The Charleston RiverDogs will face off against the Rome Braves in the first round of the South Atlantic League playoffs. The first game of the three-game series is slated for a 7 PM start Wednesday, September 7 at Rome’s State Mutual Stadium. The scene will then shift to Charleston’s Joe Riley Park Friday evening September 9 at 7 PM. If necessary, game three would be held Saturday, September 10 in Charleston as well.
During the season, the RiverDogs won the season series against the Braves, 7-6. The Dogs were 4-2 at Joe Riley Park against the Braves, while going 3-4 on the road in Rome.
Charleston earned their spot in the playoffs by winning the first-half South Division championship by going 42-27. The team has gone through many roster changes since the first half, but there’s been one constant throughout the season. The RiverDogs pitching has been the backbone of the team leading the South Atlantic League with a 3.05 team ERA. Despite losing pitchers like Domingo Acevado, Nestor Cortes, James Reeves and Brody Koerner to Tampa, the RiverDogs have bounced back with Christian Morris, Daris Vargas, Taylor Widener and Nick Green.
Andrew Schwab has been the closer for the Dogs for most of the season besides a short stint in Tampa in the middle of the season. He has closed out 20 games pitching to a 2.27 ERA with 43 strikeouts in 39 and 2/3 innings.
Offensively for the RiverDogs, Chris Gittens and Kyle Holder have been key to the offense. Gittens is currently out with a lower-body injury, and no word has come as to whether he’ll be ready for the playoffs. He is eligible to come off the seven-day disabled list.
Gittens has smacked the second most home runs (21) in the league this season batting mostly cleanup while driving in 70 runs. Gittens presence in the lineup is essential for the RiverDogs in the playoffs, and he has been the primary run producer and was announced to the South Atlantic League Post-Season All-Start team. Holder has been consistent offensively at the top of the lineup batting .286 and has been excellent with his defense at shortstop and second base.
Daris Vargas, Christian Morris, and Nick Green would figure to be the rotation for Charleston in the first round. Vargas is 10-8 on the year with a 2.95 ERA. Vargas faced the Braves twice. On June 8 at Rome, he got a no decision pitching six innings while giving up four hits. The two runs he gave up were on a home run in the fifth by Braves catcher Carlos Castro. The Dogs ended up losing 3-2 in 11 innings. He faced the Braves again in Rome on June 25 resulting in another no-decision, allowing two runs in four and two-thirds innings. The Dogs lost that game 11-5.
Morris is 8-5 on the season with a 2.99 ERA. He faced Rome on July 14 in Charleston earning a win while going six and a third, striking out four, giving up six hits, allowing no runs in a 2-0 Charleston win.
Green, 3-0 with a 1.06 ERA this year in Charleston, has not faced the Braves this season since joining the RiverDogs on August 17. He was one of three pitchers acquired by the New York Yankees from Texas in the Carlos Beltran deal.
Former South Carolina Gamecock Tyler Widener would figure to be an essential part of the Dogs out of the bullpen along with Schwab. He’s picked up three saves in seven appearances posting a 0.78 ERA. He has struck out 34 batters in 23 innings pitched.
Rome’s path to the playoffs came on the back of a hot last month of the season that led to a showdown for first place in Augusta in which the Braves swept the GreenJackets in a doubleheader to clinch the South Division second half title. The Braves went 21-7 in their last 28 games to propel them to the championship.
The Braves are led by a core of prospects. Rome currently has six of the top 30 prospects in the Atlanta Braves minor league system according to MLB.com – Kolby Allard, Mike Soroka, Touki Toussaint, Max Fried, Austin Riley and Lucas Herbert.
Kolby Allard is the highest ranked prospect, and the 19-year-old 2015 first round draft pick (14th overall) has gone 5-3 with a 3.73 ERA this year with Rome. He did get roughed up against Charleston in Rome on June 6 allowing six runs in 5 innings pitched. Allard bounced back the next time he faced the RiverDogs on August 8 in Charleston going six innings and only allowing two runs on four hits. The RiverDogs did win that game 4-3 after the bullpen was unable to hold the lead. Anyelo Gomez pitched six innings of one-hit relief for the win in that game for Charleston after Bryan Mitchell gave up three runs in his three innings on the mound.
On the offense for Rome, Austin Riley has been their big bat ripping 20 home runs, driving in 78 runs while batting .270. In 11 games against Charleston, Riley batted .244 with three home runs and eight runs batted in.
Ronald Acuna is another player to look out for in the Rome Braves lineup. Acuna has batted .313 with a .390 on-base percentage. He’s a threat on the basepaths as well as he’s stolen 14 bases this year.
When asked what the RiverDogs approach to the playoffs will be, Dogs middle infielder Kyle Holder has this to say, “We’re going just to go out and treat it like a regular game, just treat it like we have this whole season. Pitch well, play good defense, get runs across the plate and just try to win obviously.”