Winnipeg has a pitcher nicknamed “Ace” who has the credentials to live up to that billing but who hasn’t quite earned that status for the Goldeyes this season.
Walker’s numbers — 9-5 with a 3.74 during the regular season in the hitting-heavy American Association — suggest a pitcher who resides at the top of the rotation. Walker further met those standards by beating the Wingnuts in Game 1 of the league championship series in Canada on Tuesday.
But Friday night, the Wingnuts will see the true ace of Winnipeg’s staff, right-hander Matthew Rusch, whose 2.40 ERA and 113 strikeouts led the league this season. The Goldeyes lead the best-of-5 series 2-0; Game 3 is scheduled for Friday night at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. Games 4 and 5, if necessary, will also be played in Wichita.
The Wingnuts face a uphill climb in part because of the Goldeyes’ pitching depth. Wichita has similar strengths, but they are unable to send out a pitcher with the kind of statistics boasted by Rusch.
But Wichita can be equally confident in the abilities of Derek Blacksher, who won the decisive Game 3 of the Wignnuts’ first-round series against Laredo and who allowed 15 runs in his last seven starts while going 5-1.
Blacksher has lived somewhat dangerously in his last four starts, allowing more hits than innings pitched in all of them. Winnipeg’s clutch-hitting ability could test Blacksher’s recent ability to minimize damage against him.
The Goldeyes have home runs to thank for each of their wins in the series. Barbaro Canazares connected for a game-ending shot off Wichita closer Josh Dew in the 10th inning of Game 1, and Amos Amos Ramon broke a 2-2 tie with a three-run blast in sixth inning of Wednesday’s Game 2.
After scoring 23 runs in their three-game sweep of Laredo, the Wingnuts have been held to seven in the first two against Winnipeg. They had two late leads on Tuesday that they couldn’t hold, and in Game 3 they managed a three-run second inning but nothing else.
Now the Wingnuts face a must-win game against a pitcher they scored four runs against in 6 1/3 innings on June 30. Wichita dealt with a similar situation last year after losing the first two games of the first round against Grand Prairie. The Wingnuts won Game 3 before falling the following night by one run