Governors’ Cup Finals Preview

This is it. Five months, 142 regular season games, and one playoff series later, we’ve reached the pinnacle of the 2017 season. The Durham Bulls are back in the Governors’ Cup Championship for the first time since 2014, with only three wins separating them from their fifth title in the past 16 years.

Standing in the Bulls’ way is the defending champion Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders. It’s fitting that the two teams who tied for the most regular season wins in the International League will now play each other for the title. The South Division champion Bulls (86–56) finished percentage points behind the North Division champion RailRiders (86–55) for the best overall record, but did take the season-series from their rivals four games to three.

The similarities between the two teams extends even further, with both clubs utilizing one of the best pitching staffs in the I.L. Scranton/WB led the league in ERA (3.33) and also allowed the fewest hits (1,079), two statistics that saw Durham finish runner-up (3.37, 1,099). Conversely, the Bulls led the league with a Minor League record 1,421 strikeouts, while also leading the way in Innings Pitched (1,270.2) and tying the RailRiders for the league lead with a 1.19 WHIP.

Offensively Scranton/WB boasts arguably the best offense in the I.L., with the RailRiders pacing the circuit in most categories including Runs (664), HR (153), and OPS (.775). The Bulls hold their own at the plate as well however, with the club ending the regular season ranking 3rd in Runs (643), T-2nd in Doubles (227), and 2nd in Stolen Bases (131).

So far in the playoffs, the Bulls are coming off a 3–1 series win over Indianapolis that ended with the team’s 4–3 victory in Indy on Saturday. Jake Bauers led the Durham offense, batting .375 (6–16) with a home run, double, and three RBI, while Patrick Leonard also hit .375 (6–16) with one RBI and a pair of stolen bases. Scranton/WB, meanwhile, dispatched of Lehigh Valley three games to one as well, culminating in a 1–0 win on Sunday. The RailRiders’ potent lineup was paced by Donovan Solano, who hit .438 (7–16) with four RBI over the four-game series. Billy McKinney may not have collected as many hits as Solano with a .222 average (4–18), but the 23-year-old did club two home runs while picking up a team-high five RBI.

Both teams also have their rotations primed for the final series. The Bulls will trot out their three-headed monster of LHP Ryