Hagerstown, Potomac Eliminated From the Playoffs

So LongBoth Potomac and Hagerstown lost last night and were eliminated from the playoffs to close the books on the 2016 Washington Nationals minor league season.

Lynchburg 3 Potomac 1
• Crownover (L, 0-1) 6+ IP, 3H, 2R, 1ER, 2BB, 4K
• Orlan 1⅔ IP, 0H, 0R, 0BB, 3K
• Abreu 2-4, R, 2B
• Page 1-3, BB

The P-Nats never led this one, falling behind 1-0 after four innings and 3-0 after seven. They got the tying runs to the plate in both the 8th and 9th innings, but plated just one run with Bryan Mejia’s two-out double in the 9th. For the game, Potomac was 1-for-9 with RISP and left on seven. Osvaldo Abreu was the sole batter not to whiff as the P-Nat batters fanned 12 times total, including three times swinging in the 1st.

Matthew Crownover did his part, pitching into the 7th and giving up two runs (one earned) on three hits and two walks while striking out four, but was saddled with the loss. Gilberto Mendez came on with a runner on first that reached on Raudy Read error and retired just one of three batters before Lynchburg sent him packing with a two-run homer that proved to be the difference. R.C. Orlan got the last five outs in as many batters faced, but the offense couldn’t match his effort.

The loss was the first time Potomac had failed to reach the Mills Cup finals since 2011, when the P-Nats fell to the Keys 3-2 in the then (much more fair) best-of-five Divisional series. Lynchburg will now face the defending Carolina League champs Myrtle Beach, which upset (well, see previous parenthetical) Salem to win both Game 3 and the C.L. South Division series, 2-1.

Lakewood 5 Hagerstown 2
• Watson (L, 0-1) 4⅔ IP, 6H, 3R, 2ER, 2BB, 4K
• Peterson 1IP, 1H, 0R, 0BB, 0K
• Sagdal 2-4, R, HR, RBI
• Beckwith 2-3, RBI

Likewise, Hagerstown fell behind 2-0 before they even came to bat and were never able to catch Lakewood, which took the game, 5-2 and swept the series, 2-0. Tyler Watson, who was making just his fifth Low-A start, was predictably knocked around for three runs on six hits and two walks over four and 2/3rds innings to wear the “L.” Jake Johansen got the last out of the 5th and pitched into the 7th before he ran out of gas. He left with runners on first and second but Mariano Rivera could not strand them as he gave up a two-out, two-run triple that effectively put the game out of reach.

Offensively, the Suns did little after Ian Sagdal led off the game with a HR to cut the deficit to 2-1. Blake Perkins followed with a single but a double play stopped the momentum, as did twin-killings in the 5th and 6th innings. Hagerstown managed just seven hits total and drew just one walk. The heart of the lineup – nos. three through seven – went 0-for-17 and accounted for four of the six batting strikeouts and both runners stranded in scoring position with two outs.

The first-round exit was the first for Hagerstown since 2012, when they were also swept by Greensboro. Lakewood gets an extra day off as they await the outcome of the Sally South series, which was tied up when Rome blew a 3-0 lead and lost 4-3 to Charleston to force a Game 3 tonight.

Thursday’s News & Notes — Playoff Edition

Team Yesterday Today Probable Pitchers
Potomac Won, 7-0
(7 inn.)
@ Lynchburg,
6:30 p.m.
Silvestre (0-0, 2.08) vs.
Lugo (8-5, 4.04)
Hagerstown Lost, 6-1 OFF DAY N/A

Potomac 7 Lynchburg 0 (7 inn.)
• Whiting (W, 1-0) 7IP, 2H, 0R, BB, 3K
• Gutierrez 3-4, R, 2B, RBI
• Carey 2-3, R, 3B, RBI
• Page 2-4, 2R, 2B, 2RBI

Rain delayed the start and ended it early, but in between, Potomac dominated Lynchburg for a 7-0 shutout in seven innings. Staff ace Boone Whiting went the distance, allowing just two hits and a walk while fanning three to get the win. Kelvin Gutierrez led the 13-hit parade with two singles and a double, as eight of the starting nine batters hit safely while the beer man (Bryan Mejia) contributed with a pair of sacrifices.

The series now shifts to Lynchburg, where Potomac will have two chances to win one game to advance to the Carolina League Finals for the third time in four seasons. Roster move: C Jake Lowery activated from the TIL.

