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The Bulls Are One Win Away from Charlotte

The Durham Bulls became the first team to take a two-games-to-one lead in the Triple-A Finals on Thursday — beating the Pawtucket Red Sox by a score of 4-3 at home in Durham, NC. With the win, the Bulls are now just one win away from repeating as Governors’ Cup Champions. They are also one win away from competing on Tuesday at BB&T Ballpark in the Gildan Triple-A National Championship Game.

Triple A Championship logo

The PCL was off on Thursday and the series shifts to Omaha tonight for game three. That series is all tied up at one game apiece. If Omaha goes on to win, and the Bulls end up getting one more win, it will be a rematch of last year’s Triple-A National Championship game from Allentown, PA.

Let’s take a look back at Thursday’s game and a brief look ahead to Friday’s matchup:

Durham starter Matt Andriese earned the win after allowing two runs on five hits over six innings. Andriese allowed a run in the second inning, as well as the third inning, but was solid the rest of the way. He was saddled with a 2-0 deficit to overcome, and he was quickly helped by his offense in the bottom of the third inning.

Justin Christian led off the bottom of the third frame with a double and Cole Figueroa then reached base to put runners on the corners with no outs. Two batters later, the Bulls added their first run of the game courtesy of a Jeremy Moore RBI single. The Bulls then broke-open the game thanks to Tim Beckham — who ripped a two-run double, which gave them a 3-2 lead at that point.

All three runs in the third inning came off Pawtucket starter Henry Owens, who was dealt the loss after giving up three runs on three hits over four innings. Owens also walked three and fanned five.

Durham second baseman Nick Franklin added an insurance run in the sixth inning — which proved to be huge in the game. Franklin ripped a solo home run in the sixth off reliever Noe Ramirez, which made it a 4-2 ballgame at that point. Franklin finished the game 2-for-3 with a double and a home run. He’s hitting .417 (10-for-24) over seven playoff games. His 10 hits and his .417 batting average (tied with Emmanuel Burris of Syracuse) are tops in the IL Playoffs this year.

Things got interesting in the top of the ninth inning as the PawSox rallied and pulled within a run. Reliever Josh Lueke came on in the ninth and retired the first batter he faced — Alex Hassan — but then ran into a bit of trouble. Lueke struck-out Ryan Lavarnway, but he reached base on a passed ball, which brought the tying run to the plate. Garin Cecchini then followed with a big RBI double to make it a 4-3 game. With the PawSox down by just one run, Lueke got Corey Brown to ground out and Blake Swihart to pop out to end the game. Lueke went on to earn his first save of the playoffs and the Bulls took a major step forward.

On Friday, the Bulls and PawSox will battle in game four. Durham will send LHP Mike Montgomery to the hill as they look to wrap up the series and keep the Governors’ Cup in Durham. Montgomery and the Bulls will have to face Pawtucket LHP Eduardo Rodriguez, who is making his Triple-A debut. First pitch is set for 7:05 PM from Durham Bulls Athletic Park.

All Tied At One After Two

Game twoTriple A Championship logo in each of the Triple-A Finals took place on Wednesday and the two teams that were down a game came back to tie up the series. Over in the International League, the Durham Bulls rallied to beat the Pawtucket Red Sox 4-3. The Governors’ Cup Finals are now tied at one game each.

Over in the Pacific Coast League Finals, the Reno Aces tied up the series with a 4-2 victory last night on their home field. Those two teams will have an off day today before resuming their series on Friday night from Omaha.

Let’s take a look back at Wednesday’s game two matchups, which featured big wins from both Durham and Reno:

Durham Bulls at Pawtucket Red Sox (series tied 1-1)
Game 2: Bulls win 4-3

Wednesday’s game in Pawtucket was an instant classic.

The PawSox came into the game up one game to none after a 3-2 win on Tuesday. It was much of the same early on for Pawtucket on Wednesday. Much like on Tuesday, the PawSox once again knocked Durham’s starter out early as they scored three runs over the first two innings. Durham starter Jesus Colome allowed three runs over 1.1 innings pitched and was out before the second inning was over. The Bulls were forced to turn things over to their bullpen — which was solid once again.

The Bulls, who ended up being down 3-0 after two innings, handed things over to their bullpen, which would go on to toss 9.2 scoreless innings. Five relievers, including starter Merrill Kelly, were sharp on the hill and kept the Bulls in the game.

Corey Brown‘s two-run home run in the second inning for the PawSox proved to be big early on, but the Bulls offense battled back. Mikie Mahtook changed the game with one swing of his bat in the top of the third inning when he launched a two-run home run off Pawtucket starter Brian Johnson. Johnson was solid over six innings, however, allowing just two runs on four hits. He fanned seven batters in his Triple-A debut.

It was a 3-2 Pawtucket lead all the way to the ninth inning — until Vince Belnome sent the game into extras with a solo home run in the top of the ninth inning off Spartanburg, SC native Heath Hembree. It was the first run Hembree allowed in the postseason, but it was a big one for the Bulls, who could have gone down two games to none.

The game went into extras and neither team could score in the 10th frame. In the 11th, things changed when the Bulls got help from Belnome again. This time, he led the inning off with a walk. Three batters later, Mike Fontenot singled home Belnome to give the Bulls a 4-3 lead.

In the bottom of the 11th, reliever Adam Liberatore was back after getting out of a bases-loaded jam in the 10th. Liberatore walked Justin Henry in the 11th to put the tying run on first base, but got Bryce Brentz to strike out swinging to end the game.

The win for the Bulls was huge as they now head home to Durham tied in the series. The series will continue tonight in Durham with RHP Matt Andriese on the mound for the Bulls against Red Sox number two prospect Henry Owens. Game three should be a great matchup and the winner of this one will be a step closer to the Gildan Triple-A National Championship Game on September 16 in BB&T Ballpark.

