Governors' Cup Finals Preview
September 10, 2019 - International League (IL) News Release
The 2019 Governors' Cup finals are set to begin Tuesday in downtown Columbus, Ohio as the Clippers, who finished with the IL's best regular season record, host the two-time defending League champion Durham Bulls. The two franchises met in the decade's first Governors' Cup finals in 2010 and have combined to win seven of the International League's last ten championships. Whichever team captures the title in 2019 will become just the second franchise in League history to win four Governors' Cup in a single decade.
Their respective paths to the finals were far from similar, though Columbus and Durham are both under the guidance of first-year managers. The Clippers finished with the circuit's best regular season record at 81-59. They were the first team to clinch a berth in the postseason and won their division by 15.0 games, easily the most comfortable margin of this year's postseason field. Durham, on the other hand, finished tied for 2nd in the IL South Division, 5.0 games behind Gwinnett and tied with Charlotte for the Wild Card. The Bulls' narrow 12-11 season series edge over the Knights provided their tiebreaking ticket into the playoffs.
In the semi-finals, Durham impressively swept away the North Division champion Scranton/WB RailRiders in three straight games. The Bulls put an exclamation point on the series with a 17-2 blowout in Game 3, earning another trip to the finals. Durham is playing in the Governors' Cup finals for the thirteenth time since joining the IL in 1998, and will try to become just the second team ever to win three consecutive Cups (Columbus 1979-81).
The Clippers defeated Gwinnett in four games to reach the finals for the first time since winning their record-tying tenth Governors' Cup in 2015. If Columbus hoists the League's coveted postseason trophy this fall, the franchise will stand alone as the most successful team of the Governors' Cup era.
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The Durham Bulls didn't know for sure they'd be in the playoffs until the final day of the season. After finishing even with Charlotte for the Wild Card, a narrow edge in the head-to-head series with the Knights gave Durham the Wild Card and a date with the SWB RailRiders for the third September in a row. The RailRiders themselves had to win a one-game showdown with the Syracuse Mets last Tuesday to secure their own spot in the series.
With Hurricane Dorian bearing down on Durham, the RailRiders and Bulls got Game 1 played on Wednesday, with the Bulls prevailing 9-3. Kevin Padlo and Jason Coats provided homers in the 5th and 6th innings respectively as Durham took a 1-0 series lead. Game 2 was postponed until Friday, allowing the rain to pass through. The second game proved to be the closest of the series. Bulls starter Josh Fleming delivered a commanding performance, shutting the RailRiders out for 8.0 frames. Nathan Lukes and Jake Cronenworth both hit two-run homers in the second inning, giving Durham a 4-0 lead that lasted until the 9th. Two SWB runs weren't enough, and Durham won the game 4-2 and took a 2-0 series lead to Pennsylvania.
Returning to the site where they clinched the 2017 and 2018 Governors' Cup championships, the Bulls steamrolled their way back to the finals for a third straight season by crushing SWB 17-2 in Game 3 Saturday. Durham jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the 1st inning and never looked back, earning a right to defend the franchise's back-to-back Governors' Cup titles.
Columbus Gets Key Victory at Home to Earn Right to Play for the Governors' Cup
The Columbus Clippers were the League's best road team in 2019, so much so that they finished with the best overall regular season record despite playing .500 baseball at home (35-35). After cruising to the West Division championship this summer, the Clippers earned a date with the South Division champion Gwinnett Stripers in which Columbus had the home field advantage.
Columbus pulled out a one-run win in the series opener in Gwinnett behind a strong start from winner Michael Peoples and 3.2 scoreless innings of relief from Kyle Nelson, Jefry Rodriguez, and James Karinchak to hold off the Stripers. In Game 2, Columbus won its second consecutive road contest thanks to a four-run 4th inning. Dioner Navarro's three-run homer helped the Clippers take a commanding 2-0 lead in the series before heading home to Huntington Park for Game 3.
With their backs against the wall on Friday night, the Stripers came out swinging. Gwinnett raced out to a ten-run lead after the top of the 3rd inning. Six unanswered runs by the Clippers were hardly enough as the Stripers extended the series with a fourrun victory. Game 4 was a tough battle, with Gwinnett clinging to a one-run lead that held until the 8th inning when Connor Marabell delivered a two-run double that put Columbus on the brink of a return trip to the finals. Closer Josh Smith worked around a pair of singles in the 9th to earn the save and end Gwinnett's season. The triumph was revenge for the Clippers, who were eliminated by Gwinnett during the franchise's last trip to the postseason in 2016.
Governors' Cup Finals Notes
Durham hopes to become the second team in League history to win three consecutive Governors' Cups. The 1979-81 Columbus Clippers still claim the only "three-peat" in the League's Governors' Cup era, as three different managers (Gene Michael, Joe Altobelli, and Frank Verdi) led Columbus to the title. After Durham won back-to-back Cups under the tutelage of Jared Sandberg, the team's new skipper Brady Williams now attempts to complete the "three-peat".
A title in 2019 would be the eleventh Governors' Cup for Columbus, which is currently tied with Rochester for the most Cups in League history. The Red Wings, who have been in the IL for the entire Governors' Cup era, captured their tenth Cup in 1997.
They stood alone as the only franchise to win ten Cups until the Clippers equaled them in 2015. Columbus had an IL franchise from 1955 to 1970 but didn't win a title during that era. All ten Governors' Cups won by Columbus have come since the Clippers debuted in the late 1970's.
The Cleveland Indians (Columbus) and Tampa Bay Rays (Durham) organizations are among the winningest of all-time when it comes to capturing the Governors' Cup. The New York Yankees lead the way, as their affiliates have won the Cup sixteen times. Second is Cleveland, whose partners have claimed the Cup eight times including three by Columbus since becoming affiliated with the Indians in 2009. The Dodgers and Orioles organizations both lay claim to seven Governors' Cups, followed by Boston and Tampa Bay with six titles each.
Similar to the semi-finals, the experimental extra inning rule used across Minor League Baseball for the past two seasons will not be in place for the Governors' Cup finals. The last time extra innings were played in the Governors' Cup finals was in 2014. That year, Durham won Game 2 in 11 innings, 4-3, then fell in an unforgettable 13-inning Game 4 to Pawtucket, 4-2.
The 2019 finals will conclude at Durham Bulls Athletic Park. If won by the Bulls, they will become the first team since 2007 to clinch the Governors' Cup in its home ballpark. In 2007 the Richmond Braves beat Durham in Game 5 of the finals at The Diamond, since which the last eleven title celebrations have taken place by a team on the road. Durham's back-to-back Cups in 2017 and 2018 were both clinched at PNC Field in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, with the end of last year's series relocated due to pending hurricane weather in North Carolina.
The International League will recognize a Governors' Cup Playoffs Most Valuable Player once again this postseason. Last year's recipient was Bulls outfielder Rob Refsnyder, who led the club with a .367 average and 6 RBI in the playoffs.
Should Durham win the finals in a sweep, they would become just the sixth team in the 87-year history of the Governors' Cup playoffs to navigate its way to the Cup without a loss. The 1937 Newark Bears, 1982 Tidewater Tides, 1987 and 1996 Columbus Clippers, and the 2002 Durham Bulls are the only teams to sweep both rounds of the Governors' Cup playoffs.
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