The Midland RockHounds won their game on Saturday to advance to the Texas League Championship series. Midland, the Double-A affiliate of the Oakland A's, defeated the Corpus Christi Hooks (Astros) to win their best-of-5 series 3-1. The RockHounds used a pair of home runs and a sterling pitching performance from Jake Sanchez to beat the Hooks 4-1 in the deciding game, and they will now try to defend their 2014 league title in a best-of-5 series against the Northwest Arkansas Naturals (Royals). The Championship series begins on Tuesday.
Here's a closer look at the completed Divisional 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
Game 4: RockHounds 4, Hooks 1 (at Midland)
RockHounds win series 3-1
For the second straight game, the Hounds got out to an early lead and never looked back. This time, though, they did it with pure power rather than a lot of long rallies. Ryon Healy homered in the 2nd to open the scoring, Matt Olson hit a two-run shot in the 3rd, and Jaycob Brugman added a solo shot in the 4th -- that was all the runs they'd get and all the runs they'd need.
Meanwhile, Jake Sanchez stepped up big for Midland. The righty didn't allow a hit until the 3rd, then escaped a bases-loaded jam in the 4th. He carried a shutout into the 7th, but with two outs the Hooks finally got to him with a single and a double to plate their only run. Sanchez's final line: 7 ip, 1 run, 5 Ks, 0 BB, 6 hits.
There was a brief scare in the 8th. Reliever Kris Hall was greeted with a bunt single and eventually loaded the bases with one out, prompting the Hounds to bring in their closer, Brendan McCurry, for a 5-out save. The move worked out brilliantly, as McCurry struck out the next two batters to end the threat and then breezed through a quiet 9th inning. He faced six batters and retired five of them, four on strikeouts.
Notable Hounds: Brugman 2-for-4, HR, 2B, BB ... Olson and Healy each 1-for-4, HR ... Every hitter in the lineup had at least one hit ... McCurry: 1⅔ innings, 4 Ks, 1 hit.
Series recap: Hounds win battle of big offenses in a pitcher's league
The Texas League is usually cited as a pitcher's league, and Midland's Security Bank Ballpark is notorious for its large dimensions, high wall, and strong winds. However, this was a shootout between the top two offenses in the league -- the Hooks ranked first (742 runs), the RockHounds second (724), and then there was nearly a 100-run gap before the Springfield Cardinals in third (629).
FRI RECAPS & SAT GAME THREAD
FRI RECAPS & SAT GAME THREAD
The matchup didn't disappoint, as the first three games each saw the winning team score nine runs. But it was the Hounds doing most of the scoring, while their pitchers mostly shut down Corpus Christi's top-ranked lineup after getting knocked around in Game 1. Midland scored in a variety of ways -- they hit homers, they strung together long rallies, and they took their walks when that's what they were given. The biggest heroes were clearly Brugman and Nunez, but just about everyone chipped in at least something. Here are the performances of some key prospects:
Nunez: 6-for-14, HR, 2 BB, 8 RBI, 2 Ks
Brugman: 5-for-9, 2 HR, 2 2B, 2 BB, 5 RBI, K
Healy: 7-for-18, HR, 2B, 4 Ks
Olson: 3-for-15, HR, 2 BB, K
Oberacker: 3-for-13, 2 2B, 2 BB, 2 Ks
Walsh: 4-for-16, 2B, 3 BB, 9 Ks
Pinder: 2-for-13, 2B, 5 Ks
The A's entered the year with a relatively weak farm system, though the deadline trades helped quite a bit. But the emergence of this entire Hounds lineup has to make you feel better about the state of the organization. Olson and Nunez entered as top prospects and had good years at a new level, Pinder raised his stock substantially with a breakout season, and Brugman, Healy and Walsh put themselves on the map. Midland is usually where hitting prospects go to die, but these guys thrived. The Texas League Player of the Year (Pinder) didn't even do much in the Divisional series, and it still didn't matter. There is a ton of firepower in this lineup, and most or all of it will be in Triple-A Nashville next year, just one step away from Oakland.
And hey, the pitchers weren't too shabby either. The starts were mostly made by older non-prospects, but Sean Manaea was fantastic and McCurry continued to prove that Double-A hitters can't handle him. The key guys:
Manaea: 7 ip, 2 runs, 8 Ks, 0 BB, 3 hits, 1 HR
McCurry: 2⅔ ip, 1 run, 5 Ks, 0 BB, 2 hits, 1 HR (2 games)
T Healy: 1 ip, 0 runs, 0 Ks, 2 BB, 1 hit
Hall: 1⅓ ip, 0 runs, 3 Ks, BB, 2 hits (2 games)
Dillon Overton did not pitch in the series.
If you look at the regular season standings, this was probably the real championship series. The Hooks led the Texas League with an 89-51 record, and Midland was next at 83-57. The Arkansas Travelers were next-best, winning the North Division at 71-68. Midland's opponent in the Championship series, the Northwest Arkansas Naturals, actually had a losing record at 69-70. No team in the North Division was over .500 in the second half of the season.
So, the Hounds, boasting an incredibly hot lineup and having just taken down the best team in the Texas League, now have a 5-game Championship series against a losing team that went 29-40 in the second half. There is no such thing as a guaranteed win in sports, but man, you've gotta feel good about this one. Manaea will start Game 1 in Midland on Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. PT. Pinder is out for the series with a hamstring injury, and Yairo Munoz is on the roster after excelling in his stint with High-A Stockton.
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!).