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Minor League Playoff Special: Day 6

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Another season ends, another two seasons extend, Tyler O’Neill continues to be very good

wheeeeeee!
@LumberKings

Jackson Generals 6 - Mississippi Braves 4 (AA)

Jackson leads best-of-five series, 1-0

Jackson squares off in the Southern League Championship against a tough team in the M-Braves, to whom they dropped 3 of 4 games back in mid-July after splitting a series with them earlier in the month. This is a different version of that team, though; this team is missing top prospects Dansby Swanson, recently promoted to the majors, and Ozzie Albies, who is on the DL. However, the M-Braves now feature rehabbing MLB-er Mallex Smith, so there might not be much of a net gain in this team.

To start the series, Jackson put up their star Andrew Moore, whose last postseason appearance was a complete-game shutout against the Montgomery Biscuits. Moore didn’t have that kind of stuff today, but he pitched six strong innings, surrendering just two runs and issuing no free passes. Moore got into trouble in the third inning, when with two outs and in a 1-2 count he gave up an RBI double to Mallex Smith to give the Braves a 1-0 edge. He then hit the next batter, Keith Curcio--I have to actively work not to type Crucio every time--but was able to come back against a tough batter in Dustin Peterson (DJ’s little brother), throwing a change-up for a swinging strikeout. Moore was known in his time at Oregon State for his composure on the mound, and with that kind of grace under pressure, there’s a good chance Moore will make a case to crack the rotation next year. Not bad for someone some called “a substantial reach” when the Mariners drafted him 72nd in 2015. Moore would give up one more run, in the sixth, but overall did an excellent job of limiting the damage on a day when he didn’t have his best stuff.

Unfortunately, the 2010 Mariners Generals weren’t able to offer Moore much run support, despite once having the bases loaded with no outs. Finally in the fourth, Leon Landry tripled into the corner to score Ryan Casteel. Adam Law then hit a sac fly to give the Generals a 2-1 edge. The Generals again loaded the bases in the fifth, but this time Tyler Marlette was able to muscle an RBI single into center field to push the lead to 3-1.

Aaron Brooks came in to pitch the seventh and suffered some poor luck when a ball that would have been an inning-ending double play ball instead snuck past the runner in motion, and then Mallex Smith hit an RBI groundout to tie the game. Brandon Sisk would come in to end the threat and keep Mississippi off the scoreboard in the eighth, thanks mostly to his diving change-up, a putaway pitch that had the Braves hitters off-balance all night. Matt Anderson came in to lock down the save.

The Generals got their runs in the eighth inning, when Adam Law worked a leadoff walk. Ian Miller bunted him over to second, and then the Braves made the strange choice to intentionally walk Benji Gonzalez to get to Tim Lopes, which had the side effect of bringing Tyler O’Neill one batter closer. Lopes chased a ball in the dirt for the third strike but a passed ball on the Braves catcher allowed the runners to advance. And then, it was Tyler O’Neill time. He crushed a double to score Law and Gonzalez, and then Dario Pizzano, who’s been quiet this series, followed up with an RBI double of his own to give the Generals a 6-3 lead and their first win in the SLCS. Game two is tomorrow in Jackson at 4:05 PST.

Bakersfield Blaze 3 - Visalia Rawhide 6 (A+)

Bakersfield loses the series in three games

When Joe DeCarlo popped out in the infield in the bottom of the ninth, he not only ended the game, but also the Blaze’s season and, for all intents and purposes, their existence as a franchise. This isn’t meant to bury DeCarlo, who’d been batting .450 over the last ten games. The Blaze just didn’t have enough firepower to compete with the Rawhide. The game got off to an auspicious start when Drew Jackson homered in the first, but Visalia’s Michael Perez and Victor Reyes both answered back in the third off starter Osmer Morales. Morales would surrender five runs to Visalia’s potent offense, although he didn’t pitch poorly—he struck out seven and only walked one. The Blaze couldn’t answer Visalia’s big four-run fifth inning, despite manufacturing a run in the fifth on a Kyle Petty single and a last-gasp Chantz Mack homer in the bottom of the ninth. But the magic ran out on Bakersfield tonight, bringing their season to a close.

