Lynchburg Hillcats Playoff Preview: First Round vs Wilmington Blue Rocks

Shortstop Nick Ahmed was Lynchburg's steadiest player, earning mid-season and year-end All-Star honors.

The Lynchburg Hillcats punched their playoff ticket by winning the Carolina League Northern Division first half title with a 39-31 record and they were fighting for the second half title as well before finishing with a 33-37 record, good for a 72-68 overall record. Game 1 will take place tonight in Wilmington, followed by Game 2 in Lynchburg on Thursday, and Game 3, if necessary, in Lynchburg on Friday. Atlanta Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons will join the team on Thursday for a rehab assignment. Simmons won the Carolina League batting title in 2011.

Projected Lineup

  1. LF Dan Brewer
  2. SS Nick Ahmed
  3. 2B Tommy La Stella
  4. 1B Chris Garcia
  5. DH Adam Milligan
  6. 3B Edward Salcedo
  7. CF Myke Jones
  8. C Braeden Schlehuber
  9. RF David Rohm

The Hillcat offense was spearheaded by shortstop Nick Ahmed, who led the league in games played, at bats, runs scored, doubles, and stolen bases, and led the team in hits and total bases. He finished his year with a 9 game hitting streak that saw him go 13-33 with 2 doubles, a homer, 3 walks, and 3 steals. Second baseman Tommy La Stella led the team in batting average and OPS, and after missing 6 weeks in July and August with a leg injury, he finished his season by going 16-27 with 4 doubles, a triple, 5 RBI, and 2 walks in his final 8 games. First baseman Chris Garcia led the team with a .408 OBP, walking in 17% of his plate appearances, and he also added in 11 homers and 59 RBI. Adam Milligan finished strong, hitting .302 with a .852 OPS, 7 doubles, a triple, 4 homers, and 13 RBI in 92 at bats since the beginning of August. Edward Salcedo committed a team high 42 errors, but he also contributed 26 doubles, 17 homers, 61 RBI, and 23 steals.

We'll look at the rotation and bullpen after the break.

Projected Rotation

  1. RHP Gus Schlosser
  2. RHP Ryan Weber
  3. RHP Aaron Northcraft

Sidearmer Gus Schlosser was named the Carolina League Pitcher Of The Year and led the league with 13 wins and 165.1 innings. July was his best month of the season, as he put up a 0.53 ERA and a 0.68 WHIP in 34 innings over 5 starts, but August was his worst month, as he posted a 5.52 ERA and a 1.52 WHIP in 31 innings over 6 starts. Ryan Weber began the season with Lynchburg, but spent almost 3 months of the season with Rome. After he returned to Lynchburg, he had a 3.57 ERA and a 1.27 WHIP in 35.1 innings. In 5 starts for the Hillcats, he had a 2.63 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP in 27.1 innings. Aaron Northcraft had the highlight of Lynchburg's season with a June 23rd no hitter and he finished strong, going 2-0 with a 2.50 ERA and a 0.94 ERA in 18 innings over his final 3 starts. He led the league with 160 strikeouts in 151.2 innings.

The Hillcats bullpen received a big boost when they added John Cornely from Rome late in August. The 23 year old righty struck out 13 over 7.1 scoreless innings with Lynchburg. Closer Juan Jaime, who led the team with 18 saves, was activated from the DL just before the end of the season. He had a 3.16 ERA, a 1.25 WHIP, and 12.8 K/9 in 51.1 innings over 42 appearances. Lefties Chasen Shreve, Blaine Sims, and Matt Chaffee were all solid performers for Lynchburg this season.

Wilmington Blue Rocks

The Kansas City Royals High A affiliate won the second half division title with a 37-33 record. Right fielder Nick Van Stratten joined the team in the second half after a demotion from AA, and hit ..366 with a .923 OPS in only 21 games. First baseman Matt Fields, the oldest player in the Carolina League at 27, was a great addition to the team in late June, as he hit .281 with .904 OPS, 17 homers, and 41 RBI in just 67 games. Game 1 starter Brooks Pounders was 6-4 with a 4.32 ERA and a 1.34 WHIP in 83.1 innings. Jason Adam led the team with 7 wins while posting a 3.53 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP in a team high 158 innings. Closer Nick Rogers had 8 saves, a 2.40 ERA, a 1.38 WHIP, and 48 strikeouts in 41.1 innings.

Third baseman Chestor Cuthbert, who led the team with 59 RBI, was a childhood friend of Braves prospect Elmer Reyes in their native Nicaragua.

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