The Altoona Curve’s season was much like the roller coaster beyond the right field fence, up and down.
In April the Double-A affiliate of the Pirates went 9-13 and followed that up with a May where they went 19-9. June saw the Curve go 19-12 while July saw the Curve go 14-15. The Curve went 17-12 in July before finishing the season 2-3 in September.
Weathering the ups-and-downs of the season has gotten the Curve into the Eastern League playoffs.
There was much rejoicing.
— Altoona Curve (@AltoonaCurve) September 5, 2016
They will face the Western division champions Akron Rubber Ducks. The best-of-five playoff format begins Wednesday evening with game-one at Peoples Natural Gas Field in Altoona. Games one and two will be played at lower seeded Altoona, while games three through five (if necessary) will be held in Akron.
The Rubber Ducks went 13-8 against the Curve this season.
Keys to the Curve
Number 10 prospect Nick Kingham looks to make his Eastern League playoffs debut on the mound for Altoona this series. The highly-touted prospect is working his way back from Tommy John surgery and has made two starts for the Curve since being brought up. Kingham has gone 1-1 with a 5.47 ERA in those two starts for Altoona.
Tyler Eppler, the Curve’s workhorse for the season, logged 162 and one-third innings for the Curve this summer in his 27 starts. Eppler is 9-10 on the season with a 3.99 ERA. Clay Holmes and Brandon Waddell look to round out the starting rotation heading into the five-game series. Cody Dickson, the Curve’s pitcher-of-the-year, will also be in play throughout the series.
On the offensive side of the ball, team MVP Barrett Barnes leads a potent Altoona offense with a .306 batting average. The outfield prospect has scored 60 runs for the Curve so far this season hitting primarily in the middle of the order. Erich Weiss, the Ironman of the Year for the Curve, hit .276 while appearing in 122 games for Altoona this season. Weiss was recently named to the Eastern League post-season all star team.
Also on the offensive side for the Curve is highly touted prospect Kevin Newman. Newman has played in only 61 games for Altoona this season after being called-up, but has hit .288 with 11 doubles in that time.
The Rubber Ducks
Akron’s rotation is powered by number 19-rated prospect Rob Kaminsky who made 25 starts for the Double-A affiliate of the Cleveland Indians this summer. Kaminsky had a 3.28 ERA to go with his 11 wins on the season.
Right fielder Jordan Smith has a .271 average with seven home runs for the Rubber Ducks. While Akron won the Western Division, it was their pitching and getting hot at the right time which propelled them to take over the top spot from the Curve. The offense of the Rubber Ducks ranks last in the Eastern League with a .242 average, although they have managed 132 home runs.
The pitching staff for Akron is in the middle of the road in the Eastern League with a 3.81 ERA on the season. The Rubber Ducks won eight of their last ten games to dethrone Altoona atop the standings.
The Curve have the potential to go the distance throughout the playoffs should they make it past Akron. Altoona’s offense has been at the top or near the top of the league, however, the pitching staff has held the team back as of late. With an offense privy to hitting the long ball like Akron, the Altoona Curve need to hold the bats of the Rubber Ducks in check if they want to survive and advance.
Prediction: Altoona Curve in five.
Photo Credit – Roger Choover – Flickr Creative Commons