Hickory / West Virginia SAL Playoff & Game 1 Preview

South Atlantic League Playoff Series

Game 1: Hickory Crawdads (81-57) at West Virginia Power (87-52)

Site/ Time: Appalachian Power Park, Charleston, West Virginia

Crawdads Playoff History:  The Crawdads will make their tenth playoff appearance in 23 seasons since joining the South Atlantic League in 1993. It is the first appearance since 2011. This will be the third trip to the playoffs during the seven seasons the Crawdads have been affiliated with the Texas Rangers.

Hickory has won two SAL championships, both coming during the affiliation of the club with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2002 and 2004.  The Crawdads have not won a series since claiming the title in 2004, nor have they won a playoff home game since the clincher of that series.

Power Playoff History: West Virginia has made seven playoffs appearances since staring South Atlantic League play in 1987. The lone SAL title came in 1990 as the Charleston Wheelers – a Reds affiliate – swept the Savannah Cardinals in three straight. This is the fourth playoff appearance under the name of the West Virginia Power (beginning in 2005), the second as a Pirates affiliate (2013), which began in 2009.

Hickory/ West Virginia Playoff History: The Crawdads defeated the Charleston Alley Cats (Blue Jays) in two straight in the first round of the 2004 playoffs. The clincher of the 2004 sweep was the final game played at Watt Powell Park in Charleston.  West Virginia (Brewers) took a 2-1 first-round series win in 2007.

How Hickory Got Here: The Crawdads led the first-half Northern Division chase wire-to-wire, eventually finishing with a 44-24 mark, 7 ½ games ahead of second-place West Virginia.

How West Virginia Got Here: The Power bullied the SAL in the second half and finished 50-20. It was the first time a SAL club had 50 half-season wins since Augusta turned the trick in 2007. West Virginia finished ten games ahead of second-place Delmarva in the second half and 13 games ahead of fourth-place Hickory.

Game 1 Pitching matchup: Hickory-Yohander Mendez (LH, 3-3, 2.44) vs. West Virginia- Austin Coley (RH, 16-6, 3.66)

Hickory Pitching:

Mendez: After pitching in a piggyback arrangement with Ariel Jurado much of the season, Mendez split off on his own late in the season. After allowing more than two runs just once in his first 19 outings, the lefty gave up four in five innings to Greensboro on August 23 and five to Delmarva in 3.1 innings on September 1 to close out the regular season. He gave up one homer in each of those outings, the only long balls he allowed this season. Mendez finished the season with a 2.44 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP. SAL hitters batted .230 against Mendez in 2015. His struck out 74 and walked 15 in 66.1 innings. Against West Virginia in 2015, Mendez allowed one unearned run on three hits, two walks and struck out seven in eight innings (two appearances, one start).

Relievers: Scott Williams likely will get the first look for a save situation. The right-hander picked up ten saves in the second half and built a 40-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 31.1 innings in the second half. In three outings vs. the Power in 2015, Williams allowed one run – a homer to Michael Suchy on June 19, on three hits and struck out two over four innings… Joe Filomeno gave up two runs to the Power late in a game on August 16… Shane McCain was roughed up in an outing vs. West Virginia on August 15 (2.1 IP, 4 H, 5 ER, 1 BB, 2 K…Having not pitched since September 2, it would not be unusual to see 2015 first-rounder Dillon Tate get an inning in the middle of the game.  Manager Corey Ragsdale indicated that Tate and Luis Ortiz would be available for action in the series… Adam Dian (5 saves) threw an inning on Monday’s win. He has pitched out of the pen on one day’s rest just once.

West Virginia pitching:

Coley: The 23-year-old right-hander made all 27 starts this season and seemed to finish strong as he allowed one earned run in each of his last four starts (26 innings). Coley has showed good command with 111 Ks to just 25 walks in 147.2 innings. A fly ball pitcher, – He holds a 0.88 GO/AO ratio – Coley is susceptible to the long ball, having allowed a SAL-high 18 this season. The Crawdads touched him up for three in a loss back on August 14. Hickory has had perhaps the best luck against the 16-game winner tagging him for 20 hits over 11 innings in two starts. Among Crawdads hitters, Carlos Arroyo is 4-for-6 this season with a homer and Luke Tendler has doubled and homered in four plate appearances. Jairo Beras went 2-for-2 with a double.

