Now that the regular season has wound down, there is just one non-rookie level team for the Blue Jays’ organization that is competing for a league title: the Lansing Lugnuts.
The Lugnuts got their playoff berth by having the best record in the Eastern Division of the Midwest League in the first half of the season, playing .600 ball with a 42-28 record. Their opponents, the Great Lakes Loons, were second in the first half, finishing three games behind the Lugnuts with a 38-30 record.
Both teams were ravaged by promotions (and in the Lugnuts’ case, trades) of the some of the key players involved in getting their respective teams to the postseason and both teams had a second-half let down, with the Lugnuts going 31-38 and the Loons going 30-39, good for the bottom two spots in the Midwest League Eastern Division. The two teams recently played a three-game series in Lansing with the Lugnuts losing two out of three.
Offensively, the two teams don’t appear to be particularly evenly matched with the Lugnuts at the top of the Midwest League in runs scored (699) and runs per game (5.03). Playing in a tough park for home runs, the Lugnuts were only third in the league in home runs but led the league in doubles, stolen bases and slugging and were second in the league in batting average and OBP. The Loons averaged 3.92 runs per game and were in the bottom third of the league with 3.92 runs per game. On the pitching side, the Loons were in the bottom half of the league in runs per game (4.18) but the Lugnuts’ pitching has been their weakness, finishing 13th in the 16-team league in runs allowed per game at 4.48.
Both teams featured one Post-Season All-Star with Ryan McBroom taking the first base AND designated hitter All-Star spots as well as the Midwest Leauge MVP award, while Alex Verdugo of the Loons (currently with the High-A Rancho Cucamonga Quakes) earned a post-season All-Star award for the outfield.
The Lugnuts have recently gotten a few reinforcements to bolster the club for the playoffs. Returning have been IF Jason Leblebijian, IF Justin Atkinson, IF Gunnar Heidt, LHP Shane Dawson, RHP Conor Fisk and LHP Colton Turner. C Danny Jansen has also returned from injury in the last few weeks while OF Josh Almonte has gotten injured.
The probable lineup for the Lansing Lugnuts in Game 1 against 2014 first-round pick Grant Holmes will have a familiar look if you’ve been following the Lansing Lugnuts this season.
Note: All stats are for Lansing only this season and do not include any stats accrued with other teams.
RF Chris Carlson (.290/.379/.437)
SS Richard Urena (.266/.289/.438)
2B Jason Leblebijian (.277/.346/.473)
1B Ryan McBroom (.315/.387/.482)
CF D.J. Davis (.282/.340/.391)
LF David Harris (.280/.333/.427)
3B/DH Justin Atkinson (.216/.240/.256)
C Danny Jansen (.206/.299/.331)
DH/3B Gunnar Heidt (.180/.224/.243)
Scheduled starters for the Lugnuts
RHP Mark Biggs (4-3, 1 S, 4.28 ERA, 1.61 WHIP)
LHP Jose Fernandez (1-2, 12 S, 3.31 ERA, 1.35 WHIP)
RHP Conor Fisk (3-3, 4.31 ERA, 1.23 WHIP)
RHP Dusty Isaacs (2-0, 3.93 ERA, 1.31 WHIP)
RHP Phil Kish (1-4, 7 S, 5.67 ERA, 1.82 WHIP)
RHP Chase Mallard (6-8, 5.49 ERA, 1.55 WHIP)
LHP Tim Mayza (3-2, 3 S, 3.07 ERA, 1.37 WHIP)
RHP Carlos Ramirez (2-1, 8 S, 4.73 ERA, 1.61 WHIP)
RHP Starlyn Suriel (8-8), 4.16 ERA, 1.38 WHIP)
LHP Colton Turner (0-3, 2 S, 4.02 ERA, 1.54 WHIP)
The Lugnuts are not the same team that made the playoffs in the first half of the season. Gone are Chase De Jong, Tim Locastro, Sean Reid-Foley (on DL), Jesus Tinoco, Rowdy Tellez, Anthony Alford, Conner Greene and Boomer Collins. The Lugnuts have struggled in the second half and their 4-6 record in the last 10 games of the season (and well below .500 record in the second half) don’t bode well. The good news is that the Great Lakes Loons are in the exact same boat.
The Lugnuts’ best hitters will have to shine to take this first-round series. Ryan McBroom, D.J. Davis, Richard Urena and Chris Carlson will have to lead the offense, getting contributions Leblebijian, who seems to be built to play in Lansing, and from Atkinson and Heidt, who found their hitting strokes in Vancouver.
The pitching in the second half has struggled to find consistency. Getting Shane Dawson back from Dunedin is a big boost but neither Shafer nor Robson has been very consistent in the second half (for completely different reasons). With Fisk, Issacs and Mayza, the club has a solid middle-relief trio while Carlos Ramirez and Jose Fernandez have been better more often than not on the back end.
To win this series, the Lugnuts have to return to their slugging ways and get solid outings from the pitching staff which can’t afford to let one get away.
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