By Jack McGuire & Julianne Garnett
With the result of Saturday’s one-game playoff between the #3 Cropdusters and the #6 Senators, the CRSCBL North Division Champs and #2-seeded Bethesda Big Train (23-13) are set to take on MOCO rivals, Cropdusters Baseball (22-14) in a best-of-three division series. As the higher seed, the Big Train will host game one at Shirley Povich Field, with first pitch set for 7 p.m. This is Bethesda’s 13th straight appearance in the League Championship Series (LCS) semifinals.
It was a tense race to the finish for the division title between these two teams, which came down to the final few games of the season. Bethesda ultimately secured the division, yet this hot-hitting Cropdusters team has proven to be a tough matchup for the Big Train all season. The Cropdusters hold the 4-2 series advantage over Bethesda, setting up an interesting battle between these two talented teams with almost identical records.
On the offensive end, the Big Train holds the superior team average and OPS at .276 and .808, respectively. But the Cropdusters have roped an impressive 381 hits, plus they have the league-leader in AVG (.388) and a number of other offensive stats, outfielder Matt Miura.
Miura has been a thorn in the Big Train’s side since the teams’ first matchup on June 3, when he had two hits and two runs scored. The University of Hawaii product has recorded at least one hit in every game against Bethesda, along with six RBIs and four runs scored across the six contests.
But the Big Train have Dixon Williams (East Carolina) who also tallied at least one hit in each of the five games he played against the Cropdusters. The infielder boasts the third-best average in the league (.349) and second-best slugging percentage (.472), making him a key contributor to Bethesda’s regular-season success and an essential component in their playoff run.
As the lowest combined score between these teams in the regular season was eight (a 5-3 Big Train loss at home on July 10) offensive firepower is to be expected. As a result, Miura and Williams will be ones to watch in this series.
On the pitching side, the Green and White appear to have an advantage over the Cropdusters. Bethesda had the best pitching staff in the league this season, leading the league in almost every statistical pitching category by a wide margin. For instance, the Big Train had a team ERA of 3.42, six shutouts, a WHIP of 1.37 and an batting average against of only .220. Bethesda’s pitching staff lead the league in all of these categories.
While the Cropdisters pitching staff has not been as dominant as the Big Train’s, it has still been solid. Overall, the Cropdusters have a team ERA of 4.33, a team WHIP of 1.52 and an average against of .241. The Cropdusters were third in the Ripken League this season in all of these metrics.
However, in a three game series, individual pitching performances become more important than a team’s overall pitching depth and quality. While manager Sal Colangelo has not announced who will play any of the playoff games for the Big Train yet, he will probably hand the ball to ace Brandon Cassedy (Christopher Newport) in game one. Cassedy has been dominant this season, leading the Ripken League with a microscopic 0.64 ERA. Cassedy’s ERA is almost a full run lower than the next lowest ERA in the league among qualified pitchers. Cassedy also has a 0.86 WHIP and has struck out an average of 10.3 batters per nine innings pitched.
After Cassedy, there are no obvious candidates to start games two and three for the Big Train. Jesse Gutierrez (San Jose St) has had a great season, pitching to 3.14 ERA in a team leading 28.2 innings pitched. Meanwhile, Ryan Ertlschweiger (James Madison) has a 2.63 ERA, and Jack Hostetler (Whitman College) has a 3.38 ERA. Gutierrez, Ertlschweiger and Hostetler all have cases to pitch meaningful playoff innings.
Patrick Galle (Ole Miss) could also be an X-factor for the Big Train. Galle, who has the highest velocity on the team, dominated to start the year and made the Ripken League All-Star team. Recently, though, Galle has struggled with control and his ERA has risen to 4.68. If Galle can find his early season form, Bethesda will be in a good position to win the series.
The Cropdusters pitching cadre is led by Josh Beck. Beck, a lefty with a sharp breaking ball, has had a phenomenal season for the Cropdusters, pitching to 2.73 ERA in 27.1 innings pitched. Beck has already had success against Bethesda this season. In the Cropdusters 8-3 win over the Big Train in Olney earlier this season, Beck earned the win with seven strikeouts in five shutout innings. The Cropdusters hope Beck can replicate this performance in the playoffs. Behind Beck, Justin Wodbury and Marcus Dux, who played for the Big Train last year, will probably pitch meaningful innings for the Cropdusters.
As far as home field advantage for games one and three, the Big Train actually have a higher road win percentage of 73% compared to a 59% home win percentage. With that said, their win percentage is equal (33%) against the Cropdusters when playing in Bethesda and Olney, a rally call for Big Train fans to come out and support their team, as a likely difference maker in the series.
Kurkjian Fellows’ Predictions
Jack McGuire: Cropdusters in Three
The Cropdusters have shown up in big games this season while the Big Train have not. In games against teams with a winning record, the Big Train are 4-7 while the Cropdusters are 5-5, and in the Cropdusters' first playoff game, they had a statement 8-0 win. The Cropdusters have shown the ability to play better when the stakes are higher. With Brandon Cassedy probably starting game one at home, I expect the Big Train to win, but in games two and three, I predict the Cropdusters will fight back with their backs against the wall.
Julianne Garnett: Cropdusters in Three
All season, the Cropdusters have shown their proclivity for offense. Since their hitters get on base so often, the Cropdusters almost always score runs. This will be incredibly tough for Bethesda’s pitching staff, who load the bases a fair amount, even if they can usually limit major damage. The Cropdusters can spread out their scoring, making it difficult to disrupt the team’s momentum. Without a doubt, the Big Train’s offense also knows how to put up runs, and likely will against Cropdusters pitching. But if Olney’s bats stay hot, they’ll force the games to become offensive shootouts, which gives the Cropdusters an advantage.
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