American Association Division Round Playoffs: Lincoln Saltdogs vs Winnipeg Goldeyes
Lincoln Saltdogs vs. Winnipeg Goldeyes
Game 1, Best of Five
Tonight the first round of the American Association playoffs get underway with Lincoln Saltdogs travelling to the Winnipeg Goldeyes to begin their best-of-five series. Lincoln finished with the fourth best record in the league at 54-46, and battled through a dramatic pennant race that came down to the last weekend of the season before it was decided. Lincoln has the eighth highest average in the league and is fifth in ERA.
The Goldeyes won the North Division and had the second best record overall. They are second in ERA, batting average and fielding percentage. The Goldeyes have the second most home runs in the league and scored the third most amount of runs.
The Minor League Sports Report provides a position-by-position comparison of both teams and offers a prediction of who is expected to win the series.
Catcher: Chris Anderson vs. Luis Alen
Of the two, Alen is clearly the better hitter. He finished with a .289 average, six home runs and 50 RBI in 96 games played. Anderson struggled at the plate, hitting just .211 with 3 homers and 24 RBI. Of the two Anderson is the better defensive catcher, and calls a better game, but Alen is sufficient enough defensively to hold his own.
First Base: Ian Gac vs. Casey Haerther
This is the most interesting comparison between the two teams. Both are MVP candidates. Gac has had an amazing year especially in the last two weeks. He finished with a .349 average and led the league with 27 home runs. He also drove in 77 runs and scored 63. In the last 13 games he clubbed 8 home runs and is 21-49 with 19 runs and 19 RBI. Haerther finished second in the league with a .360 average, and scored 49 runs while driving in 72. He slumped a tad in the final weeks, but is still one of the most dangerous hitters in the league. These two will be the focus of the series.
Second Base: Luis Nunez vs. Brock Bond
These are two equally matched players with Nunez hitting .320 with 8 HR and 30 RBI in 61 games, while Bond hit .326 with 53 runs scored and 20 RBI in 64 games. These are two very comparable players who don’t have great speed, but play solid defense and are great clubhouse leaders.
Third Base: Brandon Pinckney vs. Jake Blackwood
Pinckney is a solid defender that only made two errors in 28 games. The team has used him in a variety of positions in the infield, but he has primarily played third of late. While his defense has been solid, his offense is lacking a bit. He finished the year with a .248 average and 14 RBI. He did show a little spunk at the end, going 8-25 in his last 6 games. Blackwood is one of the primary catalysts of the Goldeyes offense. He hit .321 with 50 runs scored, 10 home runs and 49 RBI in 83 games played. He is not as solid of a defender, but he is one of the primary reasons why Winnipeg is such an outstanding team.
Shortstop: Mike Gilmartin vs. Tyler Kuhn
Gilmartin is red-hot entering the post-season, getting 11 hits in his last 21 at-bats, while scoring six runs and driving in six during that time. While that is an amazing run, his overall average is .262, nearly 100 points less than Kuhn’s. The Goldeyes shortstop is one of the two best in the league, and hitting in the No. 3 spot he has scored 70 runs and driven in 56 others. He also has a .415 OBP, ranked 10th. Kuhn is the better defender of the two and also stole 11 bases.
Left Field: Chad Mozingo vs. Donnie Webb
Mozingo is not your prototypical lead-off hitter, but he does get the job done. He has hit .283 in 75 games, and has shown some power with 6 home runs and 34 RBI. While not a huge on-base guy, he did steal 21 bases, and has some good speed. Webb may not have the average of Kuhn or Bond, but he is a solid hitter, batting .292 with 10 home runs and 50 RBI in 99 games. He has scored 60 runs and stolen 32 bases.
