Carolina League Semifinals (best-of-five)
Down East Wood Ducks (62-77) vs. Cubs-affiliated Myrtle Beach Pelicans (73-67)
Season Run Differential: Down East -73, Myrtle Beach +2
Last 20 Games: Down East 13-7, Myrtle Beach 12-8
Season Series: 16-11 Myrtle Beach How They Got Here
At the expense of the Astros, that's how. In the first half, Myrtle Beach was muddling along four games back of Buies Creek at 23-22. The Pelicans then soared to a 20-5 finish while the Astros slumped to 10-15.
Down East staged its own, even more remarkable comeback in the second half, overcoming a 7.5-game deficit in in 18 days over the same Astros, who didn't make the postseason despite the best overall record in the division.
The Pelicans reached the playoffs all four seasons as a Texas affiliate (2011-2014) but couldn't win a title. In two years with the Cubs, Myrtle has won consecutive league championships.
Down East has no history.
Top 30 Prospects On Roster per MLB.com
10. LHP Brett Martin
11. 3B/OF Yanio Perez
15. SS/C Josh Morgan
18. RHP Kyle Cody
21. RHP Jonathan Hernandez
1. RHP Oscar De La Cruz
7. RHP Thomas Hatch
10. RHP Justin Steele (DL)
15. OF Eddy Martinez
18. 2B Carlos Sepulveda (DL)
20. RHP Alec Mills (rehab assignment)
29. RHP Michael Rucker Offense / Down East Position Players
C Chuck Moorman
1B Carlos Garay
2B Luis La O
SS Josh Morgan
3B Yanio Perez
LF Josh Altmann
CF Matt Lipka
RF Ledarious Clark
DH Preston Scott
also Evan Van Hoosier
Down East's offense scored 5% fewer runs than the park-adjusted league average, but I'd say the current roster is average. Aside from Michael O'Neill and Eduard Pinto, nearly all of Down East's best hitters over the course of the season are presently with the club. The Woodies aren't an imitation of the parent club. They ranked last in walks (by a huge margin), last in strikeouts (as in, the fewest of them), and ninth of ten teams in extra bases on hits. Carlos Garay leads the current roster with a .363 OBP, while most of the others are bunched in the .310-.340 range. Matt Lipka is the only regular slugging over .400. He, Ledarious Clark, and Josh Altmann are the mild power threats. For the most part, this group puts the ball in play and relies on singles, doubles, and a decent running game to get by.
Myrtle Beach outscored the league average by 3%, but I wouldn't say their offense is any better than Down East at this point. Gone are three of their best four hitters: top prospect Eloy Jimenez (traded for Jose Quintana), Bryant Flete (same), and Daniel Spingola (promoted). The Pelicans have three regulars (SS Trent Giambrone, catcher P.J. Higgins, OF Robert Garcia) with worse numbers than anyone on Down East. Like the Woodies, they're singles-oriented. Their primary advantage is being merely garden-variety bad at drawing walks instead of scary bad like Down East.
Pitching / Possible Rotations
1: Jonathan Hernandez (3.44 ERA, .285/.351/.415, 23% SO) vs.
Michael Rucker (2.51 ERA, .223/.278/.331, 25% SO)
2: Steven Bruce (5.00 ERA, .263/.305/.359, 20% SO) vs.
Duncan Robinson (2.37 ERA, .242/.303/.315, 23% SO)
3: Brett Martin (4.70 ERA, .287/.353/.433, 18% SO) vs.
Alec Mills (2.57 ERA, .222/.264/.283, 19% SO)
4: Emerson Martinez* (4.19 ERA, .270/.313/.404, 19% SO) vs.
Tom Hatch (4.04 ERA, .264/.341/.354, 23% SO)
5: Kyle Cody* (2.05 ERA, .225/.310/.279, 27% SO) vs.
Oscar De La Cruz* (3.34 ERA, .256/.319/.419, 20% SO)
* Not announced. My assumptions based on recent usage.
Down East allowed 7% more runs than the park-adjusted league average, but you can ignore that, because pitching put the Woodies in the postseason. The staff improved by an astounding 1.4 runs per games from the first half to the second, and in August/September, it posted a 2.51 ERA with 3.3 times as many strikeouts as walks. Behind a respectable rotation is the formidable relief trio of lefty Adam Choplick, lefty Jeffrey Springs and righty Scott Williams. In August/September, they've combined to allow one run and struck out 60 in 43 innings. (And a late update: Hickory relief ace C.D. Pelham is joining Down East for the playoffs, so let's expand to "formidable relief quartet.")
Myrtle Beach beat the league average in runs allowed by 3%. Top prospect Oscar De La Cruz may not appear until Game 5, if at all, but the men lined up in front of him have performed just as well or better. The entire rotation is right-handed, and Down East's lineup lacks even a single lefty. Also, Game 3 starter Alec Mills has brief Major League experience and is in high-A on rehab.* Pedro Araujo (1.76 ERA, 33% SO) and Scott Effross (3.40 ERA, 21% SO) have handled the high-leverage relief assignments lately, and Dakota Mekkes is another solid pen arm.
* Yes, that's permitted. Mike Napoli batted for Frisco in the postseason not long ago.