Omaha Storm Chasers at Reno Aces: (series tied 1-1)
Game 2: Aces win 4-2

After falling to the Storm Chasers in game one on Tuesday by a score of 6-2, the Aces came back on Wednesday with a big win.

Needing a win before the series shifted to Omaha for the final three games, the Aces, jumped out to an early 4-0 lead after scoring four runs in the second inning on Wednesday. Those four runs would be all the Aces would end up needing.

Reno starter Bradin Hagens was sharp on the hill as he allowed one run on five hits over six innings en route to the game two victory. Hagens did not allow a walk and struck-out four batters. He was backed by two big offensive performances in the second inning.

Mike Freeman‘s two-run single and Nick Ahmed‘s two-run double in the second inning proved to be enough for Reno to tie up the series.

Despite the loss, Omaha led the way with eight hits in the game. Four of the eight hits came off the bat of University of South Carolina product Whit Merrifield, who went 4-for-4 with a double and a run scored. Merrifield is hitting .480 in six playoff games — leading the PCL in hits (12) and home runs (3). Pedro Ciriaco chipped in with two hits.

Omaha starter John Lamb lasted just two innings after allowing the four runs in the second frame. The Omaha bullpen combined to toss six shutout innings.

The two teams will now have an off day on Thursday and will get things going for game three in Omaha on Friday. LHP Andrew Chafin gets the nod for Reno against RHP Sugar Ray Marimon for Omaha. The Storm Chasers are looking to get back to the Gildan Triple-A National Championship Game for the second time in as many years. Stay tuned.

Triple-A Finals: Game One Rewind

Game one in both the IL and PCL Finals are in the books with the Pawtucket Red Sox beating the Durham Bulls in Pawtucket by a score of 3-2 and the Omaha Storm Chasers coming out on top in their matchup against the Reno Aces in Reno by a score of 6-2 on Tuesday. If Omaha and Durham were to win and move on to the National Championship Game on September 16 at BB&T Ballpark, it would be a rematch of last year’s game from Allentown, PA. Omaha came away with the win.

Let’s take a look back at each game one from Tuesday and a look at some of the players that stood out in each series.

Durham Bulls at Pawtucket Red SoxPawSox win 3-2

The PawSox were led in game one by starter Edwin Escobar — who was sharp on the mound over seven innings of work. Escobar gave up two runs on six hits over seven innings en route to the win in the 3-2 victory over Durham. Escobar threw 101 pitches, striking out five batters and walking none. The Pawtucket bullpen followed up Escobar’s solid start with two shutout innings out of the bullpen. College of Charleston product Heath Hembree earned the save after recording the final four outs in the game. Hembree, a native of Spartanburg, SC, has not allowed a run in three playoff games this season. He’s 2-for-2 in save opportunities as well.

Durham starter Enny Romero lasted just three innings — allowing three runs on six hits and was saddled with the loss. The Durham bullpen combined to throw five scoreless innings. Doug Mathis pitched three scoreless, while Cory Burns did not allow a run over the final two.

The PawSox as a team are leading the IL playoffs with a .288 batting average and are tied with Durham for most hits with 40. On Tuesday, it was Durham with eight hits leading the way, as Pawtucket managed just seven. Still, Pawtucket got what they needed as they scored a run in each of the first three innings. Garin Cecchini‘s sacrifice fly RBI in the bottom of the third inning proved to be the game-winner.

Rusney Castillo took a step closer to the majors on Tuesday — playing for the Pawtucket Red Sox and making his Triple-A debut in game one. Castillo, who was recently signed by Boston out of Cuba, appeared in six professional games before Tuesday — making his way through the system. He went 6-for-19 in six games –finishing up with Double-A Portland in their playoff series against the Binghamton Mets. In four games, Castillo hit .357 (5-for-14) with four runs scored, two doubles, and two RBIs.

In game two on Wednesday, RHP Jesus Colome gets the start for the Durham Bulls against LHP Brian Johnson for the PawSox. First pitch is set for 7:05 p.m.

Omaha Storm Chasers at Reno Aces – Storm Chasers win 6-2

The Storm Chasers got off to a solid start in game one on Tuesday — scoring three runs in the first inning and three runs in the second inning en route to victory. Five Omaha sluggers had at least two hits each and the team combined to rope 11 hits in game one. University of South Carolina product Whit Merrifield had another solid game. The Advance, NC native went 2-for-4 with two runs scored and a walk. Merrifield is hitting .381 (8-for-21) in five playoff games this year. Currently, he’s third in batting average, first in home runs (3), and tied for second in RBIs (4). Brett Hayes chipped in with two hits and two RBIs, while Cheslor Cuthbert also had two hits and two RBIs.

Omaha starter Aaron Brooks allowed two runs on four hits over seven innings en route to the win. Brooks, who I wrote about as a player to keep an eye on here, allowed two runs on four hits over seven innings en route to his second win of the 2014 playoffs. He walked one, struck-out five, and needed tossed 100 pitches. In game one of the PCL playoffs, Brooks matched a career-high with 10 strikeouts over eight innings. He allowed just five hits in the 7-0 win over Memphis.

Others notes on Tuesday from game one: Royals number one prospect Kyle Zimmer threw a scorless inning out of the bullpen on Tuesday as he continues to work his way back from an injury… Reno catcher Blake Lalli — a product of Gardner-Webb University, went 1-for 3 in the loss… Veteran slugger Mike Jacobs was 1-for-4 for Reno… Omaha is hitting .280 as a team to lead the PCL in the playoffs… Reno is hitting .265 with a team-high seven home runs… Former Knights hurler Clayton Richard started for Reno and allowed three runs on four hits in just 0.2 IP and was dealt the loss… He threw 29 pitches in the first inning before being removed.

LHP John Lamb gets the ball for Omaha in game two against Reno RHP Bradin Hagens. First pitch is set for 10:05 PM ET on Wednesday.

