The American Eagle League postseason is set to kick off tomorrow, just one day after the Lake League’s playoffs get underway.
The Seattle Salts (63-37), who swept into 1st in the AEL West with a 21-7 run through August, take the top seed and will play the wild card Jacksonville Ravens (57-43), who finished in 2nd in the AEL East.
In the other AEL Elimination Round series, the Calgary Inferno (59-41) host the wild card Anchorage Aces (61-39), who actually finished with a better record but placed 2nd behind Seattle in their division and thus are seeded 3rd, after AEL East pennant winners Calgary.
The Aces were even with the Inferno through 8 games this season, Anchorage taking their May series at home 3-1, and the Inferno returning the favor in August, going 3-1 in Calgary. Though it’s a small sample size, the season split suggests a slight advantage to Calgary, who have the home advantage in the playoffs.
Calgary is missing starter Rod Matos, a 2014 Sandy Koufax Award winner who anchored the Montreal Metros rotation for ten seasons before being signed by the Inferno last November. They are also down a closer, as Kevin Krohn went on the DL at the end of August with a forearm strain. But the lineup is intact, including Danny Huertero, who had a 24-game hitting streak this year, and five batters who hit 22 or more homers through the season: DH/3B Cody Martin (29), 3B Israel Medina (30), C Dao-zi Ling (28), 1B Logans Run (31) and LF Jan Conch (22).
Aces are down LF William Glanz, which is no big loss as he was hitting just .189 this season. A bigger loss arguably would be CF Ricky Jalapeno, last year’s Gold Crown batter at CF. But he was on the DL for the entire season, after suffering post concussion syndrome in April. He returned for just a single game before tearing a calf muscle after hitting a double against California on August 20, and is not expected to return this season.
The Aces will rely on the bats they’ve had all season long, including AEL home run champ Takeo Otomo, who hit his age in home runs this season with 37, CF Katai Kitigawa, who set a new Bull League record for hits with 150, batting .350 through 100 games, and who stole an AEL leading 19 bases, RF Alex Viramontes (.320 with 19 HR) and 3B Section Attack (.357 with 4 HR). As has been the story all year, their rotation will be headed by rookie Jose Soto, who went undefeated at 15-0 this season, setting an AEL wins record, and crafting an ERA of just 2.00, while striking out 174 batters to set a new club record.
The other series in the AEL Elimination Round, Jacksonville-Seattle, will see the Salts open the series at home, where they were just 1-3 against the Ravens during the regular season. Likewise, the Ravens won just a single home game out of four against the Salts. The teams were an even 4-4 through the year.
The Salts are minus veteran 2B Jesse Nelson, out since July 6 with a fractured ankle, and who will miss the entire playoffs. He had been hitting .322 with 11 homers before his injury, and his replacement, Jon Fulcher, has swung the bat well but not been able to replace the power or speed Nelson had. Another blow to Seattle was the loss of Roger Lyons in his last start on September 2, a 5-4 win over Nevada that saw Lyons exit after 4 IP with suspected bone chips in his elbow. Lyons was 13-4 through 20 games this season, a solid performer that complements Adam Price (11-8, 3.47), Aaron Reed (9-6, 2.68) and Connor Pearce (12-5, 3.16).
But Jacksonville is possibly the most heavily damaged team going into the postseason. They are going without CF Gabel Reyes, an experienced international free agent from Aruba who earned a Rookie of the Month nod at the end of June, and had a slash line of .278/.339/.566 with 16 homers in just 52 games this season. Reyes is out with a hip strain that saw him go on the DL on July 9. Also on the butcher’s list is closer Nate Kremer, 2015 Woodchuck Trophy winner, who although he wasn’t looking as impressive as in his award-winning year, was solid nonetheless with a 1-3 record and 15 saves in 18 opportunities, and 56 strikeouts over 33 IP. Also gone is veteran 5x All-Star 1B Barry Janmaat, a long-time solid hitter who hit the DL in June with a ruptured MCL.
As if three regulars out wasn’t bad enough, back-up 1B Ken Rankin is also out, along with reliever Alvin White, who was a solid fixture in the bullpen since being called up in May from AAA-level. However, it’s not all doom and gloom for the Ravens, as they have had the benefit of having both Angelo and Ricky Rodriguez in their rotation, two of the best pitchers in the Bull League over the past ten seasons. Cuban Ricky Rodriguez, a four-time Sandy Koufax winner, ended the season with the top AEL ERA (1.92), innings pitched (187.1), lowest WHIP (0.91), and lowest HR/9 (0.4) and BB/9 (0.9). Argentinian Angelo Rodriguez went 9-7 this year, with a 3.44 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP over 170 IP. Barrett Block also provided reliable innings, going 10-8 but with a 3.05 ERA through 20 games.