Eastern League Division Series preview
On the Thunder’s side, you’ve got a 240-game winner, a switch-pitcher, a top-flight catching prospect and — more than likely — a third baseman with just 22 games of pro experience, none of which has come about Short Season ball.
On the other side, the Fisher Cats boast two ace-quality starters who have destroyed Trenton all season long, as well as a true middle-of-the-order threat and a dynamic, lightning fast leadoff man.
So, how will the series go? Let’s break it down.
Hitting: The Thunder have lost Brandon Laird, Justin Christian and, because of a banged up wrist, will lose Corban Joseph for the series.
That’s a starting second baseman, the league’s Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year, and a white-hot leadoff man with power, speed and major league experience.
One player still firmly in Trenton’s lineup, however, is Austin Romine, who has absolutely torched New Hampshire pitching.
The backstop has ripped the Fisher Cats for a .363 average, a .414 on-base percentage and more than 15 percent of the team’s RBIs.
New Hampshire is without Brian Jeroloman, its on-base machine of a catcher.
They still boast Eric Thames, who led the circuit in RBIs and hit five of his 27 home runs off of Thunder pitchers.
At the top, there’s Darin Mastroianni, an untouted player who’s having a breakout season. He’s a Brett Gardner clone out of the leadoff hole, and has swiped 46 bases in 56 tries.
His average and on-base percentages against the Thunder are even better than his already-gaudy totals from the regular season, when he put up a line of .301/.390/.788.
Pitching: As you can see from the matchups below, the Thunder will have Andy Pettitte on their side in Game 2. What’s more interesting, though, is that Adam Warren, arguably the staff’s ace since his promotion after the All-Star break.
This isn’t a new role for the right-hander, who, as a sophomore with the University of North Carolina, won Game 2 of the College World Series in relief of starter Rob Woodard, who got an early hook.
Personally, I like this move. It keeps Warren on regular rest and it probably gives the bullpen a full day off, which they’ll need with Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos on strict pitch counts and unlikely to go deep in games.
If it goes to the if-necessary action, Andrew Brackman could be the key.
Although the Thunder’s most tenured starter’s record is just 5-7, he’s been great down the stretch as he adjusts to the more advanced hitters of Double-A.
Since August 11, the 6-foot-10 right-hander is 3-1 with a 0.82 in 33 innings, tied for best in the league with Altoona’s Rudy Owens.
His WHIP and batting average against of 0.97 are also among the circuit’s best. His opponent, B.J. LaMura has been nails against the Thunder (2-1, 1.89), but hasn’t been spectacular overall.
If Brackman’s trend of success continues, he could wind up being the Thunder’s ace in thehole.
Defense: If Joseph is gone for the series, the infield defense gets a little weaker. Not that Justin Snyder or Matt Cusick are butchers, but they’re not Joseph over there.
About the only spectacular defender the Thunder have is Krum, who can make just about any play in center.
On the other side, take a good look at shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, who has all the tools to win multiple Gold Gloves by the time his career is over.
Overall: This one is going to be extremely close. If the Thunder can leave Trenton with a split, I like their chances a lot to take both road games.
Pick: Thunder in four