A Look at the Omaha Storm Chasers

The finals are set in the Pacific Coast League as the Omaha Storm Chasers — the 2013 PCL and Triple-A National Champions — are back to defend their title against the Reno Aces. For the second time in three seasons, the Aces are back in the PCL Finals. The Aces, who beat the Las Vegas 51s, lost game one of the series, but battled back to win the last three games. The Aces and the Storm Chasers played in the 2012 PCL Championship, with the Aces winning the series and the PCL championship in four games. 18-logo

One of these two PCL teams will play in Uptown Charlotte at BB&T Ballpark on September 16. The winner will face the winner of the IL Finals, which features Pawtucket against Durham.

Let’s take a look at the…

OMAHA STORM CHASERS: Triple-A Affiliate of the Kansas City Royals

COACHING STAFF

The Omaha Storm Chasers are led by manager Brian Poldberg, who is in his first season at the helm of the team. Poldberg spent the last six seasons as manager of Northwest Arkansas (Double-A affiliate of the Royals). Overall, the 2014 season is his 15th as a Minor League manager and he has compiled 1,010 wins. Omaha’s pitching coach is Larry Carter, who is in his second season with the Storm Chasers. As a player, Carter was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 10th round of the 1986 draft.

Hitting coach Tommy Gregg is a familiar name to Charlotte Knights fans. Gregg spent parts of two seasons with the Charlotte Knights when the team was affiliated with the Florida Marlins organization. In 1995, Gregg appeared in 34 games for the Knights and hit a remarkable .387 with 30 runs scored, 10 doubles, nine home runs and 32 RBIs. The following season, Gregg appeared in 119 games for the Knights (1996) and hit .286 with 69 runs scored, 24 doubles, 22 home runs, and 80 RBIs.

Born in Boone, NC, Gregg is fifth all-time in Knights franchise history in batting average with a .310 mark. He went to high school at Richard J. Reynolds High in Winston-Salem, NC and attended Wake Forest University. The 2014 season is Gregg’s sixth with Omaha. He spent nine seasons in the majors.

TOP PROSPECTS

RHP Kyle Zimmer was drafted by the Royals in the first round (5th overall) in the 2012 draft out of the University of San Francisco. He made his way through the ranks over the past two seasons, finishing the 2013 campaign in Northwest Arkansas (Double-A). He went 2-1 with a 1.93 ERA in four starts.

Zimmer entered the 2014 season ranked by Baseball America as the number one prospect in the Kansas City organization, however Zimmer has missed the majority of the season after he strained his lat muscle in May. He was shut down for six-to-eight weeks and made his 2014 debut on August 17 with Idaho Falls of the Pioneer League (Rookie). He appeared in six games (five starts) with the team and compiled a 0-0 mark with a 1.93 ERA in 4.2 IP. Zimmer is moving quickly, however, as he is playing for Triple-A Omaha. He appeared in game three of the first round of the playoffs — making his Triple-A debut. He threw one inning out of the bullpen and did not allow a run or a hit. He walked one.

Jorge Bonifacio, 21, entered the 2014 season ranked as the fourth-best prospect in the Kansas City Royals organization by Baseball America. Bonifacio, the younger brother of Major League infielder Emilio Bonifacio, was signed by the Royals in 2009. The 21-year-old outfielder is moving quickly through the system and has had success at every level. In 48 games with the Royals DSL squad in 2010, he hit .335 over 48 games. Last season with Double-A Northwest Arkansas, he hit .301 in 25 games. Bonifacio hit .230 (116-for-505) with four home runs and 51 RBIs this season for Omaha. Bonifacio hit .455 (5-for-11) in three first-round playoff games with two runs scored and a double.

IL VETERANS

The Omaha roster features a number of veterans, including Brian Bocock, Paul Janish, Pedro Ciriaco, and Clayton Mortensen. All four have spent time in the International League over the years. Bocock started playing in the IL in 2010 as a member of the Lehigh Valley IronPigs. He spent 2010 with Lehigh Valley and parts of 2011 with Lehigh Valley and Indianapolis. He was back in the IL in 2013 with Indianapolis and Syracuse. Overall, Bocock has played nine seasons in the minors and parts of two seasons in the majors.

Janish is an International League veteran — having spent parts of five seasons in the IL over the years. He spent four seasons with the Louisville Bats (2007-2008, 2011-2012) and then was back in the IL in 2013 with the Gwinnett Braves. Janish has spent nine seasons in the minors and has appeared in parts of six seasons in the majors.

KEEP AN EYE ON

Aaron Brooks put together an impressive 2014 season for Omaha. Brooks, 24, posted a 12-3 record with one save in 25 games (23 starts). His final four 2014 regular season starts were all good ones. The California native won all four starts including a complete game on August 23 in a 5-1 win over Tacoma. In his last outing of the regular season on August 28, he allowed just two hits over seven shutout innings. The month of August was a month to remember for Brooks, who went 5-0 with a 3.66 ERA in six starts (39.1 IP). Overall, his wins were tied for second-most in the PCL while he also ranked seventh in ERA and sixth in WHIP (1.27). On September 4, Brooks was named as the Royals Triple-A Pitcher of the Year — a year after winning the Double-A Pitcher of the Year (2013).

Brooks tossed game one of the PCL playoffs for Omaha and matched a career-high with 10 strikeouts. In all, he tossed eight innings and allowed just five hits in a 7-0 win over Memphis.

LOCAL PRODUCT

Whit Merrifield is a product of the University of South Carolina. He played a key role in USC’s first national championship in 2010 — delivering the game-winning single over UCLA in the title game. He was drafted by the Royals in the ninth round of the 2010 draft.

A native of Advance, NC, Merrified, 25, earned the Royals Triple-A Player of the Year Award this year after he hit .340 (109-for-321) in 76 games for the Storm Chasers this season. Merrifield also had 57 runs scored, 28 doubles, three home runs, 29 RBIs, and 11 stolen bases in his first crack at the Triple-A level. He began the season in Double and hit .278 (45-for-162) with 22 runs scored, 13 doubles, one triple, five home runs, and 22 RBIs. He was selected to play in the Texas League All-Star Game this year, but didn’t play due to his promotion to Omaha.

