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Minor League Playoff Preview

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MLB: Houston Astros-Media Day Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Of the five playoff-eligible teams, three made the playoffs. These teams are Quad Cities (Midwest League; A Ball), Fayetteville Woodpeckers (Carolina League, A+, and Round Rock (PCL, AAA). Here’s a preview of each playoff team and what lies ahead

QUAD CITY RIVER BANDITS:

Team Overview: QC qualified on the basis of winning their 8-team Western division in the first half of the season with a 43-23 record. The second half of the season was less successful (36-34), where they finished fifth in a tough division and went 3-7 down the stretch. The roster has few mainstays from the early season. A couple of the 2019 college draftees have made their way to QC, Grae Kissinger, 2nd rounder, and CJ Stubbs, 10th rounder, the most prominent. 2018 4th rounder Alex McKenna returned from injury to spend the last two weeks in Quad Cities. Freudis Nova is also on the team. Vincent Bellozo blew away Tri-City and earned a promotion to QC, where he’s been good and should pitch game 1 or 2. So it’s very prospect-laden team, despite losing Jeremy Pena, Brett Conine, and Ross Adolph, among others, to promotion.

Playoff Format: there are three rounds, first two are best of three, and then best of five. So it could be over quickly, or it could stretch two weeks.

Who They Play; Cedar Rapids Colonels, who finished both halves with a 39-31 record. Tonight CR will feature Luis Rijo, a strike-throwing right-hander who’s made 19 starts for them this year, and Matt Canterino, their 2019 2nd rounder out of Rice, will start on Thursday.

When They Play: September 4th-6th.

Keys to Watch: as focus turns from development to winning, can QC’s 2019 college draftees give a listless lineup a jump? Can the usually dominant starting pitching be paired by dominant BP.

FAYETTEVILLE WOODPECKERS

Team Overview: like almost every team in the system, it all starts with dominant pitching featuring huge strikeout rates. Fayetteville went 41-29 in the 2nd half, including 8-2 to close out the season, to win the Carolina League’s five-team Southern Division. That was a nice rebound from a 31-38 first-half record. The pitching staff has been anchored down the stretch by 2018 college draftees Cody Deason and Austin Hansen, as well as 2019 breakout pitcher Jojanse Torres, who’s allowed an earned run in only one of his last seven appearances. The offense boasts Jeremy Pena, Ross Adolph, Cal Stephenson (from the Fisher trade), and MiguelAngel Sierra, from the Altuve documentary. Promising lefty Peter Mushinski started the season injured, but quietly put together a solid 52 IP for the ‘Peckers.

Playoff Format: two rounds of best of 5, starting today with a doubleheader! I’m assuming that due to the Hurricane that would bring a bunch of rain on the 5th.

Who They Play: Down East Woodducks, affiliate of the Rangers and winner of the first half of the Southern Division. Bubba Thompson, their 2017 first rounder out of the same Alabama HS as my better half, has struggled mightily in the Carolina League. Mike Matuella, oft-injured former 1st rounder, is listed on the roster as active.

What to Watch For: Can breakout prospect Jeremy Pena carry his team? Will Jojanse blow away the Ranger farmhands? Can Cody Deason continue his late push? Will the players be able to block out the hurricane forecasts?

ROUND ROCK EXPRESS

Team Overview: we’re a little more familiar with this team. No 1st-half, 2nd-half splits here, so they made the playoffs the old-fashioned way, by going 84-56, which not only won the four-team American Division, but was the most wins of any of the 16 PCL teams. They’re missing a few guys, including Kyle Tucker. Luhnow was nice enough to leave some players who will surely join Tucker, Stubbs, Urquiddy, and Josh James in Houston, the most essential being Jack Mayfield, Myles Straw, and Rogelio Armentreros.

Playoff Format: two rounds of best of 5, starting today.

Who They Play: The Iowa Cubs (guess the affiliate). Like the Astros, the big-league Cubs are in the playoff hunt and playing with urgency. In terms of their Iowa team, they’re not in player development mode regarding call-ups, but they’re definitely going to take players off the squad who can help them. The two teams are likely equally depleted (although I’m surprised that Luhnow kept Straw down for the playoffs).

What to Watch For: in a league that has become un-scout-able due to the new baseball, can Stan Javier, Rogelio, and Brandon Bielak (pictured above) shut down the Iowa Cubs? Frances Martes has been moved to Round Rock and placed on the roster. Will they give him a chance to close? Can recent AA call-ups Stephen Wrenn and Ronnie Dawson contribute? Will Myles Straw set the table and go bonkers?