Boasting baseball's best record, Bulls open playoffs at home
Posted September 4, 2013
Durham, N.C. — With 87 wins, the Durham Bulls have shaken hands more times than any other professional baseball team at any level this season. But with a scheduling quirk and a parent club also in playoff contention, they face a unique set of challenges when the postseason gets underway Wednesday,
Despite boasting the best record in baseball, the Bulls will not get home field advantage for the first round best-of-five series against the Indianapolis Indians (Pittsburgh Pirates affiliate). As part of a pre-determined scheduling procedure by the International League the teams will play the first two games in the opening round of the Governor’s Cup Playoffs in Durham before making their way back to Indiana for the final three as needed.
“We finished in first place in 144 games, but anything can happen in the playoffs and even more when your team is in contention in the big leagues,” said Bulls head coach Charlie Montoyo. “(Tampa Bay) is going to take everyone they need because they are trying to win a division.”
Since the rosters expanded on Sept. 1, the Rays have recalled catcher Chris Gimenez and pitcher Josh Lueke from Durham. Another seven Bulls players reside on Tampa Bay’s 40-man roster. When push comes to shove, it will be the big league club that reaches down for help in September.
“Because we are both in the thick of things, and honestly we are both struggling offensively, there has been just so much movement over the last couple weeks,” said Bulls general manager Mike Birling. “When you have that much movement, it’s hard to get comfortable.”
The Bulls are not the only team in the Governor’s Cup playoffs that are at the mercy of their parent club’s aspirations. Indianapolis, Pawtucket and Omaha also have to navigate September with their big league teams in contention. The Bulls first-round opponent has lost pitchers Kyle Farnsworth and Kris Johnson to September call-ups.
“You look back at the teams in the Triple-A that have won it all, that team in the big leagues has struggled,” Montoyo said.
Since the Triple-A level went to its current playoff format in 2006, not a single champion had their parent team make the playoffs and only one of those teams had their big league squad finish over .500 (the Bulls won it all in 2009 when Tampa finished 84-78 but missed the playoffs by 11 games).
For the Bulls, as it is with the Rays, the bread and butter lies in their pitching. Despite losing nearly all their opening day rotation at one point or another to Tampa Bay, Durham boasts one of the best staffs in the minor leagues and the International League Pitcher of the Year in J.D. Martin. Martin will throw game two of the series as Jake Odorizzi will take to the rubber in the opener.
“When you look at this team compared to years past, pitching-wise we are looking very strong,” Birling said. “We’re set up really well with the pitching, the bats just need to start going.”
The Bulls have been crowned International League champions three times since 2002 and have reached the postseason in six of Montoyo’s seven seasons on the bench. First pitch for Wednesday’s game is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. with the first 1,500 fans receiving a rally towel.
The game can be heard live on 620 AM The Buzz and seen on MeTV 50.2.