With the first half title and play-off spot guaranteed, the Indians primary AZL team has seen their brothers overtake them early in the second half. Even so, with a 5-3 start, the Indians 1 remain second in the AZL Central.
First, we need to update the injury news that started off last week’s AZL Indians 2 weekly column. Ruben Cardenas went down with an injured elbow after sliding into the warning track in right field on July 26th. He was out for a week before returning to game action on Friday. He played Sunday as well, so he appears healthy, although he hasn’t immediately returned to the level of play he was accustomed to prior to the injury.
There have also been a few roster updates to make as well. In the big shift that moved throughout the system, Shane McCarthy was promoted to Mahoning Valley. He follows fellow relievers drafted in 2018, Adam Scott, Nick Sandlin and Alex Royalty as a pitcher who had an incredible start in Arizona and was quickly advanced. While with the AZL Indians, he threw twenty innings and struck out twenty while walking two. He allowed just 18 hits, leading to only three earned runs. His departure leaves Kellen Rholl, Liam Jenkins, Eli Lingos, Tim Herrin, Jake Miednik and Aaron Pinto as relievers from the 2018 draft on the AZL Indians 1.
With McCarthy gone, Hector Figueroa may step into the role as top reliever. He already has two saves and four holds (these are extremely unimportant stats anywhere, but particularly in the AZL. I only use them to signify how he is being used) with 15 strike outs in 14.1 innings. He has only walked four, improving essentially every aspect of his game over his two seasons in the Dominican, but particularly his control.
Another option is Rholl, although given the other 2018 picks who have already been promoted, one has to wonder how much longer he has in Arizona. The side arming lefty has had more control problems than Figueroa, but has struck out batters more regularly and allowed just one earned run this year. Either way, the AZL Indians still have some solid options in the pen, although it is at its weakest point this season.
One hole that was created and immediately plugged was in the starting rotation when staff ace Yeffersson Yannuzzi was promoted to Mahoning Valley and AZL Indians 2 ace, Ignacio Feliz, was transferred to team 1. Feliz and Yannuzzi own the first two spots in the Arizona League in ERA, so this move may end up hurting team 2 more than team 1.
Yannuzzi’s promotion was well deserved. In his third season with the Indians and his first in Arizona, he made six starts (eight appearances) for 36.2 innings, striking out 42 and walking 15. His three home runs are a worry, particularly in a league with so little power, but has still allowed just nine earned runs on 31 hits. The left hander may not be a future ace, but he’s definitely one of the system’s top starting prospects.
The offense has largely remained the same over the last few weeks and has been greatly successful. Four times over the last two weeks they’ve scored at least ten after having just one prior this season. Miguel Jerez has been a big part of this with three home runs in the last two weeks (8 total) to tie him with Billy Wilson (team 2) this year for most home runs in a season for the AZL Indians. This is a record that has been tied many times, but with two players hitting that mark with nearly a month left, this is the best chance it has to be broken.
Overall, Jerez and Cardenas have been the top two hitters on AZL Indians 1 with Jerez batting .229/.325/.514 and Cardenas .291/.404/.456. As we wrap up the season, it is likely this pair that will compete for top offensive performer in 2018.
With the season ending in a few weeks, it is a good time to review the play-off standards. As mentioned, the Indians 1 are already in the post-season thanks to their first half victory and are four games ahead of Indians 2 in the overall standings. While the overall standings don’t necessarily factor into the who gets into the play-offs, they do effect how they are played.
There are three divisions in the Arizona League (both Indians teams are in the Central) and the first and second half winners of each division are all entered into the play-offs. If the same team wins both halves, the team with the next best overall record takes the second spot. This helps Indians 2 as they finished second in the first half, 3.5 games ahead of the Brewers who are currently in third. If the AZL Indians 1 win both halves, it would be likely for the Indians 2 to skate into the play-offs as the second best overall team. Otherwise, the Indians 2 would have to outright win the division in the second half, something they are well on their way to doing.
Once all division winners are known, the two teams with the best overall records receive byes while the other four teams play single games against each other to determine who will move on. After, the winners play those teams who had byes in the first round in a one game play-off and finally those two winners play for the championship in another single game.
At the moment, the three top teams in the AZL (the AZL Cubs 1 and Dodgers are the others) are all within a game of the best record, so the Indians 1 have a vested interest in continuing to win. If they can, it could move the expected Indians 1 vs Indians 2 play-off game from the first round into the second, guaranteeing an Indians team gets into the championship round. For the Indians 2 team to surpass Indians 1 and potentially earn the bye, they would have to make up the five game deficit from the first half, which would be difficult, but possible.