Bill Hass on Greensboro Grasshoppers Playoff Baseball:Energy and electricity of playoffs begin

Posted by Andy Durham on September 4, 2012 at 5:08 pm under Professional | Comments are off for this article

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Energy and electricity of playoffs begin

The regular season is history and now the real pressure begins in the South Atlantic League playoffs.

The Hoppers begin the quest for the 2012 championship when they open a best-of-three series against Hagerstown Wednesday. They traveled there directly from Lakewood, where they finished the regular season Monday, instead of coming all the way back to Greensboro.

Whatever happens Wednesday, the teams will come to Greensboro for a game Friday night. One team will be looking to finish the series in two games and the other will try to extend it to a third game. The series winner will represent the Northern Division in the best-of-five championship series against either Asheville or Rome, who will play for the Southern Division title.

Greensboro won the 2011 championship, but that was a different team. Only outfielder James Wooster, catcher Wilfredo Gimenez and relief pitcher Greg Nappo were part of that team and have the rings to show for it. They understand the difference between the regular season and the playoffs.

“There’s never a lack of energy for the playoffs,” Wooster said. “There’s a lot of electricity every second and you’re locked in on every pitch. It’s an adrenaline rush.”

The atmosphere is intense, but it’s also fun.

“If you’re not having more fun, then you’re in the wrong sport,” said hitting coach Frank Moore. “If you don’t have butterflies or you’re not anxious, then you’re not passionate abut the game.”

You can pretty much discount the numbers and statistics from the regular season. The team that advances will be the one that pitches, hits and plays defense the best and keeps mental errors to a minimum.

For the record, the Suns and Hoppers played 13 times during the regular season with Greensboro winning eight of them. For some reason, the teams played only three times in Hagerstown, with the Hoppers taking two. Greensboro won six of the 10 games in NewBridge Bank Park.

“We’ve played well against them this year,” said Hoppers manager David Berg.

The Hoppers finished the regular season with a 10-inning win at Lakewood, their only victory in the four-game series. It was their 80th win of the year, an accomplishment Berg wanted to achieve. After winning the first half of the Northern Division with a 46-24 record and earning their playoff spot, they went 34-35 in the second half. In that respect, this Hoppers team has gone about things much differently than the 2011 team.

Last season’s team was in playoff mode for the last month of the season, winning 19 of its final 25 games. It qualified for the playoffs on the last day of the season, then rode that momentum to a sweep of Hickory in the first round and beating Savannah for the championship in the decisive fifth game.

The rosters of both Hagerstown and Greensboro have changed since the first half. The Hoppers lost ace pitchers Jose Fernandez and Adam Conley at mid-season when they were promoted to Jupiter. Shortstop Terrence Dayleg, outfielder Rand Smith and pitchers Dejai Oliver and Chris Shafer also joined the Hammerheads.

The Suns, meanwhile, lost third baseman Matt Skole, the SAL”s home run leader and voted the league’s MVP. He was hitting .286 with 27 homers and 92 RBIs when promoted to Potomac. Also gone are shortstop Jason Martinson (.272-10-63), outfielder Stephen Souza (.290-17-72) and outfielder Brian Goodwin (.324-9-38), along with pitchers Taylor Hill (10-6) and Aaron Barrett (16 saves).

The Hoppers will start left-hander Andrew Heaney in the first game. Heaney’s only pro victory came against the Suns a week ago when he gave up two runs in six innings during a 12-2 win. Jake Esch is scheduled to pitch Friday and Jose Urena if needed Saturday. Esch is just 1-3 but in his final four starts he went 1-2 with a 2.08 ERA. Urena is 9-6.

Because of days off in the playoffs, the Hoppers will use a four-man rotation with Josh Hodges as the fourth starter. That leaves eight pitchers in the bullpen — Scott Lyman, Charlie Lowell, James Nygren, Johnny Omahen, Brad Mincey, Nappo, Kevin Cravey and Nick Wittgren. All will be useful because, as pitching coach Blake McGinley noted, starters will be on a shorter leash. There’s a much smaller margin for error in playoff games.

The Hoppers feel good about the pen. Lowell, who started most of the year, gives them a second left-hander with Nappo. Mincey and Nappo had excellent years, Cravey put up a 10-0 record and a 1.01 ERA and Wittgren allowed no runs and just one hit in six innings over six games, with a pair of saves.

“Those guys have been solid all year,” Berg said, “and they complement each other.”

Berg is friends with Suns manager Brian Daubach. In 1997 they played together in Triple-A in Charlotte. Berg moved up to the Marlins in 1998 and Daubach was called up late that season and appeared in 10 games. Daubach. a catcher, went on to play eight years in the majors. He had an amazingly consistent four-year stretch with Boston from 1999-2002, hitting between 20 and 22 home runs and totaling between 71 and 78 RBIs every season.

“He’s a good guy,” Berg said, “a baseball grinder. He wasn’t a big prospect but he spent plenty of time in the majors and put up some numbers.”

from Bill’s Baseball Blog at www.gsohoppers.com….


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