The Cedar Rapids Kernels and Ft. Myers Miracle booked their playoff seats more than two months ago by virtue of their first-half success. The Kernels won a Midwest League playoff spot as a wild card from the first half. The Miracle team won their division in the first half.
For the Rochester Red Wings, it came right down to the last day. Because of a late-season plummet, the Wings did not control their own destiny. On Labor Day, the Red Wings had to win and hope that the Norfolk Tide would lose. The Tide lost 1-0 in 10 innings to Durham. The Red Wings' offense put together their best performance of the season, scoring 15 runs, and following the game, they were able to celebrate a playoff spot.
The minor league regular season is now over, and it's time for the playoffs. Here is a quick preview of the three playoff series involving Twins affiliates:
Rochester Red Wings vs Pawtucket Red Sox
This is a best of five series. Game 1 will be played in Rochester on Wednesday night. Cole De Vries will get the start in the game. Game 2 will be played on Thursday night, also be in Rochester. From there, the series will shift over to Pawtucket. Game 3 will be on Friday. If needed, Games 4 and 5 will also be in Pawtucket.
The Red Wings have not yet announced their starting pitchers after game 2. Candidates including left-handers Pat Dean, Logan Darnell and Monday's starter Scott Diamond. Right-hander Virgil Vasquez, and one of the lefties would be available in long-relief. One name you will notice is not included is Kyle Gibson. On Monday, it was announced that Gibson has been shut down for the season. Reliever Dakota Watts will take his spot on the Red Wings roster. He'll join a strong Red Wings bullpen that has really struggled over the last ten days. Michael Tonkin has given up eight runs in his last 4.1 innings (5 games), but he has been very good most of the year. So have lefties Edgar Ibarra and Aaron Thompson, and right-handers AJ Achter and Shairon Martis.
These two teams played each other 15 times in the regular season. Rochester won nine of those games. They played seven times in April, and Pawtucket won just two of those games. They met eight times in July, and Rochester won seven of those games.
Chris Colabello was recently named the International League's MVP and Rookie of the Year. He hit .352 with an OPS of 1.066 and 49 extra base hits. He is now with the Twins. The Red Wings .258 team batting average is fourth in the league. Their .359 on-base percentage ranks second. A .392 slugging percentage ranks fifth, but their .732 OPS is third in the 14-team league.
Andrew Albers is also with the Twins now. He was the Red Wings best pitcher all season and went 11-5 with a 2.86 ERA. However, when looking at where the Red Wings rank in pitching categories, it is alarming. They rank 14th (last) in ERA at 4.21. Their WHIP ranks tenth. I'm sure it would surprise no one that their pitching staff ranks dead last in strikeouts, though they have issues the third fewest walks.
Projected Lineup: Catcher - Eric Fryer, 1B - Chris Parmelee, 2B - James Beresford, SS - Eduardo Escobar, 3B - Ray Olmedo/Deibinson Romero, LF - Antoan Richardson, CF - Aaron Hicks, RF - Eric Farris, DH - Jeff Clement.
The Red Wings are in the playoffs for the first time since they were a Wild Card in 2006. They ended the regular season with a 77-67 record. Gene Glynn is starting to be recognized, as he should be, because of leading this group of minor league veterans to a great second half.
Ft. Myers Miracle vs Charlotte Stone Crabs
The Miracle earned their playoff berth by being one of baseball's best minor league teams in the season's first half when they went 45-22. At that point, Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario, DJ Baxendale and others were promoted to New Britain. The Miracle added the likes of Byron Buxton, Dalton Hicks and JD Williams. In the second half, the Miracle went 34-34 and finished in fourth place in their division. Overall, their 79-56 record was tops in the Florida State League.
This round is a Best of Three format and starts on Tuesday night. The Miracle will go with Matt Summers and Taylor Rogers in the first two games, and Jason Wheeler will most likely work game three. Starters Tyler Duffey, Matt Tomshaw and David Hurlbut will likely be available for long relief. The Miracle have a very strong and people will try to keep up with the Joneses. Zach Jones and Tyler Jones are both hard-throwing right-handers capable of hitting 96 mph with their fastballs consistently. Luke Bard was added to the Miracle roster as well for a bullpen arm.
