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2017 Eastern League Playoffs: Can anyone slow down Trenton?

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The Eastern League playoffs get underway tonight. Can anyone take down the Trenton Thunder after their record breaking season?

Minor League Baseball: Arizona Fall League-Surprise Saguaros at Scottsdale Scorpions Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

If you look across the minor leagues, the team that has the best record is the Trenton Thunder. The Double-A affiliate of the New York Yankees finished the regular season with a 92-48 record (franchise record) and are one of three teams to have 90+ wins in any league.

Despite numerous promotions within the Yankees farm system, the Thunder have remained consistent throughout the entire year. A lot of that credit goes to manager Bobby Mitchell, who ended up winning Eastern League Manager of the Year.

This season, Trenton was tied for second in the Eastern League in batting average (.264), second in runs (659), and in on-base percentage (.339). One name to keep an eye on offense is shortstop Thairo Estrada. The 21-year-old is hitting .301 this year with six home runs, 48 RBI’s, had an on-base percentage of .353, and was second in the league in hits.

Of course, the Thunder appear to have some reinforcements heading their way for this series as Yankees outfielder Clint Frazier will start a rehab assignment Wednesday night during Game 1. It’s an added bonus to see a major leaguer rehab in the minor league playoffs, yet alone two. This is courtesy of Matt Kardos from Pinstriped Prospects.

Tonight, they will begin their quest for a championship against a tough opponent in the Binghamton Mets (84-54) as they play a best-of-five series. In their six meetings this year, the two Eastern Division opponents went 3-3 against each other.

The Mets bring one of the best pitching prospects in the Eastern League into this series. Corey Oswalt, who was named Eastern League Pitcher of the Year, went 12-5 in the regular season with a 2.28 ERA and struck out 119 in 134.1 innings.

Over his last nine starts, Oswalt is 6-1 with a 1.46 ERA. As I wrote about earlier in the season, he may not have dominating stuff, but he shows good control. Plus, he is 1-0 against Trenton this year, which includes a two-hit shutout on August 3.

Trenton has some good pitching of their own to match Binghamton’s staff. Dillon Tate, who was acquired in the Carlos Beltran trade July 2016, has given up nine earned runs in his four starts with the Thunder. Tate spent most of the season with High-A Tampa, but he has a 2.81 ERA across both levels this year. Tate and Oswalt will face each other in Game 1 tonight (6:35 p.m ET).

As for the Binghamton offense, the name you are going to want to watch is infielder Luis Guillorme. Guillorme had 31 hits in the month of August (.301 average) and was fourth in the league in that category this year. With the Mets looking for a second baseman of the future, maybe he slides into that spot down the road.

In the Western Division final, it will be the Altoona Curve (Pittsburgh Pirates) against the Bowie BaySox (Baltimore Orioles). Home field advantage in this series was decided on the final day of the regular season, so this should be an even matchup. Bowie had the upperhand during the regular season (14-5 in 19 meetings), but Altoona won the division.

The position to watch on the BaySox is in the outfield. D.J. Stewart, who was the O’s first round pick in 2015, had 21 home runs and 20 stolen bases. He is coming into the postseason on a great note considering he hit .340 in 27 games in August.

Stewart is part of a Bowie offense that led the EL in batting average (.283), slugging percentage (.436), and runs scored (697). They will be without Austin Hays, who was recently promoted to the Orioles. Between High-A Frederick and Double-A, Hays hit 32 home runs this year.

We normally talk about big trades at the deadline, but one trade that went under the radar was Yefrey Ramirez going from the Yankees to the Orioles. Now, Ramirez could see his old organization in the postseason this year. In 24 Double-A starts, he is 15-3 with a 3.47 ERA and hasn’t lost a game since June 20 (against Altoona).

Now, when you look at the Curve, their strength is on the mound. One of their starters, Alex McRae, is headed to the Arizona Fall League next month. While he only has 89 strikeouts in 149.2 innings, he continues to find a way to win games (2.96 ERA in last ten starts). Here’s more on the Curve rotation’s success courtesy of Altoona broadcaster Trey Wilson.

In addition to McRae, Mitch Keller has done a great job since being promoted from High-A Bradenton. He has 41 strikeouts in his last five outings, but he did give up four runs in 5.2 innings against Bowie on August 27. Keller will be Altoona’s Game 1 starter tonight.

On offense, shortstop Cole Tucker has been an extra-base hit machine since being promoted to Altoona on July 20. 11 off his 43 hits have gone for extra bases, including five triples. Across Bradenton and Altoona, he is 47-for-62 in stolen bases, so he will be a handful for Bowie pitchers out of the leadoff spot.

What prospects are you keeping an eye on in the Eastern League postseason? Let us know what you think in the comments section.