El Paso Chihuahuas and Tacoma Rainiers Divisional Playoff Position by Position Preview
Tomorrow night begins the second season for the El Paso Chihuahuas. The team captured the Pacific Coast League's Pacific Southern Division for the second straight year and will host the Tacoma Rainiers (Seattle Mariners) beginning tomorrow night at Southwest University Park. The playoff series will be a best of 5 format, with the first two games being played in El Paso and the remaining three (if necessary) in Tacoma. Let's take a closer look at these two teams, position by position.
Catcher - The Chihuahuas have the clear advantage behind the plate, since Austin Hedges is one of the best two-way players in the league. Rob Brantley is a veteran Minor Leaguer, but he doesn't match the skill set that Hedges possesses.
First Base - The Rainiers have one of their better position prospects at the position in D.J. Peterson. Although currently on the DL, he has hit the Chihuahuas well in their two series, and veteran backup Mike Freeman provides a strong batting average. The Raniers also picked up Dan Vogelbach from the Iowa Cubs earlier this summer, and the big slugger can mash at both first base and designated hitter. The Chihuahuas have Patrick Kivlehan and Diego Goris both available at first, but I'll give the edge to the Rainiers.
Second Base - Carlos Asuaje was named the Rookie of the Year in the PCL and his offensive numbers clearly exceed those of Tacoma's Tyler Smith. The 29-year old Freeman has seen some time at second base since coming over from Reno. Asuaje is also strong with the glove, so the Chihuahuas have the clear advantage at the keystone.
Shortstop - The Chihuahuas have veteran Nick Noonan and young Jose Rondon at shortstop. Noonan and Rondon have both hit .300 this season for El Paso, while providing steady defense. Smith has also played shortstop this season but the Chihuahuas have the advantage.
Third Base - Goris, Asuaje, and Kivlehan can all play third base for the Chihuahuas. Zach Shank has split the season between Jackson and Tacoma and offers very little power at third. He does have a good glove, hits for average and doesn't strike out much. I'd still give the edge to the Chihuahuas.
Outfield - Between Hunter Renfroe, Manny Margot, and Nick Torres, the Chihuahuas have three impact bats in the lineup. Renfroe hit 30 home runs this season and drove in 105. El Paso has also been playing former shortstop prospect Franchy Cordero in center field and Kivlehand can play outfield as well. Veteran big leaguer Norichika Aoki is playing in center and left field for the Rainiers and he is their most experienced player. 31-year old Mike Baxter and former Dodgers prospect James Ramsey have seen time in the Rainiers outfield. Their most dangerous hitter is 27-0year old Stefen Romero, who hit .304 this season with 21 homers and 85 RBIs. Both teams offer dynamic outfields and the Rainiers clearly have the more experienced group as far as big league time. However, the Chihuahuas offer the younger prospects with higher big league ceilings.
Starting Pitching - The best starting pitcher on either team is Cody Martin. He has been lights out in his last 10 starts for the Rainiers, with five wins and an ERA of 2.11. Former Dodgers prospect Zach Lee has been hit hard since coming over in a trade to Tacoma. Lee sports an 0-9 record with an ERA over 7. Minor League veteran Jarrett Grube also provides good depth in the starting rotation. Sam Gaviglio has been another bright spot for Tacoma since getting promoted from Jackson. The Chihuahuas starting pitchers have been inconsistent at best throughout the season and it is hard to forecast how they will fare in a best of 5 playoff series. Carlos Pimentel has logged the most innings for the team and he has the most wins (12). He also has a 5.65 ERA for El Paso. Frank Garces has been the Chihuahuas' most consistent starting pitcher, and has experience both in the rotation as well as the bullpen. Walter Lockett had a pair of good starts since his late season call-up and Bryan Rodriguez has started 16 games for the team since his June call-up from San Antonio. If there's a young spark for the Chihuahuas, it could be Dinelson Lamet. He has pitched at three levels this season and he has been great in Double-A. When you compare both teams, you have to give the edge to Tacoma's starting pitching.
Bullpen - This has been a big strength for the Chihuahuas all season. Derek Eitel, Daniel Moskos, Eric Yardley, Buddy Baumann, Phil Maton, and Jason Jester have all helped keep El Paso close when called upon. The team does not have a designated closer and instead has relied on a few different players to finish games. Andrew Kittredge has been effective since his promotion to closer for Tacoma. Lefty Paul Fry has logged 55 innings this season for the Rainiers in the pen, while Kraig Sitton, Emilio Pagan, Mayckol Guaipe, and big league veteran Al Albuquerque make up the rest of the Tacoma relievers. When you compare both bullpens, El Paso has the advantage.
Chihuahuas radio voice Tim Hagerty has compiled a list of offensive and pitching categories that El Paso has led the PCL in.
Home Runs: El Paso’s Hunter Renfroe and Reno’s Kyle Jensen hit 30 home runs each, which was tied with Jesus Aguilar of Columbus for the most in Triple-A baseball.
Runs: Carlos Asuaje and Manuel Margot both scored 98 runs, which was the most in all of Triple-A baseball.
Total Bases: Renfroe’s 297 total bases led all of Triple-A baseball.
Hits: Asuaje led all of Triple-A baseball in hits with 172.
Extra-Base Hits: Renfroe led all of Triple-A baseball in extra-base hits with 69.
Triples: Margot led all of Triple-A baseball in triples with 12.
Holds: Daniel Moskos was tied with two other relievers for the PCL lead in holds with 13.
Team Batting: The Chihuahuas led all of Triple-A baseball in batting average (.295), hits (1,468) and home runs (156).
Although the Chihuahuas have the edge in most positions, the team has not finished the regular season strong. In fact, El Paso lost their last five games against Las Vegas and Albuquerque. Now that might not mean much since the team had already clinched their second consecutive playoff birth last week. El Paso and Tacoma met 16 times during the regular season and the Rainiers won 11 of those games. Hopefully, the Chihuahuas will change that and advance to their first PCL championship in the team's three year history.