Cleveland Indians affiliates Columbus Clippers, Akron RubberDucks, Lynchburg Hillcats prep for postseason

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Columbus slugger Jesus Aguilar

While the Indians are in the middle of a strong playoff push, our top three Minor League Affiliates are already playoff bound.

Triple-A Columbus, Double-A Akron and Advanced-A Lynchburg will all begin playoff action Wednesday, with Columbus and Akron each opening a best-of-five series, and Lynchburg beginning a best-of-three.

The Clippers will host the IL South Division Champion Gwinnett Braves for Games 1 and 2 before heading to Gwinnett for Game 3, as well as Games 4 and 5 if necessary.

Triple-A Columbus won its third straight International League West Division title, going 82-62 as they ran up an 11.0-game lead on the second place Louisville Bats.

They finished third in the IL with a .261 team average, but led the league with a .400 slugging percentage and finished second with a .720 team OPS.

Offensively, Jesus Aguilar is the player to watch for the Clippers. Despite a pedestrian .247 batting average, the 26-year-old first baseman led the league with 30 home runs, 92 RBI, 56 extra-base hits and 243 total bases. If Aguilar can continue to cash in behind table setters Yandy Diaz, Ronny Rodriguez and Giovanny Urshela, the Clippers offense should be in good shape against a G-Braves pitching staff that posted the second-highest ERA (4.05) in the IL.

Right-hander Adam Plutko will get the ball to start Game 1 for Columbus. Plutko is 6-5 with a 4.10 ERA in 15 starts with the Clippers since being promoted from Akron on June 16. The Clippers will then turn to southpaws Ryan Merritt (11-8, 3.70 ERA) and Shawn Morimando (5-2, 3.51) in Games 2 and 3, respectively.

Double-A Akron will head to Pennsylvania for Games 1 and 2 against the Altoona Curve, before returning to Canal Park for Game 3, as well as Games 4 and 5 if necessary.

The RubberDucks erased a pair of disappointing months in June and July as they won 19 of their final 23 games, including 11 straight from August 12-24, to win the Eastern League West Division by 0.5 games over the Curve.

Much like Columbus, Akron’s first baseman, Nellie Rodriguez, is the lynchpin of the RubberDucks’ offense. Rodriguez finished third in the EL in homers (26), fourth in extra-base hits (56) and total bases (233), and fifth in RBI (85).

Right-hander Julian Merryweather, who posted the second-best ERA (2.60) among Indians farmhands in 24 combined starts between Akron and Lynchburg this season, is slated to take the hill in Game 1 for the RubberDucks.

Merryweather, a fifth-round selection by the Indians in the 2014 draft, has gone 5-4 with a 3.89 ERA in 13 starts with Akron this year. Right-hander Michael Peoples (12-6, 3.68 ERA) will toe the rubber in Game 2, followed by left-hander Rob Kaminsky (11-7, 3.28 ERA) in Game 3.

Last, but certainly not least, the Lynchburg Hillcats head to Woodbridge, VA, to take on the Potomac Nationals in Game 1, before returning to Lynchburg for Game 2 and Game 3 if necessary.

Although Lynchburg first baseman Bobby Bradley was named the Carolina League MVP, the Hillcats league-leading 763 runs scored were truly a team effort.

Bradley led the league with 29 homers, 102 RBI and 75 walks, finished third with 53 extra-base hits and tied for third with 226 total bases. Outfielder Anthony Santander wasn’t far behind, as he led the league with 42 doubles and 62 extra-base hits, finished second with 247 total bases and finished third in homers (20), RBI (95) and hits (145).

Right-hander Matt Esparza will take the hill for Lynchburg in Game 1. Esparza has posted a 10-10 record with a 3.36 ERA in 27 combined appearances (26 starts) between Lynchburg and Lake County. The 22-year-old is 2-4 with a 3.92 ERA in seven starts for Lynchburg this year.

The Hillcats have yet to announce a probable starter for Games 2, as that will likely depend on who sees action in Game 1.

–TribeVibe contributor Robert Davidson

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