It is only fitting the two teams with the most talent will meet for the 2017 Arizona Fall League championship at Scottsdale Stadium.
With a win tomorrow against the East-division champion Peoria Javelinas (18-12), the West Division-champion Mesa Solar Sox (16-13) would become only the second team in the 25-year history of the AFL to successfully defend their title. The Phoenix Desert Dogs won four-straight titles from 2004 to 2008.
The Solar Sox roster has changed but it would be an accomplishment none the less. To repeat, Mesa’s pitching staff will have to shut down a stacked Javelinas’ lineup. Peoria led the AFL in runs scored (178), hits (292), doubles (61), triples (14), home runs (35), runs batted in (164), on-base percentage (.348) batting average (.281) and OPS (.816).
Mesa’s pitching staff finished third in ERA (4.28) but only the Surprise Saguaros (293) gave more hits than the Solar Sox (292) and Mesa surrendered the most home runs (32). Mesa did strike out the most batters of any team with 285 but Peoria only struck out 230 times in 1040 at-bats.
Mesa and Peoria matched up six times, three times at Sloan Park in Mesa and three times at Peoria Spots Complex, over the course of a six-week regular season. The teams split the season series, 3-3. The most memorable game between the two happened on Oct. 26. That is when Peoria scored 19 runs on 20 hits, using a five-run third, a seven-run sixth and a five-run seventh to outscore Mesa by 15 runs.
Here is what to watch for on the Solar Sox side tomorrow afternoon.
Keys to the Game
Patience: The Solar Sox walked more than any other team in the Fall League with 114. Three players walked at least 10 times and Jason Vosler lead the way with 12 free passes. Two players walked more than they struck out. If Mesa can stay disciplined and swing at strikes, they should be able to put together a big inning or two early which could be the difference against a potent offense.
Early Lead: The last thing any team wants to do is play catch up when the opposition can score at will. Mesa’s ability to put together quality at-bats and steal bases throughout the regular season should help their chances of scoring first.
Limit the damage: The Solar Sox know the Javelinas will score runs. With the top two teams run scoring teams set to meet, a high-scoring affair is expected. The team that can stay away from the big inning should be holding the trophy at the end of the afternoon. Mesa’s pitching staff may have given up the second most hits but still recorded the second-best WHIP (1.33) in the AFL because they struck out the most batters and issued the fewest free passes. That formula would help prevent any team from scoring four or five runs in an inning.
Victor Robles: Robles may have joined the Solar Sox roster late after playing in the National League Division Series, but all eyes will be on the Washington Nationals top prospect. Robles only hit .244 in 13 games, but he walked (10) more than he struck out (seven) and got on base at a .389 clip. Look for him to have an immediate impact. It would not surprise me if he had a hit or a walk, a stolen base and a run scored in the first inning.
Sheldon Neuse: The Oakland Athletics prospect paced the Fall League in runs batted in (23) and tied for the team lead in doubles with seven.
Alec Mills: The Cubs right-hander is expected to start for Mesa. Mills posted a 1-3 record and a 3.91 ERA across six AFL regular season outings. Mills is a groundball pitcher and his sinker has to work for him to be effective.
A.J. Simcox: The Detroit Tigers prospect hit under .200 during the regular season, but he collected seven hits in his last five games and drove in seven over his final 10.
Peoria’s pitching staff posted the highest ERA this season so expect the game to be high scoring. The game could come down to one big inning, a costly error or which bullpen performs better.