Altoona Curve (82-60) vs. Trenton Thunder (83-59)
The winners of the Western and Eastern divisions will face off against each other for the Eastern League title, a true battle of the league’s top two teams. The Thunder hold a 7-3 record against Altoona this season, and are carrying the momentum of a three-game first round sweep of the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, who were supposed to provide Trenton with a tough matchup.
That didn’t materialize, and someone will be hoisting the Eastern League championship trophy at Waterfront Park. But which team will be the one celebrating?
Game 1 — 6:30 PM at Blair County Ballpark: Trenton LHP Andy Pettitte (0-0, 0.00) vs. Altoona LHP Rudy Owens (0-1, 21.60)
Game 2 — 6:30 PM at Blair County Ballpark: Trenton RHP Andrew Brackman (NR) vs. Altoona LHP Jeff Locke (0-0, 1.93)
Game 3 — 7:05 PM at Waterfront Park: Trenton RHP Dellin Betances (1-0, 0.00) vs. Altoona LHP Justin Wilson (1-0, 0.00)
Game 4 — 7:05 PM at Waterfront Park (if necessary): Trenton RHP Adam Warren (0-0, 0.00) vs. Altoona LHP Tony Watson (1-0, 2.70)
Game 5 — 7:05 PM at Waterfront Park (if necessary): Trenton LHP Manny Banuelos (1-0, 0.00) vs. Altoona RHP Jared Hughes (0-0, 0.00)
Owens, edged out for the league’s Pitcher of the Year honors by Kyle Drabek — remember him? — despite a 12-6 record and 2.46 ERA in 26 starts, got shelled in his first playoff start. But to expect that this time out would be foolish. However, he’ll be neutralized by Pettitte, who will be making his last rehab start with the Thunder before pitching the Yankees on Sunday.
After that, the Curve will face a starting rotation that allowed a grand total of zero runs over three starts and a backup appearance by Adam Warren. While Altoona’s pitchers may not be household names, they are a formidable group. Hughes has the highest ERA of the group at a 4.42, but carries a 12-8 record as well. But, compared to Trenton’s young group of talented prospect starters, the Curve will face a tough task.
Trenton’s bullpen, although excellent in the first series, remains a question mark. Wilkin De La Rosa may be re-added to the roster after having been outrighted to Trenton, which would likely mean a move would need to be made to accommodate him. De La Rosa would join Cory Arbiso, Wilkins Arias, Adam Olbrychowski, Josh Schmidt, Steve Garrison, Ben Watkins and Pat Venditte as middle relievers in the pen, with Ryan Pope set to close things out.
Altoona, meanwhile, may feature one of the best relievers in all of the minors in Daniel Moskos, who seems to have turned his career around out of the bullpen with the Curve. They’ve also added another former first rounder in Craig Hansen, who has flamed out after what was once a promising career with the Red Sox.
Edge: Push. Both are talented groups…and while there are certainly question marks about Trenton’s relief core, they’ve performed well as of late. The series could very well swing on what happens in the late innings.
C – Hector Gimenez (.305/16/72)
1B – Matt Hague (.295/15/86)
2B – Chase D’Arnaud (.247/6/48)
SS – Jordy Mercer (.282/3/65)
3B – Josh Harrison (.300/4/75)
LF – Jim Negrych (.274/1/35)
CF – Amdrew Lambo (275/2/10)
RF – Miles Durham (.259/10/69)
DH – Kris Watts (.266/4/19)
C – Austin Romine (.268/10/69)
1B – Marcos Vechionacci .283/11/55)
2B – Matt Cusick (.234/3/26)
SS – Luis Nunez (.241/8/44)
3B – Justin Snyder (.245/3/27)
LF – Damon Sublett (.214/2/14)
CF – Austin Krum (.229/5/44)
RF – Dan Brewer (.270/10/84)
DH – Rene Rivera (.319/5/17)
Edge: Trenton, but only slightly. Altoona has got some big bats in their lineup with Gimenez and Hague, and their lineup has consistently been productive all season long. The Thunder have put together a somewhat patchwork group after an injury to Corban Joseph and the call-up of Justin Christian, but the core group remains. Rene Rivera has been a revelation this series, and if he can keep his bat hot, the Division Series MVP will continue to be a big factor for Trenton.
Trenton’s got OF Taylor Grote, INF Rob Segedin and C Ryan Baker. Altoona has INF Yung-Chi Chen, INF Jose De Los Santos and OF Anthony Norman.
Trenton’s trio has three Double-A at-bats between them, while the Curve’s group sports low batting averages but a combined 157 games at this level this year.
Result: Trenton in 4. There was, whether anyone wants to believe it or not, a legitimate reason to pick against the Thunder in the last series. There isn’t one here. After overcoming a tough matchup in the first round, the Eastern League’s best team should win their third championship in four years in four games over the Altoona Curve. With the way the Yankees ship their prospects to the Pirates, it’s only fitting that the Pittsburgh affiliate would be on the losing end.
Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com