After winning the Florida State League’s North first half division title just two months into the season, the time for playoff baseball has finally come for the Dunedin Blue Jays, as they visit the Lakeland Flying Tigers tonight in the opener of a best-of-3 division semifinal series.
When Dunedin clinched their playoff berth back on June 10, position players like Jake Marisnick, Ryan Schimpf and Travis Snider paced their offense. Those players are no longer with the team, though, and with all-star shortstop Kevin Nolan still injured, the D-Jays will look to some of their mid-season additions, like outfielders Kevin Pillar and Kenny Wilson, to get things going offensively.
X-Factor: With major league Blue Jays J.P. Arencibia, David Cooper and Brett Lawrie currently in Dunedin on rehab assignments, the trio, should they see game action, could provide an extra boost to the D-Jays’ lineup and help the team advance in the playoffs.
Game 1: Tuesday, September 4 at Lakeland – 6:30 p.m.
As one of Dunedin’s most reliable starters in the second half, right-hander Marcus Walden will get the nod in Game 1.
With John Stilson being promoted to New Hampshire in June and Sean Nolin hitting the disabled list the day after, Walden was called up from Lansing on June 19, where he had fashioned a tidy 3.10 ERA in 66 2/3 innings. After getting acquainted with the Florida State League in his first two starts for Dunedin, Walden settled right in after that and never looked back. The 23-year-old compiled a 2.25 ERA in six July starts before walking just two in his final five appearances of the regular season (25 2/3 innings), to give him a 2.85 ERA in 72 2/3 total innings as a Dunedin Blue Jay. In addition to cutting his walk rate in half, Walden did not allow a single home run while pitching for Dunedin, despite facing tougher competition.
Game 2: Wednesday, September 5 at Dunedin – 6:30 p.m.
Called up to New Hampshire in the middle of August, the D-Jays will have a familiar face starting Game 2 for them in 6-foot-5 lefty Sean Nolin.
After going 9-0 with a 2.19 ERA in 15 starts for Dunedin, Nolin didn’t miss a beat in Double-A, allowing only a pair of earned runs in three starts with New Hampshire for a microscopic 1.20 ERA. Coming off the heels of a breakout 2011 campaign with the Lansing Lugnuts, Nolin has been even better this season and certainly made a name for himself, earning a visit from Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos (and me) in his final Double-A start last Thursday in New Hampshire.
In addition to keeping his fastball low in the zone, Nolin isn’t afraid to pitch inside and commands the pitch quite well to both sides of the plate. He complements his four-seamer with three off-speed pitches–curveball, slider and changeup–to round out a four-pitch repertoire. Whether it’s using a slider or curveball against lefties or throwing a changeup with good fade outside to right-handed hitters, Nolin has a plan on the mound and is a lot of fun to watch.
Game 3 (if necessary): Thursday, September 6 at Dunedin – 6:30 p.m.
Should the D-Jays fail to wrap things up quickly and win the first two games of the series, they’ll send right-hander Casey Lawrence to the hill for Game 3 at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium.
Leading Dunedin’s pitching staff with 138 2/3 innings pitched so far this season, Lawrence has been solid in his first full season in the Florida State League. The 24-year-old Pennsylvania native has fashioned a 3.63 ERA in 24 appearances this season, continuing to throw strikes and keep the walks to a minimum. Even though he doesn’t record eye-popping strikeout totals, Lawrence eats innings and pitches deep into games, reducing the work load for his bullpen. He’s lasted six innings in eight of his last 10 starts, including four seven-inning outings where he’s allowed two earned runs or less.
The FSL Championship Series kicks off on Sunday, September 9. Should Dunedin advance, they would face the winner of the South Division semifinal between the Jupiter Hammerheads and the St. Lucie Mets.