September 6, 2010 in Sports

Indians set for NWL playoffs

Opens with series on road against Yakima
By The Spokesman-Review
 

Everett (49-27) had the best overall record in the Northwest League during the just-completed 2010 regular season.

Vancouver (25-13) had the NWL’s West Division’s best record during the second half of the season.

Yakima (25-13) had the NWL East Division’s best record during the second half.

Those three teams had plenty to crow about during the regular season, but among the league’s four playoff teams, only the Spokane Indians (43-33 overall) can make this boast: a winning record against every team that qualified for the postseason.

Spokane’s road toward its ninth NWL championship begins at 7:05 tonight in Yakima, the opener of a best-of-3 East divisional series that will make its way back to Spokane on Tuesday and (if necessary) Wednesday.

The Indians figure to have a slight advantage in the series because of their 7-5 season record against Yakima and the home-field advantage they obtained by winning the East’s first-half title. Spokane won 27 of 38 games at Avista Stadium despite losing its first three games there.

The Indians compiled their impressive home mark at the expense of Everett, which went 1-4 in Spokane, and Vancouver, which was swept during a five-game series at Avista in mid-July.

While Everett and Vancouver decide the West’s representative to the NWL championship series, Spokane and Yakima will pick up their back-and-forth struggle that didn’t begin in earnest until early August.

Spokane met the Bears just three times during the season’s first 48 games. After that, the Indians swept Yakima at home Aug. 7-9, lost three straight at Yakima Aug. 11-13, then took two of three from the Bears in late August in Yakima.

“We beat them 7-5 in the series this year, but I think our teams match up pretty closely,” said Indians fourth-year skipper Tim Hulett, just named the NWL’s manager of the year. “We do a lot of the same things. They swing the bat well, we swing the bat well. I think our bullpen’s a little bit better than theirs, but they steal a lot of bases. It’s going to be important for us to hold their guys on.”

Yakima led the league with 156 stolen bases, and Spokane finished a distant second.

Hulett said Kellin Deglan, selected in the first round during June’s first-year player draft, will likely catch each game against Yakima and be responsible for keeping the Bears in check. The Indians rotated three catchers during the regular season.

The Indians led the NWL in team batting at .273 and in runs at 407, but Spokane’s offense cooled during the last week of the season. The Indians, however, played seven days without NWL Most Valuable Player Jared Hoying (.326), who rested a sore hamstring, and the last two weeks without Clark Murphy (.319), whose status for the playoffs has not been released.

Both teams had solid earned-run averages (3.51 for Spokane, 3.33 for Yakima), but Spokane’s starting pitching struggled at times after Miguel De Los Santos and Chad Bell were promoted to Hickory (N.C.) in late July.

Spokane’s rotation received a boost from Tim Stanford (6-0, 1.66), who started the season in the bullpen but showed the ability to work five or six solid innings. “We want our starters to go five or six (innings), but if they don’t we’re going to go with the bullpen pretty quickly,” Hulett said.

A win tonight would make the Indians big favorites. Spokane hasn’t lost two consecutive home games since its season-opening series in mid-June.

“For me (in a best-of-3), you play a best-of-1 every night,” Hulett said. “You gotta win that game, that night, and do whatever it takes to win that game.”

Spokane vs. Yakima
Best-of-3
Todayat Yakima, 7:05 p.m.
Tuesdayat Spokane, 6:35 p.m.
Wednesday*at Spokane, 6:35 p.m.
*if necessary  

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