WILMINGTON, DE – Can this year's Hillcats team become the first Lynchburg team to win the Carolina League Mills Cup since 2009?
The Hillcats begin a best of three playoff series against the Wilmington Blue Rocks Wednesday at 6:35 p.m. and will be attempting to do what the Pirates affiliate did three years ago.
The winner will face the winner of the other playoff series between Winston-Salem and Myrtle Beach.
Hillcats Playoff Series Starting Pitchers
Game 1 – Gus Schlosser (13-7, 3.38 ERA) at Wilmington
Game 2 – Dismather Delgado (7-7, 3.92 ERA) at Lynchburg
Game 3 (if necessary)– Aaron Northcraft (10-11, 3.98 ERA) at Lynchburg
Ryan Weber or Michael Lee would pitch game one of the championship series.
Lynchburg Hillcats (72-68, Northern Division first-half champions) vs.
Wilmington Blue Rocks (66-74, Northern Division second-half champions)
Wilmington won the season series, 11-9
Winston-Salem Dash (87-51, Southern Division champions, both halves) vs.
Myrtle Beach Pelicans (74-65, Southern Division runner-up, second half)
Winston-Salem won the season series, 11-9
The Hillcats have been away from City Stadium since last Wednesday September 28th. They traveled from Lynchburg to Winston-Salem for a four-game series and then from there they bussed to Myrtle Beach for a three-game set with the Pelicans. From there the longest part of the road trip began north through South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and finally into Delaware. The total mileage on that week-long road trip - 897 miles and 17-plus hours on a bus. That's the equivalent of going from Lynchburg to Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
After being eliminated from winning the second half division title on Thursday August 30th, Lynchburg finished the road trip with three wins and four losses. Manager Luis Salazar said, "we should have went 5-2 but we blew a couple games." Salazar even said, "We should have won the second half but things that bounced our way in the first half did not in the second half." Lynchburg finished the second half with a 33-37 mark after winning the division with a 39-31 record in the first half.
The Hillcats will have 2011 Hillcat and Carolina League batting champion Andrelton Simmons in the lineup Thursday. He will play for the Class-A Rome Braves in their playoff game Wednesday night. He's in the midst of a major league rehab stint after injuring his wrist earlier this season with the Atlanta Braves. Simmons went 1-for-3 with an infield hit before being pulled after five innings by plan in a game Monday with the Double-A Mississippi Braves.
Salazar said Simmons will lead off and most likely play shortstop. The Braves minor league farm director will inform Salazar about what they plan to do with Simmons following his game with Rome. If he plays shortstop, Nick Ahmed, a Carolina League all-star and the Hillcats best defensive infielder, will move to either third base or second base, meaning Edward Salcedo or Tommy La Stella would be the designated hitter. "The playoffs are all about defense and pitching," Salazar explained, so Ahmed will be in the field one way or another.
When asked if bringing a major leaguer in for a playoff game is a good thing or a bad thing, Salazar said, "It's a good thing. Andrelton is looking forward to coming back to Lynchburg."
---In 49 games with Mississippi, former Hillcat Evan Gattis is hit .258 with 9 and 37 RBIs. He was injured for part of the season after being called up from Lynchburg. Gattis batted .385 with 9 home runs with the Hillcats in just 21 games to start the season.
---According to Winston-Salem ‘s manager Tommy Thompson, only eight of the 26 players who opened the year with Winston-Salem are still with the team. In an interview with MLB.com's Jeff Seidel, Thompson said, "We've moved more guys this year and had more transactions than I can ever remember in 30 years," Thompson said. "This was [my most] fun year ever, the most challenging year."
---Salazar said the Winston-Salem Dash should be considered the favorites. They have 87 wins and the best record in all of minor league baseball. Salazar said, "They can beat you in so many ways but we were the only team to give them a fight all year and they know that." Salazar also thinks the Dash could have some trouble getting by Myrtle Beach.