Facing a must-win scenario on both Saturday and Sunday, the Akron RubberDucks were able to pull out two clutch victories to secure their spot in the postseason. Akron faced the Somerset Patriots, who were at the top of the Northeast division leaderboard this week. An even split of the six game series was enough for the RubberDucks to earn a shot at their sixth championship in franchise history.
The Patriots won three of the first four games in the set, leading to Akron falling from first to third in the league standings. The Bowie BaySox were 0.5 games ahead of Akron heading into Saturday’s game, but a loss by the Orioles affiliate in their penultimate regular season game to the Altoona Curve prevented them from being able to host a postseason game, should they make it. The RubberDucks defeated Somerset 5-3 on Saturday, making the winner of Sunday’s game the number one seed.
Bowie was victorious in the regular season finale 7-5, leaving the loser of the Akron-Somerset game out of the postseason. In the most minor league baseball of fashions, the RubberDucks were sent the 2020 AL Cy Young Award winner Shane Bieber on a rehab assignment on Sunday. Bieber allowed three runs on three hits in 3.1 innings in the game, and Akron was not only in a hole, but was without a hit through six innings. Nevertheless, Akron showed fight and overcome a four-run deficit in the final three innings to claim victory in front of their home crowd.
9/14: W 8-6 vs Somerset; W: Nic Enright (3-4), L: Zach Greene (2-5)
9/15: L 6-5 vs Somerset; W: Jhony Brito (3-3), L: Joey Cantillo (0-2), S: Addison Russ (4)
9/16: L 10-4 vs Somerset; W: Randy Vasquez (2-1), L: Ben Krauth (2-2)
9/17: L 2-0 vs Somerset; W: Hayden Wasneski (8-4), L: Konnor Pilkington (3-2), S: Zach Greene (2)
9/18: W 5-3 vs Somerset; W: Ben Krauth (3-2), L: Ken Waldichuk (4-3), S: Aaron Pinto (5)
9/19: W 5-4 vs Somerset; W: Logan Allen (4-0), L: Nick Ernst (0-2)
G1: Tuesday, September 21 @ Bowie (7:05 pm)
G2: Wednesday, September 22 @ Bowie (7:05 pm)
G3: Friday, September 24 @ Akron (7:05 pm)
G4: Saturday, September 25 @ Akron (7:05 pm) *If Necessary
G5: Sunday, September 26 @ Akron (2:05 pm) *If Necessary
It will be a best-of-five series between the RubberDucks and BaySox next week, with a travel day on Thursday. Akron will have a chance to host all three series-clinching games due to the new rules across minor league baseball for postseason play. During the regular season, Akron and Bowie met 12 times, with the RubberDucks winning eight of the games. The last time these two teams met was way back on July 4th, so both rosters have turned over significantly since then. Between call ups and trade deadline acquisitions, the four projected starting pitchers will be new faces that the BaySox have yet to see in Peyton Battenfield, Xzavion Curry, Konnor Pilkington and Logan Allen.
Position Player of the Year
RF Oscar Gonzalez: 49 G, 62-188 (.330 BA), 31 R, 12 2Bs, 13 HRs, 41 RBIs, 11 BBs, 1-1 SB, .968 OPS
Gonzalez had the highest OPS of any player for the RubberDucks in 2021 and was second to Will Benson in homeruns with 133 less plate appearances. Gonzalez not only displayed pop in his bat, but had the second-highest average behind Steven Kwan. The biggest question mark with Gonzalez moving forward is his defensive prowess. The RubberDucks and Clippers played him in the outfield, mostly the corners, but the bat is for sure his strong suit. Just before he was called up to AAA, Gonzalez had a monster month of June. He batted .362 with 13 runs scored, nine doubles, five homeruns and 20 RBIs, and went on a 17-game hitting streak from June 12 to July 2.
Pitcher of the Year
LHP Logan Allen: 12 APP, 10 GS, 4-0, 2.85 ERA, 60.0 IP, 40 H, 19 ER, 13 BBs, 76 Ks, 0.88 WHIP, .186 BAA
The left-handed throwing Logan Allen was called up mid-season to join the Akron staff and transitioned into the spot seamlessly. Allen was unbeaten on the mound in 2021 at a combined 9-0 in Lake County and Akron. The most impressive thing about Allen is his strikeout rate, sometimes teams can scratch across runs with productive outs and the FIU alum prevents that with the K. In his last eight games, Allen has struck out six or more batters in every outing. When the season was on the line in the final game of the season, manager Rouglas Odor refused to put the ball in anyone else’s hand as he went on to throw five shutout innings in relief of the rehabbing Shane Bieber and reliever Nic Enright. The top left-handed pitching prospect in the future Guardians’ system is flying through the organization and it will be interesting to see how quickly he makes his debut in the big leagues.
