Sunday, September 18, 2011

Mets Minor League Playoff Update: Cyclones, Gnats and St. Lucie Metsvaliant seasons end with no rings

Savannah Sand Gnats

So close, and yet, so far.

It was game four, the Gnats had a 2-1 series lead, and were one strike away from winning the South Atlantic League Championship. Unfortunately, they never got that strike.

Despite a fantastic comeback, coming back from a 7-2 deficit, the Gnats eventually lost game four and then game five last night. The story of these two losses mainly falls on the shoulders of the pitching staff.

In game four, only one pitcher, Ryan Fraser, pitched a clean inning. Eric Goeddel, who had a solid season for Savannah, gave up seven runs in four innings. He was followed by Michael Hebert, who also gave up one run. Even with these performances, giving up eight runs in five innings, the Gnats mounted comeback, and took a 9-8 lead into the ninth inning.

Brandon Sage, who had a 2.45 ERA this season as a reliever for Savannah after bouncing around from Binghamton and Port St. Lucie, pitched a scoreless eighth inning. His success did not continue into the ninth.

With the tying run on third base, he got two strikes on the Grasshoppers leadoff hitter, but could not put him away. After tying the game in the ninth, the Grasshoppers scored three runs off Ronny Morla in the 11th inning, forcing the win or go home game five last night.

Even with the tough loss, with the ace of the staff in Angel Cuan was taking the hill in game five, spirits were still high. However, much like in game four, things did not go Cuan or the Gnats’ way. After three scoreless innings, Cuan gave up five runs in the fourth, three of which were earned, putting the Gnats in a deficit they could not recover from.

It was a great season for the Gnats, but they came just one out shy of winning it all.

Port St. Lucie

The St. Lucie Mets also made it to the Championship series, but much like the Gnats, could not come home with a victory. The A+ Mets struggled on both sides of the ball, getting outhit and out-pitched throughout the series.

None of the St. Lucie Mets were very good. In game one, Armando Rodriguez did not give up a run, but since he only pitched into the fourth inning, he left a lot of responsibility with the bullpen, and they could not come through. The long relievers who followed, John Church and Eric Niesen, gave up three runs between the two of them, in four innings of work. Niesen was saddled with the loss.

In game two, starting pitcher Scott Moviel gave up five hits and four runs in only three innings. Finally in game three, with Zack Wheeler waiting in the wings for game four, Darin Gorski gave up 11 hits and four runs in six innings.

While no excuses should be made for the pitching staff, it was not as if the hitters were crushing the ball. They only mustered 18 hits and seven runs over the three losses, with only four starters hitting over .200 throughout the playoffs! Jose Coronado went 0-7, Stefan Welch hit went 0-11, Cesar Puello hit 2-12 in the championship series, with only Wilmer Flores and Jefry Marte being the main contributors, combining for seven of the teams 18 hits.

With both the offense and the pitching staff struggling so mightily, the team did not have much of a chance.

Brooklyn Cyclones

The Cyclones also advanced to the Championship series, against the Yankees affiliate no less, but like other two Mets teams before them, could not come away with the title.

In game one, Brooklyn got an outstanding pitching performance from Marcos Camarena. In six innings, he only gave up one run while striking out nine, without walking a batter. Normally that is good enough for a win, but with the lineup unable to push across a single run, he did not have a chance.

Game two was a different story. The offense broke out for 12 runs on 16 hits, forcing the decisive game three.  Charlie Thurber and Richard Lucas were the offensive stars, each hitting a two run homer, scoring SEVEN runs between the two of them. It was Thurber’s first home run as a professional:
 “It definitely felt good. I was trying to have a normal approach, just drive it. He left one over the plate. It was a pretty cool feeling to hit my first.”
Heading into game three, the question was which offense would show up for the Cyclones. The team that mustered two hits in game one? Or the team that dominated the regular season and scored 12 runs in game two…

Regrettably, the Cyclones from game one showed up; all pitching, no hitting.

Carlos Vazquez took the mound, and like Camarena, he was phenomenal. In six scoreless innings, he gave up only two hits and one walk, with six punch outs. The Yankees starting pitcher, William Oliver, was up for the challenge. He also pitched six scoreless innings, striking out ten, only surrendering two hits. It became a battle of the bullpens, and while the Cyclones offense could not put anything together, T.J. Chism gave up a run in the seventh inning, and the Cyclones season was over.

Even though the seasons for these three affiliates did not come away with a single championship, they should still be considered successful seasons.

Experiencing playoff baseball, especially at such a young age, is something these players can take with them and learn from, as they develop into professionals. It is something that cannot be taught through film or books. There will be players from these teams that will play for the Mets (hopefully soon), and they can use this experience to help in crunch time in September and October, when the World Series is on the line.

At the end of the day, there is a lot more to like about the minor league system this year, than there was at this point last season. With Jenrry Mejia, Matt Harvey, Jeurys Familia and Zach Wheeler, the Mets have some formidable prospects, all with the potential to be front of the rotation starters. Add to that players like Wilmer Flores, Cesar Puello, and Jordany Valdespin, and you have a solid core of young hitters with high end potential as well.

Sandy Alderson has done exceptionally well in all aspects of his job thus far, especially adding to his farm system. Considering where the Mets season was headed, Sandy stole Zack Wheeler from the Giants in his trade with the Giants. He added a great draft class of high end talent, headed by Brandon Nimmo, Philip Evans and Michael Fulmer, going over-slot unlike many Mets front offices in the past.

With a break in the minor league action until the Arizona Fall league, we are left to watch the Mets and their efforts in trying to spoil the postseason hopes of others. The way this season went, and how their young players performed at every level, the Mets are putting together a core of players who will be fighting for playoff hopes of their own, sooner rather than later.

Zach is also the author of Follow him on Twitter: @zpetersel

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