Morning Report: A Look at the First Half Playoff Races Around the Minors

Today we added back the Playoff Push section to the Morning Report. It’s the mid-season lite edition, but it’s bigger than in the past.

For those who are new to the Morning Report, the Playoff Push section appears for two time frames, about a month each time. The first time is today and it covers the three split-season leagues. Then around August 1st we add it back again and you get the playoff updates for all nine affiliates and the Pittsburgh Pirates.

In the past, just the South Atlantic League and Florida State League played split schedules, where a team has a chance to secure a playoff spot at the midway point of the season (70 games). The Eastern League took up that playoff format as well this season, so our mid-season Playoff Push section has been expanded to three teams.

The minor league season is about 45 games into a 140-game schedule, which means that the first half has about 25 games left, or approximately four weeks for each team. Once the first half of the season ends, the Playoff Push section will magically disappear until whenever I add it back around August 1st.

Here’s a quick look at the team-by-team playoff situations:

Altoona lost their third straight game on Thursday, dropping them below the .500 mark. That put them in the third place tie with Akron. With 25 games left, they are seven games back of Harrisburg. The good news is that they have seven games left with Portland, which is one of the worst teams in baseball. The bad news is that they are seven games back with only 25 games to go and they only play Harrisburg twice before the end of the first half. They are in a tough spot, but we will keep track of them until they are officially eliminated…or if you’re optimistic, we will track their entire amazing comeback.

Bradenton won on Thursday night, allowing them to remain three games behind first place Palm Beach and one game behind second place Fort Myers. The Marauders have 23 games remaining in the first half and they won’t face either team ahead of them during that span. They lost one game to a rain out, so their first half will be complete with 69 games, assuming no more games are lost.

Greensboro is one of the best teams in all of baseball. Unfortunately for them right now, they are playing in the best division in all of baseball. Even with eight wins in a row after last night’s victory, and 32 wins total, they are still 3.5 games back of first place Delmarva. Third place Hickory has a .630 winning percentage and they are 6.5 games out. Greensboro has no games remaining with Delmarva, but they have seven against Hickory and nine against Lakewood, which is easily the worst team in the league.

Indianapolis is a full-season playoff league, so it is way too early to look at their playoff situation right now. Just to be thorough though, they trail first place by a 1/2 game and they start a series against first place Columbus tonight.

As I always mention, playoffs are great for the younger players because the games become more intense as they play for a playoff spot. It also gives them extra game at the end of the season that have a lot of meaning. Extra games in general are good, that’s why the Fall Instructional League exists, but it’s better when the team is competing for something. Playoffs also give lower level prospects a chance to move up a level to get time in against more advanced players. There is a lot more to it than just having players who come up through the minors playing on winning teams.

PLAYOFF PUSH

Altoona is tied for third place in their division, seven games back with 25 games remaining in the first half.

Bradenton is in third place in their division, three games back with 23 games remaining in the first half.

Greensboro is in second place in their division, 3.5 games back with 24 games remaining in the schedule.

TODAY’S SCHEDULE

Today’s Starter and Notes: The Pittsburgh Pirates won 14-6 over the Colorado Rockies on Thursday afternoon. The Pirates will now take on the Los Angeles Dodgers for three games at PNC Park. The Dodgers will send out 24-year-old right-hander Walker Buehler, who has a 3.83 ERA in 49.1 innings, with 45 strikeouts and a 1.05 WHIP. He allowed one run over six innings against the Cincinnati Reds in his last start. In his previous outing, Buehler threw seven shutout innings against the Washington Nationals. The Pirates will announce their starter today.

The minor league schedule includes Dario Agrazal going for Indianapolis, though he is a possibility for the Pirates today as well. He has made four starts for Indianapolis, allowing three runs over 21.2 innings in his first three games, followed by five runs over 3.2 innings in his last contest. Cody Bolton goes for Bradenton tonight. He gave up one run over five innings in his last start, which followed his worst outing of the season, five runs in 3.2 innings. Bolton gave up more earned runs in his May 14th start (five) than his other eight starts combined (four).

After giving up 14 earned runs over ten innings in his previous two starts combined, Altoona’s James Marvel allowed two runs over six innings in his last start. This will be his first road start in 34 days. Greensboro’s Steven Jennings has given up four runs or more in five of his nine starts this season.

