Sunday, March 28, 2010

Goldens Clinch Copper Division; Will Face San Jose or Dayton in Divisional Round

After going a perfect (11-0) at home during the month of September, the Sierra Nevada Goldens went (5-6) on the final road-trip, playing just well enough to clinch the Copper Division Crown with a final record of (102-60). The SoCal Knights finished only two games back of the Goldens with a final record of (100-62). After sweeping the September home series vs. SoCal at Great American Ballpark, the Knights looked to return the favor as the Goldens traveled to Nationals Park. Sierra Nevada’s Mark Buehrle made sure that would not happen as he outpitched the Knights’ Clayton Kershaw for the 2nd time in the 8-Game series, this time earning a 3-2 victory. Buehrle battled through the first 5 2/3 innings giving up 2 runs on 6 hits. The Goldens’ hurler got the run support he needed in the top of the 6th when Mike Lowell doubled in two off Kershaw and then Yadier Molina knocked in Lowell during the next at bat. Buchholz, who was acquired at the August trade deadline, did what he was brought in to do as he held the Knights from getting anything going for the next 2 2/3 innings, setting up the save for Brian Fuentes. The win was pivotal for the Goldens as they lost the next three games to the Knights, but won the season series going (5-3) against the division rival. The Knights went on to go (12-2) in the remaining September schedule, while the Goldens went (11-3).
Had the Knights swept Sierra Nevada at home, the teams would have been deadlocked with 101 wins & would have had a series split, causing a 1-game playoff for the division title. But, it was not to be as the Goldens rolled on with their 2nd highest win total in the 19-year franchise history; only the 2056 Happy Valley Heroes were better, going (108-54). The 2056 Happy Valley team was the last to finish atop the Copper Division and was the 3rd Heroes team in 4 seasons to do it, but failed to make it to the BRASS World Series. The Sierra Nevada Goldens finished (92-70) in their inaugural 2089 season, but completed the season 3-games back of the Duluth-Superior Dukes and missed the playoffs. The 2090 season marks only the 4th playoff appearance for the franchise, all of them by way of division title. Between the 1991-1992 and the 2001-2002 seasons, none of the Crescent Hill Cubs (1991-1994), Racine Regals (1995-1996), or Happy Valley Heroes (1997-2007) teams in the franchise’s history were able to make a post-season appearance. But, starting with the 2002-2003 Happy Valley Heroes team, the franchise has won the Copper Division 4 of the past 8 seasons, starting a much better trend while finishing with 93 wins or better 5 times. With the newly found divisional success, the franchise has yet to make the World Series representing the Silver League.
The 2090 Sierra Nevada Goldens team hopes that this will be the first time the franchise gets put on the map and can make it to the BRASS World Series. The team is packed with power throughout the lineup and plays well in their home field, Great American Ballpark, where they set a franchise record for home wins in 2090 with a (60-21) record. The Goldens line-up features a quartet of home-run hitters who combined for 171 bombs in 2090. Silver League MVP candidate Dan Uggla had 48 dingers to go with his .305 batting average and 101 RBI’s. Another MVP candidate, Jermaine Dye hit 38 HR’s, led the team with 113 RBI’s and finished with 39 doubles and a .314 batting average. The two right-handed sluggers are flanked by two big lefty sticks. Adam Dunn slugged 45 homers with 99 RBI’s and walked a whopping 126 times. Veteran Jason Giambi launched 40 HR’s and was 2nd on the Goldens with 106 RBI’s. It was an amazing season to watch three guys top 40 homers in 2090 and Dye just came up two homers short of making it a quartet.