Down East was a little less error-prone and less mistake-prone in general. Teams didn't run against the Woodies as much. Neither team was particularly adept at turning the double play or throwing out runners.
Offense – Even
Pitching – Myrtle Beach (slight)
Defense – Down East (slight)
I am well and truly stumped. Despite a large deficit in wins and run differential, Down East appears to be evenly matched with the Pelicans. If the Woodies stay close through the 6th and get their best relievers in while the outcomes are in doubt, they can take the series.
My head, ever cold and pitiless, says Myrtle in five. My heart sings for Down East.
Northwest League Semifinals (best-of-three)
Spokane Indians (39-37) vs. Toronto-affiliated Vancouver Canadians (43-33)
Season Run Differential: Spokane -16, Vancouver -1
Last 20 Games: Spokane 14-6, Vancouver 12-8
Season Series: 9-3 Vancouver
How They Got Here
Vancouver roared out to a 16-7 start before barely holding off Tri-City for the first-half title. Spokane spent the entire second half biting its nails, never more than two games ahead or behind the entire way. A come-from-behind win against Everett on the final day secured the second-half crown. History
Spokane has won three titles in 14 seasons as a Texas affiliate, most recently in 2008. The Indians lost to Everett in the finals in 2010 and were defeated in the semifinals by Vancouver in 2014. The Canadians lost in the finals that year after winning the three previous seasons. Top 30 Prospects on Active Roster per MLB.com
6. LHP Cole Ragans
8. SS Chris Seise (injured)
17. RHP Alex Speas
20. OF Pedro Gonzalez
26. OF Miguel Aparicio
27. C Matt Whatley
4. SS Logan Warmoth
8. RHP Nate Pearson
17. C Riley Adams
Vancouver's prospects were the 22nd, 28th and 99th players taken in this year's draft. Offense / Spokane Position Players
C Matt Whatley
1B Curtis Terry
2B Kole Enright
SS Cristian Inoa
3B Tyler Ratliff
LF Austin O'Banion
CF Miguel Aparicio
RF Nick Kaye
DH Melvin Novoa
Spokane fell 7% short of the park-adjusted league average in runs scored. The Indians led the league in doubles and ranked second in homers, but they don't hit for average, despise walks, and aren't a threat on the bases. Whatley is the best all-around hitter (.289/.371/.450) and only OBP machine. OF Chad Smith, second on the team in OBP and the only serious base-stealing threat, is out after shoulder surgery. SS Chris Seise has also missed several games with a shoulder problem, but my understanding is his situation isn't nearly as serious.
Vancouver's offense is similarly below average but different in the details. Nearly all of their regulars reached more often than Spokane's, save for Matt Whatley, but they don't hit for power. Kacy Clemens and the departed David Jacob tied for the team lead with four homers. As a team they had 68 more walks than Spokane but 122 fewer extra bases on hits. Pitching / Possible Rotation
1: Tai Teidemann (3.83 ERA, .286/.372/.365, 19% SO) vs.
Nate Pearson (0.95 ERA, .097/.164/.129, 36% SO)
2: Cole Ragans (3.61 ERA, .234/.344/.360, 35% SO) vs.
Zach Logue (1.75 ERA, .209/.258/.231, 29% SO)
3: Tyler Phillips (4.21 ERA, .269/.311/.368, 22% SO) vs.
Spokane's run allowance was 3% above average. Both Tiedemann and Ragans have pitched well on the whole but are mercurial and prone to fits of wildness. The Indians need at least one of them to pitch well to have a chance at progressing to the finals. Phillips has been steady of late and is a solid choice for the deciding game should it occur.
Short-season bullpens are squirrelly by nature, but Spokane's is respectable on the whole. Noah Bremer and Alex Eubanks, summer draftees from major colleges, have been nearly untouchable. 2016 2nd-rounder Alex Speas has the stuff to strike out the side if he doesn't walk it first, and Joe Barlow has a similar high-K, high-BB profile. Conversely, Joe Kuzia doesn't walk anybody (3 in 30 innings).
On paper, the Vancouver rotation has a sizable advantage. Pearson and Logue are college-seasoned 2017 picks who dominated the Northwest League, albeit in limited action, and don't have the walk issues of their opponents. Vancouver hasn't announced a Game 3 starter, and its rotation was too chaotic down the stretch for me to hazard a guess. Will Oullette (3.00 ERA, 28% SO) and Orlando Pascual (2.18 ERA, 34% SO) are the closers. After them, the bullpen is less assured. Defense
The stats favor Vancouver. Fewer errors and other miscues, tougher to run against, better at turning ground balls in to outs. Advantages
Offense – Even
Pitching – Vancouver
Defense – Vancouver Prediction
Nature has made Spokane's path more daunting. Wildfires have befouled the Washington air, pushing Spokane's only possible home game to Vancouver. Canadians in three. Most Recent Texas-Affiliated Championship Teams
AAA: 1996 Oklahoma City 89ers
AA: 2004 Frisco RoughRiders
Hi-A: 2016 High Desert Mavericks
Lo-A: 2015 Hickory Crawdads
Short-A: 2008 Spokane Indians
Rookie: 2012 Rangers
DSL: 2014 Rangers