His success has continued into the playoffs and helped Omaha get past Memphis. In four first-round playoff games, Merrified hit .353 (6-for-17) with four runs scored, one double, three home runs, and four RBIs.

PCL Finals Are Set: A Look at the Reno Aces

The finals are also set in the Pacific Coast League as the Omaha Storm Chasers — the 2013 PCL and Triple-A National Champions — are back to defend their title against the Reno Aces. For the second time in three seasons, the Aces are back in the PCL Finals. The Aces, who beat the Las Vegas 51s, lost game one of the series, but battled back to win the last three games. The Aces and the Storm Chasers played in the 2012 PCL Championship, with the Aces winning the series and the PCL championship in four games. ShowImage

One of these two PCL teams will play in Uptown Charlotte at BB&T Ballpark on September 16. The winner will face the winner of the IL Finals, which features Pawtucket against Durham.

Let’s take a look at the…

RENO ACES:
Triple-A Affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks

COACHING STAFF:

Their manager and hitting coach are familiar names to International League fans. The Aces are led by manager Phil Nevin, who spent the past three seasons as the manager of the Toledo Mud Hens. After not making the playoffs in three seasons with the ‘Hens, Nevin is in the PCL Finals in his first season with the Aces after leading the team to 81 wins in the regular season. As a player, Nevin spent 12 seasons in the majors and hit 41 long balls in 2001 with San Diego. Overall, he hit 208 career home runs at the Major League level.

Another recognizable name in the IL on the coaching side is Greg Gross, Reno’s hitting coach. Gross, a former Philadelphia player and hitting coach, was the first hitting coach of the Lehigh Valley IronPigs and spent more than two seasons with the ‘Pigs (2008-2010). During the 2010 season, he was promoted to Philadelphia and took over for the fired Milt Thompson. He stayed in Philly through the 2012 season.

Mike Parrott is the pitching coach of the Aces and has a tie to the Charlotte area. Parrott was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in the first round  (15th overall) of the 1973 draft. As a player, Parrott made his way through the Baltimore system and played for the Charlotte O’s in 1976. He pitched in five games and posted a 0-2 mark with a 5.29 ERA. It was his only stint in Charlotte as he found himself in Triple-A Rochester the next year.

FORMER KNIGHT:

LHP Clayton Richard was sharp for the Charlotte Knights in 2008 — posting a 6-0 record with a 2.45 ERA in seven starts. He tossed one complete game that season. The following season, Richard was sent to the San Diego Padres by the White Sox as part of the package to acquire Jake Peavy. He spent parts of five seasons in San Diego with the Padres and went 40-39 with a 4.16 ERA in 108 games (107 starts). In parts of six Major League seasons, Richard owns a 46-47 record with a 4.33 ERA. He just recently signed a Minor League deal with Arizona (July 30) as he is working his way back from injuries. He’s made just one regular season start with Reno (August 28) and earned the win after allowing three runs on 11 hits over 5.1 innings pitched.

LOCAL PRODUCTS:

Catcher Blake Lalli is from Pittsburgh, PA, but he played his college ball at Gardner-Webb University. He was named to the All-Atlantic Sun Conference’s first team as a third baseman  in 2005 and as a catcher in 2006 while with Gardner-Webb. This season with Reno, Lalli hit .275 (78-for-284) with three home runs and 29 RBIs.

Mike Freeman played his college ball at Clemson University. The Orlando, FL native hit .307 (67-for-218) this season for Reno with one home run and 25 RBIs in 71 games. He hit .333 (4-for-12) with a double and three RBIs in the first round of the playoffs (four games).

KEEP AN EYE ON:

Veteran slugger Mike Jacobs is on the Reno roster and he can still hit the long ball. Jacobs, who hit 100 home runs over parts of seven seasons in the majors from 2005-2012, hit .299 (150-for-501) this season with 79 runs scored, 37 doubles, 19 home runs and 97 RBIs over 135 games in the regular season. His power continued into the playoffs and he smacked two home runs over the first round (four games). In 13 seasons in the minors, Jacobs has 180 career home runs. There’s no doubt he would love playing at BB&T Ballpark on September 16 — a hitter’s ballpark!

The Bulls Are Back in the Finals…

The Durham Bulls beat the Columbus Clippers on Saturday by a score of 4-2 in Durham, NC to move on to the Governors’ Cup Finals. The Bulls lost the first game in Columbus, but then went on to win the final three games en route to the series win.4516

In what will be a rematch of last year’s finals, the Bulls move on to face the Pawtucket Red Sox, who clinched on Friday night after sweeping the Syracuse Chiefs. Last season, the Bulls beat the PawSox in four games and moved on to play in the Triple-A National Championship Game. Durham lost the Triple-A National Championship Game to Omaha in Allentown, PA.

More on the Durham Bulls:

After dropping game one to the Clippers by a score of 9-4, the Bulls won games two and three by one run each, and game four on Saturday by two runs. Offensively, the Bulls hit just .239 over their four games. Cole Figueroa and Nick Franklin led the way with solid offensive showings in their four games at the plate. Figueroa hit .375 (6-for-16), while Franklin hit a series high .462 (6-for-13).

As for pitching, the Bulls got two solid starts in their series with Columbus. Their game four starter, Nate Karns, was impressive. Karns led the Bulls back to the championship game after allowing just one run on three hits over seven innings on Saturday. He walked just one batter and struck-out 12. Game three starter Matt Andriese was solid and allowed two runs on three hits over five innings. Andriese struck-out eight batters and earned the game three win. Reliever Adam Liberatore was sharp in two appearances in the series, tossing two scoreless innings and notching two saves.

