This is our weekly look at notable performances from all over the system, from big-name prospects and less heralded guys alike.
Last week, we featured Burlington’s elimination, which left only the Double-A Northwest Arkansas Naturals standing. This week, no Royals affiliates remain in action.
AA Northwest Arkansas Naturals (65-75 overall in regular season; 4-4 in postseason)
The hot hitting that highlighted the final run of the regular season and the start of the playoffs cooled down somewhat against playoff rival Midland (Oakland affiliate). The Naturals did not score more than four runs in any game against the RockHounds.
Game 1 (L 4-5): Naturals starter Yender Caramo gave up a pair of runs in the first. The NWArk offense answered immediately with two runs of its own, but eventually Midland came up with a 5-3 lead.
In the 9th, hot-hitting Ryan O’Hearn doubled with one out, and scored on a two-out single by Samir Duenez. Duenez was lifted for pinch-runner Carlos Garcia, but Garcia got stranded as Cam Gallagher was called out on strikes to end the game.
Game 2 (L 4-6): Neither team scored until the 4th inning, when Midland scored two runs, and then the 5th, when Midland scored three more runs. And then in the 6th, the Rockhounds added another run, leaving Northwest Arkansas in a 6-0 hole.
The Naturals answered in the bottom of the 5th, with a three-run rally sparked by four singles and an error by Midland’s second baseman that allowed a run to score. Northwest Arkansas added another run thanks to two walks and a single the following inning, but left a pair of runners stranded. They went down in order in the 8th and 9th, sealing a 6-4 loss and a 0-2 deficit in the five-game series.
Game 3 (W 4-0): Right-hander Josh Staumont started game three for the Naturals. In the regular season, Staumont pitched 123.1 innings in 29 games, but clearly he had something left in the tank for this important playoff start. He threw 6.1 shutout innings. He only allowed three hits and a walk, and struck out eight.
Relievers Daniel Stumpf, Aroni Nina, and Eric Stout would pick up right where Staumont left off, combining for 2.2 no-hit innings to complete a shutout.
The offense was led by CF Alfredo Escalera, who had four (!) hits and drove in three runs.
Game 4 (L 1-4): The fourth and (spoiler alert) final game of the series was delayed about three hours by rain. When play finally started, the Northwest Arkansas offense was nowhere to be found. The Naturals scratched out just three singles and one run.
The win for Midland game them a piece of Texas League history: In the league’s 91 years, no team had ever won the championship three years in a row.
* * * *
This is the final 2016 installment of “This Week in the Minors” in its regular format. Next week, we will take a look at the team leaders at each level and attempt to figure out who might get promoted next spring.
Thank you all for reading along this summer, and all the great questions and comments you add each week.