Long Island Ducks
Here we go again.
As if there were any doubt ...
For a fourth consecutive post-season, the Long Island Ducks and Somerset Patriots will battle for the Liberty Division championship. It's been this way pretty much ever since the league realigned and placed Somerset alongside the Ducks.
The Flock cut it close this season, narrowly capturing the second-half division flag over rival Somerset, and thereby averting a Wild Card scenario. After a troublesome first-half, in which they finish five games back of the first place Patriots, Long Island finishes strong with a 39-24 mark, two games better than the Patriots, and a 69-57 record overall. Somerset secures their post-season berth with a 35-28 first-half record and finish the regular season with a 72-54 record overall, three games better than the Ducks.
Not coincidentally, the Patriots take the first-half head-to-head series six games to three. The Ducks turn the tables in the second-half head-to-head series, likewise winning six and losing three. Said another way, these rivals split their regular season series down the middle, posting nine victories apiece.
It goes to show how through the seasons little has changed with regard to this recurring match-up. The Liberty Division championship series once again features an age old dynamic in which one of the league's strongest offensive teams opposes one of the league's top pitching teams.
Of the two clubs, Long Island is the offensive juggernaut. The Ducks rank first in home runs and total bases, second in slugging, and third in runs scored and OPS. Somerset ranks last in home runs, seventh in both total bases and slugging, and fifth in both runs and OPS. However, the Patriots are second in walks and stolen bases, third in OBP, and fourth in team average. Whereas the Ducks are fifth in both walks and stolen bases, and sixth in both OBP and team average.
Infielder Justin Trapp leads Somerset with eight home runs, while the Ducks feature three players in double-digits. David Washington leads Long Island with 24 round-trippers (second in the league), and Taylor Ard is second with sixteen. The ageless one, Lew Ford leads the team with 73 RBI. Washington and Travis Snider are tied with 71 RBI. Second baseman Jordany Valdespin spearheads the offense with a team leading .338/.400/.487 triple slash. He wins the league batting title by fractions over Somerset's Craig Massey, whom also finishes with a .338 mark. In addition to leading the Patriots in batting, Massey also leads Somerset with a .418 OBP. Alfredo Rodriguez leads with 55 RBI, while Jayce Boyd tops the club with a .481 slugging average.
Unfortunately, the Ducks lost the services of Emilio Bonifacio. At the time his contract is purchased by the Milwaukee Brewers, he was leading the Atlantic League with a .348 average through 70 games.
On the mound, Somerset features one of the top two pitching staffs in the league. They're first in strikeouts, H/9, K/W, own the league's second best ERA and WHiP, and have issued the second least walks. Meanwhile, the Ducks rank fifth or sixth in most pitching categories.
This is precisely why Long Island's best hopes for advancing into the Atlantic League championship series rests on the arms and shoulders of their starting rotation. As John Brownell, Matt Larkins, and Jake Fisher go, so will go the Ducks. They'll also need effective contributions from Hector Silvestre, Dennis O'Grady, and recently acquired Brett Marshall.
And should the Ducks take a lead late into the game, the old pro Francisco Rodriguez must slam the door closed. He posts 27 regular season saves and 2.76 ERA, with 42 strikeouts through 42.1 innings pitched.
THE RIVALRY: DUCKS vs. PATRIOTS
Prior to league realignment, the Ducks and Patriots face off in the 2013 league championship series, with Long Island emerging victoriously, three games against two. The following season, Somerset gets shifted out of the Freedom Division and proceed to win their first Liberty Division title. In 2015, Long Island flips the script in defeating Somerset two games against one. If you're a Ducks fan the 2016 series proves epic; for Patriots fans not so much. Somerset jumps out to a 2-0 series lead, but Long Island storms back winning three straight to capture the Liberty Division flag. Last season, the Ducks again sweep Somerset, but for a second straight season fall short in the Atlantic League championship series.