Pacific Coast League Championship Series (best-of-three)
Round Rock Express (89-60) vs.
Dodgers-affiliated Oklahoma City Dodgers (90-58)
Season Run Differential: RR +156, OKC +149
Last 20 Games: RR 10-10, OKC 12-8
Season Series: OKC 14-4
How They Got Here
In early May, 21-11 Round Rock hosted a series against 22-11 Oklahoma City. The Dodgers won all six games, then another four straight, then eight of 12. By the end of May, the Express were 10.5 games back. OKC posted a 50-23 first-half record with the Express a strong but distant 44-30.
The second half belonged to the Express, though with far more drama. Six games out of first after a 2-4 series at OKC, Round Rock proceeded to win 14 straight and stormed to a three-game lead by the last Sunday in August. A 4-8 road trip (including another bad series against OKC) plus three straight losses to rival Las Vegas had the Express down two games with nine to play. Round Rock then closed out with a 7-2 record, 45-30 in the second half, claiming the title on the final day with a victory plus a required Reno loss.
OKC won 14 of 18 games between the two, and not by sneaking away with a bunch of one-run wins. The Dodgers nearly doubled the Express in runs scored. I don’t like to put much emphasis on head-to-head matchups, but in this case, it’s hard not to.
Texas’ AAA team is in the postseason for the first time since 2015. That squad knocked off these same Dodgers in the semifinals but lost a 2-1 series lead and the title to Houston-affiliated Fresno. Texas’ best-regular-season team in 2011 (87-57) had unfortunately lost several keys players by the playoffs and was quickly dispatched in the semis. The last champion dates back to 1996 with the Oklahoma City 89ers. As I discovered this morning, the entire title-winning game vs. Indianapolis is available on Youtube.
In eight years as a Dodgers affiliate, OKC has seven winning seasons (including four with at least 80 wins) and four playoffs appearances but no titles. I think the last title-winning AAA team for the Dodgers was the 1994 Albuquerque Dukes.
Top 30 Prospects on Active Roster per MLB.com / Baseball America
2 / 1. OF Wyatt Langford (#13 overall per MLB, 8 per BA)
5 / 11. RHP Jack Leiter
6 / 5. IF Justin Foscue
8 / 4. RHP Owen White (82nd per BA)
10 / 6. 1/O Dustin Harris
19 / 26. RHP Marc Church
21 / 25. IF Jonathan Ornelas
26 / –. LHP Antoine Kelly
28 / –. RHP Cole Winn
— / 23. RHP Zak Kent
2 / 4. IF Michael Busch (44th overall per MLB, 66 per BA)
4 / 9. RHP Nick Frasso (65th overall per MLB) (on Dev List)
5 / 3. RHP Gavin Stone (78th overall per MLB, 61 per BA)
6 / 6. OF Andy Pages (hurt)
8 / 11. RHP River Ryan
9 / 7. RHP Landon Knack (hurt)
10 / 15. IF Jorbit Vivas
12 / 12. RHP Kyle Hurt
29 / –. C Hunter Feduccia
Offense / Position Players
Round Rock Offense: 4% above average runs scored, .270/.369/.456, 106 OPS+, 106 wRC+
OKC Offense: 2% above average runs scored, .269/.370/.444, 101 OPS+, 100 wRC+
C Sam Huff / Jordan Procyshen
1B Blaine Crim / Dustin Harris
2B Justin Foscue
3B Davis Wendzel
SS Jonathan Ornelas
LF Wyatt Langford
CF JP Martinez
RF Elier Hernandez
Also 2/3 Dio Arias, OF Sandro Fabian, C Matt Whatley (hurt)
Round Rock’s batting roster might be the most stable I’ve ever covered. Five players (Hernandez, Crim Foscue, Wendzel, Ornelas) reached 500 plate appearances, and another four reached 300. From 2016-2022, the total number of Texas AAA batters with at least 500 plate appearances was five.
The Pacific Coast League is ridiculously hitter-friendly. A park-adjusted league-average line for a Round Rock hitter is .264/.360/.440 compared to .251/.322/.420 for a Ranger. Even so, this is a strong, deep group lacking weaknesses. In Sunday’s must-win game, the #8 and #9 hitters were Dustin Harris (.273/.382/.455, 110 OPS+) and Dio Arias (.286/.361/.422, 96 OPS+). The only regular hitter with an OBP below .360 was Sandro Fabian, and he hit .288/.331/.523 with 23 homers. The only regular seriously lacking in power was Jonathan Ornelas (.253/.368/.359), and even he has solid power when he elevates. JP Martinez had a career year (.298/.418/.543, 38 SB).
