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It's August - and Pennant Chase Time

Bisons have shot at postseason berth

Playoff Standings

Will the real Buffalo Bisons please stand up?

The calendar has turned to August, and for the first time in years, the Bisons have a shot—perhaps a long shot, but a shot nonetheless—at being one of the four teams left standing in this year’s Governors Cup playoffs.

So what team will we see—the woeful Bisons who stumbled through a forgettable road trip a week ago, including getting swept by the Toledo Mud Hens, or the Bisons who have come home to Coca Cola Field with a sense of renewed vim and vigor, and have treated fans to pitching gems and walk-off wins?

Buffalo can pretty much forget about the North Division title. Going into August the team finds itself 8.5 games behind the leading Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees.

If the Bisons have any hope of making it to the playoffs, it will be as the wild card team. Buffalo is one of six teams chasing that coveted wild card slot, and the Louisville Bats, the current leaders in that race, have been red hot, going 22-6 during the month of July. The Bisons and the Bats will not face each other again this season.

Manager Ken Oberkfell has had to deal with more than his share of chaos and turmoil to his lineup. Yet he is not surprised that this years’ Bisons squad is doing relatively well. “Not at all, not at all,” said Oberkfell this past week. “We’ve lost some good players here who went to the major leagues and helped our major league club, but the difference is we have good players coming in, too. For example we lost guys and [Lucas] Duda came in, and Nick Evans is gonna be fine, and [Jorge] Padilla has helped. That’s what we’re here for. We’re going to advance players, but we’ve restocked with some pretty good players.”

One of the players that Oberkfell won’t be counting on during the pennant stretch run is Mike Hessman. After just coming off an injury which kept him sidelined in the weeks leading to the All Star break, Hessman’s contract was purchased by the New York Mets, and he joined the big club on July 27. Playing for most of his career as an elite minor-leaguer, this call up was more than well deserved. “Of course we don’t like losing someone of Hessman’s caliber,” said Oberkfell. “But Hess deserved a shot and we are pleased to see him get one. This just creates an opportunity for others to step in and fill the shoes.”

One of those players is infielder Nick Evans. Many remember Evan’s awful performance in a Bisons uniform last year, where he stumbled out of the gate before mercifully being shipped down to Binghamton, where he spent most of the 2009 season, although he did get some big league service with the Mets as well.

Since joining the Bisons last Friday, Evans has been on a tear. Most notably, he delivered the clutch two-out base hit in the bottom of the 10th inning this past Sunday against Lehigh Valley. With the hit and run on it turned out to be a walk-off hit to give the Bisons an important 2-1 win.

Clearly, the Nick Evans of 2010 is a completely different player than the Nick Evans of 2009. The difference? “A year, for one,” replied Oberkfell. “I think he’s changed his stance a little bit, he has his hands a little lower than normally did last year. He was doing well in Binghamton so he’s got confidence. When he played his first game since coming back here he got a hit. He was kidding me afterwards, saying, ‘Hey, I got a hit and my first hit wasn’t off a catcher this year.’ Last year when he struggled and went down he didn’t have a good supporting cast around him to help him. It was all on him. When he came back before his trip to the big leagues he was much better. He will be fine. He can swing the bat.”

If the Bisons hope to make it interesting, they will need the offensive prowess of players like Evans and Duda to replace the hot bats of Hessman and Mike Jacobs, who was traded away from the Mets organization last week.

On the pitching side, the Bisons got two quality starts last week from Ramon Ortiz, who retired 26 of 28 batters faced in Columbus, and Pat Misch, who threw a gem this past Saturday and had a one-hitter going through seven innings in another important win. “Ortiz’s game was huge, and it revived us a bit,” said Misch. “You feel the energy…we’re in a race for a wild card, and we just do our job every single day. We’re gonna go out there and do it again.”

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