Here’s a breakdown of the first-round best-of-three Northwest League divisional playoff series between the Everett AquaSox, an affiliate of the Seattle Mariners, and the Vancouver Canadians, an affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays.
The series starts today in Vancouver.
On paper this is a big advantage for Everett. The Sox outhit Vancouver .261 to .236 and outhomered the Canadians 58-40. Everett also boasts two of the league’s top sluggers in third baseman Patrick Kivlehan, voted the Northwest League’s Most Valuable Player, and first baseman Taylor Ard. Kivlehan and Ard tied for the league lead in homers (12) and finished 1-2 in RBI (Ard with 58, Kivlehan with 52). And in Marcus Littlewood the Sox have a third bat who contributed all season. Vancouver received solid seasons from first baseman Balbino Fuenmayor and outfielder Matt Newman, but neither were major impact bats. Everett also stole nearly twice as many bases as Vancouver (119-67) with a better success rate.
Those numbers are skewed slightly by the teams’ home parks. Everett Memorial Stadium is the league’s best hitter’s park, while the cavernous Nat Bailey Stadium is tough on hitters, particularly power bats. And although Everett’s numbers are better, the Sox scored just 29 more runs than the Canadians during the season (389-360). But Everett’s lineup still looks more formidable.
This is where Vancouver makes up ground. The Canadians finished third in the league in team ERA (3.54) and second in WHIP (1.28). Everett wasn’t far behind in ERA, finishing fourth at 3.84. However, the Sox had control issues throughout the season, leading the league in walks issued, and finished third-to-last in the league in WHIP at 1.36.
Vancouver also is dominating at the top of its staff. Taylor Cole, the league’s ERA champion at a ridiculous 0.81, is slated to start Game 2, while 17-year-old phenom Roberto Osuna will start Game 1. If the series is extended, Javier Avendano, second in the league in ERA at 1.27 as well as the league’s runaway strikeout king, is waiting in the wings. The Canadians also feature one of the league’s top closers in Andrew Sikula.
Everett has its pitching lined up, too, as Dylan Unsworth and Victor Sanchez, who finished 1-2 in the league in innings pitched and combined to go 13-4, will start Games 1 and 2, respectively. However, the Sox drop off after that. Everett’s bullpen contains several arms who had good numbers, but walks have been a problem.
This is where Vancouver has its biggest edge. Everett rolled through the first half, easily compiling the league’s best record at 28-10. However, shortstop Chris Taylor, the team’s main cog during the first half, was promoted at the midway point, and the Sox haven’t been the same since. Everett had the worst second-half record in the West Division, going 18-20. In contrast, Vancouver went 24-15 in the second half and equaled Everett’s overall record at 46-30. And while the Sox were solid at the end of the regular season, winning six of their final 10, Vancouver heads into the playoffs having won four straight and six of its past eight. The Canadians are also feeling the high of having edged out Eugene at the end of the season for the second-half title.
Everett is hoping to be buoyed by additions from Pulaski of the rookie Appalachian League, including pitchers David Holman and Blake Holovach, catcher Tyler Marlette and outfielders Jabari Henry and Dario Pizzano. Unfortunately for the Sox, it’s always better to be receiving reinforcements from levels above rather than levels below, and Clinton of the mid single-A Midwest League also made the playoffs, meaning that won’t happen for the Sox. Indeed, there’s still the danger of losing players to promotion during the playoffs, as happened with cleanup hitter Kevin Mailloux in 2010.
Everett was a different team in the second half, and it’s going to be difficult for the Sox to flip the switch. Anything can happen in a short series, and the Sox have home-field advantage. But it’s a daunting tasking looking at the starting pitchers Vancouver can put on the mound.
Prediction: Vancouver in three games