The full 2019 Pirates Prospects Prospect Guide is now available, up to date as of April 3rd, with every player in the minor league system (NOTE: There have been just three players released and two added since then, so the book is still 99% up to date). Includes full reports on the top 50 prospects, reports on over 150 other players, as well as looks back at the recent drafts and international signing classes. Subscribers get 20% off the purchase of a book.

MLB: Pittsburgh (25-22) vs Dodgers (32-18) 7:05 PM
Probable starter: TBD

AAA: Indianapolis (25-18) @ Columbus (26-18) 7:15 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Dario Agrazal (2.84 ERA, 23:5 SO/BB, 28.1 IP)

AA: Altoona (22-23) @ Portland (13-31) 6:00 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: James Marvel (4.13 ERA, 36:11 SO/BB, 52.1 IP)

High-A: Bradenton (26-20) vs Tampa (20-26) 6:30 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Cody Bolton (1.90 ERA, 44:10 SO/BB, 42.2 IP)

Low-A: Greensboro (32-14) @ West Virginia (22-24) 7:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Steven Jennings (6.42 ERA, 39:17 SO/BB, 40.2 IP)

HIGHLIGHTS

From Altoona on Wednesday night, Cam Vieaux finishes off his ten strikeout night

Jerrick Suiter connects on his first home run

RECENT TRANSACTIONS

5/22:  Ji-Hwan Bae removed from restricted list. Raul Siri assigned to Extended Spring Training.

5/21: Steven Baron placed on injured list. Richard Rodriguez added to Indianapolis roster.

5/21: Austin Coley added to Bradenton roster. Luis Nova assigned to Extended Spring Training

5/20: Nicholas Economos promoted to Bradenton.

5/18: Justin Harrer added to Greensboro roster. Jonah Davis assigned to Extended Spring Training

5/17: Trevor Williams placed on injured list. Clay Holmes recalled from Indianapolis

5/17: Geoff Hartlieb added to 40-man roster and recalled by Pirates. Jacob Stalling assigned to Indianapolis (cleared waivers) and Richard Rodriguez optioned to Indianapolis

5/17: Luis Nova added to Bradenton roster. Oddy Nunez placed on injured list

5/16: Tate Scioneaux placed on injured list.

5/15: Chris Archer activated from injured list. Clay Holmes optioned to Indianapolis.

5/15: Colin Selby assigned to Greensboro.

5/15: Matt Eckelman assigned to Altoona from Indianapolis.

5/14: Pirates release Erich Weiss.

THIS DATE IN PIRATES HISTORY

Two former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, plus three games of note, one against one of the best pitchers ever. First with the players and both of them played over 100 years ago. Pitcher Jack Pfiester, who played for the 1903 NL champs, was an unfortunate player for the Pirates. Pfiester also played for the Pirates in 1904, but didn’t show much either season and was sent to a minor league team in Omaha. After a couple years of seasoning, he returned with the Chicago Cubs and was a dominate pitcher until health and arm issues ended his career early. Pfiester finished with a career 2.02 ERA, which is the fourth lowest all-time for any pitcher with over 1,000 innings.

Also born on this date, infielder Sam Barkley, who played second base for the first Pittsburgh team in National League history. When the Pirates (then called the Alleghenys) moved to the NL in 1887 from the American Association, Barkley was the Opening Day second baseman. He only played two seasons in Pittsburgh (also 1886) but got to play in both leagues for the team.

On this date in 1894, the Pirates completed an improbable comeback against Cy Young. Down 3-0 before the top of the first was over, and 4-0 before they got on the board, pitcher Red Erhet pitched 8+ innings in relief and the Pirates scored two in the seventh and two in the eighth for the win. The Pirates lineup that day included HOF manager Connie Mack behind the plate, HOF first baseman Jake Beckley, the franchise’s all-time batting average leader in Jake Stenzel and the man many claim is responsible for the Pirates team name, Louis Bierbauer.

On this date in 1959, the Pirates swept the Cincinnati Reds in a doubleheader, with both games ending in pinch-hit walk-off doubles. Both were hit by catchers, with Danny Kravitz collecting the first one and Smoky Burgess hitting the second one in the tenth inning. You can view those boxscores here: Game one  Game Two

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