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2016 Reading Fightins playoff primer

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Reading is no longer a juggernaut, but they are still pretty good.

To win this man must hit the ball very hard, good thing that he is good at doing that.
To win this man must hit the ball very hard, good thing that he is good at doing that.
Denis Poroy/Getty Images

For much of the year Reading was the best team in the minors, but that is probably not true any more. Reading did what could be best described as limping into the division title with Trenton coming on hard in the end. Now they must turn around and face that same Trenton team to complete what has been a great year in Baseballtown.

Pretty simple format for the playoffs, best of 5 for the first round and best of 5 for the championship. Reading would host the last 3 games in both series.

Hitting

Andrew Pullin was the hottest hitting player on the team and he is now out (right elbow sprain), but this team can take that kind of hit. With a DH, they are going to run out a lineup every night that looks something like Roman Quinn, Scott Kingery, Jorge Alfaro, Dylan Cozens, Rhys Hoskins, Jake Fox, plus various LF/3B/SS. That lineup gave Reading the most runs scored in the league by 146 over the next highest (Akron) and by 179 runs over their first round opponent.

At the center of it all are Dylan Cozens and Rhys Hoskins. Cozens comes into the playoffs scuffling with 8 walks to 58 strikeouts in 33 games between August and September. He hit 11 home runs in that time and he could strike out 20 times in these 10 games and still be impactful if a pitcher makes a mistake. He is susceptible to lefties, but he is surrounded by right handed hitters in the lineup so even if a team goes to a lefty to get him out it will leave them open to Alfaro, Hoskins, and Fox. Hoskins on the other hand is giving pitchers fits and has walked more (29) than struck out (24) in August and September, and did not strike out in 5 September games. His power is still mostly there (8 home runs in that span), but only 2 doubles over that time. He is going to punish mistakes and teams are giving him walks over mistakes. It might limit his home runs, but he is going to be part of getting into the bullpen of opposing teams.

The real key guy might be a healthy Roman Quinn who can get on base, hit for some power, and just create offense out of nowhere. Jorge Alfaro should get plenty of chances with Quinn already on second base to drive in. In left field Reading could go with Aaron Brown who is a good defender or opt for more offense in Christian Marrero who has been an on base machine with a .282/.422/.462 line this year. At third the Fightins have Harold Martinez and Mitch Walding and could play matchups. At shortstop KC Serna has been the guy filling in, but Malquin Canelo is up from Clearwater, and while he may not hit much Reading could shore up its defense at a premium position.

Bullpen

It is a bit of a mess in the bullpen for Reading. They have talent and they have velocity, but Miguel Nunez, Tom Windle, and Alexis Rivero have not lived up to the billing and Victor Arano walked some guys last time out. Will Morris, Joey DeNato, and Hoby Milner are not special and Jesen Therrien has been a mixed bag. There is talent here, and there is some margin for error. The real goal of the unit will be to not implode. Expect to see Victor Arano get multiple innings in high leverage situations and Nunez on to close it out, with everyone else filling in around that.

Starters

I saved the worst for last. Thomas Eshelman is out with appendicitis, leaving the Reading rotation for round 1 as Mark Leiter Jr., Ricardo Pinto, Elniery Garcia, Tyler Viza, and John Richy. Leiter is a junk baller who has pitched pretty well this year and has a chance to go 5-6 innings while keeping the number of runs across the plate low. Ricardo Pinto has the talent with a fastball at 91-95 touching 96 and a plus changeup, but the problem has been the breaking ball. He has struggled to strike out batters in the second half, while walking more, and is prone to the long ball. He also could get hot and deliver a gem to win a game. Elniery Garcia is the wildcard. He put up a 2.68 ERA in Clearwater and was just promoted to Reading. The lefty throws in the low 90s and has reportedly been up to 95 this year. He throws strikes with three pitches headlined by a good curveball. Garcia has been clutch for the Threshers with his last two starts coming in a tight playoff race and he has delivered with 14 innings, 5 hits, 2 earned runs, 4 walks, and 18 strikeouts. Viza is another strike-throwing, OK-stuff righty. He has struggled in Reading, allowing lots of hits as well as not striking out batters. He has walked more batters in Reading, but is still stingy with the free passes. If the series gets to Richy it will be "all hands on deck" and I would expect him to be pulled at the first sign of trouble.

The pitching just is not there for Reading. Getting Elniery Garcia will help the rotation deal with losing Eshelman, but it is more of a neutral move than a gain. The bullpen is not strong enough to bail out the rotation should it falter. This all means that the offense just needs to outscore everyone. If there is any team in the minors equipped to outhit their own crappy pitching, it is Reading. They may need to win games 10-6, but they are capable of doing that, even against good pitching.