Steven Matz was not quite as good as he was in the Gnats’ series clinching win over Augusta, but he was plenty tough enough Friday as the Gnats beat the Suns 2-0 to take the SAL Championship Series 3-1 for their first title in 17 years.
Gnats pitching did not allow a run in the final 19 innings of the championship series or in 27 innings at home in the playoffs. The Gnats allowed just two runs in the final 27 innings of the championship series, which turned into three wins.
Matz: 5.2 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 9 K – 98 pitches. The game turned on two bases-loaded sequences.
First, in the third inning the Suns had their chance. Hagerstown’s 9,1 and 2 hitters loaded the bases with a clean single to left, an infield roller on the right side and a bunt basehit down the third baseline. However, Matz wriggled free by striking out the #3 and 4 hitters, Shawn Pleffner and Wander Ramos, and breaking #5 hitter Mike McQuillan’s bat to induce a soft flare to shortstop to keep the game scoreless.
The Gnats took advantage of their basesloaded opportunity in the bottom of the fourth. Brandon Nimmo, Dilson Herrera and Cole Frenzel each walked and then Stefan Sabol banged a double down the leftfield line to score Nimmo and Herrera with the game’s only runs.
Working with a relatively tight zone by SAL standards, Matz survived with his fastball and changeup, but mostly his heat on Friday night. He threw a few curves that looked like strikes that were not called strikes despite appearing to be right over the heart of the plate. He threw his gas to both sides of the plate and elevated for strike three a few times and painted the inside and outside corners for third strikes as well.
Matz’s two playoff starts: 12.2 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 17 K. That’ll play.
Paul Sewald finished the sixth and handled the seventh.
Working his second night in a row, Jeurys Familia shut down the Suns 1-2-3 in the eighth inning with a pair of strikeouts. Monday, his fastball command was shaky. Thursday, it was better. Friday, he was throwing good sliders as well. Against poor Pleffner, Familia started him slider, slider for 0-2 and then finished him off with a fastball in on his hands for swinging strike three. Pleffner had no chance.
Beck Wheeler, who had a big year as the Gnats’ closer, gave up a one out double to bring the tying run to the plate in the ninth, but used his curve and forkball to baffle the next two batters to seal the championship.
The photo at right is Philip Evans kissing the SAL trophy from his instagram feed.
Gabriel Ynoa labored early on Thursday, but found his groove and, combined with plenty of offense, carried the Gnats to within one win of a South Atlantic League Championship.
Ynoa was a little bit tentative early, poking around the edges of the strike zone. In the first inning, he threw first pitch strikes to only one of five batters and after a double and a walk, needed a strikeout to strand two runners. He needed 33 pitches to finish the frame. Then, after a leadoff double in the second, he really started to settle in. He needed just 63 pitches or less than twice his first inning total, to shut out the Suns, in innings two through seven while retiring 14 of the final 15 batters he faced. After the first inning, he threw first pitch strikes to 15 of 21 batters. His final line: 7 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 5 K – 96 pitches. He spotted his fastball beautifully, working down in the zone and to both edges of the plate. He threw his changeup and then followed with his heat to make the pitch play up for weak contact or strikeouts. He froze batters or induced weak contact with his slider.
Ynoa only turned 20 in May, but really displays an impressive feel for working both individual batters and the game itself. He did not give up a run in the first six innings of his first playoff start in Augusta, only yielding runs in that one with the Gnats up big and his pitch count climbing. His combined playoff line: 14.2 IP, 11 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 9 K; 1.23 ERA. That’s the stuff that wins titles.
The Gnats’ offense came from the middle of the order as the 5-7 hitters, 1B Cole Frenzel, LF Stefan Sabol and 3B Jeff Reynolds were a combined 6-for-8, with a triple, three walks, four runs scored and five RBI.
Frenzel was 2-for-3 with a walk and scored twice. Sabol used a sacrifice fly and a blast of a triple to right-center for his two RBI. It was a Grayson Stadium triple in that it would have been out of most other yards, and in some cases, way out. Sabol finished the regular season at .203/.298/.345 in 105 games, during which time 33 of his 74 hits went for extra-bases.
Reynolds’ night was remarkable for its consistency. In each of his first three plate appearances, he batted with a runner – either Frenzel or Sabol – at second or third. Each time he drove a hard single up the middle to plate the run. Twice he did it with two outs, and twice he did it on two-strike counts. It was Reynolds’ first three-hit game since June 2 after a regular season in which he hit .242/.312/.303 in 96 games.