Lakewood 6 Hagerstown 1
• Rodriguez (L, 0-1) 4+ IP, 4H, 2R, 2ER, BB, 4K, WP
• Guilbeau 2⅓ IP, 6H, 4R, 4ER, 2BB, 1K, 2-2 IR-S
• Sagdal 1-3, BB
• Perkins 0-2, R, 2BB

The BlueClaws limited the Suns to just four hits and came up big in the middle innings for a 6-1 victory in the SLDS opener. Jefry Rodriguez pitched into the 5th, giving up a double and a walk then wild-pitching them over to 2nd and 3rd before giving way to the ‘pen. Taylor Guilbeau couldn’t get an out on his own until the third batter he faced, as he gave up a single and a sacrifice before getting a strikeout. He issued an intentional walk to load the bases then surrendered a two-run double to let in both of Rodriguez’s runs and the first of four charged to him. Hagerstown’s offense drew just four walks while striking out 12 times. Ian Sagdal (single, walk) and Blake Perkins (two walks) were the only two batters to reach base twice.

After a mandated travel day, the series resumes on Friday in Hagerstown, with the Suns needing to win both Games 2 and 3 to return to the Sally League Finals, where they lost in five games to the Tourists in 2014. Roster move: C Adderling Ruiz reassigned from Potomac.

Wednesday’s News & Notes — Playoff Edition

Team Yesterday Today Probable Pitchers
Potomac OFF DAY vs. Lynchburg,
7:05 p.m.
Whiting (11-3, 3.45) vs.
Esparza (2-4, 3.92)
Hagerstown OFF DAY @ Lakewood,
7:05 p.m.
Rodriguez (7-11, 4.96) vs.
Tirado (7-1, 3.90)

Potomac vs. Lynchburg – C.L. Division Series
For the third time in three seasons, the Hillcats and P-Nats will square off in the first round of the Carolina League Playoffs. In 2013 and 2014, Potomac prevailed 2-0 in the best-of-three series, but also had home-field advantage as double-half winners. This season, it’s just the opener in Woodbridge, then Game 2 and Game 3 (if necessary) in Lynchburg. The Hillcats took 12 of the 22 games between the two teams, but the P-Nats won five of nine in the second half. Pitching matchups have not yet been announced beyond tonight, but if the rotation is not altered, it’ll be Hector Silvestre in Game 2 and Matt Crownover in Game 3.

Hagerstown vs. Lakewood – S.A.L. Division Series
Like Potomac, Hagerstown makes its first playoff appearance since 2014. The Suns have been on the road since August 29, but like most 80+ game winners, have played well both home and away (44-26 vs. 39-31). Hagerstown dominated Lakewood early (11-0) but won just four of the last 11 games against the Phillies affiliate. According to MiLB.com, the playoff rotation will be Jefry Rodriguez, Tyler Watson, and (if necessary) Joan Baez. Roster moves: RHP Luis Reyes placed on the 7-Day DL.

Tourists Win Sally League Finale, 4-1

The Tourists scored in the 1st, built a 4-0 lead after four innings, and cruised to a 4-1 win to take the 2014 South Atlantic League Championship, three games to two. It was the second title in three years for Asheville, and back-to-back Finals losses for Hagerstown.

Nick Pivetta was more effective than he was in Game One, making it through five frames, but allowed all four Tourist runs (three earned, though the error was his) on six hits and two walks while striking out five. His counterpart, Konner Wade, was just as brilliant as before — tossing seven scoreless innings to run his total to 12 for the series.

The Suns were limited to six hits — all singles — and one walk. The lone, unearned run came in the bottom of the 8th as Rafael Bautista reached on an error, took third on a Wilmer Difo safety, and scored on a groundout by Narciso Mesa. Drew Ward was the sole Hagerstown batter to reach base twice, singling in the 7th and drawing a leadoff walk in the 9th.

Hagerstown finished the 2014 season with 87 wins in the regular season and 91 wins overall, both the most since the Suns joined the South Atlantic League in 1993. They’ll start the 2015 campaign on the road in Hickory, NC on April 9th and open at home against Lakewood on April 16th.

Hagerstown Forces A Game Five With A 6-3 Comeback Win

Asheville built a 3-0 lead on a pair of home runs to send 19-y.o. starter Travis Ott to the showers after just two and 1/3rd innings. With no tomorrow, Hagerstown manager Patrick Anderson turned to former starter Jake Johansen — who was removed from the rotation in late July, and quite frankly, wasn’t any less ineffective as a reliever — to eat innings and hope for the bats to come alive.

The comeback came three innings later with some “help” from the Tourists defense, as Jimmy Yezzo connected for a two-out, two-run triple, then tied it up on error by third baseman Ryan McMahon. Cody Dent, who had homered once in his professional career prior to last night, got his second to give the Suns an improbable 5-3 lead. I’ve heard there’s a family history of this.

