The Tampa Bay Rays may have started their 2019 season on Thursday, but this week, it’s the minor league affiliates’ turn.
Four of the Rays’ 9 minor league squads will begin their season later this week. And since we’ve pivoted from covering the Lightning to covering the Rays, before the season begins anew, let’s recap how six of the Rays’ affiliates ended their 2018 seasons. Two teams were league champions, while two others finished just two games short of the ultimate prize.
The Bulls, who won the International League’s Governor’s Cup title and the Triple A National Championship in 2017, appeared to be on track towards a repeat performance in 2018. The team won the South Division crown with a regular season record of 78-60, finishing ahead of the Gwinnett Stripers by 9 games.
Durham earned a return trip to the Governor’s Cup final by defeating the Toledo Mud Hens three-games-to-one in their best-of-five series. The Bulls had home-field advantage for the finals against the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Railriders, but the threat of Hurricane Florence hitting the Raleigh-Durham area forced the entirety of the series to be played in Pennsylvania. That did not hinder the Bulls one bit, as they repeated as Governor’s Cup champions with a 3-2 series win over the Yankees’ AAA affiliate.
The Bulls then squared off against the Pacific Coast League champion Memphis Redbirds in Columbus, OH, for a one game playoff to determine the Triple A National Champion. The Redbirds’ offense proved to be too much for the Durham pitching staff, as the Bulls were denied a repeat with a 14-4 loss.
Durham looks to defend their second straight International League title beginning on Thursday night in Charlotte against the Knights.
The Biscuits won the Southern League’s North Division title with a 42-28 record, finishing 6 games ahead of their semifinal opponent, the Jackson Generals. In a best-of-5 series, the Generals took Game 1 after coming back from a 3-2 deficit in the bottom of the ninth, with the winning run crossing the plate on a walk-off walk. Montgomery took Game 2 by a decisive 8-3 margin, then dropped Game 3 to the Generals 3-0. Facing elimination, the Biscuits took the series to the limit with a 10-7 win. Sadly, Montgomery’s season came to end in Game 5, as the Generals moved on to the Southern League finals with an 11-7 win.
Not how we would have liked it to end, but thank you fans for an incredible 2018 season! Only 213 days until 2019 Opening Night! pic.twitter.com/qXWi4hp9rp— Montgomery Biscuits (@BiscuitBaseball) September 10, 2018
Montgomery kicks off the 2019 season on Thursday with a 5-game road series against the Chattanooga Lookouts.
A Advanced-Charlotte Stone Crabs
The Stone Crabs finished the first half of the 2018 season in fourth place in the Florida State League’s South Division, finishing with a 34-33 record, 6.5 games behind division winner Palm Beach. They fared better in the league’s second half schedule, finishing in a tie with the Fort Myers Miracle for first place in the South with a 40-29 mark.
Fort Myers took the second half division title over the Stone Crabs due to a tiebreaker. The Miracle led Charlotte in their season series.
Ironically, the Stone Crabs return to Fort Myers for a two-game series to begin the 2019 season on Thursday night.
A-Bowling Green Hot Rods
The Hot Rods finished with the best overall record in the Midwest League for 2018, winning 90 games. In the first half of the season, Bowling Green took the Eastern Division title with a 47-22 mark, including winning 25 of 34 on their home field and finishing the first half on an 11-game winning streak. The Hot Rods also won the second half Eastern Division title with a 43-27 mark.
In the first two rounds of the Midwest League playoffs, the Hot Rods swept the Lansing Lugnuts and the West Michigan Whitecaps in two games each to face off in the championship series against the Western Division winners, the Peoria Chiefs, in a best-of-5 series. After splitting the first two games of the series in Illinois, the Hot Rods returned home and won Games 3 and 4 in decisive fashion to take home their first Midwest League title.
Bowling Green begins their quest for a repeat in Dayton on Thursday night, as they begin a two-game set against the Dragons.
A Short Season-Hudson Valley Renegades
Hudson Valley, who won the New York Penn League title in 2017, looked poised to repeat as champions in 2018. They won their second straight McNamara Division crown, finishing with a 45-30 record and 5 games ahead of the Brooklyn Cyclones. In the first round of the New York Penn League playoffs, the Renegades swept the wild card Auburn Doubledays in two straight, earning another trip to the championship series against the Stedler Division champion Tri-City ValleyCats, whom the Renegades bested for the 2012 NYPL title.
Renegades Win!! Defeat the @Doubledays 7-3. The Renegades will try to defend their NYPL title starting Saturday on the road @ValleyCats at 7:00 PM. Game 2 is home at Dutchess Stadium 4:05 PM. Game 3 if necessary will be Monday at home 6:35 PM pic.twitter.com/062NGFJLX2— HV Renegades (@HVRenegades) September 7, 2018
In Game 1 on the road, the Renegades managed just five hits and struck out 17 times against four different ValleyCats pitchers en route to a 3-0 loss. Heading home the next day needing a win in Game 2 to extend the series, the Renegades got off to a good start, taking a 2-0 lead in the first inning. However, the ValleyCats chipped away at the lead, scoring single runs in the fourth and seventh innings to force extras.
Hudson Valley had a chance to win in the 11th, getting runners on first and third with one out, but the Cats struck out the next two batters to escape the jam. In the 12th, Tri-City scored twice to take a 4-2 lead. Hudson Valley loaded the bases with two outs in the bottom of the 12th thanks to three straight walks, but the ValleyCats induced a flyout to center field, giving them the title in a two-game sweep.
Author’s note: I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to point out my hometown baseball team’s accomplishments. I was proud to be on hand for both games of the series in Troy and Fishkill.
Well. Guess what I got to pose with. pic.twitter.com/ZhCla1ZU1f— Tracey Lake (@trace_1114) September 10, 2018
Hudson Valley begins their 2019 campaign on June 14th with a two-game set on the road against the Aberdeen Ironbirds.
The Rays’ rookie league affiliate was also successful in 2018, winning the Appalachian League’s East Division title with a record of 44-22, three games ahead of the Bluefield Blue Jays, their league semifinal opponent. After dropping Game one of the series, the Rays won the next two on their homefield, capped off by a two-run rally in the bottom of the 8th inning in Game three to finish off the Blue Jays 6-5. In the Appy League finals, the Rays took on the West Division winners, the Elizabethton Twins. Princeton dropped Game one of the series 7-4 at home. The teams headed to Elizabethton for Game two, where the Rays took a 1-0 lead in the third inning. The Twins came back to tie the game in the bottom of the fourth, then got the go-ahead run across the plate in the bottom of the eighth inning to claim the Appalachian League title in a two-game sweep.
Princeton will begin their 2019 season on June 18th in Danville against the Braves.