The Midland RockHounds won Game 2 of the best-of-5 Texas League Championship series on Wednesday, defeating the Northwest Arkansas Naturals (Royals) by the score of 8-6. Midland, the Double-A affiliate of the Oakland A's, jumped out to an early 6-0 lead but still allowed the tying run to come to the plate in the 9th before escaping with a victory. The RockHounds are attempting to win the league title for the second straight year.
Here's a closer look at the series.
Midland RockHounds vs. Northwest Arkansas Naturals (Royals)
League: Double-A Texas League
Game 1: RockHounds 5, Naturals 2 (at Midland)
Hounds lead series 1-0
Game 2: RockHounds 8, Naturals 6 (at Midland)
Hounds lead series 2-0
The Naturals started with Grade A nerfherder Paul Clemens on the mound, and the RockHounds wasted no time blasting him into outer space. See if you recognize these names: Jaycob Brugman led off the 1st with a double, Anthony Aliotti knocked a one-out double to move him to 3rd, and then Renato Nunez, cooler than a wampa's toenails, stepped up and blasted a 3-run homer. Clemens had so far recorded one out and allowed three runs, on account of being a bad pitcher.
The Hounds rallied again in the 3rd (Brugman and Aliotti got on base), enough to end Clemens' outing after 42 pitches, but it wasn't until the 4th that they scored again. Chad Oberacker singled and eventually came home on a hit by catcher Beau Taylor, and it was neat that some different guys got in on the action for once. But then, like deja vu all over again, Brugman came up next and freaking homered again. He has now homered in the last four games, which are also the only games he's started in these playoffs, and in another game that he didn't start all he did was deliver the go-ahead pinch-hit RBI single in the 9th. The only playoff game the team has lost is the one in which Brugman didn't appear at all.
You are excused if you, like me, didn't think twice about Brugman entering this season. You are even excused if you didn't buy into his solid (but not amazing) Double-A stats. But there is no excuse for ignoring him now. This hot week does not suddenly make him a huge prospect, but when you get a legendary playoff performance from a guy who is heading to the Arizona Fall League in a couple months and then Triple-A at age 24 next year, at a position (outfield) where your team seriously lacks long-term depth, at some point you're allowed to get excited about him. He's so hot he could wrap up his chewing gum in tinfoil and sell it to Will Ferrell as cuff-links.
Oh yeah, did I mention it was an opposite-field shot? (Albeit wind-aided, according to the broadcaster)
Brugman on the homer, via the Midland Reporter-Telegram:
"It's usually blowing in," Brugman said of the wind. "It's usually pretty tough to get a home run out here, all year it has been. You gotta be smart and pick spots. Today I went down the left-field line, it was kind of blowing towards that way. We call it smart hitting."
At that point, it looked like the Hounds were just cruising to another easy postseason victory. The Naturals didn't give up without a fight, though. They answered right back in the top of the 5th, scratching out a run on a Bubba Starling walk, a productive out, and an RBI single -- the kind of ticky-tack run you don't mind allowing when you're up 6-0. But then in the 6th, the Naturals finally got to Midland starter Chris Jensen, who had been a quality-start machine over the last couple months. A pair of singles set things up to lead off the frame, and then Royals' No. 6 prospect Jorge Bonifacio launched a 3-run homer to cut the score to 6-4 (Jorge is Emilio's younger but more powerful brother). To his credit, Jensen responded by striking out the next three batters to end the inning, which is ... not a thing he normally does (4.9 K/9 in regular season).
The Hounds got two of those runs back in the 7th. Aliotti led off with a double, and Nunez singled behind him, and I swear there are more than three players in the RockHounds' lineup. To prove it, Ryon Healy stepped up next and doubled home Aliotti, with Nunez later scoring on a groundout. Brugman, Aliotti, and Nunez either drove in or scored seven of the team's eight runs in this one. As it turned out, Midland would be happy to have the insurance.
Game 1 Recap
Game 1 Recap
Hounds reliever Seth Frankoff had pitched a clean 7th prior to those insurance runs, but in the 8th he got into hot water. He ultimately gave way to Tucker Healy with two on and one out, and Healy fanned the next two hitters to end the threat. Brendan McCurry then came in for the 9th, but even with a four-run lead he made things interesting for the second straight night.
McCurry hit Starling with a pitch to lead things off, and then he walked Hunter Dozier on five pitches. Right out of the gate, he had let the Naturals right back into the game by gifting them one final rally. He was able to get the next two batters to ground out, scoring Starling to make it 8-5, but Nunez made a fielding error* on what could have been the final out and the game was extended, now with an 8-6 score and Royals' No. 1 prospect Raul Adalberto Mondesi stepping to the plate as the potential tying run. Fortunately, McCurry was able to get him looking on four pitches to end it, with the Hounds hanging on for an 8-6 triumph.
* That makes Nunez the second Hounds 3B in two days to make a fielding error, after Healy botched a play in Game 1 at the hot corner. My impression was already that 3B in Midland is really just a mix-and-match of questionable defenders, and those performances don't sway my mind (Nunez actually made two errors in Game 2, both fielding rather than throwing, which is a bummer since my understanding is that his arm is his biggest weakness). Note that this is an inconsequential nitpick in light of being one win away from the league title, and if Nunez keeps hitting like this then I don't care if he wears his glove on his head and stands out there doing jumping jacks on defense ... or just DH him.
Notable Hounds: Brugman 2-for-4, HR, 2B, BB, 2 RBI, K ... Nunez 2-for-5, HR, 3 RBI, 2 Ks ... R Healy 2-for-4, 2B, RBI, K ... Matt Olson 0-for-3, BB, 2 Ks ... Colin Walsh 1-for-5, K ... T Healy struck out both batters he faced ... McCurry 1 ip, 2 runs (1 earned), K, BB, no hits.
Brugman postseason overall: 8-for-16, 4 HR, 3 doubles, 8 RBI, 4 BB, 4 Ks, 2.038 OPS
Game 3: RockHounds (RHP Parker Frazier) at Naturals (RHP Luke Farrell)
Friday, 5:05 p.m.
The series shifts to Northwest Arkansas (specifically Springdale) for the duration of the best-of-5.
Farrell is the son of Red Sox manager John Farrell, and he was alright in Double-A this year at age 24. So, let's count this up ... the Naturals have among their key players: Raul Mondesi's son, Emilio Bonifacio's brother, John Farrell's son, the first Italian player in MLB, and also a pair of well-known recent top-10 draft picks with cool-sounding names (Bubba Starling and Hunter Dozier). That's a heckuva collection right there. Buuut they're a Royals affiliate and they also have Paul Clemens so I hope they get swept.
Unfortunately, the Hounds counter with Frazier, who spent the regular season preventing runs despite generally walking as many hitters as he struck out. The magic didn't last in the Divisional series and he got shredded for seven runs in his Game 1 start. We'll see if he can scratch out one more decent outing for a sweep, or if this will take four games.
If the Hounds can't get it done on Friday, they have Jake Sanchez scheduled for Game 4. There isn't a Game 5 matchup announced, but Sean Manaea would be on proper rest.
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!).