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April 24, 2014

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These players key to Wally Backman’s Las Vegas 51s making playoffs

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Las Vegas 51’s manager Wally Backman smiles during their game against the Tacoma Rainiers Thursday, April 25, 2013.

They’ve been promoted to the big leagues at a faster rate than most Triple-A seasons.

With the players on the New York Mets suffering injuries and battling through inconsistent play, the Las Vegas 51s roster has been a revolving door to Citi Field.

You won’t hear manager Wally Backman complaining, though.

Backman has the 51s in the playoffs for the first time since 2002, going 32-17 in the second half of the season to win the Pacific Coast League’s Southern Division. They were an astonishing 18-7 at the friendly confines of Cashman Field after the all-star break.

Pitching ace Zack Wheeler was one of the first impact players promoted from Triple-A Las Vegas. He surely wasn’t the last.

Before they were promoted, Josh Satin and Andrew Brown carried the team early, Matt den Dekker was their best player in August and infielder Wilmer Flores batted more than .300 in earning an all-star selection. And, of course, Jordany Valdespin hit .463 with three home runs and 24 RBIs in 16 games before being suspended for his connections to the Biogenesis investigation.

But Backman was masterful in managing the roster, adjusting the lineup when each key contributor departed.

Sure, that’s part of minor league baseball — developing a player for the next stage and adjusting when he leaves. The goal is to win in New York, after all, and not the Pacific Coast League.

This week, however, the 51s will take their crack at winning a PCL championship.

The best-of-five game series with Northern Division champion Salt Lake, the Triple-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels, begins today in Salt Lake City. The second game is Thursday in Utah before the series moves to Las Vegas for the final three games beginning Friday.

Here are some of the players who led the way in the championship run:

    • Eric Campbell has been reliable all season

      The corner infielder Campbell was voted by coaches as the 51s’ Most Valuable Player. He led them in games played with 119, batting .312 with a team-high 65 walks and 12 stolen bases. His .433 on-base percentage was best in the Pacific Coast League.

      He had 25 doubles, three triples, eight home runs and 65 RBIs.

    • Seattle Mariners pitcher Matt Fox throws during spring training baseball Thursday, Feb. 16, 2012, in Peoria, Ariz.

      Late arrival Matt Fox strengthens the rotation

      Fox leads Las Vegas pitchers with eight victories — not bad considering he joined the team as a free agent six weeks into the season. It’s not easy pitching in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, but Fox held his own in 20 starts. Sure, his 4.59 earned run average is a little high, but most pitchers give up a few extra runs in the PCL. He’s struck out 76 batters and walked just 26.

    • New York Mets starting pitcher Rafael Montero throws during the first inning of an exhibition spring training baseball game against the Washington Nationals Saturday, March 23, 2013, in Port St. Lucie, Fla.

      Rafael Montero has the stuff of a top prospect

      Montero is one of the top pitching prospects in the Mets organization, going 5-4 with a 3.05 earned run average in six starts after being promoted from Double-A. He’s the 51s’ ace, striking out 75 batters in 88 innings pitched with just 25 walks. He’s only yielded four home runs.

    • Jamie Hoffman consistent in the outfield

      The outfielder Hoffman does a little bit of everything for the 51s, batting .277 in 115 games with 29 doubles, eight home runs and 54 RBIs. He also stole eight bases and plays solid defense. When other parts of the lineup were changing, Hoffman was the one consistent name Backman could pencil in.

    Ray Brewer can be reached at 990-2662 or [email protected]. Follow Ray on Twitter at twitter.com/raybrewer21.

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