By the slimmest of margins, the Mississippi Braves have made the playoffs in the Southern League,
the only minor league club in the organization to make the post-season , as all other regular-season play has now ended. [my apologies for the error - see below!] The ‘clincher’ – if you call it that – was a 6-5 victory over the Jacksonville Suns on Monday… in 11 innings… helped by an unearned run.
Here’s how the Southern League playoffs will break down:
First-half Northern Division champ Birmingham Barons (White Sox) will play the Tennessee Smokies (Cubs), runaway winners of the 2nd half. Southern Division champ Mobile will host the Braves.
Mississippi got in because the Mobile Bay-Bears (Diamondbacks) won both the first and second half titles while the Braves had the next best overall record for the year (38-32 and 38-31). The Jacksonville club (Marlins) were next – 10 games over .500 for the year, but had Jacksonville won Monday night, they would have taken the second half title – and that playoff slot. As it happened, the Braves still needed Mobile to win out to force this scenario… and fortunately for Mississippi, Mobile took 4 of their five game series vs. Pensacola. As it turned out, all of those Mobile wins were needed to exclude Jacksonville, who took 3 of their 5 games with Mississippi.
Now that that is all decided, here’s the schedule coming up for the first round of the playoffs (best 3 of 5 format):
- Thursday: Braves at Mobile (7:05pm CDT)
- Friday: Braves at Mobile (7:05pm CDT)
- Saturday: Mobile at Mississippi (6:00pm CDT)
If necessary, the teams return to Mobile for games Sunday and Monday. The schedule is whacked (up to 4 games held in Mobile) because they won both division titles. That’s going to make for some ugly travel for both teams… unless there’s a sweep.
The Braves will be led by Tommy La Stella, hitting .343 in 81 games at Mississippi (he went 3-for-5 in the finale yesterday) and a resurgent Mycal Jones (3-3 with 2 RBI); now hitting .261. Catcher Christian Bethancourt has slipped lately – down to a .277 average (was around .293 just a couple of weeks ago). RF Jose Martinez is hitting .285 and Jaime Pedroza is at .281, so there is plenty of offsense available.
Virtually every starting pitcher has an ERA under 4.00, so the Braves are also getting consistent, quality pitching. Their bullpen has also been very good, with Ryne Harper, Juan Jaime, Pat Egan, Gary Moran (he’s tall), and Shae Simmons (he’s not) all throwing very well.
How good is the pitching? I’ll use these stats from Kyle Tait (radio play-by-play man for the M-Braves), just tweeted out:
Kyle Tait @MBravesRadio 14m
These are the two best pitching staffs in the Southern League. BayBears: 3.03 team ERA, @MBraves: 3.07. Next closest is Jacksonville, 3.29
@MBraves and BayBears have lowest two ERAs to lead the league since ’06 when West Tenn (2.84) and Jacksonville (2.98) dominated.
In their meetings with Mobile this season, Mississippi won 4 of 5 in April, lost 3 of 5 in May, and were swept at home for five games between June and July: 6-9 overall. Should be interesting, as they haven’t seen each other since July 3rd.
Meanwhile, in the Carolina League…
Correcting my prior error: I neglected to recognize that the Class A+ Lynchburg Hillcats have also made their playoffs: though they finished in second place twice (6 games out in the first half; 9 games behind in the second half), they nonetheless advance for the same reasons the M-Braves did: best overall record behind a team (Potomac Nationals) that won the division titles for both halves of the year.
Lynchburg (losers of 4 in a row and 6 of 7) is limping into the post-season, with a net record of 1 game below .500, and they face a relative juggernaut in the Nationals’ club that went 84-55 on the year. They also face playing the entire best-of-three series on the road (beginning Wednesday): the cost of facing a double-division winner. It will be a tough task.
Starting pitching has been fairly solid for them, despite the recent record. Jarrett Miller has been their workhorse, with 147 innings and 25 starts (3.73 ERA). Greg Ross has 23 starts, garnering a 3.27 ERA over 121 innings. Ryan Hinson has stepped up with 10 starts – most of these recently – and has posted a season-total 2.48 ERA in 58 innings. Williams Perez likewise (9 starts now, 55 innings, 2.62).
The problem for Lynchburg has been consistency on offense, as some play-makers were bumped to Mississippi during the year (including La Stella and Tommy Hefflinger). Elmer Reyes and David Rohm lead the team in average, though most starters are capable of helping out, with averages typically above .250. In Hefflinger’s absence, Kyle Kubitza provides the power, with 12 homers. Will Skinner, in a lot fewer games had 16 while hitting just .218; however, he’s been on the disabled list since late July and is not available.
Congratulations to both teams: having 3 playoff teams across the entire Braves’ organization in definitely noteworthy!