Texas League Semifinals (Best of Five)
Frisco Roughriders (80-60) vs. Cardinals-affiliated Springfield Cardinals (77-61)
Season Run Differential: Frisco +70 (661-591), Springfield +79 (671-592)
Last 20 Games: Frisco 15-5, Springfield 10-10
Season Series: Frisco 7-5. They haven't met since early July.
Frisco used two ninth-inning walk-offs and a shutout to sweep Corpus Christi, arguably the best team in the league. Frisco seeks its second Texas League Championship; the Riders also won in 2004.
Springfield needed the full five games to eliminate Tulsa and is trying for its first league title. The Cardinals have the youngest hitting and pitching in the league, so Frisco isn't playing a bunch of desiccated ex-prospects.
Possible Lineup for Frisco:
C Jose Felix / Zach Zaneski
1B Chris McGuiness
2B Leury Garcia
3B Tommy Mendonca
SS Guilder Rodriguez
LF Ryan Strausborger
CF Engel Beltre
RF Jared Hoying
DH Val Majewski
+ Mike Napoli
Possible Lineup for Springfield:
C Audry Perez / Travis Tartamella
1B Xavier Scruggs
2B Kolten Wong
3B Jermaine Curtis
SS Greg Garcia
LF Adam Melker
CF Oscar Taveras
RF Jamie Romak
DH Mike O'Neill
Frisco is without the services of two of its best hitters, Mike Olt and Jurickson Profar. The offense was good with them and average at best without them, at least on paper. The existing lineup slugged a modest .388 and walked in a meager 6.8% of its plate appearances. However, Frisco did post a highly impressive semifinal line of .311/.372/.447 line, getting a heroic effort from Chris McGuiness and high OBPs from Majewski, Jared Prince and Guilder Rodriguez. Frisco also has the services of rehabbing catcher Mike Napoli for a while.
Springfield outscored Frisco despite lacking a DH in about 40% of its games. The Cardinals still have their ace hitting prospect, 20-year-old Oscar Taveras (.321/.380/.572), who, like Profar, skipped high-A. Taveras had a middling semifinal but will be the best player on the field. With the notable exception of OF Chris Swauger (.296/.344/.470), who suffered a broken collarbone in Game 5, Springfield hasn't lost any hitters of significance. At the plate, the Cardinals are superior to the RoughRiders in contact, patience and power. They don't run as much or as well as Frisco.
1: Cody Buckel (4.08 ERA, 4.16 FIP, 1.28 WHIP) vs. Carlos Martinez (2.90 ERA, 3.96 FIP, 1.26 WHIP)
2: Nick Tepesch (4.28 ERA, 4.22 FIP, 1.39 WHIP) vs. Seth Maness (3.27 ERA, 3.71 ERA, 1.11 WHIP)
3: Barret Loux (3.47 ERA, 3.78 FIP, 1.28 WHIP) vs. Kevin Siegrist (3.62 ERA, 4.56 FIP, 1.24 WHIP)
4: Wilfredo Boscan (3.75 ERA, 3.72 FIP, 1.25 WHIP) vs. Scott Gorgen (4.09 ERA, 3.69 FIP, 1.43 WHIP)
5: TBA vs. Boone Whiting (1.50 ERA in 12 IP)
During the regular season, both Frisco and Springfield prevented scoring at a slightly better-than-average rate. Buckel allowed only two runs in his last four starts and is pitching on seven days rest. In the semifinals, Tepesch buried the Hooks, while Loux and Boscan merely got the job done. Frisco has an exceptionally deep bullpen including staff greybeard Ross Wolf (29) and Ryan Rodebaugh splitting closer duties, potentially dominant prospects Wilmer Font and Roman Mendez, and MLB-tested Justin Grimm.
Like Corpus Christi, the Cards' staff instills respect, if not outright fear. Martinez was the only starter to suffer badly in Springfield's opening round but is St. Louis's #3 prospect according to MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo . Maness was the equivalent of ex-Ranger Kyle Hendricks, walking only nine batters in 123 innings. Siegrist and Whiting spent most of the season in high-A. Keith Butler tallied 25 saves and fanned nearly one of every four batters. The bullpen as a whole was effective but tended to be homer-prone.
Both teams played solid defense. Frisco committed fewer errors and was slightly less prone to passed balls and wild pitches. Springfield turned more batted balls into outs, weren't run against as much and caught the highest percentage of those who tried.
Offense – Springfield (moderate)
Pitching – Frisco (moderate in bullpen)
Defense -- Springfield (slight)
Entering the 2008 finals, the RoughRiders had Derek Holland and Neftali Feliz lined up for as many as four starts in five games. Their lineup featured Elvis Andrus, Julio Borbon, Jose Vallejo, Chad Tracy, Steve Murphy, and Johnny Whittleman. Meanwhile, opposing Arkansas had squeaked into the postseason on a tiebreaker during a 36-34 first half, after which they tanked (26-44) and then inexplicably swept a solid Northwest Arkansas club in the semis.
Frisco lost the series in five games and was outscored 28-13.
Last week, I chose Corpus over Frisco in an evenly matched semifinal on the basis of the Hooks' extra home game. This time, Frisco has home-field advantage as well as more rest, a factor I wouldn't discount. To be honest, both squads looked a bit tired during the two games I saw in person. (To be more honest, I was very tired myself and might be projecting.) By now, numerous players are extending career highs in at-bats and innings. On the other hand, Springfield does look better on paper to me.
If I had to risk $20 on the outcome… I wouldn't, because it's a coin flip. From as unbiased a perspective as I can muster, I would pick Springfield. But Frisco was adept at scoring off the Corpus pen, while its own pen fanned 11 and allowed just two runs in 8.2 innings. Casting feigned neutrality aside, I'll say the late innings make the difference and Frisco wins its second league title.
Newberg Report (newbergreport.com)