Patriots-Revolution Series Preview

The following story will appear in The Messenger Gazette and Hunterdon County Democrat tomorrow…

By MIKE ASHMORE
For The Messenger Gazette

Another year, another postseason appearance for the Somerset Patriots. The Patriots improbable late season turnaround and subsequent second half Freedom Division win marks the fourth consecutive playoff berth for Somerset, a franchise record.

Their opponents are the York Revolution, who were the class of the first half (40-30), but have struggled over the last few months of the season to post a 29-41 mark over the final 70 games.

This marks the second time in three seasons that the Patriots and Revolution have faced each other in the Freedom Division Series. In 2008, Somerset swept York, two games to none. Now, the first round is a best-of-five, and it was scheduled to start in York, PA yesterday. After today’s Game 2, the series shifts to Bridgewater for Game 3 on Friday — Somerset would host Game 4 (if necessary), while the teams would travel back to York on Sunday for a deciding Game 5 (if necessary).

The Patriots held a slight edge in the regular season series over York, posting an 11-9 record in 20 games, ten each at TD Bank Ballpark and Sovereign Bank Stadium.

STARTING PITCHING: Somerset’s got their rotation as good as it’s been all season. The addition of Bill Pulsipher has paid huge dividends, while Joel Kirsten has turned in one good start and one bad one in the two outings he’s made since being acquired for the third straight year from the American Association.

Josh Miller, Brian Adams and Jason Monti round out a formidable starting five in Somerset.

York’s starting rotation features three former major leaguers in ex-Yankee Matt DeSalvo, Corey Thurman and Tim Harikkala. DeSalvo and Kirsten could be the keys to this series, as they have yet to face the other team this season. With three days off between the end of the regular season and the start of the playoffs, they could be on a collision course for a Game 1 matchup.

BULLPENS: The Patriots bullpen has been a question mark all season long, and it remains as such going into the final two weeks of the year. Long-time Atlantic Leaguer Ben Grezlovski has emerged as a shutdown middle reliever for Sparky Lyle, and the addition of Travis Minix has been a big boost to a beleaguered bullpen. Former National League Rookie of the Year Scott Williamson will likely be relied upon to shut the door on York in the ninth inning.

York’s bullpen features two former Patriots in Ryan Basner and Jason Richardson, each of whom earned championship rings while in Somerset. Both R.J. Rodriguez and Sean Stidfole can close games out for the Revs, with the two combining for 19 saves during the regular season.

PROJECTED LINEUPS:

C — Jason Belcher (SOM), John Pachot (YORK)
1B — Joe Burke (SOM), Ian Bladergroen (YORK)
2B — Matt Hagen (SOM), Liu Rodriguez (YORK)
SS — Iggy Suarez (SOM), Chuck Jeroloman (YORK)
3B — Jeff Nettles (SOM), Ramon Castro (YORK)
LF — Elliott Ayala (SOM), James Shanks (YORK)
CF — Wayne Lydon (SOM), Scott Grimes (YORK)
RF — Noah Hall (SOM), Erold Andrus (YORK)
DH — Josh Pressley (SOM), Jose Herrera (YORK)

Both teams feature some potent players. York’s Ramon Castro — a former big leaguer — may have been the best player in the Atlantic League this season, posting a .339 batting average with eight home runs and 85 RBI in just 109 games. Herrera, who along with Castro won a league title with the Newark Bears in 2007, is no pushover either, having batted .337 with 10 home runs and 87 RBI in 115 games. But it may be James Shanks, who was a member of the Southern Maryland team that the Patriots defeated for the championship last year, who’s the man to watch. He hit .325 with 19 home runs and 86 RBI in 131 games, and gives York their own “big three” to counter Somerset’s noted trio of Matt Hagen, Josh Pressley and Jeff Nettles.

Yes, it will be Somerset’s own “big three” that will be relied upon to carry the team to their third straight championship. Nettles had the best season of the bunch despite only playing in 82 games, missing most of the first half of the year with a broken hand. The seventh-year third baseman hit .299 with 12 home runs and 52 RBI, and hit over .400 in the month of September. Hagen and Pressley combined for 31 home runs and 132 RBI, and a healthy Pressley in the postseason is a big key for the Patriots.

The “X factor” might be Jason Belcher, who has shown a penchant for clutch hits throughout his tenure with the club. He hit .269 with seven home runs and 54 RBI during his All-Star season, and the durable backstop could be one to watch in this series.

BENCH:

Somerset’s got OF Michael Hernandez, UTIL Joe Holden and C J.R. Hopf, while York’s carrying OF Steve Haake, INF Vince Harrison and C Joel Collins. Haake and Harrison are solid players, but with Somerset having Hernandez in tow, who can change the game with one swing of the bat, it’s hard not to give the Patriots the edge.

PREDICTION: Somerset in 5. Never pick against the Patriots this time of year. Two straight Atlantic League titles and five championships in 12 seasons should tell you as much.

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