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Wingnuts seek redemption after last year's championship loss to Goldeyes

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Winnipeg Goldeyes celebrate a 3-1 series win over the Lincoln Saltdogs in Winnipeg Sunday, September 10, 2017. The Goldeyes are heading to the championships.</p>

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Winnipeg Goldeyes celebrate a 3-1 series win over the Lincoln Saltdogs in Winnipeg Sunday, September 10, 2017. The Goldeyes are heading to the championships.

WICHITA, Kan. – We take you back to one year ago at Lawrence Dumont Stadium, where champagne-soaked members of the Winnipeg Goldeyes were hoisting the American Association championship trophy on enemy turf.

The rival Wichita Wingnuts had just been humbled on their home field in a lopsided, season-ending loss in the fifth and deciding game of the series. They could only watch as the raucous party broke out before their very eyes.

It must have been a difficult scene to stomach for a group of proud athletes who no doubt had envisioned hosting their own celebration that night.

But now they have a chance for sweet, sweet payback. The North division champion Goldeyes – who knocked off Lincoln in four games in the semifinal series — are back in town with the title at stake. Only this time Winnipeg has home-field advantage, meaning it will all get settled this weekend at Shaw Park.

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WICHITA, Kan. – We take you back to one year ago at Lawrence Dumont Stadium, where champagne-soaked members of the Winnipeg Goldeyes were hoisting the American Association championship trophy on enemy turf.

The rival Wichita Wingnuts had just been humbled on their home field in a lopsided, season-ending loss in the fifth and deciding game of the series. They could only watch as the raucous party broke out before their very eyes.

It must have been a difficult scene to stomach for a group of proud athletes who no doubt had envisioned hosting their own celebration that night.

But now they have a chance for sweet, sweet payback. The North division champion Goldeyes – who knocked off Lincoln in four games in the semifinal series — are back in town with the title at stake. Only this time Winnipeg has home-field advantage, meaning it will all get settled this weekend at Shaw Park.

And you can bet the South division champion Wingnuts — who swept Gary in the opening round — would love nothing more than to drink and dance on the Goldeyes' field.

It starts tonight with Game 1, followed by Game 2 on Thursday. Then the series shifts 1,500 kilometres north for the duration, beginning Saturday and then Sunday and Monday if necessary.

Wichita is in the league finals for the fifth time in six years, while Winnipeg is making their third appearance during that time — all against the Wingnuts.

Did we mention Winnipeg also won the 2012 championship in Wichita? So if there’s such a thing as good karma at a ballpark, the Goldeyes certainly seem to have it here.

Clearly these franchises won’t need much time to get familiar with each other. And considering both squads have numerous returning players from last season, the juicy storylines practically write themselves.

With that in mind, here’s a look at a few key areas and how they match-up.

OFFENCE: There’s certainly the chance for this to be a barn-burner. Winnipeg and Wichita were the top two teams during the regular-season in several offensive categories including runs and average. Both home parks could be described as hitter-friendly – especially when the wind blows out, as it often does this time of year. First one to 10 runs every game wins? Perhaps. And it’s not just the long ball. Wichita scored 20 runs in their three-game sweep of Gary without the benefit of a homer. Winnipeg put up 21 runs against Lincoln with just one big fly.

STARTING PITCHING: The Goldeyes will turn to late-season pickup Charle Rosario for Game 1. He’s been sensational since joining Winnipeg and helped lead them to a big playoff win last weekend over Lincoln. Rosario actually made his Goldeyes debut against Wichita in August, throwing seven scoreless innings of one-hit ball and leaving with a 1-0 lead in a game the Goldeyes would drop 3-1. Edwin Carl, who worked out of the bullpen in the first round following an up-and-down regular season, will get the ball for Game 2. Ace Kevin McGovern had a couple tough, abbreviated starts against Lincoln last round and is expected to be ready for Game 3.

Wichita has three strong starters in Danny Gutierrez, Eddie Medina and Alex Boshers. All three were solid in leading the Wingnuts to victories in their starts against Gary. Expect Winnipeg to see them in that order and to have their hands full.

BULLPEN: Victor Capellan better eat his Wheaties — because the most reliable Goldeyes reliever will likely be counted on a ton. He’s been dominant all year and has carried that over into the playoffs. Lots of question marks after that — perhaps the biggest being closer Ryan Chaffee who gave up three runs in Game 4 against Lincoln and hasn’t looked himself for a while now.

The Wingnuts are almost a mirror image, with a fairly reliable bullpen at least on paper which can give them multiple, strong innings — but have also been prone to some inconsistency along the way. The key is to have their starters work deep into games.

DEFENCE: The Goldeyes led the American Association in errors during the regular-season but cleaned up their game – for the most part—against Lincoln. Winnipeg committed just one error in the four games. Wichita was a middle-of-the-pack fielding team during the regular-season but had three boo-boos in their three-game sweep of Gary.

WHO’S HOT: Wes Darvill and David Rohm were a dynamic duo in the first round, with seven hits each in the four games they played. Rohm is especially sizzling, as all his hits came in the last two games at Shaw Park. Davin Bergin looks to be swinging a big bat following his home run and four RBI performance in the clinching game against Lincoln.

WHO’S NOT: Catcher Mason Katz went 0-for-11 against Lincoln, while American Association home run and RBI king Reggie Abercrombie was 3-for-17 with just one run driven in. Perhaps the Kansas air will get him going — Abercrombie had a monster Game 5 against Wichita last September with two home runs and seven RBI. The Goldeyes could certainly use it.

WINGNUTS TO WATCH – Matt Chavez is as dangerous a hitter as there is in this league. He was flirting with a possible Triple Crown at one point this year (leading in average, home runs and RBI) before injuries slowed him a bit. But he still had a monster season (.330, 17 HR, 84 RBI in 84 games). Catcher Martin Medina had seven hits in the three playoff games against Gary. Outfielder Richard Prigatano had a team-leading six RBI against Gary following a big regular-season.

MANAGERS: For the second straight series, Winnipeg will face a team led by a former player. Lincoln’s skipper was former Goldeye Bobby Brown. Pete Rose Jr. is in his second year at the helm of Wichita, and the son of MLB hit king Pete Rose would love to carve out his own legacy with a championship. Rick Forney and Tom Vaeth seem to make all the right moves with the Goldeyes and won’t buckle to pressure-filled playoff baseball given their impressive track records.

HEAD-TO-HEAD: Winnipeg took the regular-season series by winning five of the nine games they played. But perhaps worth noting the Goldeyes put up 25 runs against the Wingnuts in winning the final two games they played against each other last month at Shaw Park. Winnipeg no doubt hopes that trend continues.

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Read more by Mike McIntyre.

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