(Game date: Sep. 8, 2018) —
In a naval battle for the ages, a coast-to-coast series between the Seattle Salts and the St. Pete’s Admirals is about to set sail for the Elimination Round of the 2018 postseason. And the Admirals appear to be listing to port badly, having lost two of their top pitchers, 2017 Sandy Koufax Award and rookie of the year winner Jose Soto, and a top pitching prospect, Chris Zerkle, both of whom will likely miss all of the playoffs with late season injuries.
Soto was the boy wonder from last year who started his big-league career with a 15-game win streak, finishing 2017 undefeated and easily taking the Koufax and the rookie awards. This season, he looked very much like a Triple Crown threat most of the year, going 11-4, with a 3.63 ERA and setting a team record for K’s with 190, just 5 short of tying the Bull League record. Soto strained a triceps on August 23, dashing his hopes of correcting a mediocre 2017 postseason.
Meanwhile, Zerkle had sailed along all season, crafting a 9-5 record, and a 3.80 ERA, tops among AEL rookie hurlers, until he hit a bump on August 25th with a hamstring injury.
The Admirals can move Harry Ferguson and Dusty Hertz into the #1 and #2 roles and can rely on a significant amount of run support to bolster them, but there is still a danger that Seattle’s pitching may be one better and neutralize the Admiral’s bats.
But Seattle has their work cut out for them. With future Hall of Famer Takeo Otomo leading the offense at a .311 average, record-setting 51 home runs, and 98 RBIs, the lineup finds much more depth with Alex Viramontes and Chris Pratt, who can add another 66 bombs and 172 RBIs to that total. Leadoff man Katai Kitigawa is arguably the best 5-tools player in the AEL and nearly took home the batting title with a .350 average. But he also cleared 11 home runs, 55 RBIs and 21 stolen bases, crafting a fearsome .931 OPS and 5.1 WAR. His 33 doubles led the league.
But the seadogs from Seattle cannot be counted out yet. Despite missing some of their own top pitching, namely starters Aaron Reed and Roger Lyons as well as closer Adam Fitzpatrick, they have been able to lean on Adam Price and Jason Connery for 17 of their wins, notching another 7 W’s and 14 saves out of replacement closer Tragically Hipp.
Switch-hitting veteran 2B-man Jorge Garzes became an overnight household name, improving from a .266 hitter last season to a career high .337 hitter this season, nailing 32 balls over the fences in the process, twice his previous career high. The Salts also claim the AEL’s top home runs spot, despite not having three batters with 30 or more long balls like the Admirals have. Instead, they find HR’s all through the order, and can rely on the league’s best bullpen ERA to keep them ahead when they have a lead.
It will truly be a battle for the ages, and to the victor go the spoils of an AEL championship appearance.