Center fielder: Matt Forgatch vs. Reggie Abercrombie
Forgatch is an outstanding defensive outfielder with some pop in his bat. He hit .253 and scored 64 runs. He led the team with 35 steals, only being caught 3 times, and finished with 34 extra-base hits. Abercrombie had one of the best seasons of any outfielder not named Clevlen or Van Stratten. He clubbed 19 home runs and drove in 74 runs in 99 games. Add to that the fact that he hit .284, scored 73 runs and stole 23 bases and it is easy to see why he is ranked among the top outfielders in the league.
Right field: Brian Joynt vs. Josh Mazzola
Normally this would have been a very comparable comparison. Joynt is hitting .307 with 10 home runs and 58 RBI. He scored 59 runs and had 41 total extra-base hits. Mazzola put up a fine season, hitting .265 with 61 runs scored, 16 home runs and 68 RBI. The numbers of the two are extremely similar and so this would be an even race in most cases. What changes the dynamic of this is that Mazzola had four home runs and 11 RBI in the last six games. He is clearly on a hot spell that Joynt has not matched.
Designated Hitter: Jon Gaston vs. Jordan Guida/Ryan Pineda
Gac had played some time at the DH spot as well, but this will not be a time for resting players. Therefore the Saltdogs will go with the most potent attack they can, which will mean Gaston at the DH spot. He has some real pop in his bat, blasting 12 home runs in 46 games with 42 RBI. He finished the year with a .287 average and scored 36 runs as well. The Goldeyes will use a combination of Pineda and Guida. Pineda is the one with more experience and little more pop in his bat, so expect to see him get the lion’s share of the at-bats at the DH spot. He finished the season with a .274 average, 45 runs and 31 RBI in 76 games. He also hit 5 home runs and stole 5 bases.
Two of the best pitchers in the league are going to square off in Game 1 when Lincoln’s Marquis Fleming faces the Goldeye’s Nick Hernandez. After that there is a decided edge for Winnipeg. Chris Salamida, Ethan Hollingsworth and Matthew Jackson combined with Hernandez to go 38-14. Of the four, Jackson is the only one with and ERA over four, with the other three having ERAs in the low 3s (Hernandez – 3.05, Salamida – 3.28, Hollingsworth – 3.38). The Saltdogs add Joe Bisenius, Zach Varce and Kevin McGovern to Fleming to form a really solid group of four. They have combined to got 24-17 with three having ERAs under four as well. The Saltdogs are not slouches by any stretch of the imagination, but they will need their staff to step up to win this series.
While Lincoln has the leading closer in the league, Winnipeg boasts the most dominant bullpen. Brendan Lafferty, Taylor Sewitt, Chris Kissock, Gabe Aguilar and Taylor Bratton have been as good a group of five relievers as there are. The highest ERA of the group belongs to Aguilar at 3.37 and they have combined to save 23 games. Lincoln scoffs at 23 saves as their closer finished with 34 on his own. That being Marshall Schuler who set a league record for saves in a single season. The problem is that he also posted a 4.26 ERA and lost six games. Even with Schuler this is a very mediocre bullpen at best.
Both teams use a very small bench, because they have great confidence in their starting lineup. The benches will not be making a significant difference in this series, barring injury.
Manager: Ken Oberkfell vs. Rick Forney
Oberkfell, a former big leaguer, is in his second season with the team. He is 103-97 in his two seasons, and won his first division title this year. Forney has been with the Goldeyes organization for 18 years, the last eight as manager. He has compiled a 427-365 record, with a championship in 2012. Both are solid managers, but Forney clearly has more experience.
Prediction: It was an amazing run that Lincoln made to make it to win the Central Division and advance to the playoffs. Gac played a huge part in their post-season run, but one would have to believe that Winnipeg is not arrogant enough to believe they can outduel him. He will be pitched around, limiting his effectiveness. The Goldeyes have the pitching staff to contain the rest of the team, and they have one of the more potent lineups in the league. It has been a great run in Lincoln, but it is about to come to an end. Winnipeg in a sweep.
By Robert Pannier
Senior Baseball Editor
Member of the IBWAA