The Double-A Midland RockHounds defeated the Northwest Arkansas Naturals (Royals) in the Texas League Championship Series on Friday, winning Game 4 by a score of 4-1. The victory makes the RockHounds league champions for the third straight year, a feat that hasn’t been achieved in the Texas League since 1925.
Here’s a closer look at the game and the series.
Midland RockHounds vs. Northwest Arkansas Naturals (Royals)
League: Double-A Texas League
Best-of-5 Championship Series
RockHounds win series 3-1
Game 1: RockHounds 5, Naturals 4 (recap)
Game 2: RockHounds 6, Naturals 4 (recap)
Game 3: Naturals 4, RockHounds 0 (recap)
Game 4: RockHounds 4, Naturals 1 (box score)
The very skies were trying to rain on Midland’s parade, and the suspense slowly built. It wasn’t surprising to see a lightning storm delay the first pitch, since the weather forecast had already caused the series to be shifted up a day. Nevertheless, it took three hours until both the sky and the soggy field allowed baseball to begin, three long hours of wondering if tonight would be the night or if everything would be left up to a crapshoot winner-take-all on Saturday. And then once the game started, the answer became clear: the Hounds had this wrapped up.
James Naile drew the start for Midland, which is amazing when you consider that he was drafted just last summer in the 20th round. Not only was he already starting a playoff game in the upper minors, he dominated, going six scoreless innings and facing just three batters over the minimum. In the 6th he put men on first on second, the first time he’d allowed multiple runners at once or put anyone in scoring position, and then he finished his night by picking the runner off second base. He did all of this in only 85 pitches.
While Naile was breezing through his side of things, the lineup took care of business early. Viosergy Rosa, one of the heroes of the Divisional Round, opened the scoring by homering to lead off the 2nd. His teammates turned it into a three-spot, thanks to consecutive hits by Richie Martin (2B), Brett Vertigan (RBI 2B), and Max Schrock (RBI 1B). Tyler Marincov added some insurance in the 5th with a solo homer, but the Hounds already had all they needed by then.
In a familiar theme, the bullpen did produce one worrisome moment. Kyle Finnegan replaced Naile in the 7th and immediately loaded the bases, but Trey Cochran-Gill quickly relieved him and got out of the jam with only one run scoring. He and closer Jake Sanchez then locked things down in the final two frames to bring home the title.
The top prospects (not necessarily the top performers):
Tyler Marincov, OF: 2-for-4, HR
Richie Martin, SS: 2-for-3, 2B, BB, run
Max Schrock, 2B: 2-for-4, RBI
Yairo Munoz, 3B: 2-for-4
J.P. Sportman, OF: 0-for-4
James Naile, RHP: 6 ip, 0 runs, 4 Ks, 2 BB, 2 hits
Trey Cochran-Gill, RHP: 2 ip, 2 Ks, 18 pitches
Kyle Finnegan, RHP: 0 ip, 1 run, 2 BB, 1 hit
Midland’s top hitter in the final series was Marincov. He went 8-for-16 with a homer and a couple walks, and he scored a run in all three wins. Yairo Munoz was also big (5-for-15, 3 RBI, 2 runs), and Martin found his way into a few rallies too. But really this was a complete team victory, and everyone chipped in — including lower-profile and/or filler guys like Vertigan, Rosa, and catcher Andy Paz.
Here’s a look at the full postseason stats for the relevant prospects. (Honorable mention: Viosergy Rosa with a .927 OPS, 2 HR, and a team-leading 6 RBI and 7 runs scored.)
On the pitching side, starters Joel Seddon, Corey Walter, and Naile (as well as journeyman veteran Brandon Mann) were lights out in the championship. Those four combined for the following line: 23 innings, 4 runs, 18 Ks, 4 BB, 17 hits, 1 HR. The bullpen was shaky, but the starters did enough to put the Naturals away.
Here’s a look at the full postseason stats for the relevant prospects. (Honorable mention: Mann, with an 0.73 ERA after allowing one total run in two starts.)
|... Bullpen ...|
What makes this achievement even more amazing is that minor league teams generally experience massive, if not complete, turnover from year to year as prospects move up or move out. Catcher Beau Taylor is the only player who was present for all three title runs, and only three others (utilityman Wake Kirkland, and relievers Kris Hall and Jake Sanchez) were even there for two of the postseasons. Manager Ryan Christenson also earned his second ring, after guiding the team in 2015.
Congratulations to the three-time champion Midland RockHounds!
3 Peat!!! Let's go Hounds!!!!! #midland #rollhounds pic.twitter.com/JBmsQoiVE3— Cody Stull (@LHP1814) September 17, 2016