By Jason Patterson / Jacksonville Suns
→Montgomery appears on the verge of joining Chattanooga and Biloxi in the 2015 post-season. The Biscuits are assured of at least controlling their own destiny. With work still left to do, the division leaders have two more with Mobile before closing the season at home against the Barons.
→Tennessee has used a league-best five game winning streak to pull even with Birmingham and remain alive. Smokies fans are clinging to hope and crunching the numbers. The club needs much assistance and a miracle run, sitting six games back with seven to play.
→Everyone gets a travel day to catch their breath one final time on Wednesday September 2. It will be much needed, especially in light of the final playoff push down South.
→Pensacola possesses the South Division lead, yet by the slimmest of margins. One-half game separates the Wahoos from Mississippi. Mobile is not to be discounted either, only two back and getting ready to square off head to head against the leaders.
→Though still not out of the realm of possibilities, it is looking less likely that Biloxi will sweep both halves in the South. The Shuckers would be required to jump three other teams this week. Should this happen, Mississippi currently holds a one game advantage over Mobile for the wild card spot. Pensacola would be eliminated in this scenario.
Southern League Spotlight…
Since today’s release marks our final regular season edition, this week’s spotlight rests on the 2015 post-season. While the final playoff picture may still be a little blurry, it is beginning to take shape.
Here is what we know: The Southern League format of consecutive best of five series to determine the 2015 League Champion will be set into motion in just ten days. Both Division Series will begin a week from Thursday. First half champions Chattanooga and Biloxi will host the first two games of their respective series.
Now for what we do not yet know: Who will the Shuckers and Lookouts be hosting? Montgomery has surged ahead and trimmed their magic number down to just two in an attempt to join the party out of the North, while the reins are still completely up for grabs in the South heading into the season’s final full week.
The “Eye” will release three post-season editions, including a full playoff preview heading into the Division Series openers. Playoff coverage will also feature a follow up edition prior to the Championship Series curtain-raiser and culminate in our mid-September season in review.
–Rankings listed use the format Baseball America/MLB.com–
–MLB.com listed for players not with current organization Opening Day–
Tennessee– Catching prospect Wilson Contreras (-/#10) closed within a few points of Max Kepler (Twins #12/#6) in the race for the batting title, raising his average to .326 at week’s end.
Cubs outfield prospect Albert Almora Jr (#7/#5) extended his hitting streak to eleven games with a single on Sunday.
Andres Santiago fired eight shutout innings on Friday night at Smokies Stadium, allowing only two hits while striking out six batters.
The big blasts of the weekend belonged to Ryan Dent. The shortstop homered twice in Saturday’s come from behind victory, both times giving the Smokies an advantage over Jacksonville, the second time for good. Dent was 4-for-4 with a pair of singles in addition to his two big flies.
Worthy of a footnote, former Smokie Jake Arietta’s no-hitter on Sunday evening is just the latest edition of Southern League impact at the big league level, especially where Tennessee and Chicago are concerned. After making four rehab starts on behalf of the Smokies last season, Arrieta is now a key piece of the Cubs bid to return to the post-season.
Jacksonville– With one more strikeout, top-tier left-hander Jarlin Garcia (#10/#2) will record his 30th strikeout since joining the club in late July. Despite an (0-3) mark in SL action, two more K’s will give him 100 total Minor League strikeouts on the season.
On a side note, Garcia’s new battery mate, catching prospect Chris Hoo made his Marlins Double-A debut on Sunday. To the delight of diehard baseball fans everywhere, with a seventh inning walk, Hoo was finally officially on first for the Suns.
Jackson– Generals infielder Tyler Bortnick provided a bright spot this past week in the midst of a difficult season in western Tennessee. The second baseman hit .520 with thirteen hits, five of them for extra bases, nine RBI’s and ten runs scored.
Mobile– Highly regarded pitching prospect Braden Shipley (#2/#4) proved his willingness to do whatever is needed this past week when he appeared out of the bullpen for the first time. Shipley worked six innings of scoreless relief, allowing two hits and fanning seven in another key pennant race win for the BayBears on Wednesday night.
Chattanooga– Adam Brett Walker II (#17/#10) set a new Lookouts single season record for homers when he belted his twenty-ninth of the season on Thursday, August 27th. Walker’s final HR total may be as yet unknown, but the identity of 2015 Southern League home run champ is not. The Chattanooga slugger and Twins farmhand paces the category with a double-digit advantage.
