EVERETT — The script is playing out exactly as it did a year ago.
But this time the Everett AquaSox are hoping for a rewrite.
Everett begins the Northwest League playoffs when the Sox travel across the border to once again face the Vancouver Canadians tonight in Game 1 of Division Series. The best-of-three series moves to Everett for the final two games beginning Wednesday.
This is the second straight year the Sox have faced the Canadians in the first round. Last year Vancouver swept Everett in two straight. But the Sox are bursting with confidence, having won both the North Division’s first- and second-half titles and won 10 of their final 13 heading into the postseason.
“We’re all excited,” Everett shortstop Jack Reinheimer said following Monday’s season-ending 9-3 victory over Spokane at Everett Memorial Stadium. “We know the atmosphere is going to be great in Vancouver, so we’re pumped up about it.
“We’ve got a good thing going right now,” Reinheimer added. “We had a good streak up until a couple games ago. Everybody’s playing well together, pitchers are throwing well and hitters are starting to see the ball. I’m excited.”
Everett heads into the playoffs with considerably more momentum than it did last season. Last year the Sox ran away from the competition in the first half, lost key players to promotion, finished with the worst record in the division in the second half, then were easily dispatched by Vancouver in the playoffs.
The Sox seemed on a similar course this year after cruising to the first-half title, then having a rough start to the second. However, Everett righted the ship with an eight-game winning streak in late August, and the Sox wound up winning the second half, too. Therefore, Sox manager Rob Mummau believes Everett is in a better position entering the postseason than last year.
“Last year we kind of ended on a down note, and going into the playoffs we had sort of a hangover, I guess you can say,” Mummau said. “But now we’re on an upswing, we won 10 of our last 13, and that’s a good thing.
“We’re playing great. We’re playing hard, getting the clutch hits and getting good hitting. I really like our chances.”
Vancouver is trying for a historic trilogy. The Canadians are the two-time defending Northwest League champions. Should they make it three straight they’ll become just the third time in league history to accomplish that feat — Spokane won four straight from 1987-90, Boise won three straight from 1993-95.
However, Everett has had its way with Vancouver this season. The Sox finished 8-4 against the Canadians. That includes sweeping a three-game series against Vancouver the last time the teams played on Aug. 21-23 in Everett.
“They’re very good,” Mummau said of the Canadians, who earned the North Division’s second playoff berth by finishing with the second-best overall record in the division. “They’re battle-tested, it’s their third year in the playoffs. They’re a very good team, so we’re going to have to bring our A game.”
Though Everett controlled the season series, Vancouver statistically appears to have had the better season.
Offensively, Vancouver would seem to have a slight edge on the Sox. Vancouver went into Monday’s games leading Everett in runs (349-315), batting average (.254-.249) and on-base percentage (.341-.327), while the Sox had the advantage in home runs (35-23) and slugging percentage (.347-.340). However, considering Everett plays in the league’s best hitting park while Vancouver plays in one of the league’s best pitching park, the gap may be a tad larger than the numbers indicate.
Everett’s top offensive contributors throughout the season were Reinheimer and and Justin Seager. Reinheimer batted .267 with 29 RBI, Seager .267 with 30 RBI. The Sox also received boosts late in the season from Austin Wilson (six homers, 27 RBI), whose bat came alive in the later weeks of the season, as well as late call-ups Chantz Mack (.280) and Ian Miller (.333).
Vancouver’s offense is led by first baseman L.B. Dantzler. Dantzler is having perhaps the best offensive season of any player in the Northwest League, as going into Monday he led the league in home runs (nine) and was second in batting average (.302). Four of those homers came against Everett. The Canadians also feature a couple of the league’s top table setters in outfielders Ian Parmley and Chaz Frank. Parmley, a graduate of Monroe High School, was leading the league in stolen bases with 23. Frank was third in the league in on-base percentage at .412.
Meanwhile, the Canadians finished with the league’s leading pitching staff. Vancouver went into Monday with a comfortable lead in team ERA at 3.14 and WHIP at 1.25. Everett was bottom of the league in team ERA at 4.03 and second-worst in WHIP at 1.35. Park factors again need to be taken into consideration, but they don’t explain away the vast gulf between the two.
Everett will turn to left-hander Jake Zokan in Game 1. Zokan has been solid, if not spectacular, since arriving midseason. In 10 games (nine starts) he’s 5-3 with a 4.18 ERA, striking out 56 in 57 innings. Right-hander Lars Huijer, the North Division’s starter in the All-Star Game, is slated to start Game 2. He’s 8-2 with a 3.03 ERA, but he was roughed up in his last outing at Spokane, allowing seven runs in just 12/3 innings. Everett’s starter for a potential Game 3 is yet to be determined.
Vancouver has plenty of quality pitching options to choose from. Right-hander Tom Robson starts today’s game. He’s been nearly perfect since being promoted from the rookie Appalachian League, going 3-0 with a 0.94 ERA in seven starts. Two pitchers who where with Vancouver all season and had good campaigns, right-hander Jeremy Gabryszwski (5-2, 2.82) and left-hander Kyle Anderson (5-3, 2.71), are scheduled to start Games 2 and 3, respectively.