The SeaWolves made franchise history last fall by sweeping Richmond in the Southwest Division playoff series.
It was the first time the SeaWolves had ever won a playoff series and Erie came up just one win short of winning the Eastern League title.
The ‘Wolves carried over that momentum into the 2023 season and dominated the first half of the year to clinch back-to-back playoff spots for the first time in franchise history. Just like last year, Erie needs four wins over two series to win the league championship, and also like last year, it starts with getting two wins against Richmond.
The Southwest Division Series starts Tuesday as the ‘Wolves play at Richmond in Game 1 at 6:35 p.m. before Game 2 is at UPMC Park on Thursday at 6:35 p.m. If the series is tied at one win apiece, the third and deciding game is Friday at UPMC Park at 6:35 p.m.
Here are three keys for the upcoming playoff series:
Dealing with travel
One of the big obstacles the ‘Wolves overcame last year was the long and immediate travel. The SeaWolves ended the regular season in 2022 in Richmond but after winning the second half, they had to travel back to Erie for Game 1 less than 48 hours after leaving Virginia. The two teams then left right away for Games 2 and 3 back in Richmond two days after Game 1.
The ‘Wolves also dealt with quick travel to Erie and then Somerset for the league championship series last fall.
“We talked about the travel for a while now. We really started talking about it after we won the first half knowing we were going to have to go somewhere right away for Game 1,” said SeaWolves manager Gabe Alvarez. “It’ll be fun.”
The SeaWolves are one of two teams in the Eastern League with road records above .500 at 40-28. Somerset had the best road record at 42-26. The SeaWolves finished 7-5 in two trips to Richmond this season.
One of the big keys to the ‘Wolves’ run last year was playing mistake-free baseball in the playoffs.
“We need to play clean baseball and make the plays in the field defensively,” Alvarez said. “We need clutch hits and that’s how games have gone when we play Richmond. Pitching, defense and timely hits are how you win in the playoffs.”
The SeaWolves finished the regular season with the fourth-best defensive team in the Eastern League. The ‘Wolves had a fielding percentage of .979, while Richmond was seventh at .978.
Erie finished second in the league by hitting .252 with runners in scoring position, while Richmond was fourth with a .247 average.
Relying on prospects
The SeaWolves and Flying Squirrels have top 30 prospects to lead the way in this series. It starts with second baseman Jace Jung for Erie. He is the No. 4 prospect for the Detroit Tigers and has been a difference-maker since reaching Double-A with a .284 average and 14 home runs. The SeaWolves have the No. 3 prospect for Detroit in starting pitcher Jackson Jobe, but he started Sunday and will not pitch in the division series.
Starting pitcher Ty Madden is the No. 6 prospect for the Tigers and a strong candidate to start Game 2 on Thursday. Madden is 3-4 with a 3.43 ERA in 26 games, including 25 starts, for the ‘Wolves this season. Wilmer Flores is another starting pitcher for Erie as the No. 7 prospect. He pitched on Saturday and will likely not be available this week.
Brant Hurter, the No. 12 prospect for the Tigers, is the likely Game 1 starting pitcher on Tuesday. Hurter is 6-7 with a 3.28 ERA in 26 starts this season. Danny Serretti is a middle infielder and the No. 25 prospect for the Tigers, while relief pitcher Tyler Mattison is No. 28. Serretti and Mattison could both play key roles this week.
Richmond, the Double-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants, has several prospects leading the way. Carson Whisenhunt is technically Richmond’s top prospect at No. 3 but he is on the injured list. Hayden Birdsong, the No. 10 prospect for the Giants, is a starting pitcher who allowed four runs on four hits in four innings in a loss to the SeaWolves on Friday and may not pitch this series. Outfielder Vaun Brown is the No. 13 prospect but is also on the injured list as well as pitcher Landen Roupp, the No. 15 prospect for the Giants.
Pitcher Carson Seymour, the No. 23 prospect for the Giants, threw five solid innings against the SeaWolves on No. 12 and could start Game 1 or 2 this week.
Recapping the 2022 Southwest Division Series
Score: Erie 9, Richmond 3
Site: UPMC Park
Winning pitcher: Reese Olson
Summary: In front of a raucous crowd of 4,739 fans, Reese Olson dominated on the mound and the SeaWolves went 6-for-13 at the plate with runners in scoring position. Olson, who pitched for the Tigers this season, struck out nine and allowed just a solo home run to Brandon Martorano in five solid innings. Andrew Navigato had four hits, while Danny Serretti went 3-for-3 with three RBIs and three runs scored, including a three-run home run, for the ‘Wolves.
Score: Erie 6, Richmond 2
Site: The Diamond, Richmond
Winning pitcher: Carlos Guzman
Summary: The SeaWolves jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning on a two-run single by red-hot Danny Serretti, but Richmond tied the game one inning later. With the tension building and a crowd of 9,159 starting to become restless, SeaWolves power hitter and league MVP Quincy Nieporte blasted a three-run home run in the fifth inning. The Erie bullpen took over from there as Carlos Guzman tossed two scoreless innings, Adam Wolf threw three shutout innings and Brendan White threw a scoreless ninth inning to give the SeaWolves their first playoff series win in franchise history.
This article originally appeared on Erie Times-News: SeaWolves and Flying Squirrels square off in Eastern League playoffs
Source: Yahoo Sports