This Week In The Minors: Playoff Scenarios

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This Week In The Minors: Playoff Scenarios

Chicago Cubs

kane county cougars logoBecause of the high profile prospects on their rosters, the spotlight lately has bounced between Iowa, Tennessee, and Daytona. Jorge Soler and Albert Almora, Kris Bryant and  Addison Russell, Kyle Schwarber and Pierce Johnson and C.J. Edwards … these prospects and more make it tough to look away from the top three levels of the farm system.

Meanwhile, Kane County has won thirteen straight games. Their last loss came on August 9 in Cedar Rapids. Since then they have swept Quad Cities at home, Wisconsin on the road, and both Burlington and Clinton at home.

Making this streak, and their very successful August in general, all the more remarkable is that this same team lost six in a row at the end of July and briefly fell out of first place.  Just three weeks ago a surge like this looked rather unlikely, and yet here it is.

Kane County is already assured of a playoff spot, and as of now it looks like they will be entering the playoffs as one of the hottest teams in all baseball.

And did I mention that for the season they are 41 games over .500 and have a winning percentage of .656? Or that they have lost just fifteen home games all year? Or that, for the season, they have a sixteen game lead over the second place team in their division?

Meanwhile, a level lower and half a continent away, the Boise Hawks are in a playoff hunt of their own that could well result in them simultaneously being eliminated from contention for the division title AND clinching a playoff slot by the end of the week. Welcome to the world of minor league playoff rules. I’ll demystify that after a survey of the system.

Iowa Cubs : 68-68

The Cubs began the week in the drivers seat, but a long losing streak has left them not only in third place and four games back, but on the brink of elimination. It will now take a near miracle for the Iowa Cubs, the best team in the division for most of the season, to make the playoffs.

The losing streak ended last night in Reno, and if Iowa is to have any chance at all it can’t spring up again. The Cubs have an elimination number of six – a combination of six Omaha wins and Iowa losses means Iowa is out. Omaha will have ample opportunity to win six games without the Cubs giving them any help. That means Iowa effectively needs to sweep a good Tacoma team on the road, and then do the same against division foe Oklahoma City. The Redhawks are currently in second place, and if Omaha slides far enough to open the door for the Cubs, it will be Oklahoma that is the first to step through.  Sweeping both teams will not be easy.

The odds are very much against the Triple A Cubs. I suspect they’ll be eliminated by the weekend.

Tennessee Smokies : 32-30

A healthy winning streak gave the Smokies a cushion on top of the division, but a three game losing streak has all but made that cushion disappear. Tennessee now clings to a one game lead over Chattanooga and a three game lead over Birmingham as they enter the final full week of play.

Jacksonville is the opponent for the Smokies final homestand, now underway. When that wraps up on Tuesday the team has a day off, and then heads to Chattanooga for a five game series that will likely determine who walks away with the second half division title and associate trip to the playoffs.

Daytona Cubs : 36-25

Daytona is in a great position. They lead Tampa by two and a half games and Brevard County by five thanks in part to a current four game win streak. Tampa has managed to stay with Daytona, though, and a slump right now could easily allow that lead to evaporate.

A game in Lakeland today and three in Dunedin starting Monday conclude the road portion of Daytona’s schedule. After an off day, the Cubs then head to second place Tampa for a season ending weekend series. It is entirely possible that the Cubs will have clinched the division before they head home, but if not there will likely be a party in Jackie Robinson Stadium sometime next weekend.

Kane County Cougars : 41-20

A team that has won thirteen in a row doesn’t need any more accolades than that, so for now let’s just say that they are playing their best baseball of the season right when it counts the most. And yet, despite this incredible streak, they still have no margin for error if they want to win both halves of the season. Cedar Rapids has matched Kane County nearly win for win and trails the Cubs affiliate by just two games.

This is going to be an interesting week. The Cougars take their winning streak to Burlington for three games starting today, and then they head for second place Cedar Rapids. Should they continue the winning streak through all of those six games, they will leave Cedar Rapids with the second half division title. If not, they will come home to face Peoria with some work still to be done.

As for who they will face in the playoffs – that remains to be determined. As the first half winner, they will face the second half wild card team. Right now that would be Wisconsin (Milwaukee system), but Peoria (St. Louis system) is just two games further back. The Quad Cities team (Houston system) could sneak up and claim that slot as well.

Boise Hawks : 15-15

I’m going to skip a discussion of Boise’s playoff hopes for now; that is a little complicated and covered in depth a little further down the page. They had a good week, though, and are actually in a pretty good position as they head into the final week. They went 6-5 on their tough, three city, two country road trip, and in the Northwest League you can’t ask for much better than that.

Boise has today off, and starting Monday they remain at home for the rest of the season. The Hawks have been a good home team in the second half; if they can keep that up they are in good shape. First to town is Everett, a mediocre second half team that has struggled some on the road. After five games with Everett, the Hawks conclude with a crucial set against Salem-Keizer.

Arizona Cubs : 8-14

Despite playing .500 baseball this week, the AZL Cubs remain in last place and have been eliminated from playoff contention.

There are just six games left on the schedule with the finale on Friday morning. That’s right, morning. The schedule says on August 29 the Cubs play Arizona at 9 AM. That’s an odd way to end a season.

Playoff Calculus

The easiest way to get into the Northwest League playoffs is to win the division in either the first or second half. The Hawks came very close to winning the first half division title and securing a postseason trip that way. In fact, they finished the first half tied with Hillsboro for first place, but lost out on a tiebreaker.

And so Boise began the second half with hopes of winning the division and securing a playoff spot that way. That probably isn’t going to happen. The Hawks are in third place right now, and five and a half behind first place Hillsboro. Second place belongs to Salem-Keizer; they are three games out of first. Odds are pretty good, then, that the Hillsboro Hops will win the second half title as well.

Odds are also pretty good, that Salem-Keizer will finish second.

Here’s the fun part. Finishing second to Hillsboro in the second half is meaningless. Should the Hops win both the first and second half titles, the playoff team for the second half will go to the next best record for the season, not the second half. That means the standings we need to be watching are the overall standings.

And on the overall standings, Boise is in second place with a game and a half lead over Salem-Keizer. Because Boise finished the first half four games up on Salem-Keizer, the Hawks will make the playoffs so long as they finish the second half within four games of the Volcanoes.

Boise has an elimination number in the second half of four, and as a result will likely be eliminated from division title contention this week. From a post season standpoint, though, they will still be very much alive.

This also means that when Salem-Keizer comes to Boise next weekend, the real battle will not be for second place in division for the second half, but for the season. While it is possible that matters could be decided before that series begins, I suspect the second half playoff slot will be settled in Boise during that series.

Boise, therefore, despite being in third place and on the doorstep to division title elimination, controls their own destiny. If they win out, they are in the playoffs.

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Author: Luke Blaize

Luke Blaize is the Minor League Editor at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @ltblaize.