Jacksonville took game one in Chattanooga on Wednesday night with a 5-3 Final. (Photo: Roger C. Hoover)
By Jason Patterson / Jacksonville Suns
After holding on to claim the opening game of the 2014 Southern League Championship Series, Jacksonville will attempt to build a commanding lead by passing the final road test of the year tonight in Chattanooga. The Suns (4-1, 81-59) and Lookouts (3-3, 61-77) continue the series with Game Two at 7:15 p.m. ET.
Having now won fourteen of the past fifteen games, the red-hot Suns are within two wins of a sixth Southern League Title. Chattanooga enters tonight’s game hoping to even the Championship Series and avoid departing for Jacksonville with their backs against the wall.
The Suns scored in each of the first two innings of Game One, compiling a 5-1 lead after two frames of action. It would be enough for Jacksonville, as the Suns prevailed for a 5-3 victory and a 1-0 advantage in the series.
An even eight hits were secured by both clubs and Chattanooga was responsible for the game’s only home run, thanks to Corey Seager’s two run blast in the bottom of the sixth. Despite holding Jacksonville scoreless after the three-run second and bringing the tying run to the plate in the eighth inning, the home team was unable to pull even.
In the end, the Suns had made the most of early opportunities, then kept the Lookouts at bay behind starter Jose Urena (W, 1-0) and solid work from four members of the bullpen. Collin Cargill, Frankie Reed and Nick Wittgren were credited with holds, while Matt Ramsey secured his third save of the post-season.
J.T. Realmuto and Austin Nola led the way offensively for the Suns, both scoring a pair of runs in the contest. Realmuto reached base four times, with a pair of hits and an RBI. The Suns catcher also drove in a run during the decisive second frame.
Tonight, Jacksonville will hand the ball to righty Jon Link (0-0, 3.00) in an effort to bring a two games to none series lead home to the River City. Link posted a 1-0 mark alongside his 2.25 E.R.A. in two late season starts for the visitors. The former major league hurler picked up the victory on the road August 24 against Tennessee.
Chattanooga is expected to counter with Steve Smith (0-1, 7.71). The right-hander owned a 3-2 record with a 2.76 E.R.A. during the regular season.
Smith led the Lookouts to a 5-1 victory in his only start against Jacksonville. His solid outing on August 15 stands as his longest of the season. It was marked by eight full innings of work, in which he allowed the Suns just a single run.
Both pitchers will be making their second start in the post-season on Thursday evening. Link garnered a no-decision in Game Two of the South Division Series for Jacksonville. It ended up being the BayBears only victory in the series. Mobile won the contest 4-3 in extra innings, after bouncing back form an early 3-0 deficit last Friday night.
Smith was knocked around a bit by the Stars in the second game of the North Division matchup. Lasting only four and two-thirds innings, Smith was responsible for four runs, all earned, on five hits. He was saddled with the loss in Huntsville’s eventual 9-0 shutout.
Fans can listen to every pitch of the Championship Series live on the Suns Baseball Network, with Roger Hoover providing play by play. Hoover will be joined by Michael West and Jason Patterson. West and Patterson will host a special post-season edition of the Memorial Hospital Pre-game Show, beginning at 7:00 p.m. ET on the Suns Baseball Network.
Previewing The Championship Series
Jacksonville reached the final round of the postseason by disposing of Mobile in only four games. The series, which the Suns claimed 3 games to 1, included a 9-1 rout on Monday in the South Division clincher.
Chattanooga’s entry route was a little tougher, requiring all five games of the North Division Series against first-half champion Huntsville. The finale saw the Stars battle back to within one run in the 9th inning before the Lookouts nailed things down to punch their ticket into the title matchup.
Despite the noticeable difference in the overall season records, these teams appear evenly matched. They met fifteen times in the regular season, with the series unsettled until the August 16 finale at AT&T Field. This most recent battle was decided by a narrow one run Jacksonville victory, which handed the Suns the series by a single contest. The final count was eight games to seven.
The head to head series has already provided some notable moments. The clubs have twice played extra innings, splitting the extended games on back to back days in Jacksonville across Independence Day weekend. Surprisingly, for two very effective offensive clubs, the Suns shutout Chattanooga on three separate occasions, with the Lookouts twice returning the favor.