But perhaps more unexpected was the performance that Johansen turned in. During the regular season, he was scored upon in all 18 starts and either gave up an inherited runner or one of his own in 10 of 11 relief outings. That one other scoreless outing, however, was against last-place Lakewood.

A reasonable expectation: one or two runs over three or four innings. Instead, Johansen shut down the league’s most potent offense for three and 2/3rds innings with just one hit allowed, no walks, and two strikeouts.

Hagerstown would get an insurance run in the 7th, again with the help of some defensive incompetence. A dropped third strike following back-to-back two-out singles loaded the bases for Yezzo, who delivered another RBI knock with a single to plate the sixth and final Suns run. Yezzo would finish the night at 3-for-4 with a run scored and three RBI to lead Hagerstown’s 12-hit attack.

The run wouldn’t be needed as Justin Thomas, who took over for Johansen in the 7th, faced the mininum of nine over three innings with three strikeouts to earn the save.

Nick Pivetta (13-8, 4.22) and Konner Wade (8-8, 3.61) will rematch in Game Five, and will likely be a lower score than the 16-7 result in Game One.

Hagerstown Pushed To The Brink With 4-1 Loss

The 20-y.o. righthander was brilliant, pitching into the 9th with just five hits allowed. Unfortunately, his name was Zach Jemioloa, not Reynaldo Lopez, as the Asheville Tourists took Game Three of the South Atlantic League Championship Series, 4-1.

Lopez, who has become the hottest Nationals prospect not named Lucas Giolito, was instead human last night. After turning in two scoreless inning to begin the game, he gave up back-to-back-to-back singles to open up a 1-0 deficit in the 3rd, then fell behind 3-1 on a two-run home run after issuing a leadoff walk in the 4th.

The Dominican righty wobbled through the 5th a pair of walks and was saved from further damage when Corelle “Optimus” Prime’s single struck David Dahl between second and third to for the third out and quash a possible fourth run allowed. Manager Patrick Anderson pulled the plug after two outs in the 6th and inserted Nick Lee.

Lopez’s final was 5⅔ IP, 8H, 3R, 3ER, 3BB, 4K, HR, WP, 2PO (both at 1B).

The Tourists got their fourth and final run in the 7th on a two-out triple by Dahl off Lee, who finished the game for Hagerstown with the one run allowed on four hits, no walks, and six strikeouts.

Offensively, the Suns were held to just six hits, though four of them were doubles. The lone run came in the bottom of the 3rd as David Masters doubled to lead off the inning, took third on grounder to third, and scored on Rafael Bautista’s single (literally) off Jemiola.

The Suns threatened in the 9th as Wilmer Difo led off with a double and Austin Chubb walked with one out to bring the tying run to the plate in the person of Drew Ward, who popped up to short for the second out. Carlos Lopez, who had doubled twice earlier in the game, grounded out to the mound to end it.

The Suns will give the ball to a well-rested (last pitched on August 28) Travis Ott (0-2, 7.59) in Game Four, opposed by Antonio Senzatela (15-2, 3.11) who last pitched on August 30th.

Potomac Wins Carolina League Championship

After a wire-to-wire run in the regular season, the 2014 Potomac Nationals got it done in the postseason with a 5-1 victory over the Myrtle Beach Pelicans to capture the Mills Cup Championship Series, three games to one.

Unlike four years ago
, the eventual outcome was apparent early. The first inning to be exact. Tony Renda got the rally started with a one-out walk, which looked like it might go for naught when Shawn Pleffner weakly flied out to left on a first-pitch swing.

Then Mills Cup MVP John Wooten singled to right, sending Renda to third to bring up veteran outfielder Randolph Oduber. Luis Parra couldn’t groove his fastball past the Aruban, but was able to drop a couple of lollipop curves to work the count to 2-2. The third time was not the charm, as Oduber was waiting on that sucker and smashed it over the left field fence for a 3-0 lead.

Hector Silvestre, the lone Potomac pitcher to win twice in the playoffs, faltered in the 2nd, giving up a double to start the frame. The Sea Rats did him a favor and unwisely tried to advance to third on a smash back to the Dominican southpaw, who threw over to get the runner and the first out. He would give it back with a walk to the next batter. After a popup to the no. 8 batter, the Pelicans’ 17-y.o. shortstop Michael De Leon delivered again with an RBI single to cut the lead to 3-1.

