New Hampshire Fisher Cats (79-62) vs. Trenton Thunder (83-59)
The Double-A affiliates of the Yankees and Blue Jays will face off in their first-ever postseason meeting starting on Wednesday night at Waterfront Park. Trenton captured the Eastern League’s Eastern Division by a 3 1/2 game margin over New Hampshire, but the Fisher Cats are still favored — in large part because of their dominance of the Thunder during the regular season.
New Hampshire is 16-7 against Trenton in 23 contests this year.
Game #2 Thursday 7:05 at Waterfront Park
TRN LHP Andy Pettitte (0-0,0.00) vs NH LHP Zach Stewart (8-3, 3.63)
Game #3 6:35 at New Hampshire
TRN LHP Manny Banuelos (0-1, 3.52) vs. NH RHP Randy Boone (5-10, 3.98)
Game #4 (if neccesary) 6:35 at New Hampshire
TRN RHP Andrew Brackman (5-7, 3.01) vs. NH RHP B.J. LaMura (5-6, 3.73)
Game #5 (if neccesary) 5:05 at Waterfront Park
TRN RHP Cory Arbiso (5-5, 4.38) vs. NH TBA
Kyle Drabek flat out isn’t getting beaten, so you can put a 1-0 Fisher Cats advantage in the books going into Thursday’s game. Outside of that, there are a lot of question marks here. The decision to have Adam Warren back up Andy Pettitte for Game 2 will be second-guessed for the next two days at the very least…and depending on how things go the rest of the way, it could be the turning point in the series.
To lose Warren as a starter — he’s really the only pitcher you can count on to go deep into a game — to use him for five innings and attempt to make Game 2 a slam dunk is a huge, huge risk. Let me first guess it. I don’t like it. Let Warren start. Manny Banuelos, who will start Game 3, would have been ideal in that role instead.
New Hampshire’s four listed starters have made a combined 15 starts against the Thunder this year and are 7-4, highlighted by Kyle Drabek’s 4-0 record with a 1.38 ERA in 26 innings of work. Meanwhile, Trenton’s five listed starters — minus Pettitte — are 0-4.
Pettitte is, obviously, somewhat of a wild card. But at four innings and 65 pitches, his role in this series is going to be greatly overblown.
EDGE: New Hampshire
Trenton’s bullpen has been a question mark all season, and injuries to Grant Duff and Tim Norton combined with the recent promotions of George Kontos and John Van Benschoten did little to help that. However, the Fisher Cats have got some question marks as well. Outside of Alan Farina and Trystan Magnuson, New Hampshire has little in the way of a true shutdown middle reliever before they get to closer Danny Farquhar.
Thunder closer Ryan Pope has performed well out of the bullpen after being shifted there out of the rotation early in the season, but it’ll be a bit of hoping and praying until they get to him. Recent addition Pat Venditte is likely to be used as a situational reliever during the series, and Adam Olbrychowski is still untested at this level. That leaves Wilkins Arias, J.B. Cox, Wilkin De La Rosa and Josh Schmidt (right) to get the job done.
If Arias and De La Rosa can form an effective lefty tandem and can be used on back-to-back days, they really could swing the advantage in Trenton’s favor.
All in all, both bullpens are pretty even. The edge goes to Trenton, but just barely.
Lineup: Here are projected lineups for both teams…
C – Brian Jeroloman .261/7/33
1B – David Cooper .257/20/78
2B – Callix Crabbe .225/4/27
SS – Adeiny Hechevarria .273/3/34
3B – Shawn Bowman .263/22/69
LF – Eric Thames .288/27/104
CF – Darin Mastroianni .301/4/46
RF – Adam Loewen .246/13/70
DH – Adam Calderone .266/9/42
C – Austin Romine .268/10/69
1B – Marcos Vechionacci .283/11/55
2B – Corban Joseph .216/0/13
SS – Luis Nunez .241/8/44
3B – Matt Cusick .234/3/26
LF – Damon Sublett .214/2/14
CF – Austin Krum .229/5/44
RF – Dan Brewer .270/10/84
DH – Rene Rivera .319/5/17
While what’s left of Trenton’s lineup isn’t anything to sneeze at, the Fisher Cats have three 20+ home run guys in their lineup — likely the result of an unwillingness by the parent organization to promote their deserving players. Not only does New Hampshire have players who can change the game with one swing of the bat, they also have Mastroianni, who can change things up with his legs — he’s swiped 46 bags on the year.
The wild card in Trenton’s lineup — which will likely be a little different than what you see here, by the way — may very well be Rene Rivera. The backup catcher has performed well for Trenton this season, and with regular playing time, his numbers would likely be more prolific. The former major leaguer provides more of that veteran presence that New Hampshire seems to be littered with.
Edge: New Hampshire. And it’s more than just an edge. This is a scary lineup that’s stayed intact nearly all season long.
The Thunder will likely have a bench of Justin Snyder, Ryan Baker and Taylor Grote. Not ideal. Snyder hit .245 as a utility player, while Grote and Baker have a combined three Double-A at-bats between them.
New Hampshire, meanwhile, will have Jonathan Jaspe, Matt Liuzza and Ricardo Nanita. Jaspe and Liuzza both serve as backup catcher/DH types, while Nanita is a recently promoted outfielder who’s played in just six games at the Double-A level.
Edge: Push. There’s really no standouts among the group here.
Result: New Hampshire in 4. I was on the fence between four and five games, but who would win was never a question. Trenton hasn’t been able to handle New Hampshire this year, and there’s no reason to think things will change once the playoffs start.
The loss of Justin Christian crushes the Thunder more than people realize, as his hot streak had really picked this team up when they needed it the most. But Trenton was doomed to lose this series way before he got called up…
Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com