Upon finishing the year under .500 and over 10 games behind the Alaska Baseball League leader, the Peninsula Oilers have reached one goal.
The next goal will take everything they have.
When the fourth-seeded Oilers open the postseason tonight at 6 p.m. at Hermon Brothers Field in Palmer, they will be facing the mighty Mat-Su Miners, the top-seeded club that finished 30-14 and ended the regular season on a nine-game win streak.
So how will the Oilers pull off the upset? For one, pitching can go a long way.
The Oilers hold the top pitcher in the league in Raymond Kerr, who is back to work after missing a turn in the team rotation for an illness. Kerr holds the best ERA in the league at 1.13. Second-best is Mat-Su’s Calvin LeBrun at 2.03.
In three starts and one relief appearance against the Miners this year, Kerr is 1-1 with a 1.42 ERA, and has only given up 13 base hits and three walks in 19 innings. The lefty-hander out of Lassen College (California) also boasts 16 strikeouts against the Miners.
Kerr isn’t a bum with a bat in his hand, either. Against all competition, the 22-year-old holds a .283 batting average this summer.
The Oilers are also coming off a playoff run that saw them take down some formidable competition, including the Miners. Peninsula is 4-7 against Mat-Su this year, which started with a 1-5 home stand against the Miners in early June.
However, the Oilers are 3-2 against the Miners at Hermon Brothers Field, where today’s contest will be played. The second game of the best-of-three series will be played Thursday at 2 p.m., with the “if-necessary” contest scheduled 40 minutes after the finish of game 2.
Peninsula recently split a crucial series with the Miners, including a doubleheader sweep on July 23 on the road.
While Kerr is Peninsula’s shining ace on the mound, the rest of the rotation can show up on any day and shut down a potent offense as well. Soldotna product Joey Becher sports a 2.25 ERA in 28 innings of work this summer, while California kid Kyle Lucke has spun a 2.84 ERA.
Behind that, Vermont pitcher Devin Hayes has recorded a 3.30 ERA in 30 innings on the mound for the Oilers and Arizona native Billy Clemens has started all year with a 5.76 ERA.
Another advantage the Oilers hold over the Miners heading into today’s opening playoff game is rest. The Oilers finished up their regular season Monday with a win over the Anchorage Glacier Pilots, while the Miners wrapped up their proceedings Tuesday with a doubleheader against the Pilots. That adds up to 14 additional frames of action that Mat-Su has seen in the last 24 hours.
It sets up the Peninsula offense to have a field day. Currently leading the Oilers from the plate this year is Kellen Strahm, a sophomore out of Eugene, Oregon. Strahm sports the second-best batting average in the league at .322 and is second in walks with 29, four behind the league leader.
Peninsula’s Thomas Ruddy sits 12th in batting average in the league at .280, and also offers speed on the base paths. The junior out of Yale University leads the ABL with 13 stolen bases.
However, the Miners have the top batter in Quin Cotton, who is hitting .338 this year, and own three of the top five batters, including Justin Ammons at .313 and Elijah MacNamee at .310.
Additionally, Mat-Su’s Blake Benefield leads the league in two offensive categories, home runs (six, tied with the Oilers’ Caleb Hicks) and RBI (30).