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Minor League Playoff Special: Day Nine

Jackson ends their season with a bang. A ring-shaped bang.

there’s no shirt-wearing in championship baseball

Jackson Generals 11 - Mississippi Braves 3

Jackson WINS the Southern League Championship in a sweep, 3-0

This game was bananapants from the word go. The Braves actually outhit the Generals, 14 to 12, but Braves pitching gave up an eye-popping ten walks, including six in the first inning, to gift the Generals a 4-0 lead in the first. Braves starter Patrick Weigel started off the game by walking the first two batters before giving up an RBI double to Dario Pizzano. Weigel, a 7th round pick in the 2015 draft, had been enjoying a stretch of success: from July 23 until just this month, he’d hurled 52 innings with a 1.01 ERA, allowing a measly slash line of .133/.242/.202. He wouldn’t make it out of the first inning tonight, after walking in three runs. The Generals, for their part, controlled the zone, collecting their ten walks against eight strikeouts. The strikeout number might seem high, but that’s probably due to the fact that the Braves used seven different pitchers in their desperate attempt to salvage one win in the series and extend their season.

Things might have gone very differently for the Generals in this game. Starter Paul Blackburn, acquired in the Mike Montgomery trade, looked eminently hittable, and finished with just two strikeouts to eleven hits; however, he issued zero free passes in his six innings of work. Blackburn walked a tightrope all evening; after giving up back-to-back singles in the first, a double play got him out of the inning; in the second, he gave up a run when he allowed three back-to-back singles, but was able to get MLB rehabber Mallex Smith to ground out to end the inning. The third inning was probably the diciest for Blackburn, when he gave up a solo dinger to the younger Peterson brother (come be a Mariner, Dustin), and then a double right after that to Carlos Franco, followed by an RBI single to Joey Meneses. After a visit from pitching coach Andrew Lorraine, Blackburn settled down and was able to get a groundout and flyout to end the inning. That would be the last run Blackburn would surrender in the 2016 season; he gave up a few more hits in the fourth and the fifth but no runs and then worked a 1-2-3 sixth, finishing with a strikeout of Mallex Smith. Brandon Sisk, the journeyman indy ball player who’s been nails for the depleted Jackson bullpen, worked two scoreless, one-hit, four-strikeout innings, and Matt Anderson, nudged into the closer role by the departure of Dan Altavilla, would finish the game. Of note: not one Jackson pitcher issued a walk tonight. C that Z, baby!

Having slumbered through the end of the season and played several close games in the playoffs, the Jackson offense exploded for eleven runs. After allowing Mississippi to get within one run in the third, the Generals pulled away from the Braves late in the game, putting exponential distance between themselves and Mississippi as the game wore on. The Generals scored one run in the fourth, three in the fifth, and another three in the seventh on their way to a decisive eight-run win. Tyler O’Neill—who is now the Championship Series MVP in addition to all his other accolades—had three hits, and four other Generals (Benji Gonzalez, Tim Lopes, Dario Pizzano, and Tyler Marlette) had two each. Every General except two had an RBI. The offense worked together in concert tonight, from top to bottom, with every player contributing something to the win.

It was an appropriate ending to the season for a Jackson team that has been lighting up the Southern League this year, and doing so as a total team effort. Tyler O’Neill (rightfully) grabs the headlines, but the tandem of Benji Gonzalez and Tim Lopes have been reliable hitters while playing an excellent shortstop and second base, respectively; Ian Miller has been an absolute menace on the basepaths while cutting his strikeout numbers in half from last year; Adam Law, a recent signing who had never hit a home run before joining the Generals, came through with a clutch home run in the postseason; and the entire pitching staff, including guys who had been pitching in indy ball the month before, came together to fill the hole left by major league promotions and keep the slumping second-half offense in games. The Generals are a promise that the farm system isn’t as barren as it may seem, and a testament to Dipoto’s ability to wring useful baseball players out of the most unlikely of stones. It’s no coincidence that Andy McKay spent so much time around that franchise this year; they embody the motto of #PeopleAndProcess. Here’s hoping that a lot of the Jackson guys are in Tacoma next year, and those of us in the Seattle area have the privilege of watching them in person. Thanks for a great year, Generals.

Great Lakes Loons 4 - Clinton LumberKings 0

Series tied, 1-1

The LumberKings struggled to get much of anything going in Game Two of the Midwest League Championship, falling to the Great Lakes Loons in woeful fashion, 4-0. With the loss, the best-of-five series is now tied. Clinton won Game One on Wednesday night, 16-6.

Pablo Lopez got the start for the LumberKings and surrendered two runs in 5.2 innings. Lopez struck out five and really only struggled in the third inning, when he surrendered two runs on three hits, two walks, and a wild pitch. With the LumberKings’ offense rendered completely powerless, however, the inning was enough to saddle him with the loss.

Ronald Dominguez and Nick Wells tossed scoreless innings out of the bullpen. Marvin Gorgas gave up the other two runs in his 1.2-inning appearance.

The offense was a sad state of affairs, as the LumberKings only managed to scrape out three hits and a walk on the night. Loons reliever Leo Crawford proved to be the toughest presence, striking out eight over five innings of one-hit ball. It was not exactly a C the Z kind of night (1 BB, 14 K) for Clinton.

Now, the two teams will take a day off for travel. Game Three will be played Saturday night at 6:05 pm CT. Clinton will spend the rest of the series on the road. Kevin Gadea is scheduled to pitch for the LumberKings.