2 innings.
Advantage: Slight Edge to Milwaukee Milkmen
What should make this series fun is both teams like to run. Chicago finished with 152 steals, third overall, while Milwaukee was first (213). Bryan Torres obliterated the stolen base mark, finishing with 71, 11 more than the previous record. Five players on the Milkmen had at least 20 steals and the club finished first in on-base percentage. This is not a team that is going to hit a lot of home runs, but they will score runs, finishing third (595).
Chicago also can run. Nick Heath finished with 30 stolen bases to lead the club and six players had at least 13 steals. The difference for Chicago is that they can hit homers. They have one of the most feared hitters in the league in Josh Altmann (.290, 26 HR, 88 RBI), and Luke Mangieri (.280, 17, 72) is a great side kick.
The Milkmen had the Miles Wolff Cup in their hands with just three innings left, but three costly errors allowed the RedHawks to get back into the game and win it in 10. Barone made a decision that this would not happen again and so he made defense the priority for this team. The results speak for themselves. The Milkmen were second in fielding percentage (.982) and in least number of errors committed (62). They are solid all the way around the diamond.
The Dogs have a good defense, but they cannot compare to Milwaukee. Chicago finished ninth in fielding percentage (.977) and in errors committed (83). That led to 60 unearned runs scoring while Milwaukee allowed just 49 unearned runs.
Advantage: Milwaukee Milkmen
The Milkmen dominated the season series, but one has to wonder if these Dogs are a team of destiny. Last August they fell apart, barely hanging on the top spot in the East after holding a 10 game edge entering the month and were quickly bounced from the playoffs by these Milkmen. However, they have been great since August 1, going 22-13 including the playoffs.
The Dogs get the extra playoff game as Franklin Field is booked for an event, but that will not be the difference. The Milkmen won Game 3 at Impact Field last season and they will do so again this year.
Prediction: Take the Milwaukee Milkmen in 3
By Robert Pannier