They’ve had a great year and they were reeling off wins from opening day on. And now the Single-A Delmarva Shorebirds will try to finish off a great season with a South Atlantic League championship.
They’ll send their ace, right-hander Grayson Rodriguez (10-4, 2.68 ERA) to the mound tonight in Game 1 of a best-of-three league semi-final series at Hickory. They were the two clubs that won the most this year in that league with Delmarva going 90-48 (.652) and Hickory 83-52 (.615).
Manager Kyle Moore led the Shorebirds to a club record number of wins, surpassing the 83-win 1996 team. They became the first South Atlantic League club to win 90 or more since 2006. And now they are in the playoffs for the first time on the shore since 2005. Quite a season for Delmarva.
“Sometimes I’ll sit down and think, ‘Wow, that is really unbelievable.’ It was hard to think we’d be in this spot way back in April when this all started,” said Moore.
He added that the Orioles front office in Baltimore has greatly supported his club’s season by sending several 2019 draft picks to the club late in the year. A list that includes Adley Rutschman, Toby Welk and Johnny Rizer.
“They sent us some really good players from the ‘19 draft. So that tells me they really want us to do well and they think this matters. That speaks volumes to say they are interested in this playoff run and they are happy with the direction we’re going,” he said.
Delmarva qualified for the post season in June when it went 48-21 and won the first-half race. It was the best half of baseball in Shorebirds history. They’ve been the dominant team in that league this year and maybe that adds a level of playoff pressure as the Shorebirds begin the postseason tonight.
“I think so,” said Moore. “I guard against that a little bit because we’ve had such a good year. But at the same time, when we’ve had our back against the wall or dealt with some adversity, our guys responded. And responded well. We’ve had so many comeback wins, a bunch of one-run wins, so many shutouts. I hope that is the foundation we’ve built that we stand on in the playoffs. Really proud of our year.”
In sending Rodriguez to the mound tonight, the Shorebirds are sending out a pitcher that has allowed one run or less in 14 of his 20 starts. His various pitches made nice improvement during the year said Shorebirds pitching coach Justin Ramsey.
“You know the fastball is getting to be that pretty special elite weapon that he can locate with some velo that he maintains,” Ramsey said. “That changeup he’s developed through the year is coming very nicely. As he continues to get the feel and shape of the pitch it’s going to be a real weapon against lefties, but also righties. The slider is very good and the curveball has gotten better in the last month or so as he improves the velocity and spin on that. He’s even got a cutter that every now and then he feels very comfortable with and will bust it out five or 10 times an outing. He’s got five weapons to go to. Really fun to watch.”
Delmarva will host Game 2 in Salisbury on Friday night and Game 3 if necessary on Saturday. The Shorebirds starter for the second game is right-hander Gray Fenter (8-2, 1.81 ERA). The Game 3 pitcher is TBA right now.
The O’s other affiliate beginning the playoffs tonight is Double-A Bowie in the Eastern League. The Baysox went 76-64 for the year after starting the season 7-23. With that poor start, they were out of the first-half race early. But Bowie kept getting better and they won their division in the second half, playing .639 ball at 46-26.
So the Baysox have advanced to the Eastern League playoffs for the eighth time and fourth in the last eight years, also going in 2012, 2015 and 2017. They won the Eastern League championship in 2015.
Bowie will host Harrisburg in the first two games of a best-of-five league semi-final series that starts tonight and continues Thursday at 7:05 p.m. at Prince George’s Stadium.
Right-hander Michael Baumann (6-2, 2.31 ERA) is the Game 1 starter for the Baysox. Since moving up from Single-A Frederick to Bowie, he’s thrown 70 innings allowing 21 walks with 65 strikeouts. He has allowed a .184 batting average and owns a WHIP of 0.94. On July 16, Baumann pitched a no-hitter against Harrisburg - the same team he faces in Game 1 tonight.