Last night: Victory.
Tonight, the series shifts to Cooley Law School Stadium with the Lugnuts needing just one win to move on to the Eastern Division Finals. (A potential Game 3 would also be held in Lansing, scheduled for tomorrow night.) The Lugnuts start Florida Gator Justin Shafer, the Loons counter with Gonzaga Bulldog Andrew Sopko, and the first pitch is at 7:05 p.m.
Before we dive too deep, let's talk managers.
Great Lakes manager Luis Matos is managing his heart out. He concocted absurdly uncharacteristic lineups last week during a three-game series between the clubs (starting regular leadoff man Michael Ahmed in the eighth slot and putting bottom of the order bat Federico Celli right into the heart of the order) in order to confuse the Lugnuts as to his intentions during this series. He's got his bullpen ready at all times, with three pitching changes yesterday, including yanking top prospect Grant Holmes after just 4 2/3 innings. He's putting men in motion, sending big Justin Chigbogu rumbling to second yesterday in order to avoid a potential double play. The move worked beautifully, as it happened.
Lansing manager Ken Huckaby didn't do much, but it all worked out. He ordered a sacrifice bunt from Richard Urena, which paid off in a Jason Leblebijian RBI single on the very next pitch. He received six innings from starter Dawson, and then used Dusty Isaacs for four outs and Jose Fernandez for the final five outs. Relievers Phil Kish and Carlos Ramirez are thus fresh for tonight.
Between the two, we're going to see moves made tonight. These are not the types of managers to sit back and let their players go, especially Matos.
Justin Shafer wants outs, he wants them in a hurry, and he wants them on the ground. On July 8th, he unveiled a new cut fastball and blew away the Loons with seven three-hit shutout innings, but that cutter has mostly been pushed aside now. In his other two starts against Great Lakes, he left early due to injury on July 19th (2.1 IP, 4 hits, 3 runs) and dominated on September 4th (6 innings, 2 hits, 1 run).
His stuff: a sinking fastball from 88-94 that has touched 97 mph, the cutter, a slider and a change.
The worry is his slider. When it's on, he's got a money strikeout pitch. When it's not, he becomes sinker heavy. Last start, I'd argue, came with a heck of a lot of luck -- Shafer pitched to contact with only two strikeouts, but only gave up two hits. He'll need more swings and misses tonight. Can the Lugnuts get six innings out of him again? If they can, so much the better.
- Michael Ahmed is 1-for-4 with a strikeout.
- Jimmy Allen is 2-4 with a hit-by-pitch.
- Matt Beaty is 1-6 with a walk and a strikeout.
- Justin Chigbogu is 0-7 with a strikeout.
- Julian Leon is 2-5 with two singles, an RBI and a walk.
- Jordan Tarsovich is 2-3 with two singles and an RBI.
It would be a stunner if Andrew Sopko pitched more than five innings for the Loons. He's a pretty darn good right-hander, drafted in the 7th round in June, with a fastball at 87-92, a slider and a change-up. He pitched six games for Ogden in his pro debut, stretching out from one to four innings, walking one and striking out 18 in 14 innings. Then he moved to the Loons, made five starts (working as many as five innings in three of them), and continued to not walk anyone (18 K / 4 BB) while only getting roughed up once.
There are no notable matchups. Lansing has never faced Sopko until tonight.
Andrew Sopko has been a fly ball pitcher in Great Lakes (0.43 ground out/air out ratio), and this brings up the biggest key of the night: The Loons' outfield defense. Lansing's outfield dimensions are enormous, and Loons 20-year-old right fielder Jordan Paroubeck was a black hole last night in the routine garden that is Dow Diamond. Beyond this, Great Lakes lost center fielder Logan Landon to a wrist injury against Lansing on September 2nd, and then lost center fielder Gage Green to a concussion last night. The Loons have zero outfield depth, forcing manager Matos to figure things out with Nick Sell, Federico Celli, Brian Wolfe and Paroubeck. I don't expect Paroubeck to go 0-for-4 with 3 strikeouts again like last night, but if he and his teammates run into more trouble defensively, that could the spell the end for their season.
A textbook Lugnuts win looks a little like this…
- Justin Shafer works six solid innings, getting grounders and strikeouts. The Loons' defense has more issues, Jordan Paroubeck's promotion turns out to be a disaster, and the self-proclaimed Thunder From Down Under (7-8-9 hitters Gunnar Heidt, Danny Jansen and Justin Atkinson) causes more trouble, taking the air out of Great Lakes. Lansing 9, Great Lakes 1, and the Lugnuts move on to the second round.
A textbook Loons win looks a little like this…
- Sopko pitches zeroes for five innings, Shafer gets eaten up by luck turning against him, Paroubeck marches back with a big-time blow, and the Loons bullpen slams the door. All of the momentum heads Great Lakes' way with a convincing 6-0 win.
That said -- get ready for more drama!