Rainiers versus Memphis: PCL Championship Series Preview
The Rainiers’ run for the PCL Title continues this afternoon in Memphis. Game 1 starts right about now, with Blake Beavan getting the start for Tacoma against Evan MacLane and the Redbirds. You can listen here or follow gameday once it’s posted here.
As with any minor league series, you can only learn so much by looking at the season statistics. The Rainiers starting rotation looks excellent by tRA , but the bulk of that stellar pitching runs above average total is due to the contributions of guys who won’t be playing this series: Luke French, Chris Seddon, Ryan Rowland-Smith and Garrett Olson are in Seattle, while Michael Pineda’s been shut down for the year. Instead, the Rainiers turn to Beavan, Mauricio Robles, Yusmeiro Petit, Ryan Feierabend and Andy Baldwin – none of which were in the rotation when Tacoma was swept by Memphis back in May.
Memphis’ rotation looks average by tRA (or RA for that matter), but it’s got a considerable edge in experience and polish. Evan MacLane’s a PCL vet who’s pitched well against Tacoma, and Brandon Dickson’s a lanky righthanded ground-baller with good command. The top two starters are Lance Lynn, a 2008 draft pick out of Ole Miss, and PJ Walters, a veteran who’s seen time with St. Louis this year and 2009. Walters is something of an enigma, as he’s gotten great results and racked up lots of strikeouts without much of an outpitch. He’s got Fister-esque velocity from the right side, and reports on his off-speed pitches tended to be mixed. He apparently has a good change-up (and unlike Fister, he uses it), and that’s helped him post solid K% and K/BB numbers in AAA. Lynn’s a guy with a 90-91MPH fastball that can outpitch his repertoire, as he did to close out Oklahoma City in the PCL semifinal series – Lynn struck out 16 in 7IP. Still, his stats this year aren’t eye-popping, and as much as some praise his competitiveness, I’m not sure Memphis is the clear favorite in his game 4 start versus Ryan Feierabend.
Why? Memphis has a number of hitters with somewhat pronounced splits. 1B Mark Hamilton is essentially Bryan LaHair – he’s death on a stick to righties (1.100 OPS this year), but he’s lost against lefties (.577 OPS this year). Ruben Gotay isn’t a whole lot better – he had a .50 point wOBA split in the majors, and his OPS splits this year in AAA look similar. The righties on the team – led by OF Allen Craig – have much more even splits. If Mauricio Robles has decent command, he could excel against this team.
In general, the Rainiers have an advantage at the plate, with a much better team wOBA and much more power, which is only partially offset by Memphis’ contact edge. Halman, Mangini and Brad Nelson were all on the team in May, but Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak, David Winfree and Tug Hulett weren’t (they replaced average-to-below-average hitters from Tommy Everidge to Ezequiel Carrara to Ramon Vasquez). The Rainiers have the advantage at CF, 2B, SS and possibly 1B (Smoak and Hamilton have the same problem), it’s a push at 3B and RF, so the only real positional advantage for the Redbirds is LF. Catcher’s a bit unsettled, but I suppose we’ll be nice and give the nod to Memphis.
The bullpen’s tough to call, but I’m tempted to give the advantage to Tacoma. Cortes/Lueke/Patterson is a formidable trio at this level, and if they have command, they’re lights out. Memphis had a great closer this year in Fernando Salas, but he’s been called up. Their ‘pen includes some solid AAAA/MLB journeymen types, and that can be useful – just as Tacoma prospered early in the year with a rotation made up of experienced journeymen like David Pauley and Luke French. But not many teams in baseball (and certainly not the Mariners) have the kind of potential in their bullpen that Tacoma does. The Cardinals did send AA closer Adam Reifer to Memphis before the PCL semis, and he’s a legitimate prospect, but he’s not on the level of Cortes or Lueke.
In a neutral setting, I’d be tempted to give the edge to Tacoma, but I think it’s going to be tough for the Rainiers to win 3 times in Memphis. They’ll need to hit HRs, and they’ll need very good outings from Beavan and Robles.