Tuesday, September 6, 2011
California League Playoff Preview
I am by no stretch of the imagination, a minor league expert.
I enjoy minor league baseball. I try to attend Lake Elsinore Storm games on a semi-regular basis. (Side Note: If you have not made it up to The Diamond in Lake Elsinore, do yourself the favor and do so. I live nearby so its a quick drive over, but make a point next year to head up at least once. It's well worth it.)
That being said, I figured I would take a crack out of previewing the California League Playoffs, set to begin tomorrow. For one, it will allow all Padres fans here the chance to enjoy some playoff baseball. And second, I literally cannot think of something to say about this Padres season at this point that hasn't been said a million times. Ugh...let's just play these final 21 games.
Ok, enough wallowing. It's playoff time!
The California League Playoffs are broken down into 3 rounds amongst two divisions. Of each division, 3 teams will make the playoffs for a total of 6. The first half champion gets a first round bye, the second half champion gets home field advantage in the first round and each division has a "wild card" team. The first round is called the "Mini-Series" pitting the second half champion (or #2 seed) vs the wild card team.
Our very own Lake Elsinore Storm had themselves quite a season, nabbing the 2nd seed. Their mini-series matchup will begin tomorrow vs the Inland Empire 66ers.
For the Storm, the name of the game is speed. Something that is clearly an organizational focus, the Storm led the California league in Stolen Bases (196). Leading the way for the Storm is a name that should be quite familiar for Padres fans. Reymond Fuente, brought into the organization as part of the Adrian Gonzalez deal, leads the team with 41 stolen bases. From seeing him in person, the kid can flat out run. Much like Cam Maybin, Fuentes forces the issue, forcing infielders to hurry throws, outfielders to hurry the ball back in, and wreck overall havoc on the base paths.
Other than Fuentes, the Storm also bring more than 60 stolen bases to the playoffs from their middle infield. Jonathon Galvez and Jeudy Valdez (2B and SS respectively) complete a speed trio for the Storm.
Sadly (for the Storm, not for the player), the Storm's best player by far well not be present. Jedd Gyorko got a much deserved promotion to AA San Antonio after tearing the California League up (.365 and 18 HRs in 81 games). In his place, the Storm have been utilizing Edinson Rincon who has provided a consistent bat though not the power that Gyorko had.
Inland Empire 66ers are not a hitting team. I mean, they take their at bats as baseball rules require, they just don't hit very well. What they do do well however, is strike people out. In Game 1, the 66ers will throw John Hellwig, a 6'9" strikeout machine in the second half of the season since moving from the bullpen to the rotation. In the second half, Hellwig has posted 78 strikeouts in 57 2/3rd innings. Game 2 will be Dominican Ariel Pena who has posted 180 strikeouts in 151 2/3rd innings, second most in the league this season.
Strikeouts vs Speed. Game 1 of the California League South Division Mini-Series begins tomorrow night at Inland Empire. The Storm lead the season series 13-12. It has the makings of a very entertaining series. Winner moves on to face the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes. But more on that if we get there.