Checking In On The Minor League Playoff Races
It’s hard to believe, but the minor league season is almost over. After five months of home runs, strikeouts, mascot races and tarp pulls, it’s time to crown a few champions. Here, we check in on playoff races around the country as many leagues enter their final weeks.
The asterisks in the capsules below signify scenarios in which first-half division leaders may be sandwiched between other teams in the standings who have not qualified for the playoffs.
Clinched: Columbus — West Division
Division Leaders: Gwinnett (+2.5, South), Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (0.5, North)"
Wild Card Leaders: Charlotte (+4 over Durham)
Scenario: Columbus became the first team to clinch in the IL when it defeated Louisville on Aug. 22. The RailRiders have a slim edge over hard-charging Syracuse, which has gone 9-1 in its last 10 games. Durham picked an inopportune time to go into a slump. The defending-champion Bulls have gone 2-8 over the last 10, including six losses in seven games to division-rivals Charlotte and Gwinnett.
Second-Half Division Leaders*: Iowa (+5, American Northern), Round Rock (+1, American Southern), Sacramento (+8, Pacific Northern), Las Vegas (+3, Pacific Southern)
Scenario: Sacramento can put away the Pacific Northern division as early as tonight, while Iowa and Las Vegas hold strong but not insurmountable leads in their respective divisions. Round Rock has the second-most wins in the league but is fighting to hold its one-game advantage over San Antonio, which is in its first year in the league after reclassifying from Double-A to Triple-A in the offseason.
Clinched: Trenton, Harrisburg
Second-Half Division Leaders*: Reading (+5.5, Eastern), Bowie/Erie, (+12, Western)
Scenario: In its first season playing with a two-half format, the Eastern League has already seen its share of shenanigans. Trenton and Reading finished the first half tied, but the Thunder claimed the crown thanks to a head-to-head tiebreaker. Here’s the catch: The two teams had a suspended game still on the ledger when the half concluded. Reading triumphed in the resumption, and the win was transferred back to the team’s first-half record. That left the Fightins in the strange position of finishing second in the first half despite having the most wins. They have a big lead in the second half, however, and appear poised to make the playoffs anyway.
Clinched: Arkansas, Amarillo
Second-Half Division Leaders*: Tulsa (+7, North), Midland (+2, South)
The scenario: The Sod Poodles are playoff-bound in the first season in existence, meaning their shiny new hitter’s paradise of Hodgetown will host postseason baseball. Arkansas won the first half while being helmed by Mitch Canham, who was hired as Oregon State’s head coach shortly after the Travelers clinched the playoff spot. Cesar Nicolas replaced Canham and will attempt to guide Arkansas to its first championship since 2008. If Midland retains its slim second-half lead it will get a chance to capture its fifth TL crown in six years.
Clinched: Montgomery, Biloxi, Jackson
Second-Half Division Leaders*: Jacksonville (+1.5, South)
Scenario: Montgomery and Biloxi have been the league’s most dominant teams from wire to wire. Each team won its division’s first-half title, and both hold significant leads in the second-half standings as well. Jackson has outpaced the other three teams in its division and will play Montgomery for a berth in the finals. Currently, Jacksonville is trailing Biloxi by 2.5 games for the second-half division title. If the Jumbo Shrimp overtake the Shuckers and win the division, they get the second playoff spot. If not, the spot goes to Pensacola, which will have had the better overall record combined between the first and second halves.
Clinched: Dunedin, Charlotte, Fort Myers
Second-Half Division Leaders*: Lakeland (+2.5, South)
The scenario: Dunedin and Fort Myers won the first half in their divisions, and Charlotte blitzed the competition to win the second half in the South. The only race that remains is between Tampa and Lakeland, who are battling for the second-half title in the North. The Flying Tigers hold a 2.5-game edge on the Tarpons, and the teams have a massive series against one another to end the season. Daytona and Clearwater each have slim chances in the wild card as well.
Clinched: Wilmington, Down East
Second-Half Division Leaders*: Salem (+2.5, Northern), Fayetteville (+2.5, Southern)
Scenario: The Blue Rocks boast one of the most prospect-laden rotations in the minors, with Kris Bubic, Austin Cox, Daniel Lynch and Jonathan Bowlan each having performed well this year. Down East is led by Futures Game MVP Sam Huff, who has socked 28 homers between both levels of Class A. The Wood Ducks hold a half-game lead over Fayetteville in the second half of the Southern Division season, but the Woodpeckers hold a 2.5-game edge over the next closest competitor. That gives them a good chance to slip into the playoffs in their first season in Segra Stadium.
