PCL: NASHVILLE AT OMAHA
7:05 p.m. Friday • Werner Park • 1180 AM KZOT RH Zach Neal (7-9, 4.02 ERA) vs. LH Buddy Baumann (2-4, 3.00)
For the first time since becoming the Storm Chasers and moving to Werner Park, Omaha will not be in the Pacific Coast League playoffs. Oklahoma City ended its four year run by winning Wednesday night.
It took a nearly wire-to-wire performance by the Dodgers to halt Omaha's streak of divisional titles in the American North after four seasons. In fact, the Chasers have had a good enough summer that they'd be leading two other PCL divisions with their current record and would be in contention to win the third.
But Oklahoma City, which switched affiliations this year, took command of the race in April and never relinquished its lead. Omaha, twice 11 games behind the Dodgers, pulled within three games of the top spot entering August before fading back a bit. It is still battling Iowa for second in the American North.
The Chasers wrap up the season with a four-game home series with Nashville. Manager Brian Poldberg said his team has done well, even though it has been eliminated from postseason contention.
"Overall, I think we've had a great year," he said. "It's sad that we're not in the playoff hunt going into the last home series. We've just got to take the good things we've done this year and keep building. We still have a chance to be 20 games over .500, which is phenomenal. There's nothing to lay down and feel sorry for yourself about. We've done about everything we could do, I think, except win our division."
Omaha entered the season with a chance to become the first team to win three straight PCL titles since Albuquerque in 1980-82 and the first team ever to claim three straight Triple-A national crowns.
The Chasers can't do either now. But they can become only the third Omaha team in the 2000s to win 80 or more games during the season — something none of the three PCL championship clubs did. In fact, only six teams in the franchise's history, which dates back to 1969, have finished with 80 or more wins.
Poldberg said that gives this year's team a nice milestone to chase in the final days of the season.
"Getting 80 wins is the first goal," he said. "And if we get to 80, then we want to get to 81 or 82, if we can. If nothing else, (we can) try to get into second place in our division because we could have the third-best record in the league. There's still pride at stake. (Wednesday) night, they showed it by coming back after two tough losses and getting the job done. They just keep bouncing back and never say 'die.'"
As the Chasers seek the 80-win plateau, Jose Martinez continues his quest for history. The rookie outfielder will become Omaha's first PCL batting champion since Mark Quinn in 1999. The 27-year-old slugger could also break the single-season hitting records for his franchise (.372) and the league (.383).
Martinez, in his first year in the Kansas City farm system, was batting .383 entering Thursday's game.
"Here's a guy that had never even played in Triple-A before this," Poldberg said. "It's just been a great year for him."
It's been a great year for Omaha's second-year manager too. Poldberg, named the best manager prospect in the PCL by Baseball America, guided the Chasers to within striking distance of Oklahoma City, even after three of his starting pitchers (Aaron Brooks, John Lamb and Brandon Finnegan) were traded by the Royals and a fourth (Yohan Pino) went down with a shoulder injury in the same week.
Poldberg credited his players, many of whom he said rose to the occasion to fill voids in varying scenarios, for keeping the team in contention, even though the Dodger lead was too much to overcome.
"I think the guys did a great job," he said. "We had a lot of distractions this season with trades and injuries. We had a couple of lulls where we put some losing streaks together, but they bounced right back and got themselves back in it. Losing four out of five starters, different guys stepped up.
"We had a good year. Okie City got out to that great start. We just could never catch them."