Rehabbing Jeurys Familia worked around a Philip Evans error in an easy eighth inning with two strikeouts. I thought his fastball location was sharper than on Tuesday in Hagerstown and he threw one filthy slider for a strikeout.
CF Brandon Nimmo had a quiet night, and was 1-for-4 with all four his plate appearances coming against left-handed pitchers. I’ve written it before and I’ll say it again: he’s been hanging in much better against southpaws recently.
2B Dilson Herrera was 0-for-3 with a walk and is still looking for his first hit of the Championship Series, but at least he’s drawn three walks.
The Gnats send Steven Matz, who shutout Augusta through seven sensation innings in the first round to the hill on Friday against the Whitewall Ninja.
The Sand Gnats picked a great time, the best time, to play two of their most complete games of the year to finish off a two game sweep of the Augusta GreenJackets.
Savannah outscored Augusta 15-2 in the series in which Gnats’ pitching struck out 19 batters and walked only one.
Steven Matz started Friday; I’ve never seen him better. He faced one over the minimum in his seven innings with eight strikeouts, one single and no walks. He threw first pitch strikes to 18 of his 22 batters and needed just 78 pitches to get through seven innings. For a guy who has struggled to locate at times this year, his command, and simple ability to pitch ahead, made him better.
He attacked inside with his fastball especially to right handers. He threw changeups that induced silly-looking swings. He used his curveball both to finish off hitters and steal first pitch strikes.
As Matz told MiLB.com about his curveball and his pitching plan:
“Usually, the first time around, I try to establish the fastball. The second time around, I’ll try mixing in some first-pitch breaking balls, and that’s been huge for me. Since that [curveball] has developed, and it’s really come along the past four outings, I’ve been throwing that first-pitch breaking ball for a strike.
“It’s really showed its benefits, like today. I threw a couple of them and the changeup, too, the second and third time around. I’ve been using everything lately.”
For the second game in a row, the big swing was a bases-loaded extra base hit. This time, CF Brandon Nimmo ripped a triple to right field over the outstretched glove of Augusta RF Chuckie Jones. Notably, Nimmo, patient by nature attacked the first pitch of the at bat, and hit it on the screws. He finished 2-3 with a bunt single in the first inning, and a walk in the third. He finished the two games against Augusta 4-7, with two walks, a run and four RBI.
2B Dilson Herrera was 1-4 with a single through the left side in the first inning.
The Gnats await the winner of the Northern Division Championship Series in which West Virginia and Hagerstown are tied 1-1 heading to game three Saturday.
On a warm night in Augusta, everything came up Gnats as Savannah used a six-run fifth to salt away the GreenJackets early behind a dominant pitching performance from Gabriel Ynoa.
The Gnats scored their first three runs on two RBI singles from Maikis De La Cruz and a Brandon Nimmo RBI groundout. Then, with the bases loaded in the fifth, Stefan Sabol unloaded them with a booming double to the base of the centerfield wall. Augusta starter Martin Agosta just did not have his good stuff as he was down to 86-89 by the third inning and his slider flattened out in the upper 70s. He had made three starts since returning from the disabled list and looked like a guy just out of gas.
How surprising was the Gnats hanging 10 on the road? It was the first time since June 27th that Savannah scored 10 runs in a game.
Offensive heros included Sabol, who was 3-for-5 with 4 RBI, De La Cruz who was 3-for-5 with a double, and Eudy Pina who reached base three times from the leadoff spot and Brandon Nimmo who just keeps getting on base: he was 2-for-4 with a walk and a clean hard single against a LHP, pulling a liner into right-center.
Meanwhile, on the hill, Gabriel Ynoa was dominant for Savannah. He needed just 62 pitches to finish off six shutout innings. He was sitting 91-93 and mixing in his changeup and slider, which was a very effective weapon for him. He became fatigued in the seventh and eighth innings, losing a little steam on his fastball (down to 88-90 on the stadium gun) and bite on the slider. The 20-year-old’s line: 7.2 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 4 K.
The series now shifts back to Savannah, for game two Friday, and if necessary, game three, Saturday. This win on the road, dramatically increases the Gnats’ odds of advancing. Dating back to 2009, the last five times the #1 seed has won game one, they have gone on to win the best-of-three first round series, four of five times sweeping it in two games. The last time a #2 seed lost game one at home and came back to win the series by taking two on the road was the 2008 West Virginia Power who beat the Lake County Captains, who now play in the Midwest League.
The B-Mets ran into Toronto prospect Marcus Stroman, their 2012 first-round draft pick. Stroman’s had a nice year in AA with 129 strikeouts and just 27 walks in 111.2 innings.