Silvestre gave up two more hits in the 3rd but got help from 3B Khayyan Norfork who called his own number for the unassisted putout at third base to end the inning. The 21-y.o. southpaw then retired the next nine batters in a row, finishing with a flourish as he struck out the side in the 6th.

His final line: 6IP, 5H, 1R, 1ER, 1BB, 6K

Meanwhile, Potomac responded to the lone Myrtle Beach run in the bottom of the 2nd with a leadoff double by Stephen Perez and an RBI double by Pedro Severino to reclaim the three-run advantage. They put on single runners in the 3rd and 4th innings, two in the 5th, and another in the 6th but could not score.

Just as he started the P-Nats’ scoring in the 1st, Renda finished it in the 7th. The All-Star second baseman tripled to lead off the inning, then trotted in as fellow All-Star Pleffner singled to short center to push the P-Nats lead to the eventual outcome of 5-1. The big fella would steal second and take third on Oduber’s second hit of the night, a single to right. Norfork, however, would get doubled up to end the inning and Potomac went in order in the 8th.

Manny “Doble Nacionales Codo” Rodriguez took over for Silvestre in the 7th and spun two perfect innings. Though not a save situation, ace reliever Gilberto Mendez was called upon in the 9th close things out and completed the string of 18 straight Pelicans retired with a popup sandwiched between two strikeouts, the last one on a check swing to create just the slightest anticlimax.

The win was the third league championship (2008, 2010) since the team became an affiliate of the Washington Nationals in 2005 and the fifth in franchise history (1982, 1989). The three titles are also the only ones won by a Nationals affiliate north of Florida, a distinction that Hagerstown can take away by winning the South Atlantic League. Game Three of that best-of-five series resumes tonight at the Muni, with hot prospect Reynaldo Lopez scheduled to pitch for the Suns.

Last Night In Woodbridge

The Potomac Nationals rallied from a 7-2 deficit with ten unanswered runs to take Game Three, 12-7 and a 2-1 lead in the of the Mills Cup Championship Series.

And, believe it or not, it all started with a little bit of hustle.

After taking a 2-0 lead on John Wooten’s second HR of the series, a two-run shot over the LF wall with two outs in the 1st, the mood at the Pfitz went from jubilation to despair less than two innings later as the Pelicans chased starter Matt Spann on the eighth hit he allowed, a two-out grand slam that turned a 2-1 lead into a 5-2 deficit.

Kylin Turnbull came on and was immediately greeted with a sharp single to left, and a two-run dagger off the bat of twelv…er, 17-y.o. Michael De Leon to make it 7-2 in favor of the Sea Rats. He would get the final out on a lineout to short, but like the health club after the holidays, things were not looking pretty.

Turnbull set the Pelicans down in order in the 4th, putting up a badly needed zero after a quashed rally in the bottom of the 3rd. Mike McQuillan got thing going in the of the 4th with a leadoff double, while Stephen Perez plated him with a single to center to make it 7-3. After a walk to Khayyan Norfork, Pedro Severino laid down a sacrifice bunt to set up 2nd and 3rd with one out for Isaac Ballou.

Ballou cashed them both in with a triple to right to pull the P-Nats to within two at 7-5. Tony Renda, who had gotten thrown out at third to end the third, missed his shot at redemption with a groundout to third.

Shawn Pleffner followed with a high-hop grounder to the 3/4 hole. Like most first basemen, Pleffner isn’t going to win very many footraces, but he did win this on against Pelican starter Sam Wolff for an RBI infield single that made it 7-6.

That little bit of hustle set up Wooten, who jumped on Wolff for another two-run shot to put Potomac ahead 8-7 and knocked the Myrtle Beach starter out of the game.

Buoyed by the lead, Turnbull followed his zero in the 4th with one in the 5th. And the 6th. And the 7th. And the 8th. The 24-y.o. got the win with just the two runs allowed — HR in the 3rd — over five and a 1/3rd innings with one walk and eight K’s. Jake Walsh danced around a double and a two-out walk in the 9th to close it out for the 12-7 win.

Potomac will try for its third Carolina League title in five seasons with Hector Silvestre (1-0, 1.29) taking the hill against Luis Parra (1-0, 1.59). Silvestre did not face the Pelicans during the regular season while Parra was the winning pitcher for Myrtle Beach in an 8-6 victory over Potomac on July 29th.

