On The Farm: Southern Leauge playoff preview

On The Farm: Southern Leauge playoff preview

Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2010
3:47 PM

By Kevin T. Czerwinski
CSNChicago.com
Tennessee and West Tenn were almost evenly matched throughout the regular season in the Southern League. Now, these in-state rivals will get the chance to grab bragging rights and play for a league title. Heres a closer look at the opening-round matchup in the Southern League playoffs.
Tennessee Smokies vs. West Tenn Diamond Jaxx(Best of five beginning Thursday)

Regular-Season Series

Tennessee had the slightest of edges winning 11 of the 19 games played between the two teams. The Diamond Jaxx took of three late last month at home but Tennessee took four of five games at the end of July and beginning of August at Smokies Park.
HEAD-TO-HEAD
Tennessee

The Smokies have pitched well all season and their contests against West Tenn were no exception. Tennessee had a 3.64 team era in the series with the starters posting a 3.39 ERA. Chris Archer was 2-0 with a 0.84 ERA while Luke Sommer posted a 1.93 ERA in eight relief appearances. Brandon Guyer scorched the Diamond Jaxx at the plate, hitting .406 with two homers and 16 RBIs. Brett Jackson hit .321 with nine RBIs though he did strike out 16 times.
West Tenn

Johan Limanta hit .347 with 12 RBIs while Alex Liddi hit .303 with 14 RBIs. The Diamond Jaxx, however, struck out once every 4.2 at-bats led by Carlos Peguero, who fanned 30 times in 65 at-bats. Limanta and Liddi combined for 33 strikeouts. Luis Munoz was 2-0 but he had a 6.57 ERA in his six appearances. Steve Bray and Mauricio Robles each made four starts against the Smokies, combining to go 1-5 with a 7.28 ERA.
ON THE MOUND
Tennessee

The Smokies had the highest winning percentage .619 and the third-best ERA 3.71 in the league. They also topped the circuit with 49 saves. Chris Carpenter 8-6, 3.16 ERA was sixth in the league in ERA but that was it for placing pitchers among the league leaders. Tennessee had a fluid staff throughout the season, moving people up to Iowa while plucking arms off the Daytona roster. Though the Smokies lost Austin Bibens-Dirkx, Andrew Cashner and Hung-Wen Chen, who combined for 16 wins, to Iowa, they were replaced with Chris Archer 8-2, 1.80 and Trey McNutt. Archer was a combined 15-3 with a 2.34 ERA at Daytona and Tennessee while McNutt went 10-1 with a 2.48 ERA at Peoria, Daytona and Tennessee. Craig Muschko was 9-3 with a 3.77 ERA in 26 games 23 starts. Kyle Smit also proved to be a fine addition after coming over in a trade with the Dodgers, going 5-1 with a save and 1.96 ERA in 12 appearances. As for finishing games, the Smokies have been closer by committee for much of the year with several plays
rotating in, out and around promotions.

West Tenn
The Diamond Jaxx finished seventh in the league with a 4.25 team ERA. Mauricio Robles was having a solid season and was near the top of several categories in terms of the league leaders when he was bumped up to Triple-A Tacoma last month. Game One starter Luis Munoz has appeared in 35 games but only 10 as a starter, during which he was 3-5 with a 4.17 ERA. His last four appearances were starts and he went 2-2 with a 3.43 ERA. Game Two starter Anthony Vazquez has been all over the map this season, spending time in the Midwest and California Leagues. The former 18th-round selection was a combined 11-9 with a 2.46 ERA. West Tenn has gone closer by committee all season and lately Mumba Rivera has been getting many of the chances to finish things off. He has four saves in his last six appearances, during which he didnt allow any runs. Anthony Varvaro led the team with nine saves.

PITCHING MATCHUPS

Game One: RHP Chris Archer 8-2, 1.80 vs. RHP Luis Munoz 7-6, 3.88
Game Two: RHP Chris Carpenter 8-6, 3.16 vs. LHP Anthony Vazquez 2-3, 2.61
Game Three: RHP Trey McNutt 0-1. 5.74 vs. RHP Jarrett Grube 5-5, 3.48
Game Four: RHP Craig Muschko 9-3, 3.77 vs. Stephen Bray 7-11, 5.50
Game Five: TBD vs. LHP Jim Gilheeney 1-2, 6.87
If necessary
AT THE PLATE

Tennessee

The Smokies had three of the top four hitters in the league, including Brandon Guyer who led the circuit with a .344 average despite missing time early with a shoulder injury and in August with a case of pink eye. He had an 18-game hitting streak in July and August during which he batted .471 while propelling himself to the crown. Tony Campana finished second with a .319 batting average while Blake Lalli was fourth at .311. The trio was the biggest reasons why the Smokies led the league with a .285 batting average. The Smokies also led the league in hits, runs scored, homers while striking out the fewest times on the 10-team circuit. Campana was also second in the league in hits 156 and stolen bases 48 while Guyer led the league in slugging percentage .588. Russ Canzler was second .566. If thats not enough, Steve Clevenger hit .317 with 47 RBIs. He hit .383 after the All-Star break and at one point in late August had hits in nine consecutive at-bats.
West Tenn

Third baseman Alex Liddi led the league with 92 RBIs second most in team history. The un-drafted free agent, who was born in San Remo, Italy, finished the regular season riding a 14-game hitting streak. Overall, he hit .281 but hit .490 during the streak to raise his average from .260. The Diamond Jaxx had Dustin Ackley through the first-half of the season but lost him to promotion at the All-Star break. Matt Lawson, one of the players the Mariners got from Texas in the Cliff Lee deal, has played well, hitting .319 with 22 RBIs in 42 games after driving in 34 with Frisco of the Texas League. Nick Franklin, the clubs first-round pick 27th overall in the 2009 draft, was called up from the Midwest League earlier this week and pressed into service when Carlos Triunfel sprained his index finger and went on the DL. Triunfel is likely done for the year meaning Franklin, who skipped right over High Desert, will be the starting shortstop after hitting .281 with 23 homers and 65 RBIs for Clinton. Triunfel had
been hitting .257.

