Sports

Champion Durham Bulls are set to begin the postseason. Can they win another title?

Bulls playoff schedule

The defending Triple-A champion Durham Bulls will open their postseason on Wednesday and Thursday at 6:35 p.m. with a road games in Toledo. After beginning the best-of-five series against the Mud Hens with the two away games, the Bulls will return to Durham Bulls Athletic Park on Friday at 7:05 p.m.

Games 4 and 5 would also be played in Durham, on Saturday at 6:35 p.m. and Sunday at 5:05 p.m., respectively, should they be necessary.

Tickets for Game 3 are available on the Durham Bulls website for as low as $16.

Playoffs going forward

Should Durham beat Toledo, it would move on to the second and final round of the International League playoffs (called the Governors’ Cup playoffs). The Bulls would play the winner of the matchup between the North Division champion and the Wild Card winner in another five-game series to determine the International League champion.

The International League champion then plays the winner of the Pacific Coast League in the winner-take-all Triple-A National Championship.

How they got here

The Bulls won the International South League Division by nine games with a record of 79-60, earning them one of four spots in the Governors’ Cup playoffs.

The Tampa Bay Rays’ Triple-A affiliate is the defending Triple-A National Champions and finished second overall in the International League this season.

Of qualified batters, third baseman Brandon Snyder led the team with 18 home runs, while second baseman Kean Wong led all qualified Bulls’ hitters with a .282 average. Durham closed out its last 10 games of the season with a 7-3 record.

The Bulls won six out of 10 matchups with first-round opponent Toledo during the regular season.

Player to watch

The grand slam hero a little less than a year ago, Kean Wong will look to guide the Bulls to back-to-back Triple A national titles.

With the bases loaded in the bottom of the fourth in the 2017 Triple-A National Championship, Wong hit a home run to put the Bulls up 5-3 -- a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Clutch long balls must run in the family, as Kean’s brother Kolten hit a walk-off home run to win Game 2 of the 2014 NLCS for the St. Louis Cardinals.

“My dad always put us in that type of situation,” Kean Wong said. “He just wanted us to thrive in that kind of environment, and for us to thrive in that environment is awesome. That’s what baseball is all about. It’s about playing hard and playing right and trying to help the team win, and if that’s what we’ve got to do to help the team win we’re going to try our best to do it.”

The Hawaii native and Bulls second baseman is just 23 years old, and like all minor leaguers, is awaiting his call to the big leagues.

Wong is hitting a career-best (at the AAA level) .282 and has added nine home runs and 50 RBI in 116 games. In July, he won Triple-A All-Star Game MVP after going 3-4 with two doubles.

Even with all the exposure garnered from his clutch hitting in big games, Wong never was called up by the Rays during the season like a variety of other teammates, including Jake Bauers who was another key cog in the Bulls’ 2017 title run.

“I feel like I had a good enough year to get that shot,” Wong said. “But if not, I’ll go into the offseason and work my tail off like I did last year and come back and try to win a roster spot out of spring training, or if not I’ll just keep on playing because baseball is what I love to do.”

Bulls manager Jared Sandberg felt that the infielder had done enough to earn an opportunity with the Rays, but for now Wong will hope to help Durham repeat as champions and to potentially join his brother in the majors.

“That’s what me and my brother -- that’s what we dreamed of as little kids,” Wong said. “Playing against each other, that would be fun. I’m just going to take it one day at a time and focus on bringing another trophy to Durham, but if that happened it would be awesome. I can’t wait for that day to happen.”

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