ALLENTOWN, Pa. — You cant find a looser bunch of players than the Durham Bulls as they prepare for the Triple-A championship game, which will be played Tuesday night against the Omaha Storm Chasers, champions of the Pacific Coast League.
From Leslie Anderson catching a football and pretending to get both feet in-bounds to infielders trying to outdo each other for the wildest moves before throwing the ball to first base, the Bulls workout was full of players who looked ready to take the field.
The Bulls are coming off of a 3-1 series win against the Pawtucket Red Sox to take their fourth Governors Cup as International League champions. The Omaha Storm Chasers captured the PCL title with a 3-1 series win against the Salt Lake Bees.
This teams personality hasnt changed since Day1; its been a lot of fun and in those moments when you expect teams to get tight, this team does the opposite and I think thats what makes a winning ball club, said first baseman Shelley Duncan, who is playing in his second Triple-A title game and captured his fourth Governors Cup ring this season with Durham.
Pitcher Jake Odorizzi is scheduled to start for Durham, but manager Charlie Montoyo is putting an asterisk by that, at least for now. I always say as of right now, because with the big-league team in the hunt, they might need somebody, so as of right now, he is starting.
If Odorizzi were to be recalled by the Tampa Bay Rays, J.D. Martin would start.
Both Duncan and Montoyo are very familiar with Coca-Cola Park, where the game will be played. Duncan has played there many times with the Bulls, Columbus and Scranton Wilkes-Barre. Montoyo managed the 2010 International League All-Star Team to a 2-1 win against the PCL All-Stars.
Its been fun and this is a great place to come to play. Theres always a packed house. It doesnt matter if its a Monday or a Tuesday, its a great place, Montoyo said. Ive been very lucky and we usually play good here. I remember when we came here during the summer and everyone was saying It would be nice if you guys could come back. We have a good crew, so I knew we had a good chance and here we are.
Duncan and his teammates believe the ballpark will play a role in the game. The energy at this place always gets the most out of the players. It will be fun to play here on this stage and our team is pretty excited, he said.
The Bulls led the International League with a 3.33 team ERA and their offense led the league with a .267 batting average. During the playoffs, though, the offense has slumped to a .214 average, but their pitching has a 1.06 ERA with three shutouts. Odorizzi has led the way with 14 shutout innings during which he has walked just four hitters and struck out 16.
We have a chance every game, it could be (Merrill) Kelly, it could be Odorizzi, it could be J.D. Martin and usually you dont see that in the minor leagues where a team has five good starters and I guess thats why our record is so good, because we have a chance every night, Montoyo said.
From a hitters point of view, that the Bulls have slumped isnt all that surprising to Duncan.
Every single playoffs Ive ever been in, the offense has been below par. It always seems like youre facing the best pitchers, he said.
Its late in the year and guys are running on fumes at this point and the games just get a little tighter and a little more exciting and you have more one-run ballgames. Our last game in Pawtucket (a 7-0 win) was a true sign of our offense, but nothing shocks me when there are low-scoring games in postseason.
Durham comes into the game not knowing much about its opponent. The Storm Chasers hit .264, but thanks to the hitting-rich PCL, Omaha ranked just 12th in the league. Like Durham, Omahas pitching carried it, posting a team ERA of 3.91, good enough to tie for second among the PCL ranks.
Were just going to have to play a game and see what happens, Montoyo said. Again, it goes back to the pitching. Whichever team pitches the best is going to win this game.