As the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders boarded their bus to head to Durham, N.C., Monday morning, they embarked on what has the potential to be the start of an historic week.
The RailRiders are back in the Governors’ Cup finals for a second straight season and by the end of the week, they can lock up not only back-to-back Governors’ Cup championships, but they could secure a spot in the Triple-A National Championship on Sept. 19. If the RailRiders do that, they’d become the first team to play the national championship game at their home stadium.
But Scranton/Wilkes-Barre isn’t thinking that far ahead. Just Game 1. A tough matchup against the Bulls, who finished with the second-best record in the International League and are coming off of two days of rest.
“I’m not going to lie to you, in our locker room, we’re worried about Game 1 against Durham,” RailRiders catcher Eddy Rodriguez said. “If all that stuff works out — and I know our front office is hoping it works out — great, but we have one game. We have to go and once we get that game we’ll go from there.”
While Durham provides a tough test for the RailRiders — sporting three of the best pitchers in the International League in Ryan Yarbrough (13-6, 3.43 ERA), Yonny Chirinos (12-5, 2.74) and Brett Honeywell (12-8, 3.64) — Scranton/Wilkes-Barre found some success in its season series against the IL South champs. The RailRiders were 3-4 against the Bulls this season, playing four games in Durham.
“It’s going to be a good series,” RailRiders manager Al Pedrique said. “They have good pitching. We do as well. Our bullpen is rested. Our chemistry, our heart. That’s going to be the key for this team — to believe in ourselves — and we still have a good team that we can compete against Durham. We’ll be prepared. We have good feelings about their club. We can’t wait.”
The key to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre’s success this week could be the play of its bullpen.
Nick Rumbelow, Jonathan Holder, Joe Mantiply and Anyelo Gomez were key pieces to the RailRiders’ success in the opening round. Together they pitched 10.2 innings of shutout baseball in the first round against the Lehigh Valley IronPigs. Rumbelow picked up saves in two of Scranton/Wilkes-Barre’s wins.
But what might be most promising has been the efforts of Gomez and Holder.
Holder has given up just one run in six outings since coming off the disabled list on Aug. 24, while Gomez has been able to pitch in high-pressure situations in both of his first-round appearances, which were his first two at the Triple-A level.
“We try to keep the spotlight off of us and if we’re not getting talked about, we’re doing a good job,” Holder said of the bullpen. “We like to stay low-key, go out, get outs quick and let our team hit the way they can.”
The RailRiders were slumping heading into the playoffs, but since their two days off prior to Game 1 of the Governors’ Cup playoffs first round, the offense have came alive. Scranton/Wilkes-Barre averaged four runs in its four games against the IronPigs.
They’ll look to keep the hot bats going against a much better pitching staff in the Bulls.
“I feel like we’re finally getting timely hitting,” RailRiders outfielder Mason Williams said. “We’re getting hits and scoring runs at the right times and I feel like we just keep grabbing momentum at the right time, which really helps.”