Statistically the Jackson Generals and Mobile Bay Bears took different paths to reach the 2012 Southern League championships although both teams looked similarly dominant on Sunday. The Generals and Bay Bears both took their series 3-1 winning on Sunday with the Generals clinching 8-2 at Chattanooga and the Bay Bears clinching 11-4 at Montgomery. Both teams claimed their division’s first half crown with the Generals placing four games behind the second half North division leader Chattanooga at 37-33 (.529) while the Bay Bears posted a 2012 Southern League half season low record of 29-41 (.414).
I’m not much of a gambler but if there was a Vegas line on the Southern League championships you wouldn’t have to go much further than the next two paragraphs to decide where the smart money likely lies. Jackson was named the top minor league team in baseball by Baseball America heading into the season as Andrew Carraway and Brandon Maurer , the eventual Southern League Pitcher of the Year, were named intriguing sleepers among a loaded roster. Mobile is the defending 2011 Southern League champions. By taking a look at the roster even a Bay Bears fan may forget this was just a season ago. Gone from last year’s championship squad are Jarrod Parker, Paul Goldschmidt, Tyler Skaggs, Trevor Bauer, Wade Miley, Ryan Cook, A.J. Pollock, Adam Eaton, and Ryan Wheeler; all of which are currently on MLB active rosters (with Parker and Cook playing for the Athletics). This new batch of Bay Bears talent posted a 69-71 (.492) record in 2012 posting a seasonal line of .244/.330/.368 while trailing Jackson in their regular season series six games to four. The regular season saw Jackson put forth their best effort in living up to Baseball America’s best minor league baseball team moniker as they led the Southern League offensively in slugging, offensive production (OPS), batting average, total bases, and hits on their way to a seasonal line of .261/.333/.404. The other side of the ball was much of the same story as the Generals led in earned run average and runs allowed on their way to a 79-61 record; tops in the Southern League.
In their playoff opening series the Generals outhit the Lookouts 45-26, outscored them 18-6, turned seven double plays to two against, and did not allow a stolen base in four attempts for a true five-tool series victory. The Mobile offense put up big numbers outscoring Montgomery 27-11 while going for 46 hits against 38 allowed. The offensive showings for both teams were similar with each hitting four home runs, converting 11 runners in scoring position, and leaving roughly the same amount of runners on base (34 to 28) while the pitching numbers are surely what separate these two teams. In 35 innings of work against Chattanooga the Generals staff allowed one home run, six runs, and 42 base runners for a team earned run average of 1.54 allowing 1.2 walks and hits per nine innings pitched. Mobile in 36 innings allowed one home run, eleven runs, and 52 base runners for a team earned run average of 2.75 allowing 1.44 walks and hits per nine innings pitched. Mobile’s formidable 2.75 earned run average in the series comes in nearly 1.5 runs per game lower than their season average; a 4.13 mark that was highest in the Southern League.
Among the Arizona Diamondbacks top-20 prospects as rated by MLB.com the Bay Bears bring third baseman Matt Davidson (#4 overall), shortstop Chris Owings (#5 overall), starter David Holmberg (#8 overall), and reliever Evan Marshall (#13 overall) into their series against Jackson; gone are 2012 minor league hits leader Adam Eaton and the Diamondbacks #1 and #2 overall prospects Trevor Bauer and Tyler Skaggs. Jackson touts the Seattle Mariners #1 overall prospect in starter Taijuan Walker , 20, who threw 7.1 innings of 1 run baseball in his first ever professional baseball playoff appearance two days ago. Joining Walker for this series are catcher Mike Zunino (#4 overall), starter James Paxton (#5 overall), shortstop Brad Miller (#9 overall), second baseman Stefen Romero (#10 overall), starter Brandon Maurer (#11 overall) who will not pitch in this series, third baseman Francisco Martinez (#12 overall), and outfielder Johermyn Chavez (#19 overall). Paxton and Holmberg threw prior to Sunday’s clinching victories and would both be available to pitch on 5+ days rest going into Tuesday’s championship opener; the starting pitchers have not yet been released. Let’s take a look at some of the stories going into Tuesday’s matchup.
The clean-up hitters:
Jackson – C – Mike Zunino: 6-15 (.400), 3 home runs, seven runs batted in, and a .500 on-base percentage against Chattanooga.
It can only get better:
Mobile – 3B - Matt Davidson: 4-13 (.308), 1 home run, seven runs batted in, and a .421 on-base percentage against Montgomery.
Jackson – OF – Joe Dunigan : 0-7 with four strikeouts in two games played against Chattanooga.
Mobile – OF – Alfredo Marte: 1-14 (.071) with six strikeouts in four games played against Montgomery.
Jackson – RHP - Logan Bawcom : 3.0 IP, 1 H, 3 Ks, and 1 SV against Chattanooga.
Mobile – RHP - Evan Marshall: 2.2 IP, 2 H, 3 K, and a .200 BAA against Montgomery.
Jackson – RHP - Taijuan Waker: 7.1 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 4 BB, 4 K against Chattanooga.
Dark-horse picks for top performers:
Jackson - LHP - James Paxton: 6.0 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 9 K against Chattanooga.
Mobile – LHP - David Holmberg: 7.0 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 3 BB, 2 K against Montgomery.
Jackson – 1B – Rich Poythress : Poythress did not qualify for the Southern League post-season awards, missing out by less than 30 at-bats, but his bat and eye made him one of the seasons top performers in the Southern League batting .304/.404/.439 with a 14.0% walk ratio. What makes Poythress so dangerous going into this series is his .318/.298 split against left handed/right handed pitchers; he can hit any pitcher in the league.
Mobile – 1B – Jonathan Griffin: Griffin hit 26 home runs in High-A ball before spending the final five games of the 2012 season with Mobile batting .438/.471/.875 hitting his 27th and 28th home runs of the season. Clearly these numbers would be hard to duplicate against any staff but his 46 home runs over his past 204 contests rank in the upper echelon of minor league power bats.
In a season which the Seattle Mariners organization set a record for most minor league wins in a year, a championship for Jackson would be the icing on the cake. Can they do it? Their quest continues this Tuesday.
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