It doesn’t matter that it was a Double-A game in a Double-A playoff series, there’s still something incredibly satisfying when a team named ‘Phils’ soundly defeats a team named ‘Mets’ especially when those Mets are looking to become the first Eastern League team to defend their title since the Trenton Thunder did it back in 2007 and ’08.
Entering their 65th season of play at America’s Classic Ballpark, the Reading Fightins finished the year as winners of the Eastern League’s Eastern Division and with a 80-61 record, as the best team in the entire league as well. It was the first time in 15 years that Reading had accomplished that feat and just like their big league team did against New York back in 2007, the clinch came against the Mets, who would go on to finish as second in the league setting up a clash between the two would-be minor league rivals in the first round of the playoffs.
The scoring kicked off in the first inning as the fifth best prospect in baseball, SS JP Crawford, and his teammate, the Eastern League Player for the Month of August, C Andrew Knapp, hit one-out singles. Bringing Crawford home on an RBI double, his 33rd of the year, was Eastern League MVP, Brock Stassi, who finished the regular season with 76 runs, 48 XBH (15 HR), 90 RBI and a slash of .300/.394/.470. 21-year-old RF Dylan Cozens, who received his Double-A promotion in late August right around the time Aaron Altherr was brought up to the major league club, doubled home Knapp and Stassi to give Reading the 3-0 lead. Harold Martinez added another RBI to put Reading out front 4-0.
Entering the bottom of the first with a four-run lead, 21-year-old Zach Eflin who finished the season as the team’s best starting pitcher, handled the Mets for the first four outs. With one out in the bottom of the second, he gave up a solo home run to Binghamton’s Vince Belnome. The bleeding stopped there though and in the fifth, Reading picked up where they left off as Stassi once again, did the damage with a three-run home run, and once again, it was Crawford and Knapp crossing the plate.
That was it for starter Tyler Pill, who allowed 13 of Reading’s 18 hits and left the game with his team down 7-1. However, it was not it for Reading’s offense as they added two more runs off of reliever Beck Wheeler. Scoring those final two runs were, you guessed it, Crawford and Knapp, both of whom finished with three hits and three runs.
Eflin went seven strong innings, allowing just two runs and six hits while striking out four. Reliever Tom Windle was touched up for the two remaining runs Binghamton scored, but both were un-earned. OF Nick Williams, the 59th best prospect in MLB and one of the top gets from the Cole Hamels trade earlier this year, added two hits in what has thus far been a very successful few months with the Fightin Phils.
Reading’s offense exploded in large part due to four guys, three of whom were promoted from Single-A at various points this year, and who weren’t even on the team when the 2015 season opened. In fact, this quartet of Williams, Knapp, Crawford and Cozens, combined for 10 of the Fightin Phils’ 18 runs with Stassi, the Reading vet, adding four more.
It just goes to show that losing guys like Jesse Biddle, Edgar Duran and Gabriel Lino to Triple-A and guys like Altherr and Aaron Nola to the Phillies, doesn’t have to be a death blow. Especially, when you are able to replace them with guys like Williams and today’s game two starter, Jake Thompson. Point being, if your farm system is good, this is how it is supposed to look. Talent replaces talent at every level so that when guys get promoted as they should, there are equally skilled players ready to take their spot and so on and so forth. If nothing else, the success of the Fightins’ this year is a prime example that maybe just maybe, the Phillies are finally and once again, getting that process right.