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.
The RockHounds won their game against the Corpus Christi Hooks (Astros) on Friday, giving Midland a 2-1 lead in their best-of-5 series. However, the Ports lost a 15-inning winner-take-all game to the San Jose Giants, thus eliminating Stockton from the postseason. If you want an analogy for that, it was like losing Game 5 of the ALDS to a third-place team in the style of the 2014 Wild Card game but against the Giants. Ugh.
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
Game 3: RockHounds 9, Hooks 5 (at Midland)
RockHounds lead series 2-1
The Hounds cruised in Game 3. The final score ended up closer than Game 2 on Thursday, but this one was never really in question. Corpus Christi starter Kyle Westwood had nothing to offer Midland's powerful lineup, and the Hounds scored in each of the first five innings. To summarize:
1st: Hounds load bases with no outs, Renato Nunez RBI single to drive in one, Chad Pinder GIDP to score another
2nd: Jaycob Brugman RBI double
3rd: Pinder double, Ryon Healy RBI single
4th: Nunez RBI single
5th: Nunez bases-loaded walk
Nunez was doing most of the actual damage, but the whole lineup was getting on base at will to give him someone to drive in.
Meanwhile, the Hooks couldn't touch Midland starter Chris Jensen until the 5th inning. Jensen entered on a roll, with a 1.36 ERA over his last five regular season starts and nearly seven innings per outing. On Friday, he mowed through the first four innings, allowing just a pair of singles, but in the 5th the Hooks went BB-2B-1B-1B-2B in five straight at-bats to plate three runs and briefly get back in the game. He settled down in the 6th and things went back to normal, with the batters going down 1-2-3 and a Corpus Christi coach getting ejected from the game. The Hounds led 6-3 when Jensen wrapped up his half of the 6th. His line: 6 ip, 3 runs, 6 Ks, 1 BB, 6 hits, 0 HR.
Midland didn't let the Hooks hang around for long, though. After answering their three-run rally off Jensen with a run of their own in the 5th (the Nunez walk), the Hounds struck again in the bottom of the 6th. Ryon Healy singled, and two outs later he had moved into scoring position. Catcher Bruce Maxwell grounded a single to left to drive him in, and then Brugman launched a homer to blow the score open at 9-3.
To their credit, the Hooks kept fighting. They put a runner in scoring position against Tucker Healy in the 7th and got the hit to knock him in, but center fielder Chad Oberacker gunned down the runner at the plate. In the 8th, against Jonathan Joseph, they loaded the bases with no outs and scratched out an RBI single and a sac fly. But Jeff Urlaub finished off the 9th without incident, and the Hounds wrapped up their 9-5 victory with little suspense.
Notable Hounds: Brugman 2-for-4, HR, 2B, BB, 3 RBI ... Renato Nunez 2-for-4, BB, 3 RBI ... Ryon Healy 4-for-5, RBI ... Colin Walsh 2-for-4, BB ... Chad Pinder 1-for-4, 2B, BB.
Game 4: Hooks (RHP Francis Martes) at RockHounds (RHP Jake Sanchez)
Saturday, 5:00 p.m. PT
Now the Hounds have two chances at home to win one game. On Saturday, they will turn to Sanchez. He turned 26 in August and only posted decent numbers this year, so he's not really a prospect, but he only has to be solid with this lineup behind him. His opponent is a 19-year-old who has succeeded so far in a handful of Single-A games but got knocked around in his first brief taste in Double-A. That pitching matchup could go either way, but give me the hot lineup against the teenage hurler.
Interesting development: With the Ports eliminated from their postseason, infielder Yairo Munoz has been called up and appears to be available on Midland's bench on Saturday.
The winner of this best-of-5 series goes on to face the Northwest Arkansas Naturals (Royals) in the best-of-5 Texas League Championship series. Northwest Arkansas swept their Divisional series against the Arkansas Travelers (Angels). 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
Game 3: Giants 5, Ports 3, 15 innings (at Stockton)
Giants win series 2-1
This one was a full A's-level heartbreaker. The Ports took an early lead when Yairo Munoz homered in the 1st, and they padded it when Brett Vertigan and J.P. Sportman went back-to-back to lead off the 3rd. Armed with a 3-0 advantage, starter Matt Stalcup didn't have a single 1-2-3 inning but still managed to allow only one run in five frames. Lefty reliever Jose Torres came in to lock down the next two innings, and Stockton cruised to the 8th inning with a 3-1 lead, just six outs away from advancing to the next round of the playoffs.
And then it became an A's game. Setup man Ben Bracewell, who had pitched well the previous night, opened the 8th by allowing a single and a home run to tie the game. He and Joel Seddon combined to at least preserve the tie, but it was an all-too-familiar sight for A's fans.
