(1-3) Gwinnett Braves 0, (3-1) Scranton Wilkes/Barre 3
Rio Ruiz, 3B: 0-3, .271/.355/.400
Rob Wooten, RP: 5 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 8 K, 3.57 ERA
In a time of need, the Braves turned to Pitcher of the Year Rob Wooten to shut down Scranton and try to force a game 5 in the International League final. Wooten started them off with a fantastic first few, spinning perfection through 4 with 5 strikeouts. The story was told by the failure of Gwinnett’s offense, who failed to score a single run for the second straight game and ended the season on a run in which they scored 2 runs over 35 innings.
Wooten escaped trouble in the 4th, but as I stood in line waiting for a corn dog it all went astray for Gwinnett. Wooten allowed a lead off single, but looked to be working out of it when he struck out the next two batters. Unfortunately a walk and 2 consecutive singles allowed 2 runs to score and Gwinnett just never got the offense going to win the game. After the crushing game 2 loss, the wind was sucked out of this team and it seemed as if the breaks they were getting began to go against them.
More tragedy struck in the 6th, as the beloved Sprinkles came up just short in his final race of the season. We love you Sprinkles.
Scranton added a third run in the 7th on a Mark Payton triple that kind of popped out of the glove of a leaping Mel Rojas Jr. at at the settling of the dust that is where the score stood. Rio Ruiz struggled again, and in facing a lefty showed no more promise than he had in his previous at bats. He is expected to be called up soon, but almost certainly it appears he won’t be used against left handed pitching. Jason Hursh pitched well despite giving up a run and struck out 5 batters in 2 innings. Hursh pitched 73 regular season innings this season and 3.2 in the postseason and didn’t allow a single home run.
(3-1) Rome Braves 6, (1-3) Lakewood BlueClaws 1
Alejandro Salazar, SS: 3-4, RBI, .278/.307/.309
Austin Riley, 3B: 1-5, .271/.324/.479
Ronald Acuna, CF: 1-4, .312/.392/.429
Max Fried, SP: 7 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 13 K, 3.93 ERA
The 2016 season was a roller coaster for the Rome Braves. A disappointing first half, a series of injuries to key pieces, and just general underperformance put a damper on what was being hyped as one of the best Braves minor league teams of all time. The second half was a turnaround, as the offense took hold and the pitching staff progressed to the point of being nearly unbeatable at the end of the season. Then, in the playoffs, the great foursome of Fried, Soroka, Toussaint, and Allard stepped their game up to a nearly unimaginable level.
Just as in game 3 last series, Rome turned to their elder of staff Max Fried to bring home a clinching win. Fried came in hot, with 10, 10, and 11 strikeouts in his previous 3 games and shaking off the blister problem that plagued him for more than a month. Fried, after the best start of his career seemed to have no where to go but down, but somehow rose to another level for Rome and delivered one of the best championship performances you can give.
The first inning for Fried got scary for a minute, after the first batter reached on a base hit and got to second base on a passed ball. In true Max Fried fashion, he set down the next 2 batters on strikes and worked out of the inning by forcing a fly ball. The second and third innings were much the same, scoreless with 2 strikeouts and going into the 4th Fried had already tallied 6 on the day. The 4th is where the game got interesting for Fried.
Rome’s offense had performed poorly to this point in the game reaching just 1 batter to base, and the game was tied 0-0 despite the play of Fried. In the bottom of the 4th Fried allowed the leadoff hitter to reach before getting the first out by strikeout. That brought up Deivi Grullon, who grounded into what seemed to be an easy double play, but Anfernee Seymour was unable to come up cleanly with the ball and could only get the out at second. The next doubled to left field, and gave Lakewood a lead that could have been prevented. Fried struck out the next batter, and then finally Rome’s offense came to play.
You might want to sit down when I tell you this, but Jonathan Morales led off the 5th inning with a bunt base hit. Carlos Castro got him to third base with one out on a single, and Alejandro Salazar came through tying the game on a base hit. Anfernee then rectified his mistake from earlier with a double that pushed the go ahead run across and gave Rome a lead Max would not allow them to take back. For good measure, Ray-Patrick Didder got hit by a pitch (wouldn’t be a Rome Braves game without that), and Ronald Acuna extended the lead with a sacrifice fly.
The game now in the pitcher’s hands, Max Fried shut down the Blueclaws for three more innings allowing only a double. He extended his streak of starts with 10+ K’s to 4 in the 6th inning, tied his career high with 11 K later in the inning, and for good measure added 2 more strikeouts in the 7th to give himself a career high 13 strikeouts. Max Fried had pitched both clinching games, and boy did he do his job going 14.2 IP, striking out 24, and allowing just 2 earned runs while earning both wins.
Just for fun, Rome added 3 more runs in the 7th to extend this to a dominant win, and left the bullpen with a 5 run cushion to work on. With Devan Watts out having pitched the previous night, they turned to their other setup man Josh Graham who casually shut the Blueclaws down in order to leave it to Corbin Clouse to close out the championship. Corbin Clouse did as he has so many times before, and the celebration was on as Rome had clinched their first South Atlantic League Championship since 2003.
WE'RE CHAMPIONSSSSSS!! pic.twitter.com/D3Gn4zUpEV— ChaseJohnson-Mullins (@BigBuc28) September 17, 2016
The Rome Braves sat Lucas Herbert and Ricardo Sanchez for a majority of this series. Luke Dykstra was out hurt. Anfernee Seymour played just sparingly. This means that Rome handily won the South Atlantic League despite minimal contribution from 4 of the top 30 prospects in the system by MLB Pipeline. Rome’s offense was just ok, averaging about 3.5 runs per game, but that pitching staff did unheard of things. In 4 games in the Championship series the pitching for Rome gave up 3 earned runs in 36 innings and struck out 43 batters. The starting rotation combined to go 28 innings, allow 2 earned runs (0.64 ERA), walk 4 batters, and strike out 34 batters in the Championship series. For the entirety of the playoffs that rotation pitched 49.1 innings, gave up 34 hits, 4 earned runs (0.73 ERA), walked 8 hitters, and struck out 49. Pure domination.
