In the last weekly review, the American Association Finals was moving from Franklin, Wisc., to Sioux Falls, S.D. The Milwaukee Milkmen had a 2-0 series lead over the Sioux Falls Canaries in the best-of-seven series. Could the Birds dig out from the deficit to challenge the Milkmen?
Sioux Falls gained the upper hand early in game three of the series, even after award-winning Adam Brett Walker II doubled in a run for the Milkmen in the top of the first inning. The Birds were able to get to former major-league pitcher Drew Hutchison right away, going single, double, single, wild pitch, single, sac fly to plate three runs in the bottom of the first frame. However, it would be short-lived as Canaries starter Ty Culbreth ran into trouble in the top of the fifth, getting charged with three earned runs and allowing the Milkmen to take a 5-3 lead.
A Clint Coulter home run tied the game up in the bottom of the sixth, but the Sioux Falls bullpen could not hang on. Ryan Fritze was called upon in the seventh, but before the second out was recorded, three runs were plated by the Milwaukee offense thanks to an error and a wild pitch. Zach Nehrir added a two-run homer in the top of the eighth, adding additional insurance runs and putting the game out of reach for the Birds. Milwaukee won 10-5 and was one game from an American Association Championship.
The Canaries scored jumped out to an early lead again in game four, looking to stave off the Milkmen and gain some ground in the series. Clint Coulter provided an RBI single in the bottom of the first. Jabari Henry worked his magic to get an RBI double in the second and came in on a Mike Hart putout. Both Henry and Hart would play a part in the scoring again in the fifth inning. Henry roped a solo homer while Hart notched another RBI, this time on a double.
The Canaries pitching staff was mostly on point for the night. Tyler Danish opened for the Birds and teaed up with Jake Zokan for five scoreless innings and holding Milwaukee to two hits and three walks while striking out four. Keaton Steele allowed a three-run home run to Brett Vertigan in the bottom of the ninth, but Sioux Falls finally got in the win column and brought the series to 3-1.
Game five was a great pitcher’s duel. Southpaw David Holmberg got the nod for Milwaukee while Tyler Herron went for Sioux Falls. Both pitchers went at least seven innings and combined for six hits. Unfortunately for Herron, five of those hits were allowed by him, and those hits were costly.
The top of the second saw David Washington lead off with a solo homer off of Herron while Logan Trowbridge tallied on a two-run homer in the top of the fifth. The bullpen allowed one more run in the top of the eighth before the Canaries offense plated a run in the bottom of the ninth, but it was too little, too late as the Milwaukee Milkmen earned their first American Association Championship in franchise history.
According to Steve Schuster, voice of the Winnipeg Goldeyes, the Milkmen, in their second year with the AA, are the fastest expansion team to win the championship in league history. Additionally, Anthony Barone is the first rookie manager in the league to guide a team to the championship.
Congratulations to @antbarone35 and his players! That final roster might win 65+ games in a normal season. First manager in @AA_Baseball history to win the championship as a rookie professional manager. Also fastest expansion team to win in league history.— Steve Schuster (@growcasting) September 18, 2020
The league announced most of the remaining annual awards within the last week. The exception is the Organization of the Year, which will be announced next month.
Defensive Player of the Year
The final vote tally for Defensive Player of the Year ended in a tie this season, so two players will win the award. Outfielder Brett Vertigan played all 60 games for the Milwaukee Milkmen, recording 141 put-outs and notching one outfield assist while committing no errors for the champions. He was with the Oakland Athletics since being drafted in 2012, reaching the Triple-A club before signing with the Sioux Falls Canaries last season. He was traded to Milwaukee this past winter.
Chicago Dogs outfielder Michael Crouse also played in all eligible games this season (58 total). He is credited with 150 put-outs and also had an outfield assist; he posted a .987 fielding percentage. He was originally drafted in 2008 by the Toronto Blue Jays, making it as high as their Double-A club before signing into the Atlantic League and Mexican League.
Rookie of the Year
If you remember when the All-Star Team was announced a couple weeks ago, the Reliever of the Year was Peyton Gray. Well, Gray has another award to put on his shelf as he was voted as Rookie of the Year for the American Association. The right-hander posted a 0.00 ERA in 32 innings of work this season, notching 14 saves and reeling in a 4.0 K/BB ratio. Gray signed on as a non-drafted free agent with the Colorado Rockies in 2018 before signing with the Milkmen in 2020.
Executive of the Year
For his work of handling the situation of being home to two league teams during the unprecedented 2020 season, Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks General Manager Matt Rau was voted Executive of the Year. Although F-M finished 28-32 this season, Rau led the organization while Newman Outdoor Field played home to not only the RedHawks, but also the Winnipeg Goldeyes for most of the season. F-M was able to soak in 51 games in two months with both the RedHawks and Goldeyes playing home contests in Fargo, averaging 1,289 fans in the stands this season, second best to Chicago (1,407).
Playing Surface of the Year
This season, one grounds crew saw extra work, even when their home team was relegated to play their home games in another state for the first month of the league’s season. The league has voted CHS Field, home of the St Paul Saints, as Playing Surface of the Year in 2020.
CHS Field has served as the home for the Minnesota Twins alternate site, special event, and eventually Saints baseball. Head Groundskeeper Marcus Campbell and his crew maintained a pristine playing surface that “was being used nearly twelve hours per day for three straight months” according to Saints General Manager Derek Sharrer.
Still in the midst of a pandemic right now, one can only hope that all 12 American Association teams can once again play a full slate of games once spring arrives in 2021. With the impending gutting of Minor League Baseball, there may be even more than 12 teams in the league once the next season is ready to be played, and maybe even more games added to the normal 100-game schedule.
Either way, the American Association certainly rolled the dice on a 2020 season, and with only one instance of positive tests at the early part of the season that resulted in one postponed game, the league had a clean year. Kudos to the American Association and all the teams for a successful and competitive 2020 season!
Last, but not least, thank you to all who have taken the time to read these weekly updates here on the site and catch up on some American Association happenings. Since the season has wrapped up, there won’t be a need for any weekly reports. However, if there’s any major news that breaks in the league, there will surely be a post about it. If you have any suggestions about the American Association coverage, feel free to drop a comment below or e-mail me!