The starting pitching staff of Sierra Nevada is led by veteran left-hander Bark Buehrle who finished the year with a (19-12) record and a 4.60 ERA. Buehrle carried the team at times posting 9 wins and a no-decision from May 2nd thru June 16th and also earned wins in 5 straight appearances in the stretch run from August 27th to September 18th! Josh Beckett, (15-6) with a 4.18 ERA, was equally as dominant at times. Beckett started the season (8-0) with a 3.83 ERA in his first 12 starts and didn’t lose until June 9th against the Platinum Division champion, Diamond Gems (119-43). Gil Meche was a workhorse for the Goldens going (13-9) with a 4.37 ERA in 204 IP. He notably gave left-handed hitters a hard time, holding them to a .238 BA and striking out over 25 percent of the lefties he faced. Meche was up-and down, but down the stretch he was solid, posting a (4-1) record with 3 no-decisions in which the Goldens ultimately won, between August 14th and the end of the season. Meche led the team in complete games with 4 and shut-outs with 2, and his best game may have come in his last start of the season when he threw 10 2/3 innings on 9/22 @ Phoenix as he struck-out 11 batters. He left the game tied and 3 and the Goldens eventually won in 17-Innings as the Sierra Nevada team was still trying to secure the Copper Division title. The 4th pitcher in the playoff rotation will be southpaw, Jamie Moyer. The lefty came over in a trade with the Plainsfield Hitmen at the end of May. Moyer, who came over to the Goldens with a (8-1) record and a 3.10 ERA at the time of the trade, struggled early with his new team. He got injured on a base hit against the 1st batter he faced as a Golden, and went (0-1) with 5 no-decisions breaking in and saw his ERA climb to 4.02 before finally pitching to victory in a 9-2 game vs. Olympia and pitched 8 1/3 innings. Moyer ended up with a (8-6) record as a Golden and posted 5 of those wins between 8/22 and the end of the season. His victory on 9/7 at home vs. SoCal was the highlight of the season and made the trade completely worthwhile. Moyer tossed 8 Innings of 3-hit ball while striking out 4 Knights before turning over the ball to Taylor Buchholz to close the game down.
The Bullpen was the glue that held things together for the Goldens in 2090. As a collective group, the pen posted a (34-12) record with a 2.61 ERA. Opposing hitters only batted .207 against the pen and they struck out nearly 28% of the time. Brian Fuentes earned rock-star status coming in to close games, finishing the season with 33 Saves and a miniscule 1.17 ERA while striking out 71 batters in 61 innings. Fuentes did not earn a loss from June 29th until the end of the season and has a good shot to earn a Fireman of the Year or Cy Young award this year. Taylor Buchholz came over in a trade with the Meridian Trojans at the August 31st trade deadline. Buchholz was amazing in the pennant drive posting a 0.86 ERA in 21 IP & 20 K’s in the final month, including 5 appearances against SoCal totaling 9 2/3 IP in which he did not give up a single run and earned a save in the final game against the Knights. The other three big arms in the Goldens bullpen are Carlos Marmol, Heath Bell, and Jared Burton. Marmol, (7-1) with a 2.14 ERA and 7 Saves, blew away opposing batters with 126 K’s in 88 1/3 IP! Heath Bell (8-3) was solid with a 3.62 ERA in 79 2/3 IP and struck out a batter per inning. Jared Burton was acquired from San Jose prior to the season for Willie Bloomquist, and turned out to be a nice surprise as he finished (5-0) with a 2.11 ERA in 55.1 IP.
The Sierra Nevada Goldens are chomping at the bit to get the playoffs rolling, but the competition will be fierce in the Divisional series whether they play Dayton or San Jose. The opponent will be determined on the Dayton / SoCal Wildcard series. It looks like the playoffs will be about matchups for the Goldens. Mark Buehrle had a tough time vs. San Jose’s left-hand heavy lineup and may become neutralized if they face the Scorpions. The Goldens may need to lean more heavily on Gil Meche, Josh Beckett, and Jamie Moyer who handle lefty hitters much better. The Dayton Dragons gave the Goldens a very tough time as Sierra Nevada went (2-5) against them and the starters were knocked around quite a bit. It looks like the Goldens will need to try to shorten games in order to get past either of these mighty lineups. If the starters can get 5 or 6 solid innings and exit with a lead, it looks like the bullpen will have the best chance of taking the game home. With Buchholz, Marmol, Bell, Burton, and Fuentes available to close things out, each game figures to be a nail-biter, especially in Dayton’s and San Jose’s pitcher friendly parks. Against either opponent, the Sierra Nevada Goldens are ready to try and climb to heights of the Silver League LCS.