Thanks to heavy rainstorms hitting Asheville and Savannah last Wednesday and Friday, it took the Tourists a bit longer to complete a two-game sweep over the Sand Gnats in the South Atlantic League’s (SAL) Southern Division playoffs.
Game 1 at McCormick Field on Wednesday didn’t end until 12:30 a.m., thanks to a two-hour, 13-minute rain delay. The rain hit just as David Dahl hit a two-run home run to give Asheville an 8-2 lead in the bottom of the sixth inning. Dahl, who rejoined the Tourists with two games remaining in the regular season, batted 3-for-4 in the playoff opener.
Starting pitcher Kyle Freeland was the beneficiary of that run support, picking up the win. Once play resumed after the delay, Savannah scored a run off reliever Trent Daniel in the seventh inning and threatened to add more in the ninth against Trent Blank. But the big deficit was just too big to overcome and the Tourists won, 8-3.
With the Game 1 victory, Asheville had two opportunities to win the series in Savannah. Friday’s Game 2 was more of a grind, as Sand Gnats pitcher John Gant struck out 10 Tourists batters in 6 1/3 innings, allowing only one run. But the T’s broke a 1-1 tie in the eighth inning, as Dahl led off with a double and eventually scored the go-ahead run on a passed ball by Savannah catcher Colton Plaia.
However, the game was suspended in the bottom of the inning when hard rains soaked the field at Savannah’s Grayson Stadium, making it unplayable. SAL rules dictate that a playoff game must go nine full innings, so play resumed on Saturday with a possible Game 3 to be played later in the evening.
When Game 2 resumed, the Sand Gnats had a chance to tie the game, loading the bases with two outs in the eighth. But Daniel got Savannah shortstop Amed Rosario out on a groundball to third base to end the threat. In the ninth, Daniel retired all three Sand Gnats batters to close out the game and clinch a playoff victory for the Tourists.
Here come the Suns
The Tourists will play the Hagerstown Suns, who won the Northern Division playoffs, for the SAL championship. The best-of-five series begins on Monday with Game 1 at McCormick Field, followed by Game 2 on Tuesday. The series then moves to Hagerstown’s Municipal Stadium for Games 3 and 4 on Thursday and Friday. If a decisive Game 5 is necessary, that will be played on Saturday in Hagerstown.
These two teams played seven times during the regular season. In mid-May, the Suns won three of four in Hagerstown, but the Tourists took two of three at McCormick Field in the final home series of the season.
The Suns feature the SAL’s Most Valuable Player with infielder Wilmer Difo. The 22-year-old batted .315 with an .841 OPS (On-Base Plus Slugging percentage), 14 home runs, 90 RBI and 49 stolen bases this season. He hit 4-for-7 in Hagerstown’s two-game sweep over Greensboro in the Northern Division playoffs.
Asheville won’t have to face the league’s Most Outstanding Pitcher, Lucas Giolito, as the Washington Nationals organization shut him down in mid-August after throwing 98 innings for the season. Giolito underwent ligament replacement surgery (or “Tommy John surgery,” as it’s commonly known in baseball) in his right elbow in 2012, and the Nationals want to limit his workload.
Nick Pivetta will start Game 1 for the Suns. The right-hander went 13-8 with a 4.22 ERA in 26 appearances (25 starts) this season, striking out 98 batters in 132 1/3 innings. Pivetta pitched against Asheville on Aug. 26, giving up three runs and two walks in five innings. Wander Suero, who compiled a 4-1 record and 2.13 ERA in 17 appearances for Hagerstown, will start Game 2.
Konner Wade is listed as the Tourists’ starting pitcher. He went 8-8 with a 3.61 ERA in 27 appearances (25 starts) and 94 strikeouts in 142 innings during the regular season. The 22-year-old faced Hagerstown twice this year, pitching five total innings and allowing three earned runs. Wade’s first appearance against the Suns was a start during which he allowed three runs (two earned). The second time, he pitched in relief, throwing four innings and allowing one earned run, with three strikeouts.
Johendi Jiminian, who hasn’t pitched since last Monday and is fully rested, has been announced as the Game 2 starter. He went 14-6 with a 3.99 ERA in 28 appearances (27 starts) for the Tourists during the regular season, striking out 120 batters in 151 innings. Jiminian, 21, faced the Suns twice this season, allowing two runs in each of his starts.
It should also be noted that Suns manager Patrick Anderson played baseball at Brevard College and Mars Hill University.
*** The Asheville Tourists return to McCormick Field on Monday Sept. 8 for Game 1 of the South Atlantic League championship against Hagerstown. Game 2 will be played on Tuesday. 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.