Relievers: Nick Neumann is the Power close with 17 saves in 19 chances. He threw two perfect innings against Hickory this season, both coming in the first half… Other key relievers will likely include Sam Street, Jared Lakind and Julio Vivas. Of the trio, only Lakind (1 IP) has faced Hickory this year.

Hickory lineup:

Late season injuries to Josh Morgan and Michael De Leon put the Crawdads into a mix-and-match mode on the infield. Catcher Jose Trevino and third baseman Juremi Profar are the two likely certainties around the diamond. Ragsdale indicated that Edwin Garcia will likely play short and newcomer Dylan Moore will place second. Carlos Arroyo, who played second most of the season, was stationed at first the final two games of the season and handled the position without a problem. With his output against Coley (4-for-6) this season, and his success against the Power this season Arroyo may get the first look with Chuck Moorman and Jonathan Meyer available off the bench. Arroyo is the lone active Crawdads player to hit over .300 (6-for-15) against the Power in 2015.

In the outfield, the arrival of 2015 second-round Eric Jenkins gives Ragsdale a different wrinkle in the lineup with his speed. He went 7-for-18 during his five-game audition last week and he may well have earned some at bats in the series. The likely lineup will be Luke Tendler in left, Jose Cardona in center and Jairo Beras in right. Tendler ended his season fourth in the SAL in RBI and total bases. Beras had a pair of homers and five RBI during a mid-June series in Charleston. However, he went 0-for-7 against the Power in August. Eduard Pinto may get a look at first on in the DH slot.

Power lineup:

The Power had only 18 position players on their roster this season with eight players taking the field for 99 or more games (Hickory has three in the expected lineup, though Pinto has 98 games). The team finished the season at the top of the SAL with a .269 batting average and a .347 on-base percentage. It’s a team that will play classic National League small-ball (90 sacrifices) to scratch out runs for what has been a shutdown pitching staff. They are very patient at the plate. West Virginia leads the SAL in walks and has the second fewest strikeouts this season.

Behind the plate will likely be Taylor Gushue with Connor Joe – the Pirates No. 29 prospect (mlb.com) at first. Pablo Reyes and 2015 first-round pick Kevin Newman will play second and short respectively. Rounding out the infield at third will likely be Tyler Filliben, who has filled in for the injured Jordan Luplow.

A talented group is stationed in the outfield with SAL all-star Michael Suchy starting in right. Suchy, the fifth-round pick of the Pirates in 2014, finished the season second in the SAL in runs scored and in RBI.

A combination of Tito Polo, Elvis Escobar and Jerrick Suiter split up left and center, with Suiter getting many of the DH starts.  Suiter and Esocbar finished fifth and eighth in the SAL in batting avg. with Escobar third in hits.

Against the Crawdads, Escobar hit .355 (11-for-31) to lead the team among active players. The injured Luplow had two of the five homers struck against Hickory and he is tied with Suchy with five RBI.

Other things to know: This is likely to be a pitching-and-defense series. Hickory and West Virginia finished tied with the fewest errors committed in the SAL and went 1-2 in WHIP. The Crawdads finished second in ERA (3.19) with the Power fourth at 3.38…  Defending bunts had been a downfall for the Crawdads prior to their injuries and against a team that likes small ball, the revamped defensive alignment – especially with the likelihood of inexperience at first – could be a point worth watching… Both teams expect to win when they score first. The Crawdads went 54-14 when scoring first – tops in the SAL – and West Virginia was 59-16, which was second… Hickory has held up well under pressure as it was 71-4 when leading or tied after seven innings. In one-run games, the Crawdads are 27-16 with the Power at 19-22.

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