Wilmington begins their quest tonight for their first Mills Cup trophy since 1999, as they take on Lynchburg in the best-of-three series for the Northern Division title in the Carolina League. The Blue Rocks had not reached the playoffs since 2009 (when they lost to the Hillcats) and have not won a playoff series since 2004.
August was the Blue Rocks only winning month of the season, which propelled them into first place in the second half. The Blue Rocks had 66 victories on the season and 33 of them were come from behind wins.
The Blue Rocks play host for the first game before heading to Lynchburg for the final two. At Frawley Stadium, the Blue Rocks are 38-32 and have won 11 of their last 14 home games. They won the season series over the Hillcats (11-9) and were 6-4 at home.
Despite the fact that the Hillcats have an All-Star shortstop in Nick Ahmed, he will have to settle for being the third baseman. Starting in Game 2 at short will be Andrelton Simmons, who will be rehabbing from Atlanta. Simmons was last year’s CL batting champ and was an MLB Rookie of the Year candidate this season before a broken hand shut him down.
The Hillcats will be throwing the Carolina League Pitcher of the year, Gus Schlosser, in Game 1. Matching up against him will be Brooks Pounders. All three of the Hillcats starters are ranked in the top ten in the CL in ERA (all are under four).
Schlosser was 13-7 with a 3.38 ERA during the regular season. The 13 wins was first in the league and his ERA was ranked third. He was second to teammate (and Game 3 starter) Aaron Northcraft in strikeouts with 139. He also led the league in innings pitched (165.1). Schlosser made two of his last three starts on the regular season against Wilmington (home and away). He lasted just five innings in both. In Wilmington, he allowed two runs on three hits and a walk while striking out seven.
Pounders last faced the Hillcats back on August 18th at Frawley and pitched seven shutout innings. He allowed just three hits and a walk while striking out seven. It was the first time I had seen him pitch and I came away impressed.
Blue Rocks manager Vance Wilson talked following his team’s regular season finale about the use of his bullpen (which has been great). When asked who he would go to, he said “[Robinson] Yambati and [Edwin] Carl. Carl’s been outstanding as has Yambati. So with that, that leaves us some flexibility to use [Nick] Rogers a little earlier in tight situations. I do anticipate tight games against Lynchburg because we’ve played them all year with their pitching staff.”
How good has Edwin Carl been? He has had five straight scoreless appearances, totaling 11 innings. In those outings, he did not allow a hit, walked two, and struck out 12. Carl has also impressed Wilson the most during this 2012 season. “Because he started down in Kane County and did a nice job. My biggest thing is he came here and scuffled a bit and again we challenged him to do some things and he’s done them. And he’s hot.”
Strikeouts could reign supreme in this series. Not only does Blue Rocks centerfielder Brett Eibner lead the world in strikeouts (165), but the entire team leads the league. The Hillcats have two players in the top five in strikeouts: outfielder Adam Milligan (134) and third baseman/DH Edward Salcedo (130).
Who’s HOT: Second baseman Tommy La Stella (LYN) 16-for-27 (.593) with five RBIs in his last eight games. Ahmed (LYN) 13-for-33 (.394) in his last nine games. Outfielder Nick Van Stratten (WIL) 16-for-40 (.400) in his last ten games. Outfielder Geulin Beltre (WIL) 11-for-35 (.314) in his last ten games.
Who’s NOT: First baseman Chris Garcia (LYN) 4-for-33 (.121) in his last ten games. Catcher Braeden Schlehuber (LYN) 5-for-32 (.156) in his last ten games. Eibner (WIL) 6-for-36 (.167) with 14 Ks in his last ten games. First baseman Matt Fields (WIL) just one homerun in his last ten games with 15 Ks.
*I apologize for the delay in this posting. I had some issues with the site/internet, but I think I’ve got it working now.
As much as I expected a bundle of strikeouts, we have just one in the game heading into the 3rd inning. Beltre struck out flailing on three pitches to end the bottom of the second.
