By Michael Marzzacco
The Potomac Nationals and Hagerstown Suns opened up their playoff tournaments last night. Here’s how they did:
Potomac (High-A Carolina League): After a rain delay of 1:13 minutes pushed the start of game one of the Northern Division Championship Series back, the run of poor hitting for the Lynchburg Hillcats (84-57) continued, as RHP Boone Whiting (W, 12-3) picked up his fifth win over the Hillcats. The Potomac Nationals (74-65) starter allowed just two hits over seven-shutout innings and improved to a perfect 5-0 against Lynchburg.
After earning a home playoff game with a win in the regular season finale, the P-Nats took full advantage of a Lynchburg team that entered the playoffs hitting .198 in the past five games. Whiting gave up a leadoff single to 2B Tyler Krieger in the first inning, but the right-handed starter faced the minimum as he ended the inning with a double play. Whiting allowed just two more base runners in the game, as CF Connor Marabell led off the third inning with a single, but was left at second base, and Krieger drew a two-out walk in the sixth frame.
After the P-Nats threatened but failed to score in each of the first two innings against RHP Matt Esparza (L, 2-5), they broke through in the third inning and scored in four straight frames. CF Victor Robles led off the bottom of the third inning with a single and went to third base on a double by 3B Kelvin Gutierrez. After the Hillcats intentionally walked C Raudy Read, RF Drew Vettleson grounded out to 1B Bobby Bradley. Bradley’s throw to the plate in an effort to get Robles hit the home plate umpire and put the P-Nats on top 1-0. The P-Nats left the bases loaded in the frame and did so again in the fourth and the fifth innings.
In the fourth inning, Potomac knocked Esparza out of the game. After LF Dale Carey tripled with one out, Robles made it 2-0 with an RBI single. The centerfielder stole second base, and after DH Austin Davidson drew a walk, Gutierrez ended the Lynchburg starter’s night with an RBI single. Despite leaving the bases full, Potomac led 3-0 after four innings.
Potomac scored a run against RHP Leandro Linares in the fifth inning. After the righty escaped a bases loaded jam in the fourth, Linares gave up a single to 1B Matt Page in the fifth, hit Carey in the left hand with a pitch, hit Robles in the left shoulder with a pitch, and gave up an RBI single to Davidson, all of which made it 4-0. RHP Jared Robinson entered with the bases loaded and got out of it, as Gutierrez grounded out and Read flied out to right field.
The P-Nats put the game out of reach with a three-run sixth inning against Robinson. Vettleson and SS Osvaldo Abreu hit consecutive singles to start the frame, and both scored on a double by Page. Carey followed with an RBI single, which put Potomac on top 7-0.
As soon as the P-Nats took the field for the bottom of the seventh inning, the umpires pulled the team off the field, as the two squads entered yet another rain delay, which turned into the end of the game. Potomac went 5-15 with RISP and left 12 men on base, while the Hillcats had just three men reach base.
With a chance to clinch a spot in the Mills Cup Championship Series, the P-Nats will send LHP Hector Silvestre (0-0, 2.08) to the hill. Silvestre has not allowed more than two earned runs in any of his three Carolina League starts in 2016 and gave up just one earned run over four innings two weeks ago against Lynchburg. For the Hillcats, LHP Luis Lugo (8-5, 4.04) will take the ball in an effort to stave off playoff elimination. Lugo allowed one run over 5.1 innings in his last outing but is 0-1 with a 4.64 ERA in four starts vs. Potomac. First pitch Thursday night at Calvin Falwell Field is set for 6:30pm.
The Potomac Nationals Baseball Network will carry live coverage beginning with the “P-Nats Leadoff Show” at 6:15pm. P-Nats Gameday Audio on the Potomac Nationals Baseball Network is available at www.potomacnationals.com or via the TuneIn Radio App.
Hagerstown (Low-A South Atlantic League): Damek Tomscha hit a two-run double in the fifth inning, leading the Lakewood BlueClaws to a 6-1 win over the Hagerstown Suns on Wednesday in the first game of their best-of-3, first-round playoff series in the South Atlantic League.
The double by Tomscha capped a three-run inning and gave the BlueClaws a 3-1 lead after Emmanuel Marrero hit an RBI single earlier in the inning.
The BlueClaws later added a run in the sixth and two in the seventh. In the sixth, Marrero hit an RBI single, while Wilson Garcia and Deivi Grullon hit RBI singles in the seventh.
Marrero singled three times, driving in two runs for Lakewood.
The Suns, who were held to four hits (all singles), took a 1-0 lead in the first inning on an RBI single by Rhett Wiseman.
Grant Dyer (1-3) got the win with three innings of scoreless, one-hit relief while Hagerstown starter Jefry Rodriguez (7-12) took the loss.
The Suns will host Game 2 on Friday night at Municipal Stadium, beginning at 7:05 p.m. If necessary, Game 3 also will be in Hagerstown, Saturday at 7:05 p.m.