International League First-Round Playoffs: Columbus Clippers vs Durham Bulls
The Columbus Clippers and Durham Bulls open the International League playoffs in their best-of-five series on September 3rd at Huntington Park in Columbus, Ohio. The Clippers host the first two games before the series moves to Durham for the final three games. The series winner advances to the IL final to meet the winner of the Syracuse/Pawtucket match-up.
Columbus and Durham last met in the International league playoffs in 2011; the Clippers swept the Bulls 3-0 in the Semi-Finals. In 2010 the Clippers defeated the Bulls in four games, 3-1, to take the Governors’ Cup.
Durham won the International League South Division to punch their playoff ticket, it was their second straight division title and seventh in the past eight seasons. The Bulls are the International League defending champions; they won the Governors Cup last season in a victory over Pawtucket. Durham has won the Governors’ Cup four times since 2003.
The Clippers earned their first playoff berth since 2011 by winning the International League West Division. Columbus won back-to-back Governors’ Cups in 2010 & 2011; their nine Governors’ Cup victories are second in league history, one behind Rochester.
Durham finished the season with a 75-69 record. They were 38-34 at home and 37-35 on the road. Columbus sports a 79-65 season record, 38-34 at home and 41-31 on the road. The two teams met eight times this season with the Bulls winning the season series six games to two. The Clippers won the first two games in Durham in early May then dropped six in a row, going 0-4 at home.
The Clippers finished 6th in team batting with a .261 average. They scored 672 runs, second in the league and hit 121 home runs, third in the league. Twenty-four year-old Jesus Aguilar led Columbus in multiple offensive categories including average (.304), runs (69), home runs (19) and RBI (77). Unfortunately Aguilar will not be on the Clippers playoff team; he was added to the Indians 40 man roster on September 1st.
Columbus has a 3.71 team ERA which puts them in the top half of the International League. They have allowed the most home runs in the league with 135 and the second fewest walks, 410. Tyler Cloyd has been the staff mainstay with a 10-8 record and a 3.89 ERA. Cloyd pitched 166.2 innings allowing 181 hits and 31 walks with 118 strikeouts. His Achilles Heel was the long ball; Cloyd gave up 26 home runs on the year, far and away the league leader in that unenviable stat. Cloyd’s playoff status remains unclear; he was placed on the seven-day disabled list retroactive to August 27 with a strained left hamstring.
The Clipper bullpen has been in a state of flux all season as the Cleveland Indians have maintained a steady stream of call ups throughout the summer. Mark Lowe, team leader in saves with 17, heads a bullpen that sports a 3.71 ERA. A left handed reliever has yet to be added to the pen for the playoffs.
The Bulls scuffled offensively all season finishing last out of fourteen International League teams in batting average, hitting .248 with 520 RBI. Durham was second from the bottom in runs scored with 573 and third to last in total bases with 1785.
Pitching was the Bull’s strong suit in the regular season; they own a 3.59 team ERA and led the league in strikeouts with 1220. Five Durham pitchers logged over one hundred innings on the season; Matt Andriese 162.1, Nate Karns 145.1 Mike Montgomery and Enny Romero each with 126 and Merrill Kelly 114.That group combined for 43 of the Bulls’ 75 wins.
By Mike Tanchevski
Senior Baseball Writer Covering the International League