Championship Series Starts Tonight

Here we go. The Rainiers are playing in the Pacific Coast League Championship Series for the first time since 2005. That year, Tacoma was swept by Nashville in three straight games.

In fact, Tacoma has been swept in the Championship Series the last two times it’s played in it: 2005, and 1981. Tacoma has not won a game in the PCL Championship Series since 1971, when the Tacoma Cubs lost to Salt Lake City, three games to one.

Tacoma was named Co-Champion, and the series was not played, in 2001 (due to 9/11) and 1978 (days and days of epic rain in Tacoma).

So, here’s hoping the Rainiers win the series. But let’s take baby steps, and win a game first – just to end a 39-year drought.

Here is the schedule. All games are at Autozone Park, and Tacoma is the “home” team for games one and two. All times are Pacific, and all games will be broadcast live on South Sound Sports 850 AM and streaming via www.tacomarainiers.com. I’m sure streaming video is available through MiLB.com but it won’t be free.

  • Game One – Tuesday, 5:05 – LHP Evan MacLane (8-7, 4.45) vs. RHP Blake Beavan (2-2, 6.47)
  • Game Two – Wednesday, 5:05 – RHP Brandon Dickson (11-8, 3.23) vs. LHP Mauricio Robles (3-1, 3.54)
  • Game Three – Friday, 5:50 – RHP Yusmeiro Petit (4-2, 4.85) vs. RHP PJ Walters (8-45, 3.81)
  • Game Four – Saturday, 1:05 – LHP Ryan Feierabend (4-7, 5.30) vs. RHP Lance Lynn (13-10, 4.77)
  • Game Five – Sunday, 11:35 am – RHP Andy Baldwin (9-7, 4.90) vs. TBA

It’s a best-of-five series, so games four and five are only played if necessary.

The winner of the series will be crowned Pacific Coast League Champion, and will play the one-game, made-for-TV Triple-A Championship game against the International League Champion on Tuesday, September 21 in Oklahoma City.

Taking a closer look at the two teams, it looks like Memphis is the favorite. The Redbirds swept Oklahoma City three straight games to win the American Conference title. Memphis is the defending PCL Champion, and they swept through both series of the playoffs last year – in fact, they have won 10 straight PCL playoff games going back to their league title in 2000, when Albert Pujols hit a walk-off home run against Salt Lake to win the title. I wonder whatever happened to that Pujols guy? 

On paper, Memphis looks like the favorite.

First of all, they finished the season hot: Memphis went 20-8 down the stretch to over-take Iowa, and then swept the first playoff series, so they have won 23 of the last 31 games.

Secondly, the Cardinals didn’t decimate their roster on September 1st, even though St. Louis is still on the fringe of the pennant race in the NL Central.

Third, Memphis swept the Rainiers in a four-game series at Autozone in May – the only time the two teams met this season. The scores were 3-1, 1-0, 13-9, and 5-1.

Fourth, the Redbirds have a deeper starting rotation – Walters is always tough in the PCL, and Lynn struck out 16 batters over seven innings in the final game.

Fifth, the Redbirds are rested – they have had three days off going into this series.

On the Tacoma side of things, the Rainiers are ready to go – this team wants to win it, no question. The off-day Monday, combined with Feierabend’s gem on Sunday, means that the bullpen is completely rested.

Another plus for Tacoma is the ballpark. The Rainiers like to hit home runs, and in my experience the ball jumps out of AutoZone Park. However, the stats say the ballpark only favors left-handed HR hitters. That’s OK – we have plenty of those. So, look for some homers.

So, my three keys to the series for the Rainiers:

  1. Get to the Memphis starting pitcher early, especially in the first two games. Memphis has a strong bullpen, like Tacoma.
  2. Don’t let Allen Craig beat you. The Memphis slugger is too good to be in Triple-A, but he’s blocked by Pujols.
  3. Three-run homers. Let’s not just hit dingers, let’s hit dingers with runners on base!

Here’s a few links:

  • The News Tribune ran a series preview, which focuses on Ryan Feierabend and his return from elbow surgery.
  • The Memphis Commercial-Appeal also did a series preview, with an item on the Redbirds bullpen.
  • This Larry Stone blog entry has lots of quotes from current Mariners regarding Tacoma’s success this year.
  • Former Rainiers utilityman Willie Bloomquist joined the Reds for the pennant push. He’s ineligible for the playoffs.
  • The Rainiers win over Sacramento meant good news for four RiverCats.
  • On the Mariners farm, Low Class-A Clinton advanced to the Midwest League finals. They are waiting to see who they will play.

It’s almost time to play the games. But first, I gotta tell you, this is going to be a very enjoyably unhealthy week for your friendly RG. Seven days – potentially up to ten days – of Southern food? Sign me up! I promise to eat salads when I get home. It started last night with a late-night trip here, and then today’s lunch was at one of my must-go PCL spots:

I command you to eat here if you are ever in Memphis.

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