Despite the loss, there’s a lot to like about a young, talented Bakersfield team. Thyago Vieria, the Brazilian fireballer, came in to pitch a scoreless ninth and can touch 98 on his fastball. Since making the move to become the Blaze’s closer, he’s cut his ERA in third—not half, third—and, with his stocky 6’2” frame, looks terrifying on the mound. Zack Littell looked dominant in the hitter-friendly Cal league, as did Jake Zokan before surgery ended his season. Drew Jackson and Braden Bishop, after aggressive promotions by the organization, both showed consistency on both sides of the ball. Several players who have been in the system for some time took steps forward this year. As a team, the lineup showed an ability to hit from top to bottom, with no easy outs. Furthermore, they showed great team chemistry and made rooting for them a pleasure. I will miss the Blaze.

Several other people will miss the Blaze, as well—not necessarily this particular group of players, but the organization itself. For some moving pieces on the last days of the Blaze I recommend this piece by Jen Mac Ramos or, if you have an afternoon free, this longform piece by Bobby DeMuro. RIP Blaze.

F/11: Cedar Rapids Kernels 0 - Clinton LumberKings 1 (A)

Clinton wins series, 2-1

It took eleven long, nearly-scoreless innings, but the Clinton LumberKings fought their way into the Midwest League Championship by beating the Cedar Rapids Kernels, 1-0. Ricky Eusebio played the role of hero, slashing a two-out, walk-off RBI single in the bottom of the eleventh.

The hit was a remarkable end to a playoff series that saw the LumberKings emerge victorious in two consecutive elimination games. They’ll play the winner of Tuesday night’s game between the West Michigan Whitecaps and Great Lake Loons in the Midwest League Championship.

Pitching and defense was the name of the game Monday night. LumberKings starter Nick Neidert turned in another terrific playoff start, striking out nine over seven shutout innings. The 19-year-old surrendered just three hits and is yet to allow a run in fourteen innings of playoff baseball.

The bullpen bent, but never broke, with the scariest moment coming in the ninth, when Matt Walker had to pitch the LumberKings out of a bases loaded, two-out situation. Ronald Dominguez, who got the final out in the eleventh, earned the win.

The offense struggled all night against Cedar Rapids pitching, with starter Sean Poppen and relievers Michael Cederoth and Tom Hackimer combining for 9.1 shutout innings. Top prospect Alex Jackson finished with two doubles. Logan Taylor, who scored the game-winning run, went 1 for 5.

The LumberKings are now just three wins away from a Midwest League Championship. Go, Kings.

Everett AquaSox 7 - Eugene Emeralds 1 (A-)

Series tied, 1-1

Facing elimination, the Everett AquaSox turned to 19-year-old Ljay Newsome in Game Two of the Northwest League Championship. Newsome responded, tossing six innings of one-run ball and leading the AquaSox to a 7-1 victory over the Eugene Emeralds. The win means a decisive Game Three will be played Tuesday night at PK Park in Eugene, OR at 7:05 pm.

In addition to Newsome, the bats were also alive for Everett, with the AquaSox bashing out twelve hits and drawing three walks on the night. Kristian Brito got things started, ripping a two-run single up the middle to put the AquaSox ahead in the first inning, 2-0. They would blow things open in the fourth, with Bryson Brigman and Eric Filia RBI singles, along with a Nick Zammarelli sac fly, pushing the lead up to 6-1. They’d tack one more run in the sixth on a Filia sac fly to make it 7-1.

Michael Koval, Joselito Cano, and Paul Covelle combined to toss three shutout innings of relief to close things out for Everett.

For both the AquaSox and Emeralds, the entire season comes down to tomorrow. As of Monday night, neither team has announced a starter. Brandon Miller would be my best guess for Everett’s starter, but there are a couple options on the table.