After today's off day, two affiliates will begin their postseasons with a chance to be champions. Durham is one of those two, and it's their seventh time in the playoffs in the last eight years. They'll be looking to win their second straight Governors' Cup, and if they can do that, they hope to win the Triple-A National Championship against the Pacific Coast League champion this time.
Hudson Valley reaches the playoffs for the second time in three years after not experiencing much success as a Rays affiliate prior to that. They won the New York-Penn League in 2012, and obviously they hope to make it two championships in three seasons.
Unfortunately, Princeton's playoff run ended before it could be previewed.
International League semifinals (best of five): Durham Bulls v. Columbus Clippers (probables are me assuming they just keep their rotations in order)
Game one 9/3: Durham @ Columbus 7:05 PM (Alex Colome v. Gabriel Arias)
Game two 9/4: Durham @ Columbus 7:05 PM (Mike Montgomery v. Kyle Davies)
Game three 9/5: Durham v. Columbus 7:05 PM (Enny Romero v. Shaun Marcum)
Game four (if necessary) 9/6: Durham v. Columbus 1:05 PM (Matt Andriese v. Toru Murata)
Game five (if necessary) 9/7: Durham v. Columbus 5:05 PM (Nathan Karns v. Nick Maronde)
Durham won season series 6-2
All eight games took place back in May. After splitting a series in Durham at the beginning of the month, the Bulls swept the Clippers in Columbus a few weeks later. The run differential was 30-18. Columbus finished out the season winning 19 of 30 games in August, and they'll finish with the third best record in the IL. Oddly enough, Durham is fourth.
With patience and power, Columbus boasted one of the league's best offenses, although their home run leader, Jesus Aguilar, was promoted to the big leagues yesterday. They replaced him with legendary slugger Russell Branyan though, and if his time in the Mexican League is any indication, he'll be a premier ringer. Two mid-season additions could make a difference in the series: Francisco Lindor and James Ramsey. Lindor is one of the best prospects in the game despite a slow transition to Triple-A, and Ramsey was acquired from St. Louis in exchange for Justin Masterson.
Their pitching staff was okay too, but they can be beaten. They've had a lot of turnover, and that projected rotation is in flux. Tyler Cloyd led the team in starts but is on the DL, and Zach McAllister, Danny Salazar, T.J. House, Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin are all gone. The Clippers led the league in home runs allowed, but the Bulls may not be primed to take advantage. Former Rays spring training standout Mark Lowe closes games for them.
The opposite semifinal pits the Syracuse Chiefs (Washington) against the Pawtucket Red Sox. Syracuse won the North division, and they're managed by former Montgomery manager Billy Gardner. IL MVP Steven Souza was promoted to the Nats, but they still have co-home run leader Brandon Laird and top prospect Michael Taylor in the lineup. No one on the staff struck out 100 batters, but they did throw a lot of strikes. Pawtucket is gunning for a rematch of last year's final with Durham. Their prospect depth is pretty deep, led by lefty Henry Owens and catcher Blake Swihart.
New York-Penn League semifinals (best of three): Hudson Valley Renegades v. State College Spikes (probables are me assuming they just keep their rotations in order)
Game one 9/3: Hudson Valley v. State College 6:35 PM (Enderson Franco v. Daniel Poncedelon)
Game two 9/4: Hudson Valley @ State College Time TBA (Nolan Gannon v. Will Anderson)
Game three (if necessary) 9/5: Hudson Valley @ State College Time TBA (Hunter Wood v. Fernando Baez)
Hudson Valley won season series 3-0
Last month, the Renegades swept a weekend series at State College, and the first game of that series happened to be what my projected game one matchup was. All three were close, low-scoring games, and they combined for just 16 runs. The Spikes closed stronger than Hudson Valley, winning seven of their last eight games.
The State College offense was the best in the league, although the primary force behind that is now in the Midwest League. Rowan Wick finished tied for the league lead in home runs with 14 in just 35 games, but Alex De Leon is still with the Spikes. His eight home runs are nothing to sneeze at in this pitching-driven league. Outfielder Nick Thompson and infielder Danny Diekroeger, brother of former Rays pick Kenny Diekroeger, are productive hitters.
The Spikes pitching staff was one of the best in the league too, although fourth rounder Austin Gomber hasn't contributed much. Poncedeleon and Baez both struck out over a batter an inning, and the team finished third in the league in strikeouts. They boast an impressive bullpen as well. Kyle Grana was an All-Star with 62 strikeouts in 40.2 innings, and Josh Lucas had a comically low 0.31 ERA in 28.2 innings.
The other semifinal has defending champion Tri-City taking on the Connecticut Tigers. The ValleyCats have had a lot of success lately, winning two of the last four titles and appearing in another final in that span, a loss to the Renegades. Tri-City probably had the league's second best offense, and although Golden Spikes winner A.J. Reed is no longer on the roster, they can still hit. Joe Musgrove is probably their best starter still on the roster. Connecticut took until the last day to clinch the wild card, but they're a very good team both at the plate and on the mound. Their top two picks, outfielder Derek Hill and reliever Spencer Turnbull, are both on the roster, but they haven't been contributors.