Brewer aims to stifle Surprise in AFL title game
Salt River starter tasked with shutting down league's top offense
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The old adage about pitching winning championships might be put to a serious test on Saturday.
That's when the Surprise Saguaros and Salt River Rafters will meet in the Arizona Fall League championship game at Scottsdale Stadium, streaming live at MLB.com at 3 p.m. ET and on MLB Network. Both teams have known they would meet for this AFL finale for a week, having clinched their respective divisions early. And in a year that was hitting-heavy even by Fall League standards, expecting a pitchers' duel might be a bit too much to ask.
"They're very good," Salt River and Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado said about the Saguaros. "They're the best team here for a reason. They can hit and they have a lot of fun out there. They're a tough team. It's going to be a tough game on Saturday, but I have the confidence our team can win that game."
Surprise won 26 games in the regular season, for a .722 winning percentage. A win on Saturday would set a new Fall League record. The Rafters won 22 games, making them and the Saguaros the only two teams to finish over .500 this year.
And offense was typically the name of the game. The Saguaros led the league in just about every offensive category, averaging a whopping 7.14 runs per game. It didn't take long for the Saguaros to realize they had the ability to outslug opponents on a regular basis.
"It helped we put up about 10-15 hits a game for about the first 10 games," Marlins outfielder Kevin Mattison, the leadoff hitter who hit .349, said. "That got us rolling. We hit. We hit just about every game. We have a good lineup, good manager and coaches. We just go out there and play every day like we're going to win, and we usually do."
Charged with trying to stop that lineup on Saturday will be Charles Brewer of the D-backs (Alex Sanabia gets the ball for the Saguaros). Brewer, a local product who was No. 9 on Arizona's Top 10 Prospects List at the end of the season, understands he faces a tough task against the Surprise lineup.
"They might have the most impressive offense in the league in terms of numbers," Brewer said. "One through nine, there's not an easy out in the lineup. It's important for me to change speeds from the get-go in that game. I think I should be fine and put up a quality start for my team."
Brewer faced the Saguaros twice during the regular season. The first came on Oct. 10, Brewer's second start. He gave up five hits and three runs -- two earned -- over three innings. He clearly learned from that outing, because when he faced Surprise again, on Oct. 27, he had a much more solid five-inning, two-run performance, walking one and striking out six.
"I'm really looking forward to the opportunity," Brewer said. "It's going to be on national TV. While it might be mid-November, I'm taking it as seriously as a start during the season. I'm not taking it lightly. It's definitely going to be a big opportunity to give my team a win and, hopefully, a ring."
To bring Salt River a win, Brewer will have to find a way to particularly contain Wil Myers and Mike Olt, the heart of the Surprise lineup. Myers shook off a rough regular season by finishing third in the AFL in OPS as Surprise's No. 3 hitter. Olt has been the Saguaros' cleanup hitter and led the league with 13 homers and 43 RBIs, both marks just one off the league record.
"Especially coming in after a long season, you never know what kind of attitude a team is going to bring," said Olt, a serious candidate for MVP honors. "Some teams just want to get out of here, but this team, we definitely want to win. It started week one. You could tell, we knew we were good and we'd have a chance. I think everyone turned it on and stayed focused the whole season. Saturday should be a lot of fun."
While Salt River doesn't quite have the same firepower, it is not without offensive weapons. The Rafters averaged 5.74 runs per game, led by Arenado, a Dernell Stenson Sportsmanship Award nominee and MVP candidate in his own right. Arenado finished third in the batting race (.388) and sixth in OPS (1.059) while placing behind only Olt in RBIs.
"We're tired, but the good thing is we have the drive to win it," Arenado said. "When you're winning, it gets you the drive, it gets you more pumped up for the games every day. Knowing we have a chance for a ring, it's pretty cool. We didn't come here for two months just to mess around. We came here to win."