PROSPECTS:

The Bulls roster is full of Tampa Bay Rays prospects. Looking through the 2014 Baseball America Prospect Handbook, you’ll find that the current Bulls roster is made up of four of the Top 10 prospects — including the number two prospect — Hak-Ju Lee. Lee got off to a great start to the 2013 season — hitting .422 over 15 games — before tearing ligaments in his left knee in a collision at second base. He had surgery in late April of last season and missed the remainder of the year. He made his return to the Bulls on April 23 of this season and appeared in 93 games for the club this year — hitting .203 (64-for-315) with four home runs, 23 RBIs, and 12 stolen bases.

Number four prospect Enny Romero, started game two and allowed three runs on six hits over five innings and did not factor in the decision. Romero, 23, went 5-11 with a 4.50 ERA in 25 games started for the Bulls. Number five prospect Alex Colome started game one and allowed four runs on five hits over five innings and was saddled with the loss. He went 7-6 with a 3.77 ERA in 15 games started for the Bulls this season. Colome also went 2-1 with a 2.79 ERA in two games (one start) for the Rays this year.

Rounding out the Tampa Bay Rays Top 10 Prospects list is Tim Beckham, who entered the season ranked ninth by Baseball America. Beckham began the 2014 on the shelf after tearing his ACL in the offseason. He made his way back to Durham in August and made his 2014 Bulls debut on August 12. That was a great game for Beckham, who went 4-for-6 with three runs scored and an RBI in his return to Triple-A. In 15 games, he hit .258 (16-for-62). In four games during the first round of the playoffs, Beckham hit .267 with two doubles and two RBIs.

FORMER KNIGHTS:

Wilson Betemit was a 2014 International League Midseason All-Star and hit 18 home runs and drove in 50 runs for the Durham Bulls this season. Betemit, 32, has played 14 seasons in the minors and has 89 home runs over that span. He played for the Charlotte Knights in 2009 and hit .241 with 11 home runs and 49 RBIs over 72 games.

Ray Olmedo played for the Charlotte Knights in 2012 — the same season the team went to the Governors’ Cup Finals. Olmedo is a mainstay in the International League and is in his third season with the Durham Bulls (2009, 2011, and 2014). Olmedo has spent 11 of his 16 Minor League seasons in the IL. He’s played for Louisville, Syracuse, Columbus, Durham, Charlotte, and Rochester. In 12 seasons as the Triple-A level (also spent a season in Nashville in 2010), Olmedo has 967 career hits. Overall, Olmedo has 1,403 hits in his 16 year Minor League career.

KEEP AN EYE ON:

Mikie Mahtook was a 2014 International League Midseason All-Star and played in front of his hometown fans at the Triple-A All-Star Game this season. Mahtook entered the season ranked by Baseball America as the 25th best prospect in the Tampa Bay organization. After a solid 2013 campaign in Montgomery (Double-A), Mahtook showed improvement all across the board in 2014 with the Bulls. He hit .292 (143-489) with 33 doubles, six triples, 12 home runs, 68 RBIs, and 18 stolen bases over 132 games. The 24-year-old finished fifth in the IL in hits, tied for fourth in triples, sixth in doubles, and fourth in total bases (224).

MANAGER:

Charlie Montoyo had a record-breaking season and it continues into the playoffs. Montoyo, who is the winningest manager in Bulls franchise history, takes his team back to the Governors’ Cup Championship series for the second-straight year. Even more than that, Montoyo’s resume is one of the best. He has won seven division championships in his tenure with the Bulls, along with two IL Championships (2009, and 2013) and a Triple-A National Championship (2009). Can he lead his team to another IL Championship and a shot to play for the Triple-A Championship for the second year straight?

First To Clinch… Pawtucket!

On Friday night, the Pawtucket Red Sox became the first team to clinch a spot into the Governors’ Cup Finals, meaning they are the first team to inch a step closer to the Gildan Triple-A National Championship Game, which will be played on Tuesday, September 16 at BB&T Ballpark.VDo0ZfM9

Let’s take an in-depth look at the PawSox:

It looked like it would be no easy task for the PawSox on paper. They would have to face the Syracuse Chiefs in the first round — the same team that beat them out for the IL North Division crown. Head-to-head this season, however, things between the two teams were even. Both teams won eight of their 16 games against each other. The PawSox hit just .237 against the Chiefs, while Chiefs, well they hit just .240 against the PawSox. Very even indeed! Even the home runs against were similar (PawSox with 14, Chiefs with 13).

Perhaps the only difference throughout their 16 matchups this season — not counting the playoffs — was that the Chiefs outscored the PawSox 60-50. Still, it was close.

When Wednesday hit, it was Pawtucket hosting the Chiefs in game one of the series. The PawSox came away with a 2-1 win in game one, and then came back to win game two by a score of 8-2. Impressive wins for the PawSow, who will play for the Governors’ Cup for the third time in as many years (2012-2014). Who was their opponent in 2012… the Charlotte Knights. Pawtucket won that series in three games, while they lost last season in the finals to Durham (3-1).

Through three games in the IL playoffs this season, the PawSox as a team are hitting .303 with 17 runs scored, 33 hits, and two home runs — all tops in the IL.

KEEP AN EYE ON:

Bryce Brentz has six hits, which are tied with Francisco Lindor (Columbus) for the most in the playoffs. Overall, Brentz is hitting .429 (6-for-14) with three runs scored, and one RBI in three games. Brentz is a native of Crossville, TN and hit .243 with the PawSox this season in 63 games. He hit 12 home runs and had 53 RBIs. He was drafted in the first round of the 2010 draft by the Red Sox (36th overall) out of Middle Tennessee State University. Last season, he hit a combined .262 with 19 homers and 64 RBIs in 88 games (82 games with Pawtucket and six games with the Gulf Coast Red Sox). His 19 home runs were tied for the most in the system with David Chester.