Thu recaps & Fri game thread
Thu recaps & Fri game thread
The game dragged on for quite a while after that. Closer Corey Walter came in to hold things in the 9th, and he ended up going three scoreless innings. Sam Bragg relieved him and went another three scoreless innings. Meanwhile, after tallying three homers and two walks in the first five frames, Stockton's lineup managed just three baserunners in a nine-inning span from the 6th through the 14th -- a single, a double, and a dropped third strike error. Their pen was locking San Jose down, but their own lineup couldn't do anything either.
Finally, in the 15th, the Giants broke through. Lou Trivino, in what I assume was a last-minute audition for the A's 2015 pen, allowed a one-out single, threw a wild pitch to put him in scoring position, got another out, and then allowed a groundball single to score the go-ahead run. Classic 2015 A's -- almost get out of the mess you made, but not quite. With the tie broken, Trivino broke the next batter's bat but the ball landed in for a single anyway and the runner moved to 3rd. Trivino threw another wild pitch to plate the insurance run, just to twist the knife a bit.
The Ports even followed with a bit of a teAse. With the bottom of the lineup due up, the first batter walked to bring the tying run to the plate. Hope! But never mind, a GIDP and a strikeout quickly ended the threat and the season. The Giants persevered for the 5-3 victory in 15 innings, and they'll now play the Visalia Rawhide (D'Backs) in the best-of-5 Divisional series beginning Saturday (tonight). The winner of that Divisional series goes on to play in the best-of-5 Championship series for the league title. In other words, this was the Cal League equivalent of the ALDS.
Notable Ports: Munoz, Vertigan, and Sportman all homered ... Stalcup was solid, 5 ip, 1 run, 6 Ks, 2 BB, 6 hits ... Bullpen went big with multiple scoreless innings from Torres (2), Walter (3), and Bragg (3).
Series Recap: Eliminated, but still successful
Alright, I got a bit dark in that game recap, but there are two important realities here:
1. The Ports had a great 2015 season.
2. There wasn't much left to play for.
They finished second in their five-team division and played a thrilling postseason series, all while several top prospects had breakout years. Big picture, those are the important things and the season was a success.
But really, what were we still watching? Matt Chapman wasn't playing anymore, as he re-aggravated his wrist injury. Franklin Barreto played the first two games but not the decider, so they lost with their best remaining player on the bench. Casey Meisner had already been shut down due to his heavy workload, and Raul Alcantara seemed to be on a full-year rehab assignment given that he never once went past the 4th inning.
Community Prospect List
Community Prospect List
What else are we left with? There's Munoz, but now he's been called up to Midland to help in the Double-A playoffs so that's exciting in a whole other way. There's Nottingham, but like Munoz he's a 20-year-old in his first full pro season and I imagine the 89 games he caught this year are a career-high. I would like to have seen Dylan Covey and Daniel Mengden make one more postseason start apiece, but I didn't need to see them. Covey is still a fringe prospect despite his recent resurgence, and Mengden has thrown nearly as many innings as Meisner and is also in his first full pro season. Some relievers put in big performances but also a lot of innings, and I didn't need them to do it all again for another 3-5 days after totally exhausting themselves on Friday. The pitching staff would have been screwed Saturday.
All of that is a sour grapes way of saying not to trip too much about this bummer of a series loss. The important prospects mostly played well, a couple new names emerged with eye-opening performances, and the team fought hard. A Cal League title wouldn't have proven anything more, especially since it wouldn't have been won by the key prospects who had already been shut down. They essentially lost one blowout, won one close game, and then played to a tie before the universe flipped a coin to decide it. Again, big picture. It's the Cal League playoffs, not the World Series.
The numbers for the relevant Ports prospects:
Barreto: 3-for-8, double, RBI, K
Munoz: 4-for-14, HR
Nottingham: 1-for-14, 6 Ks
Vertigan: 5-for-13, HR, BB, 2 RBI, SB, K (1.044 OPS)
Mengden: 6 ip, 2 runs, 7 Ks, 4 hits, 2 HR (1 start)
Covey: 4 ip, 5 runs (4 er), 2 Ks, 10 hits (1 start)
Torres: 2 ip, 0 runs, 2 Ks, 1 hit (1 game)
Seddon: retired only batter he faced
Stalcup: 5 ip, 1 run, 6 Ks, 2 BB, 6 hits, 1 HR (1 start)
Bragg: 4 ip, 0 runs, 5 Ks, 2 hits (2 games)
Walter: 4 ip, 0 runs, 4 Ks, 2 hits, save (2 games)
Navas: 1⅓ innings, 0 runs, 2 Ks (1 game)
Matt Chapman, Raul Alcantara and Casey Meisner did not play in the series.
Go Hounds! Good season, Ports! Good luck to Munoz in Midland!