Durham, Omaha square off in Triple-A national championship
Posted September 17, 2013
Durham, N.C. — The Omaha Storm Chasers, Triple-A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals, entered this year’s postseason with a losing record, 70-74. The Durham Bulls entered this year’s playoffs 30 games over .500 and boasted the best record in Triple-A. Despite two very different paths to this point, Omaha and Durham will take to the diamond in Allentown, Pa., Tuesday night in a winner-take-all national championship game.
“Everybody knows that if you peak at the right moment, that’s what it’s all about - and they are definitely peaking,” said Bulls General Manager Mike Birling Tuesday while joining Mark and Mike, The Insiders, on 620 AM The Buzz. “The records are thrown out the window now. It’s funny we had the best record in all of baseball and they had one of the worst coming into the playoffs, but they are making the most of it and it’s up to us to jump on them early and shut them down with our pitching.”
Pitching has been what has helped the Bulls get to this point and it is in large part thanks to Omaha themselves. Winners of 87 games in the regular season and champions of the International League, Durham led the IL in ERA (3.33). The Bulls pitching staff has not allowed a run in 29 consecutive innings and are coming off back-to-back shutouts. The team leader on the year in strikeouts and Game 1 winner of each of the teams’ two playoff series wins is Jake Odorizzi, a former No. 2 prospect in the Royals system.
On Dec. 9, the Royals traded three players that were at one time designed to shape the future of the organization. Potentially sacrificing their future to “win now”, they sent their top two prospects, Odorizzi and Wil Myers along with Mike Montgomery (all playing in Omaha at the time) to Tampa Bay for pitcher James Shields. Nine months later, Odorizzi will get the ball to try and beat the Storm Chasers.
“Just because of the trade with them, with Shields and Wil Myers and now you have Jake Odorizzi going up against his teammates from last year, you have that interest,” Birling said.
Odorizzi has been nothing short of dominant this postseason having thrown 14 scoreless innings while striking out 16 and giving up just five hits. He is going up against a Storm Chasers lineup that scored 10 runs on 19 hits in their PCL clincher to get to this game.
“It’s a one-game playoff. We have lived and died with pitching the last few weeks and that’s what it will come down to,” Birling said. “We are hoping to get what Jake has done in the first game of every series and shut them down.”
With each team’s Big League organization in playoff contention, keeping rosters together for a playoff push has been a task.
“I don’t take this year for granted. The playoffs are all about luck,” Bulls manager Charlie Montoyo said. “We finished in first place in 144 games, but anything can happen in the playoffs and especially when your team is in contention in the Big Leagues.”
Currently, Tampa Bay is holding a Wild Card spot while the Royals are just 2.5 games back. Since Triple-A went to its current National Championship formant in 2006, no affiliate has won it all while their professional team has reached the postseason.
The Bulls, who have won four Governors’ Cups since 2002, seek to become the second team to win two Triple-A National Championships and are trying to be the first IL team to win the national championship in an IL park.
The game is scheduled for a 7:05 first pitch and can be heard live on 99.9 The Fan. It will also be televised on NBC Sports Network.
“It’s such a long season, and to come out on top, it’s really something that you can’t explain,” Birling said. “It reminds you why you are in the game.”