The Cyclones found out before they even hit the field for Wednesday night's regular-season finale that they were headed to the playoffs for a fourth straight year, thanks to hard-charging Batavia's 1-0 loss to Jamestown in the opener of a doubleheader earlier in the day.
That afforded Brooklyn manager Rich Donnelly the opportunity to line up his rotation for the upcoming best-of-3 first-round playoff series with league-leading McNamara Division champion Hudson Valley.
Rather than start All-Star right-hander Luis Mateo against Lowell in Game No. 76, Donnelly opted to go with a bullpen-by-committee set-up, using Matthew Koch, Timothy Peterson, David Wynn, Paul Sewald (0-2) and John Mincone in an eventual 5-3 loss to the Spinners before a crowd of 4,442 happy Brooklynites at Coney Island's MCU Park.
The defeat, meaningless as it was, did little to stop the youngest team in franchise history from celebrating its second consecutive postseason berth under the steady, guiding hand of Donnelly, who announced that staff ace and New York-Penn League ERA leader Hansel Robles (6-1, 1.11 ERA) would be on the hill for Friday night's series opener against the Renegades at MCU Park.
“We’re going to start Friday with Robles and then Mateo Saturday," Donnelly revealed while his players sprayed one another with champagne, blasted music and had shaving cream fights in a raucous locker room. "[The starter for] Game 3 is still undecided."
Robles, who hasn't allowed an earned run over his last 33 innings, should take the ball with some confidence for Game 1. After all, the Cyclones went 7-3 against the Renegades this season, giving them a good shot at advancing to the NY-Penn Championship Series for the first time since the Wally Backman-led 2010 squad lost the Finals to Tri-City.
Games 2 and 3 will be at Hudson Valley's Dutchess Stadium.
According to Donnelly, the Cyclones' mediocre-at-best offense will be on the line to produce as the pitching staff has carried the load for Brooklyn throughout the summer.
“We have trouble with anybody," he noted when asked about the first-round showdown with the 'Gades. "We’ve had a lot of games this year, I don’t know how many close, one-run games we’ve played. We’ve had a lot of 1-0 games, either way. I don’t think this is going to be an 11-10 game."
“Our pitching staff, that’s our strength," Donnelly added. "That and catching the ball. Without that, we don’t stand much of a chance."
While the manager busied himself with preparation, the players took to partying after nearly blowing a comfortable lead atop the wild-card standings over the season's final three weeks. The Muckdogs went on a mind-bending run in late August and the first week of September to apply serious heat to the Baby Bums, but Brooklyn persevered and now stands four wins shy of delivering the first NY-Penn title to Coney Island since 2001.
“It’s a pretty big deal (to make the playoffs) in my first year of professional baseball," noted Brooklyn catcher Kevin Plawecki, the Mets' supplemental first-round draft pick out of Purdue in the June MLB draft. "Hopefully we can dominate and get on a run.”
Cyclones center fielder Brandon Nimmo, who led the club in virtually every important offensive category other than homers and batting average this summer, was impressed with how the team hung together during the dog days of the stretch drive to the playoffs.
“It’s amazing. I haven’t experienced anything like this before," noted the 19-year-old, who was selected first overall by the parent club in the 2011 draft. "To get to this point is right where we want to be. Batavia hit a hot streak and congrats to them for putting up such a fight at the end. It’s a fun thing when you get in a playoff race and every game counts. I really enjoyed the past few weeks."
Nimmo also noted that the youth-infused roster benefitted greatly from having a veteran of 30 big league seasons at the helm.
“[Donnelly] really held us together. For guys like me who are so young, he’s been a rock," Nimmo said.
The Cyclones (45-31), who posted their 12th winning record in as many seasons on Coney Island, finished tops in the league with a .977 fielding percentage, spearheaded by Nimmo's .994 mark in center field.
Brooklyn also ended the campaign with five pitchers in the top 15 in the NY-Penn in ERA. Mateo, Robles, Gabriel Ynoa, Luis Cessa, and Rainy Lara all posted ERAs below 3.00.
Add to that a bullpen which combined for a league-best 27 saves, including 12 by closer Tyler Vanderheiden, and the Cyclones appear to have the tools to go on a long playoff run -- if, of course, they score some runs.
Brooklyn's offense finished 13th out of 14 teams on the circuit with a .230 batting average, and 12th in runs scored with 288.
Beginning Friday night at 7 p.m., all those numbers will be rendered meaningless as the second season begins with the hope of a championship parade down Surf Avenue in approximately two weeks.
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This, That and the Other Thing: The Cyclones also captured the wild card last year, but lost a tough three-game series to eventual NY-Penn champion Staten Island, dropping the finale 1-0 at Richmond County Bank Ballpark. In 2001, Brooklyn won Game 1 of the NY-Penn Finals against Williamsport, but the rest of the series was canceled due to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, forcing the 'Clones to share the crown with the CrossCutters. ... Tri-City will meet Auburn in the other best-of-3 first-round series, with the winner facing either Brooklyn or Hudson Valley in the Finals. If the Cyclones advance, they would also host Game 1 of the Championship Series. ... The Cyclones rank last in the NY-Penn in hitting with runners in scoring positiion at .225. That stat could haunt them if they don't find a way to scratch out runs against the Renegades, who ranked third in the league in runs scored with 347. Auburn, Tri-City and H.V. -- the three playoff teams other than the Cyclones -- finished in the top three in offense this summer. ... RHP Rainy Lara, who tied for the NY-Penn lead in wins with eight this season, could be a potential Game 3 starter for Donnelly.