The Miracle find themselves on top of most season-ending statistics in the Florida State League. They are first in the league in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, home runs and runs scored. But, they are not just an offensive team. They rank second in the league in ERA and third in WHIP.
The Miracle and Stone Crabs have played each other 17 times, and the Miracle has won 11 of those matchups. However, the Miracle won 10 of the first 11 games. That means that Charlotte has won five of the last six games including a three-game sweep two weeks ago.
Right-hander Matt Summers led the Florida State League with a 2.47 ERA. Lefty Taylor Rogers finished second in that category with a 2.55 ERA. He also won 11 games and led the league with three complete games and two shutouts.
With Sano and Rosario out of the lineup, there are still plenty of weapons in the lineup. Kennys Vargas led the league in RBI with 93. He finished third in the league in slugging percentage. He was tied for second with 19 home runs, and third with 33 doubles. Byron Buxton is obviously the featured attraction with his all-around game. His power hasn't shown up yet in Ft. Myers, but his speed shows up in stolen bases, triples and great defense.
Projected Lineup: C - Matt Koch, 1B - Dalton Hicks, 2B - Levi Michael, 3B - Stephen Wickens, SS - AJ Pettersen, LF - JD Williams, CF - Byron Buxton, RF - Mike Kvasnicka, DH - Kennys Vargas.
This series pits the team with the league's top overall record (Miracle) against the team with the division's best record in the second half (Stone Crabs). Doug Mientkiewicz, Jim Dwyer and Ivan Arteaga have led this team to a great season.
Cedar Rapids Kernels vs Quad Cities River Bandits
Cedar Rapids got off to a fast start, but faltered late in the first half and ended up two games behind Beloit. However, their 40-28 record clinched the Kernels a playoff spot. In the second half, the team saw the promotions of Byron Buxton, Dalton Hicks, JD Williams and several more. Somehow, they were even better in the second half, boasting a 48-20 record and winning the second half division title by 4.5 games. Overall, their 88-50 record was six games better than anyone else in the Midwest League and six games better than Quad Cities.
Brett Lee will get the Game 1 start on Wednesday night in this Best of Three series. Tim Shibuya will start Game 2, and if necessary, Tim Atherton will get the nod in Game 3.
Byron Buxton was named the MVP of the Midwest League and its Top Prospect. Dalton Hicks led the entire organization with 110 RBI. However, the Kernels still have a lot of talent. They are led by powerful Adam Walker who led the Midwest League in Home Runs (27) and RBI (106). Jorge Polanco, Travis Harrison, Niko Goodrum and Tyler Grimes have been primary starters throughout the season as well.
The Kernels led the Midwest League in On-Base Percentage (.346), Slugging Percentage (.413), OPS (.759), and runs scored (752, 86 more than the second most). They were second in the league in Batting Average (.267) and Home Runs (108). Their 253 doubles ranked third. Their pitching was more middle of the road. They ranked fourth in WHIP (1.30) but eighth in ERA (3.69). Their 1,021 strikeouts rank seventh while they rank fourth with just 428 walks allowed.
In the season's first half, the two teams split six games. In the second half, the River Bandits won five out of their seven matchups.
Projected Lineup: C - Michael Quesada, 1B - Michael Gonzales, 2B - Jorge Polanco, 3B, Travis Harrison, SS - Niko Goodrum, LF - Max Kepler, CF - Jonathan Murphy, RF - Adam Walker, DH - Tyler Grimes.
The Kernels have arguably been the best team in minor league baseball this season despite several key promotions. Jake Mauer, Tommy Watkins and Gary Lucas will shift credit to the players, but they deserve a ton of credit for the success. They will have their hands full with Carlos Correa and a very tough Quad Cities roster.
Sure, it would be great if the Minnesota Twins were contending in 2013. They're not... even close. But, it is great to see that three of the Twins four full-season affiliates have played well enough this season to earn spots in the playoffs. Development is obviously the top priority for any minor league system. However, winning and learning how to win as a team can be a big part of that development. Also, the players on these rosters and the coaching staffs have put in the work since the beginning of April and they have earned the right to "go for it" here in September.
Several members of the Ft. Myers and Cedar Rapids teams were part of the 2012 Appalachian League championship for Elizabethton or the 2012 Beloit Snappers playoff roster. I'm sure they would love another title.
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