It's Pennant Chase Time!
by Andrew Kulyk & Peter Farrell
Bisons in three way race for IL North title
The Buffalo Bisons have slogged through a season of high and lows. A hot April start highlighted with great pitching turned into a June swoon. Callups have affected the club, as well as the spate of trades that the parent Blue Jays did late last month to put them right in the middle of things for their own playoff hopes.
Yet here we are, mid August, and incredibly the Bisons are right in the middle of the race in the uncharacteristically mediocre International League North Division, and a chance to go to the playoffs for the first time since 2005.
With the way the standings are shaping up league wide, it is extremely unlikely that the lone wild card berth will be awarded to the North. Therefore only the division winner will be heading to the postseason, and right now it’s a three way race between the Bisons, the Rochester Red Wings and the division leading Scranton/Wilkes Barre Rail Riders.
Following this week’s showdown with the Rochester Red Wings at Coca Cola Field, the team will play three more in Rochester this coming week. But the real games to circle on the calendar, and the contests that most likely will determine the Bisons’ fate this year, will take place later this month, when Buffalo faces the Railriders in five games in seven days, with three of those games taking place right here at home.
“We’re not looking that far ahead,” said Manager Gary Allenson last week, after watching his team lose at home to the Pawtucket Red Sox, the third game in four days where the Herd suffered a heartbreaking late inning collapse. “It’s frustrating,” said Allenson. “These games count that much more in the standings this time of year.”
The Bisons lost some huge arms in the trades which brought shortstop Troy Tulowitski and ace pitcher David Price to Toronto. Gone are starters Daniel Norris and relievers Matt Boyd and Rob Rasmussen, and Allenson has had to cobble together a bullpen to stem the bleeding in the late innings. Not helping much is Joba Chamberlain, once a New York Yankee standout, who has been a bit scary to watch during most of his appearances out of the pen. “Walking the first two in the eighth inning that’s a potion for disaster right there,” said Allenson. “We just can’t seem to hang on to leads right now.”
While the Bisons lost several key players at the MLB trade deadline, the New York Yankees called up Scranton’s ace to the Bronx. Luis Severino, who was 7-0 for the Rail Riders, created a huge hole in their starting rotation. Nonetheless the Rail Riders have been keeping pace in August, and began this week with a 4.5 game lead on the Bisons, about the same position they were in two weeks ago at the trade deadline.
The bright spots on Buffalo’s rosters? Infielder Matt Hague is cementing his position as the league’s MVP and scoring title, providing home runs and clutch hits in key situations. Hague was named the International League’s player of the month for July, where he hit .376 and collected 27 RBI for the month. Hague joins Chris Colabello,, now in Toronto, who received similar honors for the Bisons back in April.
Hague has not slowed down in August, providing important hits and home runs to help Buffalo’s cause. Joining Hague with the hot bats have been Alex Hassan and Andy Burns. Center fielder Dalton Pompey, who started the season up in Toronto, got demoted as low as AA New Hampshire, and is now back with Buffalo, has been a fierce presence defensively, offering his speed and range on the basepaths.
There is one more variable which might have a big impact on the eventual outcome of the North Division race. And that happens on September 1.
On that day, MLB teams are allowed to expand their rosters to as many as 40 players. With Toronto and New York locked in an epic battle for the AL East title, and Minnesota, which is Rochester’s parent club, clinging to fading playoff hopes for a wild card berth of their own (they were swept at Toronto last week, putting a huge dagger in their chances), all three teams might be raiding their AAA rosters to bolster their chances at the big league level.
And that means the Bisons could see Hague departing for a call up to Toronto. Following him could be starting pitchers Randy Wolf and Scott Copeland, along with reliever Chad Jenkins, who spent some time in the bigs earlier this season. All these roster moves could see a number of AA reinforcements joining Buffalo to decide the team’s fate just as they wind up to a dramatic season ending finish on Labor Day weekend.
And that’s how it works in the minor leagues. Welcome to AAA. Enjoy the ride.blog comments powered by Disqus
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