Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Long Island Ducks Playoff Preview: Showdown Versus Somerset

From the desk of:  THE WEBBED SPIKES NINE

Atlantic League Playoffs: The Final Four

Back on September 15th, Long Island toppled the Revolution in York, while the Patriots overran the Bluefish at Harbor Yard.  The combination earned the Ducks their 10th playoff berth in the last 12 years.

The Somerset Patriots, meanwhile, posted an Atlantic League best 89-50 overall record this season, bulldozing their way to both first and second half Liberty Division flags.

The Patriots and Ducks were the only teams to post 80-wins or better this season, as Long Island went 80-59 to qualify for this year's Wild Card.

The Pond will host the first two games of this long simmering Liberty Division feud, after which the series will come to a head in Somerset for Games Three through Five, if necessary.

Lancaster Barnstormers Poised to Defend Title

After a poor first half, the Lancaster Barnstormers rolled to a second half title, thus earning the right to defend their crown.  They closed out the season with a 7-game winning streak and won 8 of their last 10 games.

They'll host the first half champ Southern Maryland Blue Crabs for Games One and Two of the Freedom Division semi-final series.  The Blue Crabs will then host Games Three through Five, if necessary.

Long Island Ducks Playoff Preview


Somerset Patriots
Long Island Ducks


The entrance gates at Bethpage Ballpark were locked early last year - certainly earlier than Long Island fans had grown to expect.  Autumn instead ushered in a sense of loss, as the Flock failed to qualify for post-season play in 2014, and thus surrendered the right to defend their Atlantic League crown.

Previous to that, the Ducks appeared in three straight championship series, while winning back-to-back titles in 2012 and 2013, marking their second and third Atlantic League championships in the organization's history.

  • After failing to make the playoffs during their first four years of existence, the Flock lifted their first trophy back in 2004.

General manager Michael Pfaff now has The Flock back in position to win a fourth. He joined old reliable veterans and crowd favorites with fresh new faces whom together produced the league's second best record.  It required mining new talent the old fashioned way, however, panning and sifting for bits of gold in places where the competition was not.

So make no mistake, getting the Ducks in this position was no easy task.  Division realignment forcing the Patriots to join the Liberty Division two years ago made sure of that, while roster picking exemplified by Lew Ford's brief departure to Mexico only compounded Long Island's troubles.  On that note, Coach Baez deserves credit for keeping his team together in the face of losing their top producers.

Those factors, however, only held some sway with regards to Long Island's own general missteps along the way.  As the first half wound down, a poor showing during an extended series in Sugar Land rendered Long Island's end of half series finale against the first place Patriots an inconsequential matter.

The Ducks then followed up with a sub-par 34-35 second half record, finishing 5 games back of Somerset.

Moreover, they went on to lose their last 5 games of the regular season since clinching a spot in this year's tournament, which includes getting swept by the defending champion Lancaster Barnstormers in the season series finale.

The Patriots didn't exactly end their season on a great note either.  They dropped their final two games, and went 6-4 in their last 10 games.

OFFENSE COMPARISON/Atlantic League Rank:
  • Hits - Ducks #1 vs. Patriots #6
  • Runs Scored - Ducks #1 vs. Patriots #2
  • Team Average - Ducks #1 vs. Patriots #7
  • Doubles - Patriots #1 vs. Ducks #2
  • Home Runs - Ducks #4 vs. Patriots #5
  • Total Bases - Ducks #1 vs. Patriots #5
  • OPS - Ducks #1 vs. Patriots #5

With Lew Ford having spent time in Mexico, and Jon Griffin on the disabled list since August 19, veteran shortstop Dan Lyons wound up leading the team with 11 home runs and 73 RBI.  Lew Ford ended with 63 RBI, despite being a triple crown threat upon his departure.

Sean Burroughs played 37 games for the Ducks and batted a robust .366 in 145 at-bats since being acquired from Bridgeport. His combined .340 batting average led the league.  Lew Ford otherwise led the team with an non-qualifying .364 average.

Somerset's lefty swinging Michael Burgess leads either team with 15 regular season home runs, and  drove in 59 runs. Team mate David Vidal led the team with 63 RBI and clubbed 12 home runs.  And Thomas Neal led the team with a .290 average.

  • ERA - Patriots #1 vs. Ducks #3
  • Average Against - Patriots #1 vs. Ducks #2
  • WHiP - Patriots #1 vs. Ducks #2
  • Least Hits Allowed - Patriots #1 vs. Ducks #2
  • Strikeouts - Ducks #1 vs. Patriots #7
  • Least Walks - Patriots #2 vs. Ducks #7
  • Saves - Ducks #1 vs. Patriots #2

Starter John Brownell tied for league lead with 12 victories, and led the circuit with 146 strikeouts in 175.2 innings pitched.  Ian Marshall's season waned, finishing 7-7 with a 4.38 ERA over 143.2 innings pitched, with 92 strikeouts.  August acquisition Billy Buckner went 8-3 with an even 4.00 ERA over 69.2 innings pitched, with 73 strikeouts.

Despite top pitcher Sean Bierman getting picked off the roster back in July, Somerset is still well armed.  Matt Zielinski went 8-4 with a 2.86 ERA.  Mickey Storey tied John Brownell with 12 victories, and posted a 2.53 ERA over 106.2 innings pitched, and lefty starter Ray Merritt, a late August acquisition from the Sugar Land Skeeters, boasts a 2.88 ERA.

Long Island Ryan Kussmaul finished the season third in the league with 28 saves and a 3.42 ERA.   Amalio Diaz kicked in with 14 saves and a 2.77 ERA.  Patriots closer and former Duck, Jon Hunton finished second in the circuit with 32 saves, and posted a 3.09 ERA.

Let the games begin!

Go Ducks.

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