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Lugnuts to Win With Canadian Experience?

While I am no great believer in the, seemingly ageless, sports adage that playoff experience is a must for playoff success, I still thought it would be interesting, with the Lansing Lugnuts, single-A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays, about to start their Midwest League quarterfinal against the land-locked Great Lake Loons, to see how many Northwest League championship ring wearing ex-Vancouver Canadians would populate the Lugs lineup.

Because, let’s be honest. Swing a cat within the Blue Jays minor league organization and you’re gonna hit a player that has had success with the Vancouver Canadians.  Last year may have been disappointing but surely there’s a few guys from the 2013 squad that will play key roles against the Loons?

Turns out not really.  Reading the series preview blog of Lansing’s excellent broadcaster, Jesse Goldberg-Strassler, the potential starting lineup doesn’t have the championship pedigree I expected.

A rundown of what the Lugs lineup will look like and their relation to the Vancouver Canadians:

Chris Carlson (LF) – Member of the 2014 squad that lost in the NWL finals to Hillsboro

Richard Urena (SS) – as above

Jason Leblebijian (2B) – Dressed for C’s in both 2012 and 2013 but wasn’t around for playoff time on either occasion.

Ryan McBroom (1B) – 2014 squad

D.J. Davis (CF) – Member of the 2012 championship winning team.  A late season call-up in his draft year, the 17 year old (at the time) struggled in his five Northwest League games before going 0 for 13, with 8 strikeouts, in his first three playoff games.  He did finish strong though, with three hits against two more K’s in the championship decider.

David Harris (RF) – Was on 2013 team but can’t find him anywhere in playoff boxscores.

Danny Jansen (C) – Never played for the C’s which will disappoint until eternity

+ 2 of:

Gunnar Heidt – on 2014 team but didn’t make an appearance in playoffs

Justin Atkinson – Member of 2013 championship team while also spending a good portion of this season (winning hitter of the year) here before going back to Lansing for playoffs

Michael De La Cruz – Backup catcher for 2014 squad

Alex Maldonado – Bench player on 2014 squad

So maybe not the success I had expected. But plenty of C’s playoff experience as only two members of the potential starting lineup didn’t at least dress during a NWL playoff game.

Remember though, the opening paragraph of this piece says, in one giant run-on sentence, that I don’t care much for the experience angle.

What I do like about the Lugs lineup is that they are going young up the middle.  The ‘demotion’ of Richard Urena (19) from Dunedin and promotion of Lane Thomas (20) from Vancouver (although his wrist injury has thrown a wrench in the plans somewhat) added to 20 year old catcher Jansen and the 21 year old Davis makes for a spine that has some prospect shine to it.

Sprinkle in a few older guys who have had good seasons, such as Carlson, McBroom and Leblebijian and the lineup will be serviceable, if not a wrecking ball like the parent club.

What I think gives the Lugs the edge and where I think they should excel is the rotation.  Currently ordered as thus:

Gm 1 – Shane Dawson – A mid-season call-up to Vancouver in 2013, Dawson was electric during his four NWL starts before succumbing to a shoulder injury, playing no part in the playoffs.  Speaking to Shane on the podcast last week, I think he’s going to be excited about this assignment.  After pitching very well in the MWL Shane showed the Blue Jays brass that he could handle the Florida State League over his five August starts.  With that cachet in the bank I think he’ll be absolutely thrilled to head back down to Lansing for the playoffs.

Gm 2 – Justin Shafer – The weak link of the three starters (and I say that in part because of my high regard for the other two) Shafer probably benefits from the suspension to Clinton Hollon, trade of Jesus Tinoco, etc.  A bullpen arm for Vancouver in 2014, the ’14 8th rounder out of the University of Florida has spent time as both a reliever and starter this season, struggling during his time in Dunedin while putting up ok-ish numbers in Lansing.

He doesn’t miss a ton of bats, striking out 5.18 per 9 in Lansing while benefitting from an abnormally low .252 BABIP.  It seems Justin will be very dependent on that young spine I mentioned previously.

Gm 3 – Tom Robson – I don’t think I need to make mention of Tom’s Blue Jays org. playoff history.  But for the sake of completeness, I will.  The Ladner, B.C. native put the C’s on his back in 2013, winning game one of the semi and the decider in the finals versus Boise.  Over the course of those two games he threw 11.1 innings giving up a solitary run with six punch-outs to one walk.  Not bad.  He’s scuffled a bit post-Tommy John surgery but I got positive reports from his last start.  If he can manage his allotted pitch count he should be fine.

My confidence in Robson, and for that matter Dawson, is based on what I saw of them here in Vancouver.  And this is where those that trust only scouting reports, mechanics, stat-lines, etc may begin to look away.

During my three years covering the C’s, no pitcher, aside from maybe Ryan Borucki, has matched the sheer intensity that Dawson and Robson brought to the mound.  Their makeup and compete level is what separates them from other players with the same physical attributes, stuff, etc (and in Shane’s case, often those with better stuff).

I know this isn’t a makeup competition but when it gets down to it, it’s not your experience, but how go about your business and I truly believe that ex-Canadians and Canadian passport holders will find the extra gear needed to get Lansing over the hump.

Or these are just the ramblings of a star-crossed C’s fan whose memories of that 2013 season are outweighing the statistical evidence in front of me.

Either way, should be fun.

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