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IronPigs column: Playoffs confusing, but LV in contention

I swear that I was hoping to not have to explain the convoluted playoff structure that has been devised for Minor League Baseball (MiLB).

After Lehigh Valley dropped six of seven games in Scranton a week ago, it seemed that the explanation wouldn’t be necessary. Now, thanks to a woeful Syracuse Mets team that came into Lehigh Valley and got swept by the Pigs, it’s time to try to figure this all out.

First of all. Those nice division structures that MiLB has in both the International (IL) and Pacific Coast Leagues (PCL) don’t mean a thing. They are there solely to confuse and to make it seem like playing teams in your own division more than other teams from the other division actually means something.

What it means is this - less team travel, which means less money spent by the teams. You had to know that money would figure in here, right? Instead, what matters is the overall league standings, no matter who is in what division.

In the IL, Norfolk (Baltimore Orioles) was crowned the first-half champion - sort of because they won the IL East, but mainly because they had the best first-half record in all of the IL. Iowa (Chicago Cubs) won the IL West, which doesn’t mean a darn thing.

In the second half, the Durham Bulls (Tampa Bay Rays) lead the IL East by one game over IronPigs and Buffalo (Toronto Blue Jays). What really matters is that those teams also are in the same positions in the overall IL race as West leader St. Paul (Minnesota Twins) is currently three games behind the Bulls and two games behind the Pigs and Buffalo for best second-half record.

If Durham and Lehigh Valley tie for the best second-half record at the end of the season, Durham will be second-half champs because they won the season series between the two teams 5-1 in a series played back in April. That means the second-half championship was determined by a series played in the first half.

Buffalo and the Pigs play a huge series this week. Buffalo won the opening game of the series on Tuesday.

So what happens if there is a three-way tie? At that point, we break out calculators and figure out which team had the best winning percentage in head-to-head games with each other. Coming into the week, Lehigh Valley is 9-9 in their season series with the two teams, so they might not fare well in that scenario.

For the sake of ease, let’s say the Pigs win the second half outright. They would then have to travel to Norfolk for a best-of-three series with all three games being played in Norfolk and none at Lehigh Valley. The winner of that series would be crowned International League champions and head to Vegas for a one-game playoff against the winner of the PCL.

Oklahoma City (LA Dodgers) won the first half and Round Rock (Texas Rangers) is currently leading the battle for the second half. It may or may not be worth pointing out that the IL has 20 teams, while the PCL has 10.

The Norfolk Tides are just three games out for the second-half championship in the IL. So, let’s say they win both halves. They are league champions, right? Nope. They would then have to play the team with the next best winning percentage in the second half, with the games again being in Norfolk for a best-of-three series.

ON THE BRINK … Weston Wilson is heating up for Lehigh Valley. With his two home run game against Syracuse on Sunday, the nearly 29-year-old is tied with Rhys Hoskins for the franchise lead in home runs in a single season. Hoskins accomplished the feat in 2017, his only season at Triple-A. It is also the most ever for Wilson, whose previous high was 19 back in 2019 at Double-A Biloxi. Wilson, who will best be remembered for making his MLB debut with the Phillies this season and homering in his first major league plate appearance, was called back up by the Phillies on Monday.

HAVE A DAY … Kody Clemens delivered two doubles and a grand slam in Saturday’s win over Syracuse. Clemens has a line of 14-41-.264/.383/.567 this season with Lehigh Valley in addition to playing in 49 games with the Phillies, batting .230 with four home runs and 13 RBIs.

THE BIG TWO … September call-ups used to be a big deal in minor league clubhouses. The image of Cameron Rupp crying outside the IronPigs clubhouse in 2013 as he spoke to his parents to tell them he was going to the majors is memorable. Back then, teams could add up to 14 additional players, compared to the two they can add now. That takes most of the excitement out of the event, and this season there was not even a buzz for Lehigh Valley. The Phillies two spots were taken by outfielder Cristian Pache, who was rehabbing with the IronPigs, and pitcher Ranger Suarez, who came off the IL.