By Jason Patterson
The Championship Series…
Two Remain. It all comes down to Biloxi and Chattanooga. Both first half champions survived their respective Division Series to compete for the title. It’s a baseball fan’s dream of power pitching vs power hitting for the 2015 Southern League crown.
Chattanooga entered its first season as a Minnesota Twins affiliate with the highest expectations in the Southern League, thanks to a full arsenal of high-profile prospects. Despite continual roster turnover and countless role changes related to key personnel, they have continued to consistently rise to the occasion. The Lookouts have handled the pressure with solid team chemistry and a never say die approach which has allowed them to stand on the doorstep of eighty-wins and a first league tittle since 1988.
Perhaps no team in all of Minor League Baseball has overcome more adversity than Biloxi. Literally without a home for nearly the entire first half of the season, this core group of road warriors proceeded to simply win more game than anyone else in 2015. Whatever the final result, it is fitting that this storybook season for the Shuckers will finish on the road at AT&T Field.
The Shuckers boast the best pitching staff in the league and a starting rotation which went 3-0 in the division series against Pensacola. Southern League Pitcher of the Year Jorge Lopez and rotation mate Tyler Wagner set the tone. The duo combined for 12 2/3 scoreless innings in the Division Series. Mix in Adrian Houser’s complete game shutout (which featured six innings of perfection) in Game Two and it becomes clear why this starting group is fifthly good.
Led by Adam Brett Walker II and Southern League MVP Max Kepler, the Lookouts were easily the best offensive club in the Southern League this year. This trend and their leadership remained in the opening round of the playoffs. Down to their final strike more than once in the opening game of the NDCS, the club battled back and set the tone with a two-run single as a walk-off winner from the league MVP to set the tone. Walker homered twice in the series, providing the breathing room heading into the late innings of the team’s Game 4 clincher.
For all of Chattanooga’s offensive firepower, Shuckers shortstop Orlando Arcia provided the marquee Division Series performance at the plate. In just three games Arcia batted .615 (8 for 13), homering twice and scoring five of Biloxi’s seventeen runs while driving home six more. In addition, the Brewers top prospect posted a trio of doubles and one triple in the series.
With the two clubs splitting their eight regular season meetings right down the middle, it’s probably not a bad idea to pre-purchase tickets for games four and five in Chattanooga. The matchup features a classic Southern League franchise “looking” for a return to glory against the circuit’s impressive newest member. Whatever the ultimate result, these teams will end the year having posted more wins than anyone else in the league. This much is sure, two championship worthy organizations will clash in two great Southern League cities over the next several days.
Seeing The Big Picture…
Players To Focus On…
The series features both the Southern League’s Player of the Year & Pitcher of the Year:
Chattanooga: Max Kepler (Lookouts Outfielder, 2015 Southern League MVP)
Kepler is a primetime performer with a knack for clutch hits, including the walk-off knock in the Division Series opener.
Biloxi: Jorge Lopez (RHP, 2015 Southern League Pitcher of the Year)
Lopez will be the starter for Game One, hoping to repeat his foundational performance in the Division Series opener.
A Look Back At The Division Series….
North Division Championship Series – CHATTANOOGA WINS (3 Games To 1)
Chattanooga Lookouts (1st Half Champs) vs Montgomery Biscuits (2nd Half Champs)
Game 1 @ Chattanooga – Chattanooga 4 Montgomery 3
Game 2 @ Chattanooga – Montgomery 6 Chattanooga 5
Game 3 @ Montgomery – Chattanooga 7 Montgomery 3
Game 4 @ Montgomery – Chattanooga 4 Montgomery 1
South Division Championship Series – BILOXI WINS (3 Games To 0)
Biloxi Shuckers (1st Half Champs) vs Pensacola Blue Wahoos (2nd Half Champs)
Game 1 @ Biloxi – Biloxi 4 Pensacola 2
Game 2 @ Biloxi – Biloxi 6 Pensacola 0
Game 3 @ Pensacola – Biloxi 7 Pensacola 5