Arkansas Travelers open playoffs against the Naturals

The Arkansas Travelers open the 2011 Texas League playoffs against the Northwest Arkansas Naturals at Dickey-Stephens Park in North Little Rock night, and the Travs’ road to get there has been an interesting one. It’s the first time the Travs have been to the TL playoffs since they won the championship in 2008.
The Travelers went 36-31 to win the TL North Division first half by one game over the Naturals to qualify for the playoffs and went 32-38 in the second half. The Naturals won the second half North with a 38-32 record.
The Travs won the first half in large part to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim’s No. 1 prospect – and No. 2 prospect behind Bryce Harper according to Baseball America –center fielder Mike Trout. In 91 games with the Travs, Trout had a .326 average with 11 home runs and 38 RBIs. He also scored 82 runs, stole 33 bases, had 18 doubles, 13 triples, and played outstanding defense.
Trout was called directly to the major leagues from class double-A Arkansas and the Travs struggled. With Trout in the lineup, the Travs went 51-40, and without him, the Travs managed a 17-29 record.
Also, for the first time in Travs’ history, two players went directly to the big-league club when right-handed starter and Angels’ No. 7 prospect Garrett Richards joined Trout in Los Angeles from Arkansas. With the Travs, Richards was 12-2 with a 3.06 ERA before his call-up. He had 100 strikeouts and 40 walks in 141 innings pitched.
Unlike Trout, though, Richards is back with the Travs on a rehab assignment after injuring his groin in a start against the Texas Rangers, and will stay with the team throughout the playoffs. Richards will start the second game on Thursday night, while TL Pitcher of the Year, Matt Shoemaker will start game one on Wednesday.
Shoemaker, a right-hander, leads the Texas League with a 2.48 ERA and 129 strikeouts. He has a 12-5 record and also leads the league with five complete games, two shutouts, a 1.07 WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) and batting average against at .228.
Trout didn’t take all the offense with him when he went to the Angels. Third baseman Luis Jimenez still provides some pop for the Travs, which ranked last in the league with a .256 batting average. Jimenez finished the regular season with a .290 average, led the league with 40 doubles and came in second with 94 RBIs, while also adding 18 home runs.
The Travs were second in the TL in ERA to the South Division San Antonio Missions, which won its division handily and will face the Frisco Roughriders in their side of the playoff bracket. The Travs’ very good 3.60 ERA couldn’t top the Missions’ excellent 3.43 ERA. San Antonio also ranked second in the league in hitting with a .269 average.
After losing 12 of its last 15 games, including a season-high nine in a row, the Travs won its last three games of the regular season, sweeping the Springfield Cardinals by a combined score of 28 to 8. So, with the Travs’ solid pitching staff, but so-so offense, it looks as though the Travs may be tuned up for a playoff run.
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Tony Lenahan is the new assistant sports editor for the Saline Courier. He can be reached at