Garin Cecchini hit .385 (5-for-13) with two runs scored, one triple, and three RBIs in the three-game series against the Chiefs. It was his walk-off single in the 10th inning of Wednesday’s game that lifted the PawSox to a 2-1 win over Syracuse in game one. Drafted by the Red Sox in the fourth round of the 2010 draft, he hit .263 (107-for-407) with seven home runs and 57 RBIs for the PawSox this year. He’s moved up every season — starting in Lowell (Low-A) in 2011, Greenville in 2012 (Single-A), Salem (High-A) and Portland (Double-A) in 2013, and Pawtucket (Triple-A) in 2013. He owns a career .298 batting average over his four Minor League seasons.

TOP PITCHING PROSPECT:

Henry Owens started game three of the IL playoffs and allowed five runs on eight hits over four innings and did not factor in the decision. It was an uncharacteristic start for Owens, who posted a 3-1 mark with the PawSox in six games this season after going 14-4 with a 2.60 ERA in 20 starts for Double-A Portland earlier this year. He was drafted in the first round (36th overall) in the 2011 draft by the Red Sox out of Edison High School (Huntington Beach, CA). Owens, who is 6’6″,  is just 22 years old and has a very bright future ahead. The young left-hander could be at the front of Boston’s rotation before long. Fans of the Charlotte Knights have already seen Owens pitch. Back on August 10 at BB&T Ballpark, the Knights tagged Owens for four runs on eight hits over five innings in just his second-ever Triple-A start.

LOCAL PRODUCTS:

Jackie Bradley Jr. is a product of the University of South Carolina and played for the PawSox in 12 games this season after being sent down by the Red Sox two weeks ago. Bradley appeared in 14 regular season games and hit .212 with one home run and five RBIs. He then appeared in the first two games of the playoffs with Pawtucket and hit .200 (2-for-10) with a run scored. While it would have been nice to see Bradley Jr. in Charlotte if the PawSox did indeed advance, the Red Sox recalled Bradley on Friday ending the hopes of many USC fans in the area. In 112 games with the Red Sox this season, Bradley Jr. is hitting .216 (75-for-348) with a home run, 19 doubles, two triples, and 30 RBIs.

Other players with ties to North Carolina and South Carolina that are currently on Pawtucket’s roster are: Heath Hembree, a Spartanburg, SC native who played his college ball at the College of Charleston. Hembree has made two scoreless appearances out of the Pawtucket bullpen in the playoffs. He went 0-1 with a 2.70 ERA in seven games for the PawSox this season after coming over in the Jake Peavy trade on July 26.

Another player who spent time in a college in the Carolinas is Alex Hassan, who took his talents to Duke. Hassan, a Quincy, MA native, was drafted out of Duke by Boston in the 20th round of the 2009 draft.

MANAGER:

Kevin Boles is the manager of the PawSox and has made his way through the ranks of Boston’s Minor League system over the years. His first year with the Red Sox organization was in 2008 when he guided Single-A Greenville to a 70-69 record. That season, he had players such as Anthony Rizzo and Josh Reddick. Making his way through the ranks since 2008, Boles has managed other Red Sox prospects such as Will Middlebrooks, Xander Bogaerts, Anthony Ranaudo, and Allen Webster. He has 876 career regular season wins as a manager over 14 seasons as a Minor League manager.

His first season was in 2000 as a manager of the Gulf Coast Marlins. That was a special team. They went 40-20 and had two future stars of the game — Miguel Cabrera, and Adrian Gonzalez. Cabrera was just 17, while Gonzalez was 18.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

With solid offense and pitching, the PawSox will be a tough opponent for either Durham or Columbus for the Governors’ Cup Championship. The PawSox will look for their second Governors’ Cp Championship in three seasons and a shot at the Triple-A National Championship Game for the first time since 2012. Durham, who beat them last season in the finals, has a 2-1 lead over Columbus with all games left to be played in Durham. It could be a rematch of last season’s finals. If so, either of those teams (Pawtucket and Durham) should make for an exciting Triple-A National Championship Game at BB&T Ballpark on September 16. Stay tuned.

Road to the Triple-A National Championship Game

BB&T Ballpark is hosting the Gildan Triple-A National Championship Game on Tuesday, September 16. The game, which will be televised on NBC Sports Network starting at 7:00 p.m., pits the top team in the International League against the top team in the Pacific Coast League. I’m really excited to be a part of this winner-take-all showdown. BB&T Ballpark is the perfect host and I’m excited for what we have in store.

Let’s take a look at the International League playoff scenario after two games: NCG_full_hlsm2u6m_cjdqv2ce

Durham Bulls (75-69) vs. Columbus Clippers (79-65)

The Durham Bulls won the IL South Division this season, finishing nine games ahead of second place Gwinnett in the standings. The Bulls have been one of the most consistent teams in the IL — earning a trip to the playoffs in seven of the last eight seasons. They won the Governors’ Cup last season and will look to do so again this season.

Game one went to the Columbus Clippers, who received a strong outing from starter Kyle Davies. The Georgia native tossed six innings and allowed three runs on six hits, while striking out nine batters. He was backed by his offense, which belted out nine runs on 12 hits. Francisco Lindor ripped three hits, while David Murphy, Matt Carson, and James Ramsey all homered. It was an impressive offensive showing against the Bulls. Alex Colome was saddled with the loss after allowing four runs on five hits over five innings.

Durham slugger Jeremy Moore homered in the loss. Mikie Mahtook had one of Durham’s nine hits.

On Thursday, the Bulls came back to tie the series (1-1) with an impressive 4-3 win in 10 innings in Columbus. The Bulls scored two runs over the final two innings (9th & 10th) en route to the come-from-behind win. Columbus led 3-2 heading to the ninth inning and received a solid start from Tyler Cloyd, who tossed seven solid innings. Cloyd, who threw the only IL no-hitter this season, struck-out seven batters over his seven innings on Thursday and did not factor in the decision.

Nick Franklin had three of Durham’s nine hits in the game, while Cole Figueroa chipped in with two. Josh Lueke earned the win after two shutout innings out of the bullpen.

