2017 MiLB Team Of The Year: Midland Rockhounds

When the Midland Rockhounds arrived to begin the 2017 season, there was a message on the clubhouse whiteboard reminding them of their responsibility.

Midland’s 2014, 2015 and 2016 teams had all won Texas League titles. No one wanted to be the team that broke the streak.

“There was some pride in wanting to defend the title and win four in a row. We did have eight or nine players who had some hand in last year’s championship,” Midland manager Fran Riordan said. “Winning three in a row is pretty special, but to have a chance to compete for a fourth, guys weren’t shy about bringing it up.”

In each of the past three seasons, Midland had clearly been one of the top teams in the league. The 2017 champs survived every test by the narrowest of margins.

Midland lost six consecutive games in the final 10 days of the season, washing away any margin of error it had in its battle with Corpus Christi for the South Division’s wild card spot. But the Rockhounds then won three of their last four regular season games. That was just enough to get them into a tie with the Hooks at 67-71. Midland’s 17-13 record against Corpus Christi was the tiebreaker that earned them a playoff spot.

In the playoffs, Midland fell behind San Antonio 2-1 in the best-of-5 semifinal series, but rallied to win back-to-back elimination games to advance to the finals. In the finals, Tulsa jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the best-of-5 series, but Midland rallied once again, winning back-to-back-to-back elimination games to win its fourth straight Texas League title.

In the deciding Game 5, Viosergy Rosa drove in Jorge Mateo with an RBI single in the first and five Midland pitchers combined for a shutout as Midland held on for a 1-0 win.

Midland faced seven must-win games in the final two weeks of its 2017 season. It won them all.

“I think reslience is the first thing that comes to mind,” Riordan said. “It was just an example of guys playing their best baseball when they needed it the most. From the last day of the regular season to the last game, we had six elimination games. Each time there was a positive response.”

The Rockhounds streak was probably in most jeopardy in Game 3 of the championship series. Tulsa sent rehabbing big leaguer Brandon McCarthy to the mound. McCarthy was effective, but Heath Fillmyer and the Midland bullpen combined for a shutout in a 2-0 win.

“That gave us a lot of cofidence because we beat a quality big leaguer,” Riordan said.

The fourth straight title is the longest streak in the Texas League in nearly a century (Fort Worth won six straight from 1920-25). It’s the longest streak in pro baseball in nearly 20 years (Harrisburg won four straight Eastern League titles from 1996-1999).

More than 40 Midland players played on two of the championship teams. Ryan Doolittle, Kyle Finnegan, Chris Jensen and Jake Sanchez played on three different title teams and catcher Beau Taylor earned four rings.

Midland’s streak stretches far enough that now Cubs’ shortstop Addison Russell played for the first of the four championship teams in the year he was traded to the Cubs.

A.J. Puk, Jorge Mateo and Max Schrock were among the notable prospects who played for Midland during the 2017 season.

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