Underdog Thunder ready for a fight
Against the Fisher Cats in the Division Series, the Thunder came in as the overwhelming underdog. All season long, New Hampshire had pitched, hit and fielded the ball better against their counterparts from Trenton. It looked to all the world like the Thunder were destined for an unceremonious exit in the first round.
As it turns out, sometimes the world gets it wrong.
Now, after dismantling the Fisher Cats in most dominant fashion, that underdog label has been swiftly yanked from the Thunder’s back. Two factors, I believe, make them the overwhelming favorites to win their third Eastern League championship in the last four seasons.
One is their starting pitching, which once again will include rehabbing Yankees left-hander Andy Pettitte. The other is their head-to-head record against the Curve this season.
If Pettitte makes it through his scheduled five innings, Tony Franklin will go to his relievers just as he would with any other starter. Should Pettitte falter, however, Andrew Brackman – who hasn’t pitched since the regular-season finale – will back him up.
Assuming Pettitte makes it through his rehab, Brackman will start Game 2, with Dellin Betances, Adam Warren and Manny Banuelos slated for the final three contests. If he doesn’t everybody gets pushed up a day, and Cory Arbiso gets the nod in Game 5.
While that rotation on its own looks like it could take on most Triple-A squads, the Curve’s lack of exposure to Betances and Banuelos will be what turns the series toward the team from New Jersey.
Even though the fearsome Fisher Cats lineup had seen both of the staff’s newbies once before, they were helpless once playoff time came around. Combined, Betances and Banuelos put up zeroes for 12 1/3 innings on seven hits and five walks while striking out a dozen.
Because the Curve haven’t seen either pitcher, I expect that the level of dominance will be even more pronounced.
Then there’s the head-to-head matchup. Unlike the Fisher Cats, who dominated the Thunder, the Curve proved to be easy pickings in the teams’ three series, during which Trenton went 7-3.
Individually, Dan Brewer has feasted on the Curve, posting a .438/.558/1.121 line, as well as four doubles, 12 RBIs and six stolen bases in 10 games. Marcos Vechionacci and Luis Nunez were the only other members of the team to hit better than .300 against Altoona.
Interestingly, of the team’s seven home runs against the Curve this year, only one came off the bat of someone still on the roster. That player? Nunez, who hit just eight bombs all year.
For the Curve, the x-factor could be outfielder Andrew Lambo, a top Dodgers prospect who came over in a midseason trade.
In the final head-to-head series, Lambo spanked the Thunder to the tune of a .455 average, including two RBIs and two walks. Miles Durham also fared pretty darn well, including a .382 average and six doubles off of Trenton pitching.
Outside of Kris Watts, who hit .308 against Trenton but plays sparingly, no other Curve player topped .250 over the teams’ 10 contests, which should bode well for Trenton’s rejuvenated and revamped pitching staff.
Both teams won their respective divisions and boast talented starters at the top of their rotations, which means that Thunder, no longer the underdog, should prepare themselves for a fight.
Labels: Trenton Thunder