The series now shifts to the Durham Bulls Athletic Park for games three, four, and five (if necessary). It has been a busy year for the Durham franchise, who hosted the Triple-A All-Star Game in July. Led by manager Charlie Montoyo, and a top notch front office staff, the Bulls have been one of the most successful franchises on the field and at the gates.

Syracuse Chiefs (81-62) vs. Pawtucket Red Sox (79-65)

The North Division was the most competitive division in the IL this season. The Chiefs led the way with 81 wins and beat out the Pawtucket Red Sox — leading the division by 2.5 games. Syracuse is led by the Manager of the Year — Billy Gardner Jr. — and featured the IL MVP and Rookie of the Year in Steven Souza Jr.

The Chiefs have struggled to score runs in the first two games of the series. Pawtucket won game one by a score of 2-1 after getting a run in the bottom of the 10th inning to come back for the victory. The PawSox had a 1-0 heading into the ninth inning, but the Chiefs scored a run in the top of the ninth to tie the game. Brandon Laird homered in the ninth off starter Edwin Escobar — who was sharp on the evening. One inning later, Pawtucket’s Garin Cecchini singled home the winning run as Pawtucket walk-off with a game one win.

On Thursday, game two once again went to the PawSox — this time by a score of 8-2. Pawtucket starter Matt Barnes was impressive — tossing seven shutout innings. He allowed just three hits and struck-out six. Garin Cecchini had another big day at the plate. Cecchini went 4-for-4 with a triple, two runs scored, and an RBI. Ryan Roberts chipped in with three hits.

The first two games were played and won by the PawSox on their home field. Now, the series shifts to Syracuse. Stay tuned to see if the PawSox can win one more game to move on to play for the Governors’ Cup Championship.

It’s going to be an exciting road to the Gildan Triple-A National Championship Game. Stay tuned!

Knights Knotes — August 22

KNIGHT LIGHTS: The Charlotte Knights (58-76) return home tonight to BB&T Ballpark to open a four-game series knights knoteswith the Norfolk Tides (61-71) tonight at 7:05 PM. Charlotte is down to their final 10 games of the season with all of the games to be played against two IL South Division teams (four with Gwinnett, and six with Norfolk). Charlotte enters play having lost eight of their last 10 games and are currently on a three-game losing streak.

ABOUT LAST KNIGHT: Former Knights hurler Zach Stewart (6-4, 4.94) tossed six innings, and the Gwinnett Braves used the long ball twice en route to a 10-6 win over the Charlotte Knights on Thursday in the finale of their two-game series from Coolray Field in Lawrenceville, GA. A night after losing to 2012 Charlotte Knights pitcher Terry Doyle, Stewart also held on to beat his former team. As a member of the Charlotte Knights, Stewart won the final game at Knights Stadium on September 2, 2013. On Thursday, he pitched into the seventh inning and allowed just two runs over his first six innings of work. In the seventh, Stewart and the G-Braves had an 8-2 lead over the Knights, but the former Knights right-hander failed to get an out. Stewart allowed a leadoff single to Miguel Gonzalez and then an RBI triple to Josh Richmond. The Knights continued their comeback and got a two-run home from Jared Mitchell, which made it an 8-4 game. The two-run homer knocked Stewart out of the game. The Knights added just one more run along the way. Stewart gave up five runs on 10 hits over six innings, but was still able to notch the victory.

KNIGHTS STARTER: RHP Bobby Doran (4-1, 6.03) will make his eighth start of the season with the Knights tonight. Doran won his first two starts with the Knights and has won his last two decisions (three games). Doran made his Charlotte debut on July 13 against the Syracuse Chiefs at BB&T Ballpark (5.0 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 3 BB, 6 SO). A native of Oklahoma City, OK, Doran was acquired from the Houston organization on July 11 and was pitching for the Oklahoma City RedHawks (Triple-A) at the time of the trade. In 21 games (nine starts) with the RedHawks, Doran was 2-4 with a 5.36 ERA (80.2 IP, 94 H, 52 R, 48 ER, 29 BB, 41 SO). He was originally drafted by the Astros in the fourth round of the 2010 draft out of Texas Tech University. He attended Flower Mound, TX High. In five Minor League seasons, Doran owns a 36-21 mark with a 4.90 ERA over 122 games (91 starts).

SANCHEZ PROMOTED: Carlos Sanchez, who hit .293 (128-for-437) with the Charlotte Knights in 110 games this season, was recalled to Chicago today to take the roster spot of second baseman Gordon Beckham, who was traded to the LA Angels yesterday for a player to be named later or cash considerations. Today’s promotion to Chicago is the second of the season for Sanchez. He was promoted to Chicago on July 13 and made his Major League debut with the White Sox later that day in Cleveland. He was optioned back to the Knights on July 19 after appearing in just one game (0-for-5). Overall this season, Sanchez has a .293 batting average with 60 runs scored, 19 doubles, six triples, seven home runs, 57 RBIs, and 16 stolen bases with the Knights in 110 games played. He leads the Knights in triples and stolen bases and his 128 hits are second on the Knights, while his 60 runs scored are third.

CONCORD NATIVE COMES TO CHARLOTTE: Taking the roster spot of Sanchez in Charlotte is infielder Dan Wagner, who was promoted to the Knights today from Double-A Birmingham. Wagner, a native of Concord, NC, is a 2006 graduate of South Rowan High School in Landis, NC. In 80 games with the Barons this season, Wagner hit .203 (51-for-251) with 24 runs scored, 10 doubles, two triples, two home runs, 21 RBIs, and six stolen bases. He spent the entire 2013 campaign in Birmingham and hit .274 (81-for-296) with 33 runs scored, nine doubles, one home run, 23 RBIs, and 23 stolen bases. Originally selected by the White Sox in the 16th round of the 2009 draft, Wagner, 26, made his professional debut in 2009 and hit .264 (68-for-258) in 67 games between Advanced Rookie Bristol and Single-A Kannapolis. A year later, he led all Sox farmhands in stolen bases with 37 and ranked ninth in the South Atlantic League. He was named to the SAL midseason All-Star Team that season.

