The Durham Bulls return to the Governor’s Cup finals for the first time since 2014 and will play Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in a best of five series beginning at 6:35 p.m. Tuesday at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. The first two games of the series (Tuesday and Wednesday) will be played at the DBAP, before the series heads to Scranton, home of the New York Yankees Triple-A affiliate, Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
The Bulls defeated the Indianapolis Indians 4-3 this past Saturday, winning that series 3-1. The RailRiders (86-55) finished with the best record in Triple A, one game ahead of Durham (86-54). Scranton defeated Lehigh Valley 3-1 to advance to the finals.
Here’s what you need to know before the Bulls start their quest for their fifth Governor’s Cup:
Ryan Yarbrough gets the start in game one
Bulls pitcher Ryan Yarbrough (13-6) has a 6-2 record over the past 10 games (3.43 ERA), his last win coming against the Indians on Sept. 6, when he struck out five batters in six innings. His last appearance against Scranton was on Aug. 11, when he gave up nine hits in five innings.
One of Yarbrough’s main goals is to treat this start like it’s any other game.
“The goal is not to get too overly anxious or anything like that,” Yarbrough said. “I feel like at this point I have a routine down, especially since I’ve had longer stretches between outings. I’m ready to go out there and compete and put ourselves in position to hopefully get a team win out of it.”
Right-handed pitcher Yonny Chirinos (13-5, 2.73 ERA) will start game two. Brent Honeywell (13-9, 3.49 ERA) will start game three and Burch Smith (5-3, 2.4 ERA) gets the start in game four. If the series goes five games, the Bulls will call on Jose Mujica (14-8, 3.04 ERA), who joined the roster from Double-A Montgomery.
The best of the best
Yarbrough said the team saw the Bulls facing the RailRiders, considering they are the two best teams all season. It’s a matchup both teams have been looking forward to this postseason.
The Bulls and RailRiders have only met twice this season: once in Durham, where the two teams split a four-game series, and again in Scranton in August for a three-game series, which Durham won 2-1.
“I think all in all you want to play the best team available,” catcher Mike McKenry said. “It’s just fortunate that it’s the two best teams in our league this year.”
Several Durham players have played in, and won, championship series before. Yarbrough won a ring in Double-A last season with the Jackson Generals. Shortstop Willy Adames, one of the Rays top prospects, won a title in the Florida State League (High A) and went to the finals in the Dominican Summer league. Like many of his teammates, he knows every little play matters.
“You have to execute and make the routine plays,” Adames said. “Do the little things, that’s what’s going to help you win the game.”
Bulls manager Jared Sandberg added, “You can lean on the experience for sure. These guys have been in a playoff atmosphere and to bring that experience helps.”
The Bulls have played 140 games dating back to April. The season is a grind and at this point, everyone has some ailment they are dealing with. However, being three games away from a championship makes it easier to push through the pain.
“You go through that grind all year and everyone on this team has something that’s a little flared up,” outfielder Johnny Field said. “But it’s the playoffs, you’re out there playing with adrenaline. You just think about going out there and winning. Those bumps and bruises go away for sure.”
Going back to the first week of the season in April, Sandberg and several players talked about how this team was different from the previous season. There was talent in the room, but the roster was younger, which created a different vibe. Everyone was loose all the time, a major difference from the previous season. The team, as talented as it was, was also very competitive, and Sandberg says that recipe is why the Bulls are three games away from a championship ring.
“They are never out of it,” Sandberg said. “Then they have the ability to want to win. By creating that early on we had winning months throughout, or winning the week or winning the series, whatever it is, we definitely had success in getting to the end result.”
Field said the mix of the youth and the older guys in the clubhouse gelled perfectly early on.
“There aren’t any selfish guys on this team,” Field said. “Guys want to win. Nothing against last year’s team, but that team was a little older and this is an easy going group. This clubhouse is really loose.”
If you go
RailRiders at Bulls
When: 6:35 p.m., Tuesday and Wednesday
Where: Durham Bulls Athletic Park, Durham