A spot in the South Atlantic League (SAL) playoffs was inevitable for the Asheville Tourists, given how well they’ve played during the second half of the season. But the T’s made it official with last Friday’s 3-0 win over Delmarva, clinching a postseason berth.
However, the Tourists still had a division title to win and were able to do so in front of the home crowd at McCormick Field Tuesday night with a 5-4 win over Hagerstown. That victory came with some excitement, as Asheville won in the bottom of the ninth inning. Center fielder Max White led off the inning with a single, moved over to second base on a sacrifice bunt, then stole third base. He scored on a sacrifice fly by second baseman Cesar Galvez, giving the Tourists a walkoff win and the Southern Division second-half championship.
If you’re wondering how Asheville clinched a playoff spot before winning the division title, the Tourists qualified on the basis of having the best overall season record in the SAL. They have a chance to surpass the 88 regular-season wins that the 2012 SAL champions accumulated. Winning three of their last four games would give the Tourists 90 victories for just the sixth time in team history.
So the Tourists are in the playoffs and McCormick Field is getting some postseason baseball. The SAL playoffs will begin on Wednesday Sept. 3, with the Tourists hosting the Savannah Sand Gnats for Game 1. Game 2 (and Game 3, if necessary) will be played at Savannah’s Grayson Stadium.
If the T’s advance, they will play the winner of the Northern Division playoffs (either Hagerstown or Greensboro) for the SAL championship. Asheville would host Games 1 and 2 at McCormick Field on Monday Sept. 8 and Tuesday Sept. 9.
Fans can buy tickets to all three games at the McCormick Field box office. If the Tourists don’t advance to the SAL championship series, refunds will be issued for the games not played.
McMahon, Dahl, Tapia named All-Stars
Three Tourists were named to the SAL’s year-end All-Star team, announced on Thursday. Ryan McMahon was voted as the SAL’s top third baseman, while David Dahl and Raimel Tapia were honored as two of the league’s top three outfielders.
With four games left in the regular season, McMahon leads the SAL with 102 runs batted in (RBI). He has a .284 average, 18 home runs and an .868 OPS (On-base Plus Slugging percentage). Tapia is batting .327 with an .840 OPS, nine homers, 72 RBI, and 33 stolen bases. Dahl played 88 games with the Tourists before a promotion to advanced Class A Modesto, compiling a .308 average, .846 OPS, 10 home runs, 41 RBI and 18 steals.
First baseman Correlle Prime finished second in the voting for first base. He has a .289 average, .856 OPS, 21 home runs (third-most in the SAL) and 99 RBI. Pitcher Antonio Senzatela drew consideration as one of the All-Star starting pitchers, posting a 14-2 record and 3.20 ERA in 25 starts for the Tourists.
McMahon, Dahl and Prime were also named to the SAL’s midseason All-Star team in June, each earning starting positions. (Prime was the starting designated hitter for the Southern Division team.)
Hagerstown pitcher Lucas Giolito was named the league’s Most Outstanding Pitcher. The 20-year-old right-hander had a 10-2 record, 2.20 ERA and 110 strikeouts in 98 innings for the Suns. MLB.com ranked him as the No. 10 prospect in all of minor league baseball.
Giolito’s teammate, shortstop Wilmer Difo, was voted Most Valuable Player. Difo, 22, is batting .319 with an .834 OPS, 13 home runs and 88 RBI. He leads the SAL with 174 hits.
Tourists of the future
Most of this year’s Tourists roster spent last year with the Colorado Rockies’ rookie league team in Grand Junction, Colo. To get a preview of next year’s team, you may be interested in checking out that Grand Junction roster.
SB Nation’s Rockies blog, Purple Row, interviewed Grand Junction’s developmental supervisor, Tony Diaz, and he’s been keeping an eye on the players who advanced to Asheville and had successful seasons. The Rockies brought several American players to play in the Dominican during the winter to further develop their skills and help build team chemistry.
Here’s part of Drew Creasman’s interview with Diaz:
DC: I know you guys are pretty busy around here, but do you ever check in on that Asheville team, which is essentially last year’s GJ team? Also do you think it’s beneficial for so many of these guys — some even going back to the Dominican Academy — to be moving up together?
TD: No doubt. The chemistry is awesome. We even took several of our American players to the Dominican in the offseason. It’s all designed to create chemistry.
DC: I didn’t know that. That has to be good for everyone involved.
TD: Yeah, it’s good for everyone and gaining the familiarity with each other. But yeah, we root for Asheville. Those are our boys. The year that Ryan McMahon has had, Raimel Tapia, Correlle Prime, Jordan Patterson, I mean you just go down the list.
*** The Asheville Tourists return to McCormick Field on Wednesday Sept. 3 for Game 1 of the Southern Division playoffs against Savannah. Single game tickets are currently available at the McCormick Field box office. For more information, contact the Tourists’ front office at (828) 258-0428.
Ian Casselberry covers Major League Baseball at The Outside Corner and provides analysis for The WISE Guys on ESPN Asheville (1310 and 970 AM) every Tuesday at 4:40 p.m. Follow Ian on Twitter.