Pounders allowed a run in the top of the first inning. Brewer singled to lead off the game. He was moved to second base on a ground out and to third on a fly out. He scored on a bloop single down the left field line by Garcia. Pounders allowed another bloop single in the second inning, so nothing has been hit real hard. He needed just eight pitches to get through the 3rd inning.
On the other side, Schlosser allowed his first hit in the 2nd inning. After fouling a pitch off his foot, Cuthbert collected the Blue Rocks first hit, but was left stranded at first. Franco singled back up the middle with one out in the 3rd inning. Schlosser dropped in a curveball to get Calixte flailing for out number two and Van Stratten flied out to end the inning.
Pounders had a long top of the 4th inning, helped out by the ten-pitch walk to Salcedo. Schlosser had yet another quick inning, ended by another strikeout (this time on a fastball). Thru 4, it’s still 1-0 Hillcats.
The Hillcats tacked on another run in the top of the 5th on an Ahmed single to center. Pounders was helped out by a nifty 3-6-3 turned by Fields to end the inning. The Blue Rocks got their first leadoff hitter on base in the bottom of the inning on an Eibner single. However he was left stranded. Thru 5, the Hillcats lead 2-0.
Pounders was done after six innings. He allowed two runs on seven hits and a walk. He struck out two and threw 61 of his 85 pitches for strikes. Edwin Carl on in relief and was greeted by Jones with a double (as Adams tried to make a diving catch in right field). Schlehuber sacrificed him to third base. Landoni had a nice, long at-bat (eight pitches), but struck out. Carl induced an inning ending ground out from Brewer to escape without allowing a run.
The Hillcats hitters are frequently swinging at the first pitch, as Carl has already had three of the first six hitters he’s faced do that. Ahmed led off the 8th inning with a single on the first pitch, stole second base, and went to third on the throwing error. On the very next pitch, La Stella singled to right field to give the Hillcats a 3-0 lead. On the very next pitch (another first pitch swinging), Garcia hit a ground ball down the first base line that Fields tried to backhand but missed for an error, allowing La Stella to go all the way to third base. Milligan drove him in with a sac fly to give the Hillcats a 4-0 lead and ended Carl’s night.
Nick Graffeo entered in relief with a runner on first base and just one out. He needed nine pitches to escape.
Thru 8, the Hillcats lead 4-0. Schlosser picked up another quick 1-2-3 inning. That’s his fourth of the game.
The new pitcher for the Blue Rocks was Nick Rogers in the 9th inning. He allowed back-to-back infield singles to start the inning. Brewer couldn’t get down the bunt, but worked the count full and picked up a base hit to center field to load the bases. With the infield in, Rogers walked Ahmed to force in a run. Hillcats now up 5-0. This game is starting to get ugly.
La Stella drove in two more with a single past the diving Fields at first base. 7-0 Hillcats with the runners at the corners. The first out came via a lineout to Cuthbert at third base. The second out came via a ground ball that hit Rogers, but he stayed with it and got an out (but a run scored). Another infield single chased Rogers from the game.
Tyler Sample (the Blue Rocks opening day starter) entered in relief.
The bleeding finally ended with the Hillcats leading 8-0 heading into the bottom of the 9th inning. They scored six runs over the final two innings.
With the now big lead, Lynchburg changed pitchers and brought in John Cornely. Schlosser pitched eight scoreless innings. He allowed just three hits and one walk while striking out six.
The pop ups on the infield continued for the Blue Rocks, despite the new pitcher. Van Stratten popped up to second for the first out. Adams struck out swinging for the second out. If this were to be the Blue Rocks last home game, I was hoping to see Fields hit a homerun. I had yet to see one, despite the fact that he has 17 on the season. Instead, Fields struck out to end the game.
The Hillcats win Game 1 of the Northern Division Championship Series, 8-0 (which just 922 people in attendance). Both teams head to Lynchburg tonight to play Game 2 tomorrow night.