The Charleston RiverDogs open up their 2017 playoff run against the Greenville Drive Wednesday night at Joe Riley Park. The Drive earned their spot by winning the first half Southern Division title with a 41-28 record. They surpassed the Columbia Fireflies on the last day of the first half to make it in. The RiverDogs went 42-27 during the second half and had a comfortable lead throughout winning the division by three and a half games over second place Asheville.
The RiverDogs will go with their ace Freicer Perez (10-3, 2.84 ERA) in game one against Darwinzon Hernandez (4-5, 4.01 ERA) of the Drive. “I think our pitching lined up perfectly, we didn’t have to skip anybody to get it lined up for this series, it kind of just worked out that way. I think we’re in a good spot, a really good spot,” RiverDogs manager Patrick Osborn said. For games two and three (if necessary), the RiverDogs will go with Rony Garcia and Nick Green respectively. Nick Neslon and Alex Vargas, who rounded out the rest of the rotation in the regular season, will be long relievers if needed. Games two and three (if necessary) will be played in Greenville on Friday and Saturday.
During the regular season, the RiverDogs faced Greenville 23 times, the most of any opponent. The Dogs took the season series 13-10, going 6-5 in Charleston and 7-5 in Greenville. “Getting that first one out of the way is huge. We play well in Greenville, which I guess is comforting to know if we do somehow falter tonight, we have a chance to make up two games there in a place where we have had success all year, but we gotta get this first one. It starts tonight. Hopefully we get out of the gates early, put some runs on the board. We have our big horse going in Freicer Perez, give us a solid outing and keep us in the game if need be and see where we end up,” Osborn said. “They got a great team, great staff. They hit the ball, they make the plays. We faced their guy (Hernandez) probably three or four times this year, so we know what to expect. It’ll be a good game, good series, so just go out there and play hard,” RiverDogs Brandon Wagner said of Greenville.
As for their approach, the RiverDogs are excited to get the opportunity to be in the playoffs, but they’re trying to take it as if it’s another game on the schedule. “I think this game is hard enough. As soon as you start to put any added pressure, I think it can get to people, not just players. It gets to people in any situation. It’s another game, it has a few more implications, but we try to be relaxed. I always say that the most relaxed team usually plays the best in these situations. Hopefully we can continue the way we’ve done all year and go out and be loose, pitch well, catch it and throw it against the infield and get some timely hitting and find ourselves coming out on top,” Osborn said.
“It’s just another game. The game is too hard as it is. If you put added stress on yourself, you just make it that much harder. You just take it one pitch at a time and go out the same way,” Wagner added.
Wagner also stressed that the team is trying not to think ahead and remain focused during each game. “We don’t want to be thinking a couple of outs away. Just take it one pitch at a time, one inning at a time. You just can’t put any added stress on us, just slow the game down, make the plays, concentrate on one game at a time. As a team, we’re pretty locked in, so no, we’re not thinking about it, we’re just thinking about tonight. Just looking for a win,” he said.
Although the team may not have a lot of playoff experience, their manager certainly has. Osborn has been a minor league manager for seven seasons now and all of his teams have made the playoffs. He attributes that more to his rosters over the years than to his guidance. “I’ve been lucky to have good players. I’m smart enough to know it takes good players to win. Being in this organization at this time. This organization is loaded. There’s seven of nine affiliates that have made the playoffs. I mean that’s unheard of. That just goes to show the depth of talent we have up and down this system right now. We’re lucky to be a part of it. This is just a byproduct of good players being able to get to the playoffs and having the chance to win,” Osborn said.
The only uncertainty about the playoffs this year comes in the form of Hurricane Irma. The track of the storm may affect the South Atlantic League playoffs, like it has the Florida State League playoffs. The Florida State League canceled its championship series and the division series champions will be named co-champions. “We’re going to approach this series as if this is going to be the last series. With the governor of South Carolina issuing a state of emergency throughout the state. I just find it hard to believe there will be baseball played here next week, whether it’s here or Greenville, so we’re going to treat this like it’s going to be it. We’re going to go out, go for it right away, and if it ends up being we play next week, then we’re there and then we start over. There’s so much uncertainty that we have to plan as if this is it,” Osborn said of the fluid situation.
Osborn has also stressed to his team to enjoy the moment. “They should be proud. They’ve accomplished something that a lot of guys will never accomplish or experience in their careers. These guys play their whole careers and never win anything. This is what the New York Yankees are about, about winning and doing things the right way and these kids have been able to follow that path.”