FREDERICK, Md. - In baseball, good pitching and defense will carry you a long way. That has been a successful formula for the Single-A Frederick Keys this year, who host Potomac tonight in Game One of the Carolina League playoffs.
While Frederick's offense ranks near the bottom of the league in a few categories, the Keys' team ERA ranks first at 3.22 and Frederick is tied for first in the league in fielding percentage and in fewest errors. Frederick finished with the best record in the league at 80-59.
Plus there is this stat: Keys catcher Brian Ward has thrown out an amazing 52.6 percent this year and has emerged to lead the league's top pitching staff.
"The pitching has been good, but another key is our defense," Keys manager Orlando Gomez told me. "We've played great defense. We probably have 65 or so fewer errors than last year. We are making some plays where we had trouble with last year. When you make routine plays and do the little things, it can help a lot.
"Ward has been outstanding, he's made a lot of progress from last year. He's taking charge and he's been tremendous. The middle defense is nice with (Manny) Machado, (Jonathan) Schoop and (Miguel) Abreu, but Ward has been a big key."
Machado will bat third and play short again tonight for the Keys. He is batting .245 in 63 games with five homers, 26 RBIs and an OPS of .692.
Gomez said while Machado's stats have not been overwhelming, his progress has been just fine with Frederick.
"People forget sometimes that he is only 19 and this is his first full season. He's making some adjustments. His pitch selection once in a while he can work on. He's a young guy that once in a while can overswing. But when he stays within himself and goes gap-to-gap he looks good," Gomez added.
Tonight, in game one of this playoff series with Potomac, Frederick lefty Jake Pettit will take the mound. The 42nd-round draft pick from 2010 had an ERA of 4.42 with Single-A Delmarva, but now is 7-0 with an ERA of 1.62 in 10 starts with the Keys, allowing a batting average of just .213.
"He's a very aggressive pitcher. His ball has some nice sink action and he pitches to both sides of the plate. To me the key is his changeup. He can throw it anytime in the count for strikes," Gomez said.
He said the 24-year-old Pettit throws a fastball, slider and change and his fastball velocity ranges from 89 to 91.
The Keys host the first two games of this series tonight and tomorrow here at Harry Grove Stadium. It has not rained much at all in the last few hours here in Frederick and this game, as of right now, should start on time at 7 p.m.
One last thought. The Carolina League postseason awards came out recently and Frederick, with the league's best record, did have a single All-Star and Gomez did not win the manager of the year award. The honor went to Kinston's manager and the Indians did win 76 games, but Frederick finished first in both halves, yet Gomez did not get the honor.