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Blue Jays Sizzle, Bisons Flounder

Blue Jays Sizzle, Bisons Flounder
Ten straight seasons out of the playoffs

Right about now, people in Toronto are over the moon with excitement about their Blue Jays. Since acquiring shortstop Troy Tulowitski and ace pitcher David Price, the team went 21-5 during the month of August. The team had at one time set the bar at qualifying for the playoffs and ending their 22 year post season drought, but now dream of an American League East pennant, a deep run into the postseason and a shot at a World Series title are now on many people’s minds.

The cost for all this success has come at the expense of their AAA affiliate the Buffalo Bisons, who had their playoff chances destroyed with two devastating roster moves right in the middle of the pennant chase.

On Monday August 17,the Bisons sat 4.5 games behind Scranton/Wilkes-Barre for the IL North title, and were also chasing three teams for the lone wild card slot, at 2.5 games back. The team was heading for Rochester and a three game set with the Red Wings, who were also in the playoff hunt.

The team got swept in Rochester.

Most of the damage was done by the major league call up of first baseman Matt Hague. Hague is leading the International League in hitting, on base percentage, and has 171 hits on the season. In a roster that is challenged in terms of the presence of game changing power hitters, Hague is the kind of player who could turn a game around with one swing of the bat.

Undoubtedly, the Blue Jays called Hague to the big league team to offer another pinch hit bat since they were on their way for a set in Philadelphia, and playing under National League rules with no designated hitter.

So how did Hague perform during his less than two week stint with the Blue Jays? One pinch hit at bat. At Anaheim. A ground out. And then he was optioned back to Buffalo.

The dean of Buffalo’s pitching rotation, 39 year old Randy Wolf, had an even more puzzling departure. With a record of 9-2 and a 2.58 ERA, Wolf had appeared in 23 games with the Bisons, and was their top performer on a rotation of players who struggled to find wins. Wolf was more than just a guy who could gobble up innings; he was a team leader who inspired and motivated the younger players on the roster. Clearly, he was deserving of another big league chance.

He got it, and at the worst possible time. The Detroit Tigers, who had acquired another Bison, Daniel Norris, in the David Price trade, had to shelve Norris due to injury. They needed another starter, so they called Toronto. Blue Jays General Manager Alex Anthopoulos handed over Wolf to the Tigers—“for cash considerations.” And just like that Bisons manager Gary Allenson was left scrambling up and down his roster to plug holes and keep the team in contention.

So what did the Bisons do since that fateful week which began in Rochester?

They finished the month 3-11, and were mathematically eliminated from the playoff chase and postseason contention. The team will finish around the .500 mark next Monday, a far cry from a month ago, when the clubhouse was heating up towards a possible fantastic finish.

The Bisons are now ten years and counting since their last playoff appearance, and eleven since winning the Governors Cup in 2004. Three years with Cleveland, Four with the New York Mets, and now three with the Toronto Blue Jays. With Norfolk heading to the postseason this year, the Bisons have the dubious distinction of having the longest postseason drought in the International League.

Most galling is that Buffalo has been shut out 19 times this season. “I guess we did it in perfect fashion didn’t we?” groused Allenson after this Sunday’s shutout which officially knocked them out of the playoff hunt. “But this game didn’t aggravate me like some other ones do.”

The bright spot this season has been the play of Matt Hague, who was named this week as the International League most valuable player, becoming the ninth player in Bisons history to earn such a distinction. “It’s the best award I’ve won in the minor leagues. It shows the dedication I’ve had this season. When I accomplish something like that it feels great and I’m really honored.”

Hague cant pinpoint what went wrong with the Bisons fortunes this season. “I would say that we have a good team. We had postseason on our minds. We had some injuries. We had good pitching and we couldn’t hit. Then good hitting without pitching support. Its just one of those things. You hate to say bad luck. But things just didn’t click. It’s one of those weird things in baseball that happens.”

The Bisons kick off the 2016 season on Thursday, April 14, 2016 at Coca Cola Field, the 29th season of baseball downtown.

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