According to Curve manager Michael Ryan, his team’s strength going into the playoffs was their toughness.
“Grit,” Ryan said. “They’re tough, and they never believe that they are out of anything. They know that they have to earn it.”
In this championship series against Trenton, the Curve only have one position player in the starting lineup who is in our current Top 30 Prospect list, and that player only returned to the club in the last week after missing more than two months of baseball: Kevin Kramer.
Other than Kramer, this is a team full of position players who have either flown under the radar, who are up-and-coming, or who are simply not considered prospects. Yes, the pitching staff is a different story with names like Mitch Keller and Brandon Waddell; however, this is simply a really good “team” rather than a group of highly touted individuals.
Mitchell Tolman, who just joined the Curve less than two weeks ago, says that he sees the team as a group that can always pick each other up at times when it is needed most.
“With this team, guys will have a good night one night, score runs, or get big shutout innings,” Tolman said. “Then the next night, it will be someone else. It just seems like that keeps happening with this team – that someone different keeps coming up big the next day with a hit, RBI, scoreless inning, or something. It’s a team effort. It’s not just one or two guys doing this.”
You look up and down this lineup, and you don’t see a lot of guys that pop off the paper as major prospects coming through the system. They have all learned to play extremely well together, and because of that, they are one win away from a championship.
What helps tonight is that they have the Pirates’ top prospect on the mound looking to clinch the series. Mitch Keller already has a complete game Maddux to his name in these playoffs, and another performance like that would clinch the title for Altoona.
Keller hasn’t been to only starter to perform admirably in these playoffs. JT Brubaker just went eight innings last night while only allowing one earned run. Brandon Waddell just worked six scoreless innings. Austin Coley helped the team clinch the ELDS with seven strong innings.
Altogether, the starting pitching staff has a 1.50 ERA in 36 innings in the playoffs. They are 5-0.
“We’ve gone in there and have gone right after them,” Brubaker said. “We gave them our best stuff and challenged them to hit it. We haven’t tried to do too much or do too little. Our strengths are better than their strengths. We attack their weaknesses.”
Michael Ryan said before the playoffs began that they needed great starts to get to this point. One more great start from the Pirates’ best pitching prospect will clinch the Eastern League Championship.
“You almost have to play perfect baseball to win a championship,” Ryan said. “They’re very well prepared, and they know what they are in for.”
MITCHELL TOLMAN STEPS IN FOR COLE TUCKER
Two weeks ago, Mitchell Tolman was getting packed up to go home, as his season in Bradenton was about to end. Today, Tolman is hitting leadoff for a team looking to clinch a championship.
“It’s exciting to be in this situation,” Tolman said. “A couple weeks ago, I thought I’d be home by now. Obviously, this is exciting for both this team and my career.”
Aside from a tough night at the plate last night, Tolman has stepped up and performed well in these playoffs with six hits and three RBIs.
Tolman and Kramer have stepped in to fill the void of losing Tucker. Those two look to wash away their performance from yesterday and contribute today.
“Yesterday wasn’t my best showing, but I feel like I’ve been proud of my performance so far,” Tolman said. “Kevin Kramer and I said yesterday that we threw away all of out strikeouts and flushed them down the toilet. We are moving on.”
STARTERS FOR GAME 3 OF THE ELCS
2B Mitchell Tolman
SS Pablo Reyes
DH Kevin Kramer
1B Jerrick Suiter
C Jin-De Jhang
3B Wyatt Mathisen
LF Jordan George
RF Michael Suchy
CF Elvis Escobar
P Mitch Keller