NOTES

Tennessee finished with an 86-53 mark, a franchise record. The Smokies will host four of the five games because they won both halves in the Southern League season. The Diamond Jaxx will change their names next season to the Jackson Generals. Leury Bonilla played all nine positions in the Diamond Jaxx season-finale on Monday. He pitched a scoreless inning, recording a strikeout and inducing a 6-4-3 doubleplay. The Diamond Jaxx last made the playoffs in 2008 when they won the first-half championship by defeating Huntsville in a one-game playoff. They are riding a five-game winning streak heading into the post-season this year. Jacksonville Florida and Mobile Arizona will play in the other opening-round series.

Kevin Czerwinski can be reached at ktczerwinski@gmail.com.

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Kris Bryant ignites World Series nostalgia with Cubs' epic eighth-inning comeback

Kris Bryant ignites World Series nostalgia with Cubs' epic eighth-inning comeback

“Reminded me a lot of a play in the World Series.”

Kris Bryant wasn’t the only one with World Series nostalgia Saturday afternoon at the Friendly Confines. The tens of thousands of Cubs fans losing their minds over the North Siders’ eighth-inning comeback made that very clear.

Bryant, though, was the one who provided it, first driving in the game-tying run mere moments after the visiting St. Louis Cardinals smashed open a pitchers duel with back-to-back homers off Jon Lester in the top of the eighth. Bryant then got a head starts and came around all the way from first, scoring the game-winning run on a ball Anthony Rizzo dumped into the left-center field gap so perfectly he couldn’t have thrown it there any better.

Bryant slid in — feet first — beating the throw home from ex-teammate Dexter Fowler. Cue the hysteria at Clark and Addison.

“Me, honestly, I was just trying to go up the middle. I think that’s kind of where I’ve been struggling this year is with guys on base I want to do too much. Just seeing through the middle. Bat broke and flew, I don’t know where it went, but it flew somewhere. That was huge,” Bryant explained after the game.

“And then obviously with Rizz having a good at-bat off a tough lefty. I don't know if Dexter or Tommy Pham got a good read or if they were way back at the track, but right when he hit it I didn’t see them anywhere close to it so I thought there was a pretty good chance that I could score.”

Bryant’s very presence in the Cubs’ starting lineup was the headline before the game, the “freak of nature” returning from a jammed finger after missing only one game. So of course it was the reigning National League MVP who played the biggest role, flipping the script from his sick day by being right in the middle of the Cubs’ eighth-inning explosion. It was the eighth inning where the Cardinals staged their game-defining rally Friday.

[CUBS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

Manager Joe Maddon went as far as saying that perhaps only Bryant could have made the play he did, scoring from first base on what went down as a Rizzo double.

“KB being able to play was the difference in today’s game,” Maddon said. “A combination of the hit and his speed. I don’t think anybody else scores on that. Maybe Jason (Heyward), possibly. (Ian) Happ, possibly. But KB is such a good base runner. He had it in his head the moment the ball was hit, and all (third base coach Gary) Jones had to do was wave his arm. You can’t underestimate the importance of one person in the lineup.

“He’s a very bright base runner. He’s shown that from the beginning. … He demonstrated that early on, and for me when a young player demonstrates awareness on the bases, man, that’s a good baseball player.”

All that talent made Bryant last season’s Most Valuable Player and one of the most important figures in the curse-breaking World Series championship.

Bryant mentioned he thought Saturday’s game-winning trip from first to home conjured memories of a similar play in Game 7 of last fall’s World Series, when Bryant went first to home on Rizzo’s base hit off Andrew Miller in the fifth inning.

“Reminded me a lot of a play in the World Series off of Andrew Miller. It was a full count there, started early,” Bryant said. “Rizz hit it, you’ve got to give him a ton of credit, worked a great at-bat. But the head start really does help. It's something that I take pride in is my base running, surprising people. Hopefully I did that today.”

With Bryant back in the lineup Saturday, Kyle Hendricks’ return to the rotation coming Monday, a now 7-1 record since the All-Star break and a bunched-up NL Central that had four teams within three and a half games of each other entering Saturday’s action, it’s no wonder the World Series feeling is making its way back to the North Side.

All season long, fans and observers have been waiting for that switch to flip, and maybe it finally has.

The bats were thunderous on that six-game road trip out of the All-Star break, with 16 home runs helping the Cubs to back-to-back sweeps of the Baltimore Orioles and Atlanta Braves. Friday’s loss to the Cardinals provided plenty of evidence that the rest of the season might feature a knock-down, drag-out slugfest between the four NL Central contenders. All that was missing was a game that got Wrigleyville rocking.

“Probably one of our better wins of the year,” Bryant said.

That’s all without even mentioning the efforts of Lester, who was perfect until Adam Wainwright’s single in the top of the sixth. It was another stellar effort from a Cubs starting pitcher, and what was the team’s biggest problem during that sub-.500 first half — inconsistent starting pitching — certainly seems to be ironed out.

While the standings say it’s still going to be a brawl to the end with the Cardinals, Milwaukee Brewers and Pittsburgh Pirates, the Cubs could be in a first-place tie by the end of Saturday night.

In other words, the race is on. And Bryant and the Cubs are clicking at the right time.

“It’s already Jaugust,” Maddon joked, inventing a new month out of thin air. “There’s no waiting around right now. Everybody feels the same way. We took advantage of the break, I believe. We came back with renewed energy. You don’t want to give up anything right now.”