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Why Tri-City's Playoff Spot Matters

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Let me preface this post by saying I do not care about minor league won-lost records. I mention them from time to time in a "Gee, wouldn't it be neat if the Astros finally had a couple teams finish above .500" kind of way, but I'm really more fascinated by the process than wanting them to win at any cost. The job of the minor league clubs is to prepare these guys to play in the majors. They have to learn how to deal with losses as much as wins.

The only place we should worry about winning percentage is in the majors. Even then, it's still about contending for the playoffs or developing young players. I'm firmly with Billy Beane that there is no difference between a 71-win and an 81-win team. Neither are contending for the playoffs and draft position can be overblown, unless the team is battling for the first or second overall pick.

So, I don't really care how many wins and losses a team has. I do care what underlies those wins. What is causing a team to perform the way it does? That's the question we should be asking ourselves when we study the Astros farm system and try to see a tangible improvement in the talent there.

That's why the Tri-City Hunt For The Playoffs has captured my attention. This is a team getting by with plenty of talented players who are still relatively young. These aren't all 23 or 24 year old organizational players. These are legitimate prospects who are winning baseball games because they are good. That's enough to get excited about, isn't it?

Kevin Whitaker has done such a great job of breaking down the playoff chances for the ValleyCats. It's looking like close thing at this point, with Tri-City holding just a 38 percent chance of making the playoffs. The ValleyCats are sitting in second place, a half-game behind Vermont with six games to play. The Lake Dragons have seven games left on the schedule, including a double-header on Wednesday that will bring them up to speed with the ValleyCats on games played.

How well has Tri-City done? As Whitaker talks about a number of times, the impressive thing about the ValleyCats is their run differential. With 305 runs, they are middle of the pack in runs scored but they have only allowed 280. That plus-25 run differential is the fourth-highest in the entire New York/Penn League and the highest in Tri-City's Stedler Division. In fact, the ValleyCats are the only team in the division to have a positive run differential. Vermont is minus-5, Connecticut is minus-45 and Lowell is minus-97.

That's one of the big reasons why Whitaker thinks Tri-City has a good shot at making the playoffs. What I'm pinning my hopes on is the talent on the team. Guys like Austin Wates, Kike Hernandez, Dan Adamson, Tyler Burnett and Chris Wallace can power the offense. Remember, this team lost Ben Heath earlier in the month and didn't skip a beat offensively with the addition of Wallace. Marcus Nidiffer obviously helps and the ValleyCats will get some late-season reinforcements from Greeneville with the GStros' season ends. That means Wates and DDJ will be on the same team, wreaking havoc for a few games.

The pitching staff has also been very solid. Carlos Quevedo gets much of the spotlight because of his ridiculous walk numbers, but Robert Doran has been solid if not spectacular with his reduced velocity. Orem talked up James Robinson the other day, rightly so with the season he's having. James Buchanan has quietly turned around his season, as has Murilo Gouvea. I know Gouvea has walked a few too many this season, but he's also struck out one less than team leader Quevedo (51) in less than half the innings. Add in solid seasons from Travis Blankenship, Michael Ness and Brandt Walker and this is a top-to-bottom solid pitching staff.

Subber mentioned in the comments of his Morning Recap today that the New York/Penn League is comparable in value to the Sally. If that's the case (and I think it is to some extent), the Astros should have a very deep team in Low A ball next season. If the ValleyCats can pull off a few wins between now and the end of the season, they could also be a group with a little playoff experience under their belts.