Billings Mustangs (41-31) vs. Great Falls Voyagers (38-36)
Best-of-3 series begins Saturday, Sept. 6
The Voyagers had some work to do in the second half, finishing the first half in third place in the North Division, a game behind the Helena Brewers. The team got there with a 17-13 August, as the pitching staff got hot to the tune of a 3.42 ERA (and more than a strikeout per inning). However, even through a somewhat lackluster August, the story of this division all season has been the Billings Mustangs and their big offense. While Great Falls will be looking to get back to the championship and avenge last season's defeat against the Orem Owlz, Billings is looking for their first finals appearance since 2004, and their first championship since 2003.
You'd be hard pressed to find things more even than the clubs have played this season, splitting the 16-game regular season. The Voyagers outscored Billings by 11 runs in those games, holding the Mustangs to just about four per game. In fact, Great Falls proved to be one of the league's only teams that could contain the Billings offense, holding it to a mere .238 average. Billings pitchers did their part to stay matched, holding the Voyagers to a .716 OPS.
If the trend continues, and the series proves to be more about pitching than hitting, Great Falls will have their share of arms to throw at the Mustangs. The aforementioned Dexter Carter will certainly be salivating at a chance to face Billings for a sixth time, as he's allowed the league rival just one earned run in 22 1/3 innings. However, the Mustangs won't be outdone too easily, as both Jamie Arneson (2-0, 1.64) and Lance Janke (1-0, 3.27) have had success against the Voyagers this season.
Offensively, Great Falls' focus will be on stopping David Sappelt, one of the few remaining hitters who has given the staff fits. Sappelt hit .362 in 13 games against the Voyagers this season, with eight extra-base hits and 10 runs scored. On the other side, the leader of the Voyagers offense, shortstop Tyler Kuhn, will certainly be expected to lead here, as Kuhn hit .404 against Billings this season.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Billings: The Mustangs had one of the league's best players in Neftali Soto, only for awhile, as Soto's success was met with a promotion to the Midwest League. The team also hoped that Reds first-rounder Yonder Alonso would join the team, but he was sent to Sarasota instead. So while the current prospect landscape isn't as fruitful as it could've been, there is still a lot of talent. Infielder Alex Buchholz has picked up the slack in Soto's absence, batting .400 average in 33 games. The power comes from first baseman Michael Konstanty, who has 25 extra-base hits and 10 home runs in 51 games. The outfield is also dangerous with Tyler Stovall (.463 SLG), David Sappelt (.509 SLG) and Byron Wiley (.635 SLG). The pitching staff is led most by a diverse bullpen, though despite his troubles, starter Clayton Shunick (1-4, 8.45) is the team's highest Draft pick, selected in the fifth round this June.