Streaky Scrappers set for playoffs

NILES — The Mahoning Valley Scrappers got their 20th season off to a great start, stumbled a bit during the middle of the season, but righted themselves and did enough to earn their second straight division title.

The Scrappers now look to the New York-Penn League playoffs for the sixth time in the history of the franchise. Mahoning Valley plays Tri-City tonight (6:30) at Troy, N.Y., to open a best-of-three series. Game 2 is scheduled Thursday (7:05 p.m.) at Eastwood Field, and if a game 3 is needed, it will be played there on Friday night.

The Scrappers also won back-to-back division titles in the first two years of their existence, 1999 and 2000. In its previous five playoff appearances, Mahoning Valley has reached the championship series four times. The Scrappers have won one title, in 2004, when they qualified as the wild-card team.

This season, under manager Jim Pankovits, the Scrappers jumped out to an 11-3 record in June and grew that success with a 17-12 July, leaving the team at 28-15 heading into August. That month proved to be a streaky month for the Scrappers.

The club was swept at home by State College in three games Aug. 5-7, losing all three by one run. That dropped MV to 30-20, but the Scrappers bounced back with a three-game road sweep at Williamsport.

Then came a disastrous eight-game losing streak from Aug. 11-19, which left the Scrappers at 33-28. However, a five-game winning streak — three at Auburn and two at home vs. West Virginia — had Mahoning Valley at 38-28. A 4-5 finish was good enough to hold off Auburn for the Pinckney Division title.

Auburn made the playoffs as the wild-card team and will face Hudson Valley in the other opening round series.

The Scrappers lost several key players throughout the season through call-ups to farm teams higher in the Cleveland Indians’ system.

A pair of 19-year-old middle infielders, Tyler Freeman and Jose Fermin, were with the club the entire season and provided solid numbers. Freeman hit .352 with 29 doubles, 49 runs scored, 14 steals and 38 runs batted in. Fermin had a .279 average, scored 47 runs, stole 17 bases and drove in 26 runs.

Other consistent producers on the offensive side have been OF-1B Mitch Reeves (.274, 36 RBI), OF Clark Scolamiero (.240, 24 RBI), OF Hosea Nelson (.233, 8 HRs, 36 RBI) and 3B Henry Pujols (.229, 7 HRs, 26 RBI).

The pitching staff also lost some key parts through call-ups, but Jose Mota (4-6, 5.53 ERA), Zack Draper (7-4, 3.04), Cameron Mingo (2-6, 5.03) and Yefferson Yannuzzi (0-3, 3.38) were dependable starters.

Key bullpen pitchers included Randy Valladares (5-0, 2.29), Luis Araujo (2-1, 5.60, Luis Santos (5-2, 3.15, 3 saves), Luis Valdez (2-4, 5.77), Manuel Alvarez (1-0, 2.28, 5 saves) and Erick Algarin (2-2, 3.04, 7 saves).