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Indianapolis Indians Playoff Preview: Durham Bulls

INDIANAPOLIS – For the first time since falling a win short of a Governors’ Cup championship in 2015, the Indianapolis Indians (79-63) are back in the playoffs.

The Tribe will take on the International League South champion Durham Bulls (86-56), with Game 1 of the best-of-five semifinal series taking place at Durham Bulls Athletic Park at 6:35 p.m. on Wednesday. 

Indy started off the 2017 season with the league’s worst record at 8-16, but turned things around dramatically to win the IL West division by eight games. Durham finished the season a half game shy of the best record in the league, posting their most wins in a season since going 87-57 in a championship campaign in 2013.

The Indians and Bulls met ten times in 2017, with Durham winning six of the ballgames. The Bulls won four of seven games in Indianapolis in April/June and then took two of three in Durham in July.

September call-ups always play a role in Minor League Baseball’s playoffs and this series is no different.

The Pittsburgh Pirates did not bring anyone up at the beginning of the month, possibly due to the Tribe’s upcoming postseason run, but key players from the 2017 Indians will still be missing during the Governors’ Cup Playoffs. Utility man Chris Bostick and lefty Steven Brault, named team MVP and team Pitcher of the Year, respectively, have been in Pittsburgh over the past few weeks due to injuries. Bostick hit .294 with 33 doubles and 57 RBIs, while Brault went 10-5 with an IL-best 1.94 ERA in 20 starts (120 1/3 innings).

Durham’s parent club, the Tampa Bay Rays, also made a few moves. Tampa called up pitchers Ryne Stanek and catcher Curt Casali. The Rays are expected to promote more players in waves, but the loss of a pair of their regular players will certainly impact the Bulls in this series.

Pitching

The Indians received good pitching all year long, but the numbers show the Bulls were just as good on the mound. Indy finished with a team ERA of 3.48, while Durham was slightly better at 3.37. The Bulls also struck out a minor league record 1,421 batters this season, better than second place Scranton/Wilkes-Barre’s 1,249 and fourth place Indianapolis’ 1,142. Not only did Durham post a MiLB record of punchouts this season, but it was the eighth most strikeouts by a team in all of baseball history.

Indy’s rotation is led by former Pirates top prospect Tyler Glasnow, who shattered strikeout records of his own for the Indians this season. Glasnow broke camp with Pittsburgh, but has been with the Tribe since mid-June. In 15 Triple-A starts, the right-hander has a 9-2 record with a 1.93 ERA with 140 strikeouts. Right-hander Drew Hutchison finished tied at the top of the league in innings pitched with 159 1/3. Nick Kingham struggled to end the season (12 earned runs in his final two starts), but posted six straight outings of two runs or less prior to that.

Brent Honeywell, the Rays’ top prospect, highlights Durham’s hurlers. The 22-year-old righty has a 12-8 record and a 3.64 ERA in 24 Triple-A starts this year. Honeywell is joined by Yonny Chirinos and Ryan Yarbrough at the top of Durham’s rotation. Chirinos posted an impressive 2.74 ERA in a 12-win season, while Yarbrough led the club in wins (13) and innings pitched (157 1/3).

Batting

Statistically, Indianapolis has the edge at the plate. The Tribe led the IL in doubles with 279 and closed the season second in the IL in numerous departments. Finishing just behind Scranton/Wilkes Barre, the Indians were second best in runs (647), hits (1,283), RBI (607) and team batting average (.268).

With Bostick up with the Pirates and Pittsburgh’s top prospect in Austin Meadows on the Tribe’s disabled list, the Indians lack a face of their offense. Eric Wood leads the team in home runs at 16, with Danny Ortiz directly behind him with 15. Ortiz then has the edge over Wood in RBIs, 63-61.

Durham’s offense is powered by Tampa Bay’s second ranked prospect, Willy Adames. Adames has a .277 batting average with ten homers and 62 RBIs. Jake Bauers leads the club’s active players with 13 long balls, while Patrick Leonard has the most RBIs at 70.

Series Schedule

Game 1: Wednesday, Sept. 6 – Indians (Holmes – 10-5, 3.36 ERA) at Bulls (Yarbrough – 13-6, 3.43 ERA), Durham Bulls Athletic Park, 6:35 p.m.

Game 2: Thursday, Sept. 7 – Indians (Glasnow – 9-2, 1.93 ERA) at Bulls (Chirinos – 12-5, 2.74 ERA), Durham Bulls Athletic Park, 6:35 p.m.

Game 3: Friday, Sept. 8 – Bulls (Smith – 2-1, 1.65 ERA) at Indians (Kingham – 9-6, 4.13 ERA), Victory Field, 7:15 p.m.

Game 4 (if necessary): Saturday, Sept. 9 – Bulls (Honeywell – 12-8, 3.64 ERA) at Indians (Hutchison – 9-9, 3.56 ERA), Victory Field, 7:05 p.m.

Game 5 (if necessary): Sunday, Sept. 10 – Bulls (TBD) at Indians (Eppler – 8-9, 4.89 ERA), Victory Field, 1:35 p.m.

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