There won't be October baseball in Oakland this year, but the A's do have a couple of postseason series to look forward to. The Double-A Midland RockHounds are attempting to defend their 2014 Texas League championship, and the High-A Stockton Ports are looking for their first California League title since 2008. Unfortunately, both teams lost their opening games on the road Wednesday and now face 0-1 series deficits entering Thursday. That means different things for each team, too -- Midland is in a best-of-5 showdown against the Corpus Christi Hooks (Astros), while Stockton is in a best-of-3 wild card play-in round against the San Jose Giants.
Here's more on each series.
Midland RockHounds vs. Corpus Christi Hooks (Astros)
League: Double-A Texas League
Game 1: Hooks 9, RockHounds 2 (at Corpus Christi)
The first game was a bit of a snoozer. Midland started right-hander Parker Frazier, hoping to capture more of his 3.22 ERA than his 4.55 FIP. Unfortunately, his 1.03 K/BB rate turned out to be the red flag you'd expect it to be, and the Hooks scored a pair in each of the first three innings and eventually built a 7-2 lead. Frazier's final line included 5 innings, 7 runs, 3 walks, 1 strikeout, and 2 homers. Not good when you allow more homers than strikeouts.
Of course, this Midland team was outscored by only the Hooks in the entire Texas League this season and had a 95-run advantage over the next-best offense, so there was still a chance that the Hounds could answer back and turn this into a slugfest. Unfortunately, Corpus Christi starter Chris Devenski struck out nine in six quiet innings, allowing only a solo homer to Josh Whitaker and an RBI single to Renato Nunez. The Hooks' bullpen shut them down after that, and Midland didn't score after the second inning.
Other notable Hounds: Chad Pinder, Ryon Healy, and Bruce Maxwell each singled, and Colin Walsh walked once ... Chad Oberacker doubled ahead of Nunez's single in the first ... Kris Hall threw only 8 pitches for a perfect 9th, including two strikeouts.
Game 2: RockHounds (LHP Sean Manaea) at Hooks (RHP Ruben Alaniz)
Midland figures to stand a much better chance in Game 2. Manaea is a top prospect and is coming off a 13-strikeout performance in his final regular season start, albeit against a weak opponent. Meanwhile, Alaniz does not look intimidating -- he reached Double-A in 2013 and was terrible, then took another shot at the level in 2014 and was terrible, and now has settled in as terrible once more in 2015. His career Double-A ERA is 4.82, and that seems low given his 1.09 K/BB rate and the 10.4 hits he allows per nine innings.
If the RockHounds can't win this one, with their ace against the opponent's scrub, then forget about the series. Either way, the action will shift to Midland for Game 3 on Friday. As the second-half division winner, the Hounds get to host Games 3-5 of the five-game set after the Hooks (first-half winners) hosted the first two. If Midland wins on Thursday, that will effectively mean a best-of-3 series at their home park this weekend. The winner of this Divisional series goes on to the Championship series to play for the title, facing the winner of Arkansas vs. North Arkansas (neither of which are in Texas but both of which play in the Texas League).
Midland's Game 2 lineup (GameCast link):
CF Chad Oberacker
2B Colin Walsh
1B Anthony Aliotti
DH Renato Nunez
SS Chad Pinder
3B Ryon Healy
RF Matt Olson
LF Josh Whitaker
C Beau Taylor
LHP Sean Manaea
At the time of this update, Midland is cruising along through two innings with a 1-0 lead. Healy doubled ahead of an Olson single for the run, and Manaea has struck out four through two perfect innings.
Game 3 will be played on Friday in Midland, with a scheduled matchup of RHP Chris Jensen for the Hounds and RHP Kyle Westwood for the Hooks. Neither pitcher has impressive stats, with low strikeout totals in particular, and this one could turn out to be a slugfest.
Stockton Ports vs. San Jose Giants
League: High-A California League
The Cal League playoffs are a bit different than those in the Texas League. Rather than a simple matchup of the first-half and second-half division winners, a wild card is involved. The first-half winner gets a bye to the Divisional series, while the second-half winner plays a three-game "Mini-series" against the wild card (best overall record among teams that didn't win the division in either half). The winner of that Mini-series plays the first-half winner in a five-game Divisional series, with the winner of that finally playing in the five-game Championship series. So, it's a three-round format like the MLB playoffs prior to 2012, but with shorter series throughout (3/5/5 instead of 5/7/7).
But there's a twist! The Visalia Rawhide (D'Backs) won both the first-half and second-half titles, so that means a second wild card was chosen. Stockton already had the next-best overall record after Visalia, so they were in no matter what. San Jose (Giants) had the next-best record after Stockton, so they sneaked into the final bonus spot.
Forget late September in Oakland. This is the A's/Giants series that really matters this year.
Game 1: Giants 7, Ports 2 (at San Jose)
The Ports had more than they could handle in the opener. Dylan Covey started for Stockton, and he came in on a roll. He got hit in the face by a line drive on Aug. 8, but he returned 10 days later and dominated like he hadn't done all season -- in his final four starts of the year, he posted a 1.90 ERA in just shy of 24 innings, with 28 strikeouts and three walks.
However, that momentum did not continue into his outing against the Giants. San Jose built up a 3-0 lead by the 3rd, and even when the Ports got on the board in the 5th with an RBI double by Franklin Barreto, the Giants answered back with a two-run rally to knock Covey out of the game. San Jose added some insurance with a two-run homer in the 7th, and Stockton could only scratch out a run-scoring GIDP by Yairo Munoz the rest of the way. Covey's final line: 4+ innings, 5 runs (4 earned), 10 hits, 2 Ks, no walks or homers.
Other notable Ports: Barreto and Munoz finished with two hits apiece, and Brett Vertigan singled and walked ... Carlos Navas faced five batters, recording four outs (two Ks) and a HBP
Game 2: Giants (LHP Andrew Suarez) at Ports (RHP Daniel Mengden)
The series shifts to Stockton's Banner Island Ballpark for Game 2 (and for Game 3 if necessary). Mengden has been a mixed bag in the rotation since his acquisition, with five good starts and three bad ones. Suarez, on the other hand, was the Giants' second-round pick in the 2015 draft and the lefty rolled through three games in rookie league (1.80 ERA), five starts in Single-A (1.40 ERA), and three more starts in High-A (1.80 ERA) with a combined K/BB rate of 7.40 and a strikeout per inning. This game is win-or-go-home for the Ports.
CF Brett Vertigan
2B J.P. Sportman
DH Frankin Barreto
SS Yairo Munoz
C Jacob Nottingham
RF Tyler Marincov
1B John Nogowski
LF B.J. Boyd
3B Melvin Mercedes
RHP Daniel Mengden
Game 3: The pitching matchup for Game 3 on Friday is not yet set. According to the MiLB.com series preview, Casey Meisner will not pitch for the Ports as the team decided to shut the 20-year-old down based on his career-high innings total. (Note; That is a totally reasonable thing to do.) Matt Chapman will also not play in the series due to his re-aggravated wrist injury. But J.P. Sportman is back, y'all!
Go Hounds! Go Ports!