Regular Season Recap as Playoffs Start Thursday Night for the San Rafael Pacifics
With the Pacific Association regular season completed and the playoffs looming, the San Rafael Pacifics find themselves in a situation eerily similar to that of a year ago – solidly in second place and with a shot at re-creating their post-season run of 2018.
Last year, the Pacifics finished the regular season seven games behind Sonoma and defeated first Vallejo and then the Stompers in the playoffs to win their fourth title since 2012. This week, they have a chance to repeat, albeit in a somewhat different format.
San Rafael will host the winner of the quarterfinal matchup between Vallejo and Napa in a one-game semifinal Thursday, with the winner advancing to play Sonoma for the championship. The difference is that the finals will be determined in a best-of-three series Friday-Sunday series rather than the one-game, winner-take-all method of 2018.
So the Pacifics know the pathway is there if blocked by teams that played them tough during the regular season. San Rafael managed a slim 11-10 margin in the season series against Vallejo, and it lost to Sonoma eight times in 12 matchups. Sonoma has outdone the Pacifics in most statistical categories, including a 60-point advantage in OPS, nearly 100 more runs and a team earned-run average nearly a full run lower.
On the other hand, while late-season injuries to starting pitcher Johnny Morell (finger) and outfielder Markus Montelongo (groin strain) are concerning, the Pacifics have been on a roll at just the right time. After a stretch in which they lost 10 of 15 games, they regrouped to win eight of their last nine and finish with a 38-26 record. That streak included two wins in three games against the Admirals and a victory over the Stompers.
While the pitching staff had its ups and downs, it tightened down the stretch, with a 3.60 ERA in its last nine games, compared to a seasoned figure of 5.27.
“The guys have really come together as a team,” said manager Oscar Suarez, who took over early in the season. “At first, there was no leadership in the clubhouse, but it’s there now. The guys have stepped up and are really learning how to be pros.”
Indeed, it’s been a season of growth for San Rafael, which began the season under new ownership and with just one returnee – outfielder Corey Dempster – from last year’s championship club.
“We didn’t have any expectations at the beginning,” said Gabe Suarez, team owner and son of Oscar the manager. “We knew everything was going to be completely new.”
The Suarez’s had sold the Cleburne (TX) franchise in the independent American Association following the 2018 season and announced the purchase of the San Rafael club in November.
“We had a tremendous amount of work to do in the off-season,” Gabe Suarez said. “It was a lot to pull off in a short time with small staff, but everyone stepped up and got us ready for the season.”
The Pacifics began 8-3, hit a 2-6 skid, rallied for a while, then hit their 5-10 slump that preceded the season-ending run. The roster saw a lot of re-working, with the pitching staff, in particular, going through many changes.
“It took a while to find the right mix, and we had a lot of players move in and out, but we have guys now that have really pulled together,” Oscar Suarez said. “The pitchers are more consistently throwing strikes now, and we’ve had great performances from a lot of the position players.”
To wit: –
Shortstop Raul Navarro has consistently been one of the Pacific Association’s top players. He led the league in hits with 91, finished second in batting by a single percentage point with a .368 mark and stole 31 bases. At one point, he had a 38-game on-base streak.
Outfielders Axel Johnson and Dempster were 1-2 in 67 and 62, respectively. Johnson was in a three-way tie home runs with 19, followed closely by Dempster with 17. Dempster batted .382 in the last nine games, while Johnson was at .351 to finish at .296.
Catcher/first baseman Ermindo Escobar batted over .300 all season and finished fifth in the league with a .332 mark. Designated hitter Mike Annone got hot toward the end, boosting his average to .304. Montelongo, a mid-season addition, pulled out of a slump to bat .375 in the last nine games. Second baseman Yeiler Peguero batted .299 after being acquired during the season.
And 38-year-old closer Jailen Peguero (Yeiler’s dad) has been superb, pitching to a 1.87 ERA, averaging two strikeouts per inning and walking just 10 batters in 38.1 innings. He’s foiled opposing hitters with a mid-90s fastball, a biting slider, and an occasional split/change.
“I told Oscar once earlier in the season that we were like a traveling off-Broadway show,” first-base coach Phil Martino said. “We were trying things and seeing if they worked. If they didn’t, we’d do something different. Lately, though, we’ve been performing consistently – the offense has been solid and able to come from behind, and the pitchers have stepped up when it was needed. “Now, we’re ready to hit Broadway.”