Since it’s early September, we’re going back to school. But instead of instructing from the classic New England Primer, we’re going to use the New York-Penn League Playoff Primer.
This figurative tome explains that in the New York-Penn League, only the three division winners and the second-place team with the best record make the playoffs. The team with the best overall record (at press time, Brooklyn) will meet the wild-card team (at press time, Staten Island), in the first round of the playoffs.
Both Brooklyn and Staten Island have clinched playoff spots, but it’s unclear who will win the division and who will be the wild card.
If the current standings held through the end of the season on Friday, the Cyclones’ playoffs start with a best-of-three series at Staten Island on Sunday, Sept. 9, followed by the second game at Brooklyn on Sept. 10, and a third game, if needed, on Sept. 11.
So let’s look closely at these two teams.
Brooklyn and Staten Island split their 14 regular-season games. The teams are close in ability, but Brooklyn has the edge in this conflict because of its pitching.
Should the Cyclones meet their cross-Narrows antagonists in the first round, Brooklyn will have three tough starters to throw at the Yankees.
Dylan Owen, the Brooklyn ace, would start on Sunday. At 5-foot-11, the right-hander is a head shorter than many of the Staten Island pitchers, but his excellent control makes him dominant.
“He can throw all his pitches for strikes, and that keeps hitters off-balance,” said Cyclones’ pitching coach Hector Berrios.
Owen has walked only 12 batters while striking out 58, and he has both a league-leading record at 9–1, and the circuit’s top ERA at only 1.65.
Dillon Gee, another righty, would start the second game. This season, he’s 3–1 with a 2.41 ERA.
“Gee spots his fastball, and his change-up has hitters out in front,” said Berrios.
Mike Antonini, a new lefty, has a 0–0 record, with an ERA of 0.46, in his two starts and five relief appearances. He has a sinking fastball and a nice slider that makes him effective against the lefty-heavy Yankee lineup.
On offense, the Cyclones feature a new lead-off man, up from the Gulf Coast Mets, Ezequiel Carrera.
“He’s like having another Ichiro,” said Staten Island manager Mike Gillespie, comparing our the lightning-fast outfielder, with his .345 batting average and assortment of slap hits, deliberate chops, slashes, and bunts, to the Seattle Mariners’ MVP centerfielder, Ichiro Suzuki.
Carrera’s emergence has allowed former lead-off hitter Micah Schilling to bat second, where Schilling has not only put up a .289 average, but broke the club record for most walks in a season (59).
Schilling can bunt and hit-and-run whenever Carrera gets on — no minor thing in a series that will likely come down to small ball.
Jason Jacobs, usually playing first base, will hit third, sporting his club leading 10 homers, and he’ll be followed by clean-up man Lucas Duda, surging in both average and power, and coming off a recently-ended 17-game hitting streak. Cesar Candido, recently called-up from Kingsport, is now the Cyclones’ regular catcher.
He has an outstanding arm to use against the Yankees, who like to run.
And now for Staten Island.
“They have a very scrappy line-up,” said Berrios.
“They have very good eyes, and early in the count they’ll take off-speed stuff — curves, sliders, and change-ups and try to get ahead in the count.
“They’ll also foul-off a lot of pitches when they’re in two-strike situations.”
Andy Braunstein, editor of the Met and Yankee Minor League Reporter, agrees with Berrios’s assessment. “The Staten Island Yankees are smart hitters,” he said.
“Especially tough is the top of their line-up. Not much power, but you have to keep the top of the line-up off base.”
Braunstein isn’t kidding. These guys do get on base.
The Yankee lead-off man, second baseman Justin Snyder, is a small left-handed hitter who is hitting .340 (with a .466 on-base percentage).
Braedyn Pruitt, also a left-handed batter, plays third and hits third and he’s hitting .344 with a .449 OBP.
Hitting in the lower half of the order is 5-foot-7 D.J. Hollingsworth. Another lefty hitter, the diminutive outfielder is hitting .361 with an OBP of .463.
Infielder Damon Sublett is injured, but could return, and he’s batting .323 with eight homers and 52 RBI, an outstanding RBI total for a short-season league.
The Yankee pitching relies on finesse, and every one of the team’s 18 hurlers is right-handed. The staff features: Ryan Zink (6–1, 3.43 ERA); Zach McAllister (4–5, 4.52); and Ryan Pope (3–0, 2.13)
Overall, the Brooklyn pitching, which leads the league with a staff ERA of 2.97, should be able to hold all those crafty, slap-hitting lefty Yankee hitters in check.
Brooklyn fans and players should guard against hubris, but plan to be at Coney Island for the playoff finals.
You heard it here first.
Each week, Ed Shakespeare, the bard of Brooklyn baseball, will appropriate the iambic pentameter style of his ancient ancestor and offer some final thoughts in verse. This week’s contribution, “Staten Island Sonnet,” looks forward to the coming playoff battle between the Cyclones and the nefarious Yankees by looking back at the 1951 Dodgers-Giants playoff.
The crime was done — the fun undone that year
By spy ensconced, a telescope to see
From center field the signs — they’d peer.
Those Giants took the pennant home for free.
A native Scot, but Staten Island raised,
Yes, Bobby Thomson’s still the nicest guy.
And even he admits those Giants praised
So much, their pennant run was done by spy.
Remember, Thomson’s Staten Island through and through —
From New Dorp, Curtis High, and Tompkinsville.
From ’51, that karma comes anew
To Staten Island, now a bitter pill.
Its playoff hopes? Oh, no, it’s karma’s blow.
Say Brooklynites, “Too bad, you know you owe!”