Days after winning a close battle for the second Northwest League playoff spot, the Vancouver Canadians turn their eyes to the real prize: a shot at repeating as NWL champions.
The C’s will play a best-of-3 series against the West Division winner from the first half, the Everett Aquasox. The first game will be held this afternoonat Nat Bailey Stadium in Vancouver at 1:05 p.m. PST. Game two will be moved to Everett on Tuesday for a 7:05 p.m. start. If the series is tied, the two squads will play for a chance to move on the following night in Everett.
The winner between the C’s and the Sox will play for the league championship against the East Division champs, winner between the Boise Hawks and the Yakima Bears. The championship series will begin on Thursday, August 6th.
At first sight, this series is a classic match-up between pitching and hitting.
The Aquasox finished off the regular season second in the league in team batting average, runs scored, home runs, and RBI. The Everett squad possesses a dangerous infield, having three batters voted as league all-stars led by third baseman Patrick Kivlehan, who was voted 2012 league MVP. In 72 games, the right-handed hitter’s .301 average ranked third in the league, his 12 home runs were tied for first and his 52 RBI were tied for second in the NWL. The only other hitter with more RBI in the league is fellow All-Star teammate, Taylor Ard. Alongside the pair of sluggers is the Aquasox catcher Mike Zunino. The right-handed signal caller played just 29 games for the club but has made a huge impact. His .373 average, 10 home runs and 35 RBI in the past month and a half have vaulted him into one of the best hitting catchers in the league.
To counter this onslaught of hot bats, the Canadians will look to the same recipe that got them to the playoffs; their pitching. The C’s will send out three of their top pitchers in hopes to combat the Aquasox lineup and provide Vancouver hitters a chance make some noise of their own.
Game 1: Monday, August 3rd (@ Vancouver)
The C’s will send out the 17-years old Mexican native Roberto Osuna, who is hoping for a performance similar to his last game against the Aquasox. Let’s go back to July 28th, when Osuna made his professional debut with the C’s. In five innings against the Aquasox, the 6’2’’ right hander struck out 13 batters in one of the most dominant pitching performances of the year. The talented young pitcher has come back to life since then and is sporting a respectable 3.20 ERA in five games with the C’s this past month. On Monday, in front of the fans at a sure-to-be-sold-out Nat Bailey Stadium, Osuna will look to re-create that magical night from July.
Game 2: Tuesday, August 4th (@ Everett)
It will be Javier Avendano taking the mound for the Canadians to face the trio of Aquasox All-Stars. This will be a match-up to watch, as Avendano, who was voted an All-Star himself, brings in the most winning record by a NWL pitcher this year. Avendano’s 1.27 ERA and 1.00 WHIP trail only teammate Taylor Cole for the league’s best in those categories, and Avendano has not lost a game since July 11th against Boise. The Venezuelan native possesses an arsenal of pitches that includes: fastball, changeup, curveball, and sinker. In his last appearance, Avendano helped the C’s to clinch a playoffs berth by pitching five innings of one-run ball against Yakima. The righty will hope to continue his win streak when the C’s face the Sox in the crucial Game Two.
Game 3 – If Necessary, August 5th (@ Everett)
If this game does take place, what better pitcher to send out than arguably the hottest pitcher in the league, Taylor Cole. It’s hard to find a blemish in Cole’s game of late. In the season, Cole holds a 6-0 record, with an astonishing 0.81 ERA and 0.80 WHIP — tops in the league by a good margin. In a must-win type of game last week against Yakima, Cole finished 7 and 2/3 innings without giving up a single hit or walk. And in this type of win-or-go-home game, the C’s might just rely once again on Cole’s right arm to advance into the league championship round.
Although this trio of C’s starting pitchers will be an intriguing match-up against Everett’s offensive big three, we should also expect similar performances from the Canadians’ position players. The C’s are led by the middle of their lineup, namely Balbino Fuenmayor and Art Charles. In the playoffs-clinching series this past week, Fuenmayor provided several clutch hits that lifted the C’s late in the game and put the team in a position to succeed with their stellar relief pitching. In terms of power, the Canadians feature the 6-foot-6 Charles, who has been been on a home run tear lately, belting three moon shots in the past 10 games.
Vancouver comes into the playoffs as the more ready team of the two. By fighting for a playoff spot in the past two weeks and having to win their last four games just to make it into the postseason, the C’s should be mentally prepared for the playoff atmosphere. On the other hand, the Aquasox rode a great start to the beginning of the season to capture the First Half Title; however, they are just 18-20 in the second half, finishing in the cellar of the division.
Given these story lines, it will still be the drama provided on the field that will really capture the fans at the park. Win or lose, the buzz and excitement that the Vancouver Canadians have provided to the fans and the city during this run is definitely a good way to finish off the 2012 season.