The Ducks made quick work of the High Point Rockers in the Liberty Division Championship Series this past week. A three-game sweep gave the Ducks their fourth consecutive Atlantic League Championship Series berth and another chance to capture their first league title since 2013.
The Atlantic League Championship Series is scheduled to begin Tuesday night at Bethpage Ballpark in Central Islip against Sugar Land, which beat York in four games in the Freedom Division Championship Series.
Game 2 of the Atlantic League Championship Series will be played Wednesday on Long Island. The Ducks will try to win the championship in Sugar Land, Texas, next weekend in Game 3, 4 or 5.
Sugar Land beat the Ducks in the Atlantic League Championship Series in 2016 and 2018. York swept the Ducks in 2017.
Against High Point, it was the Ducks doing the sweeping. Three outstanding starting pitching performances and 16 runs in the first two games had a lot to do with that.
But sometimes the best analysis is the most simplistic one. Why was it so easy? Ducks starting pitcher Seth Simmons, who allowed a run, two hits and two walks with nine strikeouts in seven innings in the Ducks’ series-clinching 3-2 win Friday night, took this approach:
“We’re the best team in this league,” he said. “That’s what it boils down to. I believe in every single guy [we] put on the mound and every single guy that they put behind me when I’m on the mound.”
There’s hard evidence to support that. The Ducks (86-54) won the Liberty Division title in each half and had the league’s best overall record.
For a manager who loves numbers as much as the Ducks’ Wally Backman does, setting the starting rotation for the championship series depended on the Ducks’ opponent, which was determined Saturday night.
Backman said Darin Downs and Vin Mazzarro will start the first two games, but he was undecided about which one will pitch Game 1.
“It’s a coin flip,” said Backman, who added that whoever pitches Game 1 would pitch a potential Game 5.
Simmons and former major leaguers Brandon Beachy and Brian Matusz are in the mix to start Games 3 and 4.
“It could be Matusz back in the rotation,” Backman said. “We don’t know. Rick [Tomlin, the pitching coach] and I will talk about that and go over that stuff.”
The Ducks, who played virtually every day in the final two months of the season, took Saturday off and will have an optional workout Sunday and a full workout Monday before the championship series kicks off Tuesday night.
Backman said he will use those workouts, in part, to have some of the Ducks’ middle relievers, who weren’t used much in the opening round, throw and get back into a rhythm.
“We’re going to be rested, but we have to stay prepared,” Backman said. “The pitchers have to pitch, they can’t just sit down there. We’ve only used four guys in our bullpen so far.”
Atlantic League Championship Series
Ducks vs. York/Sugar Land winner
(Best of 5 series)
Game 1: Tuesday at Ducks, 6:35 p.m.
Game 2: Wednesday at Ducks, 6:35 p.m.
Game 3: Friday, Ducks at TDB
*-Game 4: Saturday, Ducks at TBD
*-Game 5: Sunday, Oct. 6, Ducks at TBD