Mitchell_Jared

IT CAN ONLY BE JARED: Jared Mitchell extended his hit-streak to six games last night with another three-hit performance – his third during the hit-streak and fourth multi-hit game. Mitchell, who now has 24 hits since returning from Birmingham (AA) in 18 games, is now hitting .312 (24-for-777) with 10 runs, four doubles, one triple, three home runs, and 12 RBIs. Overall this season, between both Birmingham and Charlotte, Mitchell is hitting .262 with 18 home runs and 46 RBIs. He has eight homers with Charlotte and 10 with Birmingham.

OFFENSIVE LEADERS: Charlotte leads the IL in homers (163), runs scored (661), total bases (1981), RBIs (621), and slugging % (.440).

THE MIGHTY WILKINS: Andy Wilkins recorded his 138th hit on Thursday – surpassing his season-high of 137 set back in 2011 with Winston-Salem (A+). He is hitting .297 (138-for-465) with 77 runs scored, 36 doubles, one triple, 29 home runs, and 83 RBIs in 120 games with the Knights. He leads the IL in home runs (29), RBIs (83), total bases (263), and extra-base hits (66). He is second in doubles (36) and slugging percentage (.566), third in runs scored (77), and fourth in hits (138). The Charlotte slugger has hit a home run once every 16.03 at-bats, which is second in the IL – behind Mike Hessman.

Knights Knotes — August 17

KNIGHT LIGHTS: knights knotes The Charlotte Knights (57-72) will conclude their three-game series with the first place Durham Bulls (66-62) tonight at 5:05 p.m. from Durham Bulls Athletic Park in Durham, NC. Charlotte enters today’s game in third place in the IL South Division, 9.5 games back of first place Durham with 15 games left to play for the 2014 season. All of Charlotte’s final 15 games will be played against IL South Division teams (eight with Gwinnett, one more with Durham, and six with Norfolk).

ABOUT LAST KNIGHT: Jared Mitchell’s ninth-inning, two-run home run off Josh Lueke (0-1, 3.68) led the Charlotte Knights to an exciting 6-5 win over the Durham Bulls in the middle game of their three-game series from Durham Bulls Athletic Park in Durham, NC on Saturday. Charlotte scored three runs in the ninth inning en route to their thrilling come-from-behind victory over the first place Bulls. The win snapped Charlotte’s four-game losing streak.

KNIGHTS STARTER: RHP Matt Zaleski (2-0, 2.92) gets the start in today’s finale for the Knights against the Bulls after being Zaleski_Matt 2012activated off the DL yesterday. Today’s start will be the 74th start in Zaleski’s Knights career – which will now pass Charlie Haeger for most games started in Charlotte Knights franchise history. Zaleski made his franchise tying 73rd start with Charlotte on July 24 at Indianapolis. In his last appearance before going on the DL, (July 31), Zaleski picked up his second win of the season and 21st of his Knights career, which moved him into a tie for fifth all-time in franchise history (tied with Felix Diaz, Ryan Hawblitzel, and Jon Rauch). Zaleski is also second all-time in Charlotte Knights franchise history in innings pitched (425.2) and walks (150). He is fifth in strikeouts (278) and one away from tying Jon Rauch for fourth all-time. This is his fourth start of the season and he will be appearing in his 11th game since being activated off the DL on June 12. The 32-year-old right-hander appeared in just five games for Charlotte last season and posted a 1-2 record with a 5.74 ERA. He was placed on the disabled list with a strained right elbow on May 1 and had season-ending surgery (Tommy John surgery).

UNCC STANDOUT PROMOTED TO CHARLOTTE: UNC Charlotte standout Tyler Barnette, a native of Hickory, NC, has been promoted to the Charlotte Knights today from Single-A Kannapolis. Barnette, 22, was 2-8 with one save and a 5.08 ERA for the Intimidators in 25 games (11 starts) this season over 85.0 innings pitched. Charlotte’s active roster is now set at 25 players. Drafted by the Chicago White Sox in the 14th round of the 2013 MLB Amateur Draft, Barnette went to Rookie-Level Bristol last season and posted a 1-4 mark with one save and a 5.73 ERA in 13 games (six starts) with the Bristol White Sox. In three seasons for the Charlotte 49ers, Barnette compiled an 18-8 record with a 3.37 ERA (235.0 IP). In 2011, Barnette was named Atlantic-10 Freshman of the Year after tying for second in the Atlantic 10 with nine wins and finishing third with a 2.29 ERA after 90.1 innings pitched. In 2012, he was named to the Preseason All-Conference Second Team by College Madness.com.

RODON PROMOTED: Just before game time on Saturday, NC State product Carlos Rodon –the number-three overall pick by the Chicago White Sox in this year’s Major League Baseball Draft – was promoted to the Charlotte Knights and will start on Tuesday, August 19. Rodon, 21, appeared in four games (two starts) for Winston-Salem (A+) and posted a 0-0 mark with a 1.86 ERA (9.2 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 5 BB, 15 SO). The Holly Springs, NC native made his professional debut on July 22 for the Arizona League White Sox. He appeared in two games for the team and allowed two runs on four hits over three innings.

ROSTER MOVES: In all, Charlotte has announced eight roster moves since yesterday including the promotion of outfielder Josh Richmond from Double-A Birmingham just before game time. He hit .247 with nine home runs and 51 RBIs in 100 games with the Barons.

MITCHING IN: Jared Mitchell led the way for the Knights offensively last night with three hits, two runs scored, the game-winning home run, and three RBIs. He finished the night 3-for-5 at the plate and now has 14 hits, two home runs and eight RBIs in 13 games with the Knights since his return from Double-A Birmingham. Overall this season, Mitchell has 17 home runs (10 with Birmingham). Overall in August with the Knights, Mitchell is hitting .259 with six runs scored, three doubles, one triple, two home runs, and eight RBIs. Last night’s three-hit game was his third with the Knights this season.

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