Clinched: Visalia, Rancho Cucamonga,
Second-Half Division Leaders*: Modesto/San Jose (North), Lake Elsinore (+2, South)
Scenario: The Rawhide and Quakes clinched first-half playoff spots and both hold division leads in the second half. The Nuts and San Jose entered Monday tied for second place in the North, while Lake Elsinore was in second in the South but two games up on the third-place team, Lancaster, for a playoff berth as well.
Clinched: Delmarva, Lexington
Second-Half Division Leaders*: Hickory (+6, Northern), Asheville (+1, Southern)
Scenario: Delmarva’s roster, which has been buoyed all season by big-armed righthander Grayson Rodriguez, got a big boost last week when No. 1 overall draft pick Adley Rutschman was added to the roster from short-season Aberdeen. The pair should provide a healthy dose of prospect power for the Shorebirds’ attempt at their first SAL title since the year 2000. If Hickory and Asheville take the second playoff spots in their respective divisions, they’d set up the possibility of an all-North Carolina championship series. Great Lakes and Bowling Green have each racked up 77 wins this season, and boast talented roster from top to bottom.
Clinched: Great Lakes, Quad Cities, Lake County, Cedar Rapids,
Second-Half Division Leaders*: Bowling Green (+2, Eastern), Kane County (+1, Western)
Wild Card Leaders: South Bend (+3.5, Eastern), Clinton (+3, Western)
Scenario: The 16-team Midwest League has an equally jumbo-sized playoff setup, with eight teams (four division winners, four wild cards) making the dance. Clinton has a chance to make the playoffs in its first season as a Marlins affiliate, and Kane County has a chance to put young Diamondbacks stud Kristian Robinson under the playoff spotlight.
Division Leaders: Aberdeen/Brooklyn/Hudson Valley (McNamara), Batavia (+.5, Pinckney), Lowell (+4, Stadler)
Wild Card Leaders: Aberdeen/Brooklyn/Hudson Valley
Scenario: The obvious intrigue here is in the McNamara Division, which entered Monday with a three-way tie among Aberdeen, Brooklyn and Hudson Valley for the top spot. Because those three clubs also have three of the better records in the league, they also sit in a three-way tie for the top spot in the wild card. Three teams, two playoff spots, one last stretch of big-time intrigue.
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Clinched: Spokane, Salem-Keizer
Second-Half Division Leaders*: Tri-City (+2, North), Hillsboro (+4, South)
Scenario: Salem-Keizer crushed the competition in the first half on the strength of a terrifying offensive club that included league home run leader Franklin Labour, who swatted 14 longballs in just 41 games before being promoted to low Class A Augusta. The Volcanoes also got a boost from second-round pick Logan Wyatt, who was an on-base machine before his promotion. Spokane’s Blaine Crim was a one-man wrecking crew on the Indians’ way to his team’s first-half division crown. Perennial NWL power swept Eugene on the road to open up a sizable lead on their in-state foe as both teams hunt for the second wild-card spot.
Clinched: Pulaski, Burlington
Division Leaders: Bristol (+.5, West)
Wild Card Leaders: Johnson City/Kingsport (+1.5, West)
Scenario: Pulaski was the clear class of the East division, having overpowered the competition with 42 games entering Monday’s action. Burlington clinched its wild-card spot with a walk-off win over Pulaski, setting up a meeting of the teams for a spot in the division series. The West division is locked in a tight battle, with Bristol holding a half-game edge over both Johnson City and Kingsport, which meet another in a three-game series to close the season.
Clinched: Idaho Falls, Ogden
Second-Half Division Leaders*: Billings (+5, North), Orem (+.5, South)
Scenario: The Pioneer League’s season lasts longer the rest of the half-season leagues, with a 2019 closing date of Sept. 7. That will give Missoula more time close ground on North-leading Billings, while Orem, Rocky Mountain and Grand Junction are separated by just 1.5 games for the second spot in the South division.