18 Aug Postseason spot up for grabs
With 12 games left on the 2022 schedule, the Miners’ postseason hopes are alive and well, especially after they took two of three games from New York over the past weekend. But, they’re still in a tightly-packed five-team race for three playoff spots, and it’s all going to come down to three ingredients: math, luck and playing good baseball.
The math is simple. The Quebec Capitales lead the East Division standings, just as they have all year. The Miners and Tri-City are tied, six games behind Quebec. Ottawa is ½ game behind the Miners and Tri-City and New York is two games behind Ottawa. With those five teams all playing against each other during the next two weeks, the math turns problematic, but it’s still just math.
The other two factors are more difficult to figure. Luck? It would sure help the Miners if all the right teams beat all the right teams in the coming days. They’d love to see Tri-City and Ottawa split their four-game series that starts tomorrow night, or see sixth-place Trois-Rivieres knock off Ottawa, or see seventh-place New Jersey win a couple of games over New York or Quebec, or see the last-place Greys steal a win over Tri-City or Ottawa or New York.
Yes, luck – as always – would be a welcome gift, but…
The one element that the Miners control – as always – is the ability to play good baseball here in the stretch run. They’ve won five of their last six games, most impressively bouncing back to beat New York two straight after losing the opener of the three-game series at Skylands Stadium.
And, there’s good reason to look for continued success with the Empire State Greys in town to start a three-game series. The Greys’ record looks like a typing error, but it really is 6-78, and the Miners are 9-0 against the road-only team created by the Frontier League right before the season started to round out the eight-team East. Most recently, Sussex swept three games over the Greys Aug. 16-18 by a combined score of 23-4.
After facing the Greys, the Miners make one final road trip, beginning with three games at Quebec this coming weekend. So far this year, the Miners have been the only team in the league to win two series against the Capitales, taking two of three games both times they’ve met.
Following their visit to Quebec, the Miners head for Troy, NY, for three games with the Tri-City ValleyCats, another team they’ve faced twice before. In Troy in early June, Tri-City won two out of three games, but the Miners took two of three in Augusta in July.
In case of a tie for any playoff spot, the first tie breaker will be winning percentage, and, if there’s still a tie, then head-to-head records are the second tie-breaker. Right now, the Miners are 4-2 vs. Quebec, 3-3 vs. Tri-City, 4-5 vs. Ottawa and 6-6 vs. New York.
Returning from their trip to Quebec and Troy, the Miners will finish the regular season hosting the Jackals in the final three-game weekend series of the year. Currently 11½ games behind Quebec – and 5½ games out of a playoff spot – New Jersey could still mount a last-second charge, but, with all the traffic ahead of them, it would take a lot of victories – and luck – for them to remain in contention going into that last weekend. (The Miners are 4-5 vs. the Jackals.)
The league playoffs begin on Tuesday, Sept. 6 – two days after the regular season ends. The No. 3 team in each division will travel to the No. 2 team for a one-game wildcard contest, with the winner moving on to face the No. 1 team in a best-of-three series for the division pennant. Finally, the two division champs will play a best-of-five series for the league championship.
GREAT PITCHING, IMPROVED HITTING
Taking this past weekend’s series over the New York Boulders might well boost Miners fans hopes to nail down a playoff spot during these final two weeks of the season. Take Sunday’s tense, gritty 7-5 win, for example.
Starting pitcher Dwayne Marshall was outstanding, as usual, improving to 10-3 and lowering his ERA to 2.83 with zero earned runs over six innings of work, striking out eight and walking two. The 24-year-old righthander from Piscataway was making his team-leading 18th start, leading the team in innings pitched, ranking third in the league in ERA and seventh in the league with 102 Ks.
John Baker has been the other starting standout on the mound, currently No. 2 in the league with a 2.68 ERA and with this incredible stat: 101 strikeouts and just 14 walks. Lefty reliever Robert Klinchock has been stellar out of the pen with nine saves in 31 appearances and a 3.26 ERA.
The team’s pitching has been solid all year, but the hitting has shown new life lately, thanks in part to the addition of five new players over the past month who’ve made instant contributions. On Sunday, it was newcomers Yanio Perez and Juan Silverio coming up big, as they’ve done since joining the team. Perez (.413 in 19 games) was 2-for-4 with a two-run home run, while Silverio (.368 in 27 games) added a two-run double.
Martin Figueroa has been a hit machine all year, currently batting .315 after a league-leading .352 last year, while another newcomer, Oraj Anu, is batting .302 in 20 games here. David Maberry (.299 in 58 games) and Mikey Reynolds (.298 in 72 games) round out the Miners top hitters, but newcomer Willie Escala and always reliable Nilo Rijo have also played key roles, both batting .267 right now. Yet another newcomer, Alex Toral, has raised his average steadily, now at .260 and with seven home runs and 21 RBI in just 14 starts.
Meanwhile, Sussex County is approaching the league record for stolen bases in a season, leading the league by a large margin with 192 steals in pursuit of the record 204. Rijo and Jawuan Harris lead the team and are tied for second in the league, with 33.
By Carl Barbati, former sports editor of the New Jersey Herald, Daily Record and The Daily Trentonian