The Midwest League Eastern Division Championship Series -- a mouthful! -- gets underway this afternoon from Fifth Third Ballpark in Comstock Park, Michigan. The starting matchups are set: Tom Robson vs. Jeff Thompson today; Starlyn Suriel vs. Artie Lewicki tomorrow; and Shane Dawson vs. Ross Seaton on Monday (if necessary).
Returning from Tommy John surgery, former 2011 4th-rounder Tom Robson has the ability to throw an effortless sinking 93-97 mph, complementing that heat with a curve and a change-up. At his best, he is untouchable: the epitome of a groundout, strikeout machine. When he is off, he becomes wild and/or hittable.
In short, the Lugnuts are hoping for the best from Tom and are giving him 85 pitches to work some magic today. If he shows command trouble, however, expect to see Conor Fisk (or perhaps Tim Mayza) ready to bail the Lugs out with some long relief.
The Whitecaps are largely unfamiliar with Robson who made one start against them in 2014 (5 innings, 6 hits, 2 runs, 1 earned, 4 walks and 2 strikeouts on May 10th) and has not faced them this year. The hope is that that unfamiliarity plays to his advantage.
Drafted in the 3rd round in 2013 out of Louisville, the 6'6 Jeff Thompson has the ability to dominate today. On August 22nd, he struck out 10 Lake County Captains in seven two-hit scoreless innings. On September 3rd, he held the Fort Wayne TinCaps hitless over six innings, striking out four more.
But in between those gems, Thompson faced the Lansing Lugnuts. He served up five runs on eight hard base hits in a 7-5 Lugnuts win at Fifth Third Ballpark on August 28th. Thompson was also knocked around by the Lugnuts in his first start against them, giving up four runs (three earned) on seven hits in just three innings on May 6th.
Hey, let's go back even earlier, to 2014. There was Thompson, ready to take on the Lugs on May 2nd -- and departing due to injury after only one inning, allowing one hit, two walks and two runs.
Those are your two starting pitchers today, both of them prospects, both of them with dominant stuff, and both of them utter mysteries as to whether they'll fire a masterpiece today or get knocked around.
Notable Matchups vs. Thompson
- Justin Atkinson: 0-for-2 with two strikeouts
- Chris Carlson: 1-for-3 with a run scored
- D.J. Davis: 1-for-2 with a run scored
- David Harris: 1-for-2 with an RBI double and a run scored.
- Gunnar Heidt: 1-for-2 with an RBI single
- Danny Jansen: 1-for-2 with an RBI single, a run scored and a walk.
- Jason Leblebijian: 0-for-2 with a sacrifice bunt
- Ryan McBroom: 1-for-2 with an RBI double and a run scored
- Richard Urena: 0-for-2 with a walk
Why did the Lugnuts defeat Great Lakes in the first round? The offense, which was so great all season long, maintained its excellence. Lansing batted .338 as a team, collecting 10 of its 24 hits with runners in scoring position.
Notching the club's first walk-off win all year in the series-clinching Game 2 doesn't hurt at all either.
Veteran Jason Leblebijian came to the plate 10 times, reaching base six of those times thanks to five hits and a walk. And 9th-place hitter Gunnar Heidt, who batted 3-for-19 against the Loons in the regular season, was simply marvelous in the two playoff games: four hits (three doubles) in seven at-bats, not including a huge sacrifice fly in the seventh inning of Game 2.
In the first round against Fort Wayne, West Michigan received absolutely nothing from its postseason All-Star, outfielder Michael Gerber, who went 0-for-8 with two strikeouts and the team's only error. The slack was picked up by fellow outfielder Ross Kivett, who went 5-for-8 with three runs scored, a double, a walk, a steal and two RBIs.
The Whitecaps did especially well at getting to TinCaps starters Ernesto Montas and Dinelson Lamet early; Montas only pitched 4 2/3 innings, allowing seven hits, and Lamet fared even worse, giving up four hits, three walks and five runs in a mere 3 2/3 innings.
A textbook Lugnuts win looks a little like this…
- The offense keeps on rolling, sending Thompson to the showers with a barrage of early extra-base hits. Robson gives the Lugnuts five innings, allowing no more than two runs, and things go well from there. Lugnuts 7, Whitecaps 4.
A textbook Whitecaps win looks a little like this…
- Robson gets discombobulated and West Michigan's gang of polished college hitters make matters worse, nickle-and-diming the Lugnuts for a run here and two runs there throughout the early innings. Thompson shows the Lugnuts what he's done to everyone else in the league, authoring six impressive strikeout-filled innings. West Michigan rolls, 8-1.
That said... Get ready for another heart pounder.