C Hunter Feduccia / David Freitas
1B Justin Yurchak
2B Jorbit Vivas
3B Miguel Vargas
SS Bryan Brigman
LF Ryan Ward (also 1B) / Steven Dugger
CF Drew Avans / Jonny Deluca
RF Oscar Mercado
Also 2/3/S Yonny Hernandez, 1/3 Michael Busch, OF David Dahl
The Dodgers have a pretty good offense that doesn’t quite measure up to the Express. Well-regarded Michael Busch has yet to hit much in the Majors, but after being sent back to AAA he closed the season with a nine-game hitting streak and a line of .375/.475/.750. He and Jonny Deluca (.306/.397/.548) are the only .500 sluggers. Miguel Vargas hit .288/.407/.479. The busy Ryan Ward (.234/.324/.424) had 54 extra-base hits. Yonny Hernandez, as usual, gets on base (.395 OBP). Unlike the Express, the Dodgers have some guys who don’t excel at either reaching base or hitting or power.
Pitching / Possible Rotation
Round Rock: 14% better than avg. runs allowed, .253/.347/.404 oppo line, 88 OPS+, 13% BB/HBP, 24% SO
OKC: 15% better than avg. runs allowed, .249/.337/.405, 83 OPS+, 12% BB/HBP, 24% SO
1. Robert Dugger (4.31 ERA, .262/.335/.407 oppo line, 10% BB/HBP, 23% SO)
2: Owen White (4.99 ERA, .264/.381/.467, 16% BB/HBP, 14% SO)
3: Cole Winn (7.22 ERA, .279/.398/.462, 17% BB/HBP, 20% SO)
The rotation is not a strength. As I mentioned recently, Robert Dugger led the league in ERA among qualifiers (of whom there were few). He’s the best bet to supply five solid innings, but he’s not really a shut-down type. Owen White’s ERA is actually slightly better than league average, but the peripherals are not. Similarly, Cole Winn has been better during the second half of the season, but not good. Assuming a third game, I would expect Winn’s leash to be short. Round Rock has a zillion relief pitchers.
Yerry Rodriguez leads the club with eight saves including five in the last month, but I’m not especially enthused. He’s as good as anyone in AAA when on, but since his last MLB appearance in late July, opponents are hitting .284/.370/.469.
Matt Bush has allowed three runs in 12.2 AAA innings with one walk and 16 strikeouts. Antoine Kelly and Justin Slaten have been worthy late-season additions who could both see a high-leverage situation. Marc Church appears on the prospect lists and has a marvelous slider, but he’s been walk-prone and generally out of form for a while. Extremely erratic Daniel Robert has been great the last month, while Kyle Cody hasn’t been able to build on a nice August. Chase Lee has been on the IL for two weeks. Alex Speas can mow down a side while giving you serious heartburn.
Zak Kent threw 71 pitches Sunday, so even a Game 3 appearance would be on three days rest. Jack Leiter pitched Saturday, and I suppose he could be available in an all-hands-on-deck situation, but there’s a real risk that it wouldn’t go too well. Remember, I’m talking purely about expected performance right now, not the future.
1: Kyle Hurt (3.33 ERA, .198/.284/.333 oppo line, 11% BB/HBP, 39% SO)
2: Gavin Stone (4.74 ERA, .226/.309/.375, 11% BB/HBP, 28% SO)
Hurt has spent most of the season in AA Tulsa, where he posted a so-so 4.15 ERA but struck out 110 in 65 innings. He also had a scoreless two-inning MLB debut two weeks ago. Next is Gavin Stone, who likewise gave up more runs than his peripherals would suggest. My one in-person look at Stone back in May didn’t wow me, to be honest, but on the whole (including Game 3 possibilities), OKC’s rotation appears more promising than Round Rock’s.
In relief, rehabbing Wilton Suero has 17 AAA saves with a 3.26 ERA, .178/.278/.317 oppo line, and a solid but not overwhelming 26% K rate. Also around are Bryan Hudson, a strikeout machine who might also start, a steady John Rooney, ex-Ranger Tyson Miller, and more recent ex-Ranger Ricky Vanasco. Vanasco has 5.1 scoreless innings with six strikeouts in AAA. Like the Express, OKC has numerous options of varying skills and quality.
Teams tend to run less when losing, and they can’t run without baserunners. OKC somehow allowed the league’s most steals by far (214) despite the league’s best record and fewest baserunners allowed. Primary catcher Hunter Feduccia nabbed only 15% of opposing runners, so the Express have an opportunity. Conversely, Round Rock allowed the fewest steals. OKC committed more errors but was more likely to turn batted balls into outs. Notwithstanding OKC’s bizarre issues with opposing runners, the two teams have the league’s best defenses.
OKC – 0.98 runs, 0.93 HR
OKC’s Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark favors pitchers relative to the league, but don’t you dare call it a pitcher’s park. OKC’s close-to-average offense scored 6.0 runs per game at home, and a very good pitching staff allowed 5.2 per game.
Advantages / Outlook
Offense – Round Rock
Pitching – OKC
Defense – Round Rock, because of the running game
Neither team snuck in. Well, Round Rock did sneak in on the last day, but the Express and OKC are the best teams in the league, and either would be a worthy champion. On paper, it’s very close, even though the Dodgers thoroughly dominated the series. I suppose the advantage goes to OKC because every game will be played in their house.
Pacific Coast League Championship Series (best-of-three)