Reliever of the Year
LHP Francisco Perez: 11 APP, 3-0, 0.67 ERA, 2 SV, 27.0 IP, 8 H, 2 ER, 9 BBs, 47 Ks, 0.63 WHIP, .091 BAA
Simply put, Francisco Perez was unhittable at the AA level. It was quickly realized by staff and those in attendance that Perez needed a challenge in Columbus, and eventually made his major league debut on August 12 against the Oakland A’s. It was only a month and a half Perez was at Canal Park, but in that time, he accumulated the lowest WHIP and BAA of any pitcher to go more than a single inning for the RubberDucks. Perez serves an interesting role as a left-handed arm that can span multiple innings if needed. It was two occasions that he went four innings in relief and allowed a single hit in each with 14 combined strikeouts and no runs scored. With the struggles the Indians bullpen has had recently, Perez is an option that they need to evaluate as offseason decisions are made of how to best rebuild pitching staff.
2B Richie Palacios: 66 G, 73-244 (.299), 53 R, 24 2Bs, 3 3Bs, 6 HRs, 36 RBIs, 33 BBs, 10-13 SBs, .885 OPS
The metrics were not as much of the surprise for Palacios in 2021, more so how it was done. He was just a touch under .300 in his 66 games and put a team-high 24 balls into the gap for doubles. In the last full season Palacios got in the minors, he had 18 extra base hits, but in 2021 that number more than doubled to 41, with a career-high six round-trippers. Another big aspect to his game was his ability to play multiple positions. While still getting a majority of reps at 2B, he played 19 games in the outfield, especially trying him out in center. Whatever is needed for him to move up in the system, Palacios has shown the ability to do it. The broadening of his abilities in multiple facets of the game makes him one of the biggest surprises in Akron in 2021.
LHP Juan Hillman: 20 GS, 10-4, 3.77 ERA, 1 CG, 107.1 IP, 110 H, 45 ER, 32 BBs, 85 Ks
If you look at Juan Hillman’s career thus far, it has been a slow grind up the ladder, but he just continues to climb higher. Hillman was second in all of the AA-Northeast League with 10 victories on the bump and was one of only 10 pitchers to throw a complete game, even with the new 7-inning rule. He was a consistent presence for the RubberDucks and led the league in innings pitched. Akron could count on him to save the bullpen – every outing he made was at least four innings long. The journey continues for Hillman as he was called up to Columbus just before the end of the regular season, however he was placed on the injured list with a forearm injury.
C Bo Naylor: 87 G, 59-313 (.188), 41 R, 13 2Bs, 1 3B, 10 HRs, 44 RBIs, 37 BBs, 10-10 SBs
The organization’s sixth-ranked prospect didn’t have the season he would have wanted, but showed flashes of the player the future Guardians might lean on to hold it down behind the dish for the big league club in the future. At the age of 21, there’s still room for Naylor to grow. He hit a homerun in three straight games spanning July 9 to July 15, but went ice cold at times. As a guy who profiled as a big bat, the defense is what stood out for Naylor this season. His chemistry working with some of the top guys in the system, along with big leaguers making constant rehab appearances on the mound has helped his game immensely. For what it’s worth, he was named to the Future’s Game during the 2021 All-Star Break.
RHP Nick Mikolajchak: 30 APP, 2-5, 3.18 ERA, 8-11 SV, 39.2 IP, 34 H, 14 ER, 9 BBs, 57 Ks, 1.08 WHIP
Mikolajchak started the year red hot in the Akron bullpen and took on the primary closer role and with Perez also coming out as a left-handed option, he got a ton of opportunities to face right-handed batters. As the year wore on, his velocity, which was his biggest point of attack, began to drop. He also had a stint on the injured list in July that derailed his season for nearly one month. After allowing just two homeruns before the injury, upon returning in August, he surrendered five in just a month and change. The bullpen of the future for Cleveland needs a complete rebuild, and it will be interesting to see how Mikolajchak fits into the plan moving forward.