(NOTE: I will be on WIMG 1300 AM with long-time Thunder reporters David Fenster and David McDonough on Tuesday, September 9th from 8 PM to 9 PM previewing this series and taking a look back at the Sea Dogs series. You can listen live by going to wimg1300.com)
The Akron Aeros proudly boast on their website that they’ve won two of the last five Eastern League titles and five of the last six Southern Division championships.
One thing conspicously absent is any mention of their three games to one loss at the hands of the Trenton Thunder last year, earning the Yankees affiliate their first championship in their 14th season of existence.
But while this is a rematch of last year, many of the faces have changed. Here’s a preview of this year’s Eastern League Championship Series between the Akron Aeros and Trenton Thunder.
Game 1: TRE Eric Hacker vs. AKR Kevin Dixon
Game 2: TRE Jeff Marquez vs. AKR J.D. Martin
Game 3: AKR Ryan Edell vs. TRE Jason Jones
Game 4: AKR Frank Herrmann vs. TRE George Kontos
Game 5: AKR TBD vs. TRE Christian Garcia
The Thunder, in somewhat of a surprise, are going with the exact same rotation they were to use in the Northern Division Series, despite the fact that Kontos and Garcia did not pitch since they swept the Sea Dogs.
Outside of Dixon — who did not pitch in the opening round — starting Game 1, Akron’s rotation is somewhat of a mystery.
Both rotations are subject to change, especially considering a travel day has been added, meaning both Game 1 starters could pitch Game 5 on normal rest if needed.
ADVANTAGE: Thunder. With Akron losing their #1 starter, it raises some questions about the rest of their rotation.
One of the biggest questions heading into the Portland series turned into the Thunder’s biggest strength. The bullpen pitched 10.2 scoreless innings against the Sea Dogs, and hopes to carry that momentum into he finals.
It does not appear as though Anthony Claggett will be activated in time for the finals, and it also looks as though Humberto Sanchez will remain with the team, so the bullpen would appear to be staying intact.
Akron’s bullpen allowed nine runs in 13 innings of work, and only two of their relievers didn’t allow a run in the opening series against Bowie. Look for Reid Santos to be used in some big spots.
ADVANTAGE: Trenton. The Thunder relievers have got to be confident after an impressive postseason performance against Portland.
Akron will likely start Matthew Whitney, Josh Rodriguez, Brandon Chaves and Wes Hodges.
Trenton will send out Chris Malec, Reegie Corona, Ramiro Pena and Kevin Russo.
Hodges had quite a regular season for the Aeros, hitting .290 with 18 home runs and 97 RBI in 133 games. The Thunder don’t have that kind of power threat in their entire lineup, no less the infield. But they do have the more consistent hitters.
ADVANTAGE: Push. Hodges could come up big, but the Thunder are more well-balanced.
The Thunder will have Colin Curtis, Austin Jackson and Edwar Gonzalez manning the outfield.
Akron expects to use Matt LaPorta, Bronson Sardinha and either Stephen Head or Nathan Panther.
Curtis is a clutch postseason player, Jackson is a top prospect and Gonzalez has hit 20 home runs between Trenton and Tampa.
But LaPorta is an elite prospect who could get summoned to the big leagues after this series, and Sardinha is an Eastern League veteran who certainly knows what he’s doing.
ADVANTAGE: Push. You could make a strong case for a very, very slight edge going to the Thunder…but Matt LaPorta could be the key to this series.
Trenton’s got P.J. Pilittere, Joe Muich and Francisco Cervelli.
Akron has Wyatt Toregas and Damaso Espino.
ADVANTAGE: Thunder. This is a pretty big advantage. Hard to imagine a scenario where the Thunder get beat in the catching department. Pilittere is an Eastern League All-Star, and Cervelli’s pretty solid all-around.
Thunder in 4. Trenton would have had a really, really hard time with Bowie. The Baysox starting pitching was just as good as Trenton’s, if not better, and the lineups would have matched up really well against one another. But, due to some Travis Hafner related ridiculousness, the fans were robbed of what would have been the best available series.
Seems to me that this will go pretty similarly to the Sea Dogs series, where you’ll see some close, well-played games. I’ll take the Thunder in 4, but wouldn’t be surprised to see another sweep.
Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com