RubberDucks complete sweep for Eastern League title

Indians' Double-A affiliate wins championship for second time in five years

RubberDucks complete sweep for Eastern League title

For the second time in five years, the Double-A Akron RubberDucks are Eastern League champions.

Behind a strong start from Nick Pasquale and a three-hit effort by leadoff man Greg Allen, the RubberDucks edged Trenton, 2-1, to complete a three-game series sweep of the Thunder in the Eastern League finals.

Pasquale, making his second playoff start, scattered four hits over 5 2/3 innings. He struck out three and walked one, with 48 of his 77 pitches going for strikes, while the lone run he allowed came on a Sebastian Valle solo home run in the fifth inning.

The performance capped a strong postseason for the right-hander, who tossed eight scoreless frames of one-hit ball to help Akron defeat Altoona, 1-0, and advance to the Eastern League finals.

Akron pushed across the game's first run in the top of the third inning. Third baseman Ivan Castillo led off the frame with a walk and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Indians' No. 20 prospect Greg Allen. Shortstop Eric Stamets followed with a single to left field to set the stage for right fielder Jordan Smith, who tallied his fourth RBI of the postseason with a groundout to shortstop.

The RubberDucks threatened to extend their lead in the following frame, as Mike Papi coaxed a leadoff walk and advanced to third base when Trenton right fielder Billy McKinney misplayed designated hitter Joe Sever's one-out single. But Trenton starter Justus Sheffield got Mark Mathias (Indians' No. 17) to line out to left fielder Michael O'Neill, who threw out Papi at the plate to complete the inning-ending double play.

Akron wouldn't squander its next scoring opportunity in the fifth inning, however, as Stamets made it a 2-0 ballgame by plating Allen, who had swiped second and third base after notching a one-out single, with a sacrifice fly. Although Trenton got the run back in the bottom half of the frame on Valle's homer, it would be all they'd muster against a stingy RubberDucks pitching staff.

Akron won 23 of its final 30 regular-season games to claim the Eastern League's Western Division title before knocking off Altoona in four games in the semifinals to reach the championship round.

"Everything that a championship team is made of and a championship team does, we did," Akron manager Dave Wallace told MiLB.com. "We got great starting pitching, we got great work out of the bulpen, we played great defense and we had some really timely hitting. That's the reason why we are Eastern League champions."

Catcher Eric Haase was named MVP of the finals after hitting .280 with four extra-base hits -- highlighted by a go-ahead grand slam in the series' opener -- and seven RBIs, while Papi, the Indians' No. 26 prospect, finished with a .357 average, two homers and eight RBIs.

"There are some great stories on our team as far as individual players go, but Eric might be at the top of that list," Wallace told MiLB.com. "He struggled earlier in the year, went on the DL and spent that time really working on some swing adjustments and never lost faith in himself. He worked with Tim Laker and Luke Carlin, our hitting coaches, and when he came off the DL and got back in the lineup, he was just electric in the second half. We would not be here right now if it wasn't for him."

Allen, meanwhile, posted a .259 average in the postseason after collecting three of Akron's six hits on Friday. He also scored six runs and was successful in three of four stolen base attempts.

Trenton's offense was led by McKinney (Yankees' No. 15), who was acquired from the Cubs as part of the Aroldis Chapman deal in July. Though he went 0-for-3 on Friday, the 22-year-old outfielder batted .435 in seven postseason contests, with four doubles, one triple, one home run and five RBIs. Valle also swung the bat well for the Thunder, recording a .444 average with a pair of home runs in six games.

Sheffield, the Yankees' No. 6 prospect and No. 82 on the Top 100, took the loss despite allowing just one earned run in 4 1/3 innings. The 20-year-old left-hander, acquired from Cleveland as part of the Andrew Miller blockbuster, scattered two hits and struck out five but also issued four walks and threw 45 of his 83 pitches for strikes before departing the game.

Overall, he went 0-2 with a 7.27 ERA in the postseason after posting a 3.09 ERA with 129 strikeouts in 125 1/3 innings (25 starts) between the Class A and Double-A levels during the regular season.

Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GoldenSombrero. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.