SS Matt Reynolds made his AA debut and was 0-for-3. The Mets’ second round pick in 2012, Reynolds hit a disappointing .226/.302/.337 in 117 games with St. Lucie as a 22-year-old. He and Kevin Plawecki were promoted to AA Binghamton to help out with the B-Mets’ playoff run.
CF Brandon Nimmo(pictured): 0-for-3, BB, 2 K, SB. The 20-year-old finished the regular season at .273/.397/.359 in 110 games. He’s running better and taking stronger leads. He stole a base in each of the last two games of the season. In the second half, he’s 8-for-12 stealing bases (67%). That’s not special, but in the first half he was 2-for-5 (40%), that’s worse.
2B Dilson Herrera: 1-for-3, BB, K. Herrera’s single was a perfectly placed bunt in the second inning. In the ninth, he drew a two-out walk and went to second on a passed ball only to be stranded there when the game ended. The 19-year-old finished the SAL regular season at .267/.334/.416 with West Virginia and Savannah. As long as we’re on the subject of running, Herrera was 11-for-17 with West Virginia, and is a perfect 3-for-3 in seven games with Savannah. It might not be a meaningful change, or maybe he, like Nimmo, is picking his spots better.
The fact that Nimmo and Herrera can run is a nice ancillary boost to their overall value. They are good prospects because they can hit.
SS Philip Evans: 0-for-3. He finished the regular season at .203/.268/.263 in 106 games.
The Gnats have beat up on the worst team in the SAL the last two days and have now won five in a row as the team tunes up for the playoffs, which begin on Wednesday.
Final Playoff Tuneup Starts
Friday, Steven Matz, who is scheduled to start game two of the playoffs made his final regular season start: 5.2 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 6 K with 8 groundouts and zero flyball outs. Matz dealt with a small strike zone by SAL standards and did not work a 1-2-3 innings, but kept the Drive off the board through five innings. He walked two batters in the first inning, and settled down thereafter. It appeared to me that he hit his spots better when he had men on base. If he had enough innings to qualify – he’s five short – Matz’s 2.62 ERA would be good enough for third in the SAL. His health, low-mid 90s velocity, leftiness, effectiveness, and feel for his changeup are enough to make him one of the top Mets pitching prospects.
Saturday, Luis Cessa, who is scheduled for game three of the playoffs, if the Gnats get that far, fired a complete game to begin the doubleheader: 7 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 7 K. I missed this start because I was broadcasting football, where I saw Georgia Southern beat Savannah State 77-9. Yup, it was lopsided: 11-1 in touchdowns. Southern run a fake punt up 63-9 with under five minutes left. Stay ho.
Lineup Lengthening Herrera Dilson Herrerahas hit safely in three of his five games as a Gnat since the Mets acquired him from the Pirates. He’s 5-for-13 (.385) with a walk and three strikeouts almost all from the cleanup spot.
Nimmo, still Nimmo-ing
CF Brandon Nimmo doubled off a lefty on Friday and was 2-for-5 with a walk on Saturday. He finished August at .324/.473/.412 in 32 games, thanks to doubleheaders. .
After 10 days off, Gabriel Ynoa(15-4, 2.72) made his final tuneup for the SAL playoffs. After allowing two runs in the first, he settled down to finish six innings: 6 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 1 K. Yesterday, Ynoa was named the 2013 Most Outstanding Pitcher in the SAL (more on that later).
2B Dilson Herrera had a busy night in his Mets system debut: 2-for-3, two runs scored, an RBI, and a stolen base from the cleanup spot. While it could not have been the primary motivation behind the trade, adding Herrera to the Gnats’ lineup makes this a much more dangerous offense headed to the playoffs and gives this team a significantly better chance of winning the SAL title.
A day after clinching the Division Title, the B-Mets put together a performance that looked like a hangover with four hits and four errors leading to five unearned runs which the team’s own official recap called “ugly.”
CFAlonzo Harrishad a nice night at the top of the order: 2-for-4, 3B. The 24-year-old has hit .219/.284/.306 overall, weighed down by a .170/.261/.245 line in the last 34 games after the All-Star Break.
C Kevin Plaweckiwas 2-for-4 to move his average back over .300 to .302/.402/.397 in 52 games in the FSL as a 22-year-old. Between Savannah and St. Lucie, he has 35 doubles and 8 homeruns in 117 games. And yes, he will start in AA next year.
Also, at 22, SS Matt Reynolds drove in a couple of runs, but has hit just .231/.305/.335 overall in 108 games. I thought there would be a little more average in there for last year’s second round pick.