North Division rivals NW Arkansas and Arkansas will battle for the North Division title beginning tonight for the chance at the Texas League Championship next week. The two teams just finished the regular season against each other, as the Travelers clinched the second half title.
The Naturals have had a ton of turnover, especially in their pitching staff in the second half. To add to that, Kyle Zimmer has been shut down due to reaching his innings limit. Matt Murray has returned to NWA from a one-day stint with Triple-A Omaha.
The Naturals will host the first two games of the best-of-five series, with Jonathan Dziedzic starting tonight. He is 6-2 with a 2.28 ERA in the second half and just beat the Travelers on August 30th (5IP, 4H, 2R, 2BB, 3K). The Travelers have hit .312 against him in 77 at-bats. Drew Maggi went 3-for-8 with two runs scored and two RBIs.
LA Angels top prospect Sean Newcomb will be getting the start tonight for the Travelers. He has made just seven starts in Double-A, with one coming against NWA back on August 30th (so it is a rematch). In that start, Newcomb lasted just three innings (4H, 6R, 5ER, 5BB 4K). Lane Adams went 2-for-2 with a home run and three RBIs. Alex Liddi went 1-for-1 with a walk, a run scored, and an RBI. Jorge Bonifacio went 1-for-2 with a run scored.
Luke Farrell will start Game 2 and he has not lost since July 29th. He is 4-1 with a 2.35 ERA in the second half. However, the Travelers hit .330 against him in 106 at-bats. Maggi went 6-for-11 with three doubles and three RBIs, while Brian Hernandez and Wade Hinkle had five hits each. Hinkle has five RBIs.
Michael Brady will start Game 2 for Arkansas. He has faced NWA seven times, including five starts (he did not become a starter until the end of May). In 30 innings, Brady allowed 18 runs on 36 hits (five homers), while striking out 31. He did not walk a batter.
Against Brady, Hunter Dozier went 6-for-15 with a double, a triple, a homer, four runs scored, and four RBIs. Bubba Starling went 5-for-10 with two doubles, a homer, four runs scored, and four RBIs. Catchers Zane Evans and Parker Morin each have three hits against Brady. Liddi went 6-for-17 with a double, two triples, a homer, and five RBIs.
Brooks Pounders will get the Game 3 start when the series moves to Arkansas. He hopes that he will be pitching in the clincher for the Naturals. Pounders has made eight starts for the Naturals, with two coming against the Travelers (including Sunday). Over 13 innings, he allowed 11 hits, four runs (three earned), walked five, and struck out three. Maggi went 3-for-7 with a double.
Chris Ellis is slated to start the third game for Arkansas. He made three starts againsgt NWA this season: 16IP, 17H, 5R, 2HR, 3BB, 12K. Evans went 3-for-5 with a home run, an RBI, and two runs scored. Liddi went 2-for-5 with a double. Adams, Dozier, and Kenny Diekroeger went 2-for-5.
As you can see from the above, Liddi has had success against the Travelers. He hit .343 in 102 at-bats. Maggi has been a thorn in the Naturals side.
If the Naturals advance to the Texas League Championship, they could face former teammate Sean Manaea, who will be starting Game 2 for Midland in the South Division Series against Corpus Christi.