The annual playoff collision between the Ducks and Somerset Patriots is becoming a natural right of late summer in the Atlantic League. The two have met in the playoffs in three of the last four seasons, most recently last year when the Ducks fought back from an 2-0 deficit to win the best-of-five Liberty Division Championship Series in dramatic fashion.
The two rivals will tangle again the year, their third consecutive Liberty Division Championship Series meeting, with Game 1 of the best-of-five series scheduled for Wednesday night at Bethpage Ballpark in Central Islip. The Ducks are trying to make it back to the Atlantic League Championship Series, where they were swept by the Sugar Land Skeeters last season.
The Ducks won the regular season series with the Patriots 11-9, but know that Somerset will be ripe for payback after last season’s shocker at the Duck pond. Somerset won the first half division title and, thusly, have been plotting their playoff revenge for weeks.
“I’m sure that the guys over there remember that,” outfielder Lew Ford said. “This year, we don’t want to be in that situation. We want to come out, hopefully win Game 1, and get ahead right away.”
John Brownell will start Game 1 for the Ducks. Brownell went 10-5 with a 3.44 ERA in 24 starts. Brownell has been Ducks manager Kevin Baez’s go-to big game starter for years and, statistically at least, is the best pitcher in franchise history. It will be Brownell’s fifth Game 1 start since 2013.
“It’s nice to get the ball the first day so my nerves don’t build up too much throughout the series, especially against Somerset,” Brownell said.
Matt Larkins is scheduled to start Game 2 with newly acquired Jake Fisher and former big-leaguer Jake Dunning set for Games 3 and 4, respectively. The Ducks have not announced a potential Game 5 starter.
The Ducks won the second-half Liberty Division championship despite a 5-11 September that saw them nearly blow an 8-game lead over the Bridgeport Bluefish. The Ducks finally clinched the title Saturday night, thanks to a Bridgeport loss to Somerset. They enter the playoffs having lost nine of their last 11 games.
“Even if we were rolling, it’s a whole new ballgame in the playoffs,” Ducks outfielder and former Mets prospect Marc Krauss said. “Good, bad, or whatever it is, it’s a clean slate for everybody. It’s a whole other intensity playing in the playoffs.”
The Ducks are hoping they can recapture some of the magic that led to a 12-game winning streak in August, one that, perhaps fittingly, ended with a loss to the Patriots.
“I would argue that you don’t want to go into the playoffs riding your hot streak,” Patchogue-native Anthony Vega said. “When you win 12 games in a row, you’re bound to lose one. It’s just the law of averages.”
Vega left the Ducks in mid-August to complete his computer engineering degree at the University of Arizona but, thanks to some understanding professors, has rejoined the team for the playoffs. “Every team struggles,” Vega said. “They’re are a lot of different factors to those struggles, but I think it’s better to come off a valley, so you can start on that hill.”
The Ducks haven’t been to the top of the hill since 2013. But once again, they are more than eager to get another chance to climb it.