There won't be October baseball in Oakland this year, but the A's do have a couple of postseason series to enjoy. 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.
Both teams won their respective Game 2 contests on Thursday, meaning that both tied their series 1-1. For the RockHounds, that means the series shifts back to Midland for three more games to decide their best-of-5 series; in other words, a best-of-3 at home against the Corpus Christi Hooks (Astros). For the Ports, that means one more winner-take-all elimination game at home in Stockton (against the San Jose Giants), with the victor moving on to the five-game Divisional series.
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)
Hooks lead series 1-0
Game 2: RockHounds 9, Hooks 3 (at Corpus Christi)
Series tied 1-1
This was actually a tight affair for most of the evening. Starting pitcher Sean Manaea was brilliant for the Hounds, tossing seven innings and allowing just two runs -- one on a solo homer, the other on an RBI triple to score a runner who reached on a wild strike 3. In all, Manaea fanned eight batters and didn't walk any. He was truly impressive.
Unfortunately, that second run, the one resulting from the dropped third strike, tied the game 2-2 in the 7th. The Hounds had only managed two runs themselves against a far inferior Hooks starter. They drew first blood in the 2nd inning, when Ryon Healy doubled ahead of a Matt Olson single, and then Josh Whitaker homered in the 4th -- the 26-year-old has homered in both playoff games now despite being one of the least-impressive hitters in the lineup. Corpus Christi answered with their own solo shot in the 4th before tying it in the 7th.
The Hounds' bullpen (including Ryan Doolittle!) pitched in and out of trouble in the 8th, and the 2-2 tie held until the 9th. And then, in the top half, the tie was utterly shattered by Midland. It started innocently enough -- Olson walked with one out, and Whitaker singled behind him. With the No. 9 spot due up, Jaycob Brugman was called on to pinch-hit, and he delivered with a single to center to score Olson with the go-ahead run.
Then things got silly. Chad Oberacker was walked intentionally to load the bases, and Colin Walsh followed with another line drive single to score Whitaker. Anthony Aliotti grounded another hit up the middle to make it 5-2, and then Renato Nunez dropped the hammer: a grand slam to straightaway center. Game, set, match, 9-2 lead.
Brendan McCurry came in to finish things off in the 9th. If you're wondering why the Hounds would use their closer with a 7-run lead, I assume he was probably warming up to pitch when the game was tied and then they figured they may as well just use him while he was loose -- not an unusual move. He allowed a solo homer (thank goodness for insurance runs!) and Midland earned a 9-3 victory to tie the series.
Notable RockHounds prospects: Nunez 2-for-4 w/ a grand slam ... Olson 2-for-3, RBI, run, walk ... Brugman clutch pinch-hit RBI single ... Healy 1-for-5, double, RBI, run ... Manaea 7 innings, 2 runs, 8 Ks, 0 walks, 3 hits, 1 HR.
Game 3: Hooks (RHP Kyle Westwood) at RockHounds (RHP Chris Jensen)
Friday, 5:00 p.m. PT
The series shifts to Midland for its duration, meaning that it is now effectively a best-of-3 at home for the Hounds. Neither of Friday's scheduled starting pitchers has impressive stats, with low strikeout totals in particular, so this one could be fun.
The winner of this best-of-5 series goes on to face the winner of Northwest Arkansas (Royals) vs. Arkansas (Angels) in the best-of-5 Texas League Championship series. Northwest currently leads their Divisional series 2-0. The RockHounds won the league title last year, and they also won as an A's affiliate in 2005 (starring Andre Ethier!) and 2009 (starring Chris Carter!).
Stockton Ports vs. San Jose Giants
League: High-A California League
Game 1: Giants 7, Ports 2 (at San Jose)
Giants lead series 1-0
Game 2: Ports 4, Giants 2 (at Stockton)
Series tied 1-1
This game was similar to Midland's except that it didn't get blown open at the end. Like Manaea, Daniel Mengden was excellent for Stockton, and the Ports staked him to an early lead when the bottom of the lineup strung together four straight singles to push across a run in the 2nd. Mengden briefly surrendered the lead when San Jose's Angel Villalona homered in the 4th -- like Midland's Whitaker, Villalona has homered in both games for the Giants -- but the Ports got it right back when B.J. Boyd reached base, stole second, moved to third when the shortstop missed the throw, and then scored on a single by Brett Vertigan. Boyd (2012, 4th round) has lost some of his prospect sheen over time but he's still only 22 years old, and he certainly showed how he can affect a game in this one.
Wed Recaps & Thu Game Threads
Wed Recaps & Thu Game Threads
Stockton added to the lead in the next frame, with a bit of help from their opponent. With two outs already in the bag, Jacob Nottingham reached on a fielding error by the second baseman to extend the inning, and the Ports capitalized on the extra chance -- Tyler Marincov homered to make it a 4-1 advantage.
The Giants answered back in the 6th with a solo homer off of Mengden to cut it to 4-2, but that was the end of the scoring. Stockton relievers Sam Bragg, Ben Bracewell and Corey Walter combined to allow just one hit the rest of the way, retiring nine of the 10 batters they faced. In particular, Bragg struck out the side in the 7th, after fanning more than 11 batters per 9 innings during the regular season (and 4 per walk). Bragg and Walter both had excellent age-22 seasons this year -- Bragg (2013, 18th round) has the aforementioned strikeout ability, and Walter (2014, 28th round) posted a 1.42 ERA in 57 innings and just earned a save in a playoff game.
Notable Ports prospects: Barreto, Munoz, Nottingham each had one hit apiece ... Vertigan 2-for-5 with an RBI ... Bragg's 3-strikeout inning ... Mengden 6 innings, 2 runs, 7 Ks, 0 walks, 4 hits, 2 HR.
Game 3: Giants (RHP Martin Agosta) at Ports (LHP Matt Stalcup)
Friday, 7:10 p.m. PT
Stalcup made 13 starts for the Ports down the stretch and pitched well, with a 2.75 ERA, 8 K/9ip and nearly 3 Ks per walk. Agosta was a second-round pick in 2012, but he has moved up the ladder slowly. He has huge K/BB numbers -- more than 10 K/9ip this year, and nearly 5 Ks per walk. But he's not unhittable, giving up his fair share (or more) of hits and homers. He is not listed in the team's top 30 prospects by MLB.com, for what that's worth.
The winner of this game wins the series and goes on to play the Visalia Rawhide (D'Backs) in the best-of-5 Divisional series beginning Saturday. The winner of that Divisional series goes on to play in the best-of-5 Championship series for the league title. The Ports have only won once as an A's affiliate, in 2008 (starring Chris Carter!).
Go Hounds! Go Ports!