Both teams peaked at the perfect time, claiming the second half crown in their respective divisions. Jacksonville finished the second half twenty games over .500, owning a 45-25 second half mark. Chattanooga stood alone as the only team in the North to post a winning second half. The Lookouts secured a 35-33 final record in second half action.
What should not be lost in the mere numbers, however, is the way both clubs closed out the season. Chattanooga compiled an eye-popping twenty wins against only eight losses across the season’s final month. Jacksonville swept the final two series of the year, winning the final ten regular season games consecutively to gain entrance into the playoffs.
Interestingly, the Suns only loss in nearly three weeks was a 4-3, eleven inning, decision in Game Two of their first round series against the BayBears. Chattanooga was shutout in both losses to Huntsville during the North Division series.
Back to Back Championships in 2009 and 2010 marked the Suns most recent post-season appearances. Jacksonville is playing deep into September for a league record nineteenth time in franchise history.
The Suns own five Southern League crowns and ten professional baseball titles overall. Jacksonville flies Southern League championship pennants from 1996, 2001, 2005, 2009 and 2010. River City representatives have also brought home Championships in the South Atlantic League (3), Southeastern League (1) and International League (1) along the way.
Jacksonville is playing in the Southern League Championship Series for the fourteenth time in 2014, also the league’s best all-time mark. The Suns have claimed victory during each of their last three trips into the final round of the post-season.
1988 stands as Chattanooga’s lone championship season to this point. The Lookouts have played for the Southern League title on four separate occasions, falling just short in 1992, 1995 and 1996. The franchise boasts four other minor league baseball titles, all secured between 1932 and 1961. Chattanooga is making its impressive thirteenth Southern League post-season appearance overall.
Though the combined success of both clubs in regards to reaching the post-season might lead one to believe otherwise, the only previous Southern League Championship Series meeting between this year’s participants was in 1996. Jacksonville secured its first league title by taking the series three games to one.
Tonight’s Key Information
Matchup: Jacksonville Suns (81-59, South Champions) @ Chattanooga Lookouts (61-77, North Champions)
Starters: CHT: RHP Steve Smith (0-1, 7.71) JAX: RHP Jon Link (0-0, 3.00)
Current Series: Suns lead series 1-0.
Who’s Hot: J.T. Realmuto (reached base four times, including an RBI single and one of his two runs scored in Jacksonville’s effective second inning of Game One)
Season Series: Jacksonville won the season series 8 games to 7.
Southern League Titles: Jacksonville, 5 (1996, 2001, 2005, 2009, 2010)
Chattanooga, 1 (1988)
Sun Spots: Here are a few pieces of valuable information to consider heading into tonight’s game, direct from the official Jacksonville Suns game notes compiled by Michael West:
– Suns pitching established a new season-high in strikeouts with 15 in Wednesday’s 5-3 victory in game one of the SLCS (Urena, 7; Cargill, 1; Reed, 4; Ramsey, 3).
– By hopping on the board first in game 1, Jacksonville improved its record to 55-22 when scoring first in a game.
– With five runs in their game one win, the Suns improved to 53-9 on the year when scoring five or more runs.
– Additionally, Jacksonville upped its record to 58-6 overall on the year when holding a lead after six innings.
– The Suns find themselves at 51-25 on the 2014 season in games decided by one or two runs (the Suns led the Southern League in win percentage in both one-run games, .673, and two-run games, .667).
Today’s broadcast will air on the Suns Baseball Network’s flagship station 94.1 Classic Rock WSOS-FM. It can also be found via the Jacksonville Suns mobile app. Click the link below to listen online.
The 2014 season of Suns baseball is presented by EverBank, the official banking partner of the Jacksonville Suns. Post-Season tickets are currently on sale through the Suns Box Office. Championship Series tickets are sold at premium pricing with $10.50 for general admission, $12.50 for reserved seating and $16.50 for Homeplate Box seating. Tickets can be purchased by calling (904) 358-2846, or online at http://www.jaxsuns.com.