The Vancouver Canadians and Spokane Indians are putting their aces in different places.
The short-season single-A ball clubs open up the best-of-three Northwest League North Division final on Tuesday in Spokane (6:35 p.m.). The C’s, the first-half pennant winners in the North, are slated go with their No. 1 starter, Nate Pearson, that night, while the second-half titleholders Spokane have top hurler, Cole Ragans, slotted to start Game 2 Wednesday at Nat Bailey Stadium (7 p.m., TSN 1040).
We had suggested in these pages last week that Vancouver would use Pearson, a right-hander, for Game 2, since you can argue it’s the swing contest in the series. You’re either closing it out, or you are getting back into it and forcing another game. Instead, Vancouver is obviously hoping to get an early lead on the road and put pressure on the Indians, while Spokane seems to be looking to southpaw Ragans with that second-game philosophy.
Game 3, if necessary, would be Thursday at the Nat (7 p.m., TSN 1040). The series winner takes on the South Division champion in the best-of-five league final. The Hillsboro Hops and Eugene Emeralds are playing for the South banner.
Utilizing Pearson earlier should give you more options in the event you advance to the Northwest championship. Keep in mind, though, that teams are very careful with pitchers at this level and aren’t about to extend anyone even to chase a title.
Pearson, 22, will be on five days rest come Tuesday, with his last appearance a three-inning effort in the C’s home finale at the Nat last Wednesday. Ragans, 19, pitched last that same day, so he’ll be on six days come Wednesday.
The Toronto Blue Jays used the 28th overall choice in June’s amateur draft to nab the 6-foot-6, 245-pound Pearson out of Central Florida Community College and then gave him a $2.45 million signing bonus. The Texas Rangers snagged the rights to Ragans out of a Tallahassee, Fla., high school in the 2016 draft with the 30th overall selection and then handed the 6-foot-4, 190 pounder a $2 million signing bonus.
Ragans was named to the Northwest year-end all-star team after leading the league in strikeouts (87) while fashioning a 3-2 record and a 3.61 earned run average in 13 starts. He did walk 35 in his 57.1 innings of work, so he can be wild.
His best outing of the campaign was arguably Aug. 18 at home against Vancouver, when he struck out 10 in six innings. He walked three and gave up three hits and one earned run.
Spokane ended up winning that game 3-2 in 11 innings.
Pearson got the start for Vancouver that game and threw three perfect innings, striking out a pair in the process. It was part of his seven appearances totalling 19 innings with Vancouver and he struck out 24 and walked five in that span. On the season with Vancouver, he was 0-0 with an 0.95 ERA.
Spokane is set to start righty Tai Tiedemann (4-4, 3.83 ERA) in Game 1, while Vancouver is slated to give the ball to lefty Zach Logue (3-1, 1.75 ERA) to begin Game 2.
With all that in mind, here are five other points to ponder:
* The series is loaded with compelling prospects. Vancouver shortstop Logan Warmoth is No. 4 on Toronto’s top-30 list on mlb.com, while Pearson is No. 8 and catcher Riley Adams is No. 17. Ragans is No. 6 on the Rangers’ top-30 list on the website, while Spokane shortstop Chris Seise is No. 8.
Seise, 18, who was taken one pick after Pearson in June out of a West Orange, Fla., high school, hasn’t played for the Indians since last Tuesday. No word out of their camp on any sort of injury, though.
* The C’s went 9-3 against the Indians in the regular season, but the teams were 2-2 in head-to-head meetings in the second half. In that four-game set, Warmoth was 3-for-14 (.214) and Adams was 3-for-13 (.231) but centre-fielder Reggie Pruitt was 6-for-16 (.375) and second baseman Samad Taylor was 6-for-18 (.333).
* Vancouver (43-33) had the Northwest League’s best combined record in the regular season, just ahead of Hillsboro (41-35). Spokane (39-37) was tied for fourth.
The last three Northwest League champions also sported the best combined record in their respective regular seasons. The last team to win the playoff crown who didn’t have the best mark in league play was the 2013 C’s, who had the fourth-best mark for the 76-game schedule.
Vancouver won the playoff crown 2011-13, their first three years as a Toronto affiliate. They lost in the league final in 2014. They were a league-worst 29-45 last summer.
* Vancouver’s playoff runs have been bolstered by last-season pickups, most notably outfielder Kevin Pillar in 2011. The Bluefield Blue Jays, who are one level below the C’s in the rookie-level Appalachian League, were playing Pulaski Yankees in the third and deciding game of their league semifinal Monday.
If Bluefield’s season comes to an end while Vancouver is still active, it’s a safe bet the C’s will add first baseman Ryan Noda, 21, who was hitting .364, with seven home runs and 39 runs batted in, for Bluefield in 66 games at last count.
The 6-foot-3, 217-pound, lefty-hitting Noda was a 15th-round pick of the Blue Jays in June out of Cincinnati.
* Spokane had three of the top six pitchers in the league in strikeouts in Ragans, runner-up Tyler Phillips (78) and sixth-place Joe Barlow (64). Phillips started 13 games for the Indians, while Barlow came out of the bullpen for all 16 of his appearances, although he averaged three innings a night for his past 10 appearances.
How Vancouver handles the power arms will be key to the series.