The Midland RockHounds won Game 1 of the best-of-5 Texas League Championship series on Tuesday, defeating the Northwest Arkansas Naturals (Royals) by the score of 5-2. Midland, the Double-A affiliate of the Oakland A's, received a home run from outfielder Jaycob Brugman, a big two-run single from first baseman Anthony Aliotti, and another sparkling start from lefty Sean Manaea to cruise to the victory. The RockHounds are attempting to win the league title for the second straight year.
At first glance, this series looks like a mismatch. The RockHounds finished the season with the second-best record in the Texas League (83-57) and the second-half South Division title (48-22), and they beat the league-best Corpus Christi Hooks in the Division series to get here. Meanwhile, the Naturals were a losing team overall (69-70) and finished last in the North Division in the second half (29-40).
Divisional Series Recap
Divisional Series Recap
However, the Naturals swept the Arkansas Travelers (Angels) in the Divisional round, and they feature a few prospects whose names you might recognize even if you don't normally follow the minor leagues -- Bubba Starling, the No. 5 overall pick in 2011, who was a top-50 prospect on potential in '12 and '13 but is developing slowly; Hunter Dozier, the No. 8 overall pick in 2013, who has already cracked BA's Top 100 list the last two years (no relation to Brian); and Raul Mondesi, who ... is going to get his own paragraph really quick because he's interesting.
First thing's first: Yes, he is the son of Raul Mondesi, the 1994 NL Rookie of the Year and the current mayor of San Cristobal in the Dominican Republic (seriously). But no, he is not Raul Mondesi Jr., an outfielder who was signed by the Brewers in 2010 but no longer appears to be playing in the minors. He is Raul Adalberto Mondesi, Raul Jr.'s younger brother, a shortstop who was signed by the Royals in 2011. Raul Adalberto just turned 20 in late July but is already in Double-A, batting second in the lineup in the league's Championship series. He's also the Royals No. 1 prospect, according to MLB.com.
Here's a closer look at the series.
Midland RockHounds vs. Northwest Arkansas Naturals (Royals)
League: Double-A Texas League
Best-of-5 Championship series
Game 1 box score (Hounds win)
Game 1: RockHounds 5, Naturals 2 (at Midland)
Hounds lead series 1-0
The matchup featured a pair of lefties with extra letters in their names: Sean Manaea vs. Jonathan Dziedzic. Manaea, who actually made two starts for the Naturals this year before coming to Oakland in the Ben Zobrist trade, was coming off an excellent outing against the Hooks in the Divisional series -- however, he gave up the first runs in this game. In the 3rd, an error by shortstop Wade Kirkland (aka Not Yairo Munoz) put a runner on base, and Mondesi doubled him in. He quickly moved to third on a wild pitch, and then scored on a groundout by Alex Liddi -- yes, the same Alex Liddi who, in 2011 with the Mariners, became the first person born and raised in Italy to play in MLB. This Naturals team is fascinating, which should make it more enjoyable to watch our boys crush them.
Anyway, down 2-0 in the bottom of the 3rd, the RockHounds wasted no time answering back. With one out, Jaycob Brugman homered to right (lefty vs. lefty). With two outs, Anthony Aliotti (alum of De La Salle High and St. Mary's Moraga) singled, moved to second on a wild pitch, and scored on a hit by Renato Nunez. The score was tied 2-2 thanks to the usual suspects, as those three hitters have done the majority of the damage in these playoffs so far.
But the Hounds didn't stop there. Matt Olson led off the 4th with a double, and he moved to third on a sac bunt. After a walk to Kirkland, another wild pitch scored Olson. (That makes three game-altering wild pitches in four innings, and I have no idea whether that's because the pitchers were wild, the catchers were sloppy, or the Midland wind was howling and affecting things.) Catcher Bruce Maxwell ended up drawing a walk after the wild pitch, and Brugman followed by walking as well to load the bases with one out. Colin Walsh wasn't able to cash in, popping out harmlessly, but Aliotti came through once again by lining a two-run single back up the middle. He's 28 years old and he hasn't hit in two tries at Triple-A, but he's really coming through for the Hounds in this postseason and it would be sweet if somehow the local boy could make it to the A's one day.
That was the end of the scoring for the game. Manaea ran into some trouble in the 5th, thanks in part to an error by third baseman Ryon Healy, but he struck out a pair to get out of it and then cruised from there. He ended up going eight frames, and even though he only had two 1-2-3 innings he got through his outing in exactly 100 pitches. His final line: 8 innings, 2 runs (both unearned), 7 Ks, 2 BB, 7 hits, lowering his postseason ERA to 1.20 over 2 starts. Manaea on his outing, from the Midland Reporter-Telegram:
"Something I have been working on this whole season is just getting deeper into games," Manaea said. "I felt like I was struggling a little bit in the middle innings --- third, fourth, fifth and something started clicking. I started throwing my changeup for strikes and I was getting swing and misses and a little ground balls so I feel that helped a lot."
Here he is fanning Lane Adams to end the threat in the 5th.
This seems like as good a time as any to note that Manaea, who stands 6'5, has the Twitter handle @BABYSMGIRAFFE.
Brendan McCurry came in for the save in the 9th, and he turned it into a bit of an adventure. He allowed a pair of singles, and with two outs Mondesi came up as the final chance. A wild pitch moved the runners up, but Mondesi grounded out to end the threat and the game. Hounds win, 5-2.
Notable Hounds: Brugman 1-for-3, HR, BB, 2 Ks ... Nunez 1-for-3, RBI, BB, 2 Ks ... Olson 1-for-4, 2B, K ... Walsh 0-for-2, 2 BB, K, CS ... McCurry 1 ip, K, 2 hits, save.
Game 2: Naturals (RHP Paul Clemens) at RockHounds (RHP Chris Jensen)
4:30 p.m PT
You might remember Clemens as the toolbag who, when playing for the Astros in 2014, re-instigated the stupid Buntgate feud by plunking Jed Lowrie a week after the actual bunt in question. Don't worry, he's a 27-year-old in Doubule-A now, and he has a 5.73 ERA in the minors this year between Double-A and Triple-A.
The Hounds counter with Jensen, who is on fire right now. He finished the regular season with a 1.36 ERA in his final five starts (6-7 innings each start), and then he had a quality outing against the Hooks' league-best offense in Game 3 of the Divisional series (6 ip, 3 runs, 6 Ks, 1 BB, 6 hits). If he can give them another start like that last one, then I like the Hounds' chances to notch another win tonight.
No matter the result, though, this will be the last home game for Midland this year. On Thursday, the series shifts to Northwest Arkansas (specifically Springdale) for the duration of the best-of-5. As a reminder, Chad 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. Outfielder J.P. Sportman has also moved up from High-A Stockton for this series (in place of lefty reliever Omar Duran, via MRT.com).
The RockHounds won the league title last year (starring Matt Chapman!), and they also won as an A's affiliate in 2005 (starring Andre Ethier!) and 2009 (starring Chris Carter!).