It takes a full roster to win a championship, and while it took just a few great games to win tonight it took many over the course of the season. Any and every player who suited up in a Rome Braves uniform deserves recognition, so here goes. Congratulations to Kolby Allard, Oriel Caicedo, Corbin Clouse, Matt Custred, Max Fried, Dalton Geekie, Josh Graham, Chase Johnson-Mullins, Grayson Jones, Ricardo Sanchez, Mike Soroka, Touki Toussaint, Devan Watts, Lucas Herbert, Jonathan Morales, Wigberto Nevarez, Carlos Castro, Luke Dykstra, Kevin Josephina, Austin Riley, Alejandro Salazar, Anfernee Seymour, Juan Yepez, Ronald Acuna, Leudys Baez, Ray-Patrick Didder, Justin Ellison, Jared James, Tyler Neslony, Darien McLemore, Yeudi Grullon, Erison Mendez, Bradley Keller, Matt Tellor, Tyler Flowers, Stephen Gaylor, Patrick Weigel, Bladimir Matos, Trevor Belicek, Jon Kennedy, Chas Sobotka, Taylor Lewis, Adam McCreery, Caleb Beech, AJ Minter, Eric O’Flaherty, Shae Simmons, John Gant, WIlliams Perez, Manny Banuelos, Luis Gamez, Jacob Webb, Arodys Vizcaino, Jim Johnson, and Chris Withrow on contributing to Rome making the playoff and winning a Championship. Congratulations to coaches and staff as well, manager Randy Ingle, coaches Bobby Moore, Gabe Luckert, Nestor Perez, and Barrett Kleinknecht, and training staff Kyle Damschroder and Frank Witkowski.
September 16th marks the official end of one of the most exciting minor league seasons the Braves have seen. 2 teams may have come up short in their playoff runs, but that sweet joy of seeing that one celebration makes it all worth it. To the teams, that was one hell of a ride. Every day was something new, and there was never a dull day it seemed. We say a sad goodbye to the Mudcats, a team whose media department is unmatched in minor league baseball, and welcome a new chapter with the former Brevard County Manatees. As for the media members of those teams, a special thanks is necessary for Kyle Tait, Kevin Karel, Greg Young Jr, Tony Schiavone, and Nick Pierce for voicing the games all season long. Thank you to those we have dealt with personally, especially Jim Jones with the Rome Braves and Dave Lezotte with Gwinnett. While I have not dealt with her personally, I have only heard fantastic things about Miranda Black of the Mississippi Braves, who earned the Southern League Woman of Excellence Award this season. We thank all of you for your work.
For the coaches, we thank you for growing our players from the top to the bottom. There is no attention or glory to what minor league coaches do, but you shape the future of the team from the very beginning. You’ve improved your players day in and day out, and have handled the talent and pressure the front office has thrown at you in an incredible manner. Special shout out to Randy Ingle, who has long been a Braves coaching fixture and surpassed 1500 wins this season. Without the coaches, none of what anyone else does would matter. Thank you for holding these teams together for the last 5 months, and we look forward to everything you can do in the future.
To the scouting department: Wow! The work you have done to help John Coppolella has been nothing short of incredible. The ability to spot talent at every level from Indy Ball to Prep, JuCO to Division 1, no one in baseball can match the Braves scouting department. The team Brian Bridges has assembled have given us dominant pitchers in the form of 7th rounders, strong lefties from random independent teams, and some of the best players in the minor leagues. Thank You.
To the Front Office, led of course by GM John Coppolella, President of Baseball Operations John Hart, and legendary former GM and now-President John Schuerholz, just keep up the fantastic work. While the team at the major league level may not be so hot, the excitement is somehow as high as it could be by the way you have stocked this farm system from top to bottom. You deal with the pressure of building this team from top to bottom, and have handled the backlash from unpopular trades with incredible poise. You are one of the most open and honest front offices in baseball, and from simply interacting with fans in a unique way make us all feel closer to the team and help us grow in our understanding of the game. You have not only done this, but dealt with immense adversity, especially from certain offseason incidents, in a nearly flawless manner. You stock the system with not only great players but great people, the ones that make baseball fun to watch every day and the type we want to watch grow and develop. The work you do is incredible. Thank You.
To all of the players that played this season, we thank you for everything you did this season. We understand the difficulties minor league players go through, and for y’all to perform at the level you do takes a lot and we appreciate you. We appreciate the way you carry yourselves off of your field, the interactions we see every day with the fans, and the ease with which you were all willing to allow us at Talking Chop accessibility. I cannot stress how much fun we had covering all of you this season. We care about and root for each and every one of you, no matter where your careers and lives may take you. Thank You.
Finally, to those Talking Choppers, thank you. If I could reach out to each and every one of you to thank you individually I would. You are the reason we are able to do this, and your loyal following means the world to all of us. Thank you Eric Cole, who has been incredible in his coordination of minor league coverage this season, and thank you Gaurav Vedak and Matt Powers for being great members of the minor league team. This is a great group to be a part of and I am extremely proud. Next season will be even better, I promise, and I know you all want to hear about Kevin Maitan. Thank you, each and every one of you. Thank you, and until next season I bid these recaps adieu.
Next Game: 4/6 Rome Braves @ West Virginia Power 7:00 PM ET
ROM: Ian Anderson