As the calendar is about to turn towards September, the minor league schedules are winding down with playoffs on the horizon for at least two Blue Jays affiliates. Today, we’ll take a look at some of the races underway.
The Buffalo Bisons are still pushing for the playoffs, despite time running out for them. They’re in third place in the wildcard race, 2 1/2 games back of the Rochester Red Wings with 9 games remaining and with the Norfolk Tides two games ahead of Buffalo. There have been subtractions and additions for the Bisons: their entire outfield and two of their best middle-infielders have been called up to the Blue Jays (Kevin Pillar, Anthony Gose and Moises Sierra, Munenori Kawasaki and Ryan Goins) but they’ve received some pitching help in Sean Nolin, Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison. Chien-Ming Wang will also return for the Bisons after a spot-start in Toronto.
At this point, I’d be a little bit pessimistic about the Bisons’ chances to go on a tear and grab the wildcard spot. They’ve got four games against Rochester, as well as two more against Lehigh Valley (with whom they’re tied) so there is a chance for Buffalo to charge but they would have have to sweep Rochester and hope that Norfolk’s chances take a nosedive.
As far as the New Hampshire Fisher Cats go, they’re in a similar position to Buffalo. They’re 3 games back of 2nd place Trenton in their division for the second playoff spot with 8 games remaining. Those eight games include four with Portland and four with Binghamton, two fairly decent teams. Portland is right behind the Fisher Cats in the Eastern Division (two games behind) and Binghamton is a powerhouse, leading the division.
Because of promotions to Buffalo (Brad Glenn, A.J. Jimenez and Sean Nolin), the Fisher Cats have been gutted a little bit but still have a fairly strong pitching rotation to to the rest of the way with Marcus Stroman, Deck McGuire, Marcus Walden and Austin Bibens-Dirkx. With Andy Burns heating up, the Fisher Cats could make a run, but with four games against Binghamton, the probability of overtaking Trenton (the Yankees’ Double-A team) remains slim.
The Dunedin Blue Jays won their first half of the Florida State League North Division and so they are guaranteed a playoff spot. The team has been scuffling of late but the arrival of Matt Boyd to go with a strong Aaron Sanchez and Jesse Hernandez could give them a good trio of starting pitchers for a playoff push. K.C. Hobson has had a (mostly) very good season and Shane Opitz has been contributing with the bat lately (despite very little power). Marcus Knecht and Michael Crouse have also been hitting although neither is showing the kind of power they teased us with in Lansing a couple of years ago. Unless there are some late promotions from Lansing (Daniel Norris maybe?), I don’t think that the D-Jays are getting much help.
The Lansing Lugnuts are out of it. Let’s hope Daniel Norris gets some playoff action with the Dunedin Blue Jays. He’s been awesome lately.
The Vancouver Canadians missed a playoff spot by one game in the first half and are currently in 3rd place, 3 1/2 games out of the North Division lead in the second half with 8 games remaining. It’s not looking good, particularly with Shane Dawson getting injured and will be out for the rest of the season. The team just doesn’t have a lot of power and the pitching staff (the real strength in the first half) just isn’t as strong without Eric Brown. While both Dawson and Tom Robson have been excellent, Jeremy Gabryszwski has hit some rough patches. L.B. Dantzler looks like the team’s biggest bat and he’s closing the season strongly but it probably won’t be enough for the Canadians to try for a third consecutive Northwest League title.
UPDATED: Thanks to commenter Francis, I’ve looked a little more carefully into the playoff procedures for the Northwest League. There’s a stipulation to the leagues that use the split-season format that says that if a team wins both halves of the season, the second playoff spot goes to the team with the next best winning percentage over the full season. The Vancouver Canadians are currently tied for that second best winning percentage with the Spokane Indians with gives them a solid shot for a post-season berth. Even if the Canadians finish the season tied with Spokane, the Canadians have the tie-breaker (head-to-head record) sealed up already with a 7-4 record with one more game to play against Spokane.
The Bluefield Blue Jays have clinched a playoff spot and are currently in first place in the Eastern Division with 5 games remaining but first place is still up for grabs. The 2nd place Pulaski Mariners have played the Blue Jays well and their playoff series could be rough for the Jays. They’ve lost two of their best pitchers, Shane Dawson and Tom Robson, and shortstop Dawel Lugo to Vancouver but there’s still plenty of talent on this team. Sluggers Mitch Nay and Matt Dean remain, as does D.J. Davis who is showing a lot more power than many prospecters thought he had. Franklin Barreto has arrived from the GCL as has Clinton Hollon on the pitching side. Additionally, Chase DeJong, Alberto Tirado and Jairo Labourt are still around and will lead the club into the playoff challenges ahead.
Finally, the Gulf Coast League Blue Jays are most likely out of the playoffs. Only division winners make the playoffs and the Blue Jays are currently in 3rd place, 3 games back in their division. After today, they’ll have just 3 games remaining and are a lock to end up out of the playoffs.