Birmingham– Barring some type of unforeseen issue, expect Barons speedster Tim Anderson (#2/#1) to eclipse fifty stolen bases on the season at some point this week. Anderson enters play Monday with a league-leading forty-eight steals out of the lead-off spot for the White Sox Double-A affiliate.
Teammate Danny Hayes could reach the 100 walks plateau as well. Leading the league with ease, he needs just ten more free passes before the season ends to arrive at the century mark.
Montgomery– A thirteen strike out performance against Biloxi snagged headlines for Jacob Faria on Friday evening. The right-hander scattered three hits and surrendered only one run in a memorable outing against Mobile. Faria leads all minor-league pitchers with 16 wins, though only six of the victories have come during his time in the Southern League. Faria dominated the Florida State League to the tune of a 10-1 record and a 1.33 E.R.A across twelve appearances before his call up to Double-A.
Slugger Tyler Goeddel (#17/#26) is 10-for-20 in the Biscuits past five games. The infielder has homered, driven in six runs and scored five more during the successful stretch.
Pensacola– Zack Weiss continues to nail down games for the South Division leaders night in and night out. The Reds prospect has now taken over the league lead among stoppers with 24 saves on the season, two ahead of Tennessee’s P.J. Francescon.
Juan Duran has belted two homers and driven home seven runs in the Wahoos last five contests.
Cincinnati’s top prospect has factored into the pennant race regularly, though perhaps at no time with more impact than Friday night. Jesse Winkler (#3/#1) put the fish ahead for good with a bases clearing double, part of a five RBI night in which Winker was also aboard five different times. How important was his timing? It came in a head to head win over Mississippi.
Mississippi– K.D. Kang and Rio Ruiz (MLB #8) provided rare home runs for the Braves across the club’s last five games. Kang drove in an average of one run per contest, while Ruiz provided even more punch with seven RBI’s in the stretch. Their work at the plate complemented a solid pitching staff which has kept Mississippi in the thick of the South Division race.
Biloxi– Tyler Wagner (#9/#16) and Jorge Lopez (#15/#9) figure to be major role players in the Shuckers inaugural post-season plans. The impressive duo sit near the top in most pitching categories, with both in position to sweep the E.R.A. and Wins titles should they close out the regular season strong. In fact, they currently own the league’s best two Earned Run Averages (Wagner 2.13, Lopez 2.29) and two of the league’s best three win totals (Lopez 12, Wagner 11). Birmingham’s Myles Jaye (-/#25) (12 wins) is the only other pitcher in the Southern League with more than ten wins.
Easily the Shuckers two strongest arms over the long haul, the aforementioned duo was overshadowed this past week by the work of right-hander Adrian Houser (MLB #28). Houser’s back to back scoreless starts (2-0 in 13 scoreless frames) earned him Southern League Pitcher of the Week honors.
-Weekly honors handed down by the league office each Monday at Noon-
▪ Player of the Week: Tyler Bortnick (Mariners), 3B, Jackson
▪ Pitcher of the Week: Adrian Houser (Brewers), RHP, Biloxi
Series To Focus On…
Mobile BayBears @ Pensacola Blue Wahoos
Thursday September 3 – Monday September 7
May as well go ahead and call them playoff games. That’s exactly how they’ll feel as Bayfront Stadium hosts meaningful final home stand contests for the first time in franchise history. The drive to bring actual post-season baseball, patriotic bunting and all, to Pensacola’s shoreside begins and ends in a showdown with the South Division’s most dominant and consistent club across the past several years.
Meanwhile, just across the Sunshine State’s panhandle, Mississippi will be attempting to write a different ending. Their storybook finish involves more baseball for Braves fans in Pearl before 2015 is done. Mississippi missed the playoffs by a single game at the hands of the Suns in ’14. Just one year later, they must handle the Suns in the River City and find a little help elsewhere to avoid a familiar fate.
The qualifier to all this South Division selection is a prolonged North race. Should Montgomery slip at all cross the next two days and Birmingham (or Tennessee for that matter) picks up a game, the final regular season series at Riverwalk Stadium becomes a clash of titans as well. The Barons and Biscuits play five head to head in the Alabama state capitol across Labor Day weekend.
A Look At The Standings…