By Todd Johnson
The Emeralds had the worst record in the league in the first half after going 14-24. In the second half, the Ems went 17-21 and that was good enough to get a wild card as Hillsboro won both halves. In fact, Hillsboro destroyed the league as one of only two teams with a record over .500 at 51-25. So, when the Ems won game 1 of their playoff divisional series, I was a bit surprised.
When the Emeralds won game two and swept the series, I was just a little bit excited! This team has basically been playing “do or die” games for a couple of weeks heading into the playoffs. That kind of stress helped them defeat a team that had basically been in the playoffs since the end of July and steamrolled the league. As a result, the Ems came through in the moment and now can try to win their second Northwest League title in three years.
The keys to winning the Hillsboro series were getting some pitching help and solidifying the bullpen with guys from Mesa. Peyton Remy was outstanding in his three innings on Wednesday and Ivan Medina looked like a shut down closer. FYI – The Ems have now swept Hillsboro the past three years in the playoffs.
Riley Thompson will get the start in game 1 and Jack Patterson will be on the bump for game 2. as for the rest of the series, could Paul Richan, Zack Mort, Yovanny Cruz, or even Derek Casey get some action in on the mound? Against Hillsboro, Eury Ramos and Faustino Carrera got the starts. I would be surprised if Carrera and Richan don’t take the mound at some point as starters.
In the month prior to the playoffs, Nelson Velazquez went on a tear earning Chicago Cubs player of the month award for August. He was in on a couple key plays the past two games, but Velazquez did not let his bat loose and crank out a HR or two. That could happen this time around. Hopefully, Andy Weber can also get back on the field as the Emeralds could use his bat, too.
The Emeralds have a very good chance to win this thing. The last time they played Spokane, Eugene won three and lost two in the five game set as the college bats did their jobs. The championship series begins Sunday in Eugene.
One key player to winning it all is Fernando Kelli. The young speedster dominated the base paths in the Hillsboro series when he got on. He could do the same against Spokane. He has been hitting better as of late from lower down in the order. He almost acts like a second half leadoff hitter giving the Emeralds a little extra boost in the order.
Now, this Ems’ team now is nothing like the team from the first half that had the worst record in the first half. Only a few prospects remain from that squad. The draft picks strengthened the defense immensely along with the starting rotation. But the weak point of the team all year was the depth in the bullpen. Three new arms meshed well with Eugene’s usual bullpen stalwarts Eugenio Palma and all-star Sean Barry. And that depth made all the difference as the combined bullpen only allowed one run in the two game set with Hillsboro.
I’m pretty excited to get things going!
With homefield advantage on their side, I am picking the Emeralds in four.
P.S. I am also hoping to see the Monarcas jerseys one more time!