Wednesday’s News & Notes — Playoff Edition

Team Yesterday Today Probable Pitchers
Potomac Won, 12-7 vs. Myrtle Beach,
7:05 p.m.
Silvestre (1-0, 1.29) vs.
Parra (1-0, 1.59)
Hagerstown Won, 4-3 (10 inn.) OFF DAY N/A

Potomac 12 Myrtle Beach 7
• Spann 2⅔ IP, 8H, 5R, 5ER, BB, 3K, HR(GS)
• Turnbull (W, 1-0) 5⅓ IP, 3H, 2R, 2ER, BB, 8K, HR
• Pleffner 3-5, 2R, RBI
• Oduber 3-5, R, 2B, RBI
• Wooten 2-5, 2R, 2HR, 4RBI
• McQuillan 2-5, R, 2B, HR, 2RBI

Ten unanswered runs began with just a little bit of hustle Last Night In Woodbridge

Hagerstown 4 Asheville 3 (10 inn.)
• Suero 5⅔ IP, 4H, 3R, 3ER, 2BB, 5K
• Thomas (BS, 1) 2IP, 1H, 0R, IBB, 0K, 2-2 IR-S
• Napoli (W, 2-0) 1⅓ IP, 0H, 0R, BB, K
• Difo 3-5, 2R, 2B, 2HR, 2RBI
• Ward 2-4, 2R, 2-2B
• Mesa 2-5

Wilmer Difo lived up to his title as the Sally League’s MVP, homering with two down in the 10th inning to push Hagerstown past Asheville, 4-3 and even the Sally League Finals at 1-1. It was Difo’s second solo shot of the night, as the 22-y.o. racked 10 total bases while going 3-for-5 with a double and a run scored. The Mr. Hyde version of the Suns ‘pen appeared briefly, as Justin Thomas let up a two-run single to tie the game at 3-3 in the 6th to hang a no-decision on starter Wander Suero, who was ultimately charged with all three Tourist runs on four hits and two walks over five and 2/3rds innings. The Dr. Jekyll version appeared thereafter, as Thomas, Jake Johansen, and winning pitcher David Napoli shut out Asheville for four innings from the 7th to the 10th with one hit (Johansen) and one walk (Napoli) allowed.

Sunday’s News & Notes — Playoff Edition

Team Yesterday Today Probable Pitchers
Potomac Lost, 2-0 @ Myrtle Beach,
6:05 p.m.
Bacus (7-6, 4.41) vs.
Payano (5-8, 4.58)
Hagerstown OFF DAY OFF DAY N/A

Myrtle Beach 2 Potomac 0
• Dickson (L, 0-1) 5IP, 5H, 2R, 2ER, 2BB, 6K, HR
• P. Encarnacion 2IP, 1H, 0R, BB, 2K
• Pleffner 3-4
• Wooten 2-3, BB

Light-hitting infielder Edwin Garcia hit his first home run of 2014, supplying the offense for Myrtle Beach in a 2-0 win over Potomac in Game One of the Mills Cup Championship Series. Starter and loser Ian Dickson made but one mistake (duh) over his five innings of work, finishing with both Pelicans runs allowed on five hits and two walks while striking out six. Pedro Encarnacion followed with two scoreless innings while Travis Henke denied the Pelicans an insurance run with a zero in the 8th to keep Potomac within striking distance.

The P-Nats outhit the Pelicans 8-6, loading the bases with one out in the 1st on a pair of singles by Tony Renda and Shawn Pleffner and a walk by John Wooten. Alas, in what would be a harbinger for the night to come, Stephen Perez rolled into the first of three double plays on the night to end the inning. The second came after Khayyan Norfork’s leadoff walk was erased with Brandon Miller DP in the 5th while the third came in the 8th when Renda’s dying quail was snared when rightfielder Ryan Cordell laid out, then threw in to first to double off Pedro Severino, who took off on contact trying to set up 1st and 3rd for the heart of the order.

Pleffner and Perez were both caught looking on 3-2 pitches in the 9th. In between, Wooten singled for the second time. Randolph Oduber missed the game-tying home run by just a few feet, doubling off the base of the left field wall to put both runners in scoring position for what would be pinch-hitter Mike McQuillan. Alas, the sparkplug from Evergreen, IL couldn’t get the ninth hit (or the draw the third walk) of the night and grounded out to short to end it and give Myrtle Beach a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five series.

Hagerstown — OFF DAY
Just as the Carolina League will not rematch the 2013 finalists, neither will the South Atlantic League. Asheville spared Hagerstown a trip to Savannah by holding on to a 2-1 lead when play was suspended on Friday night. With a runner on 2nd and two out in the bottom of the 8th, the Sand Gnats drew a walk, then got a wild-pitch-whiff to load the bases, but their luck ran out with a grounder to first. Both teams went in order in the 9th, sending the Tourists back to North Carolina for a pair of games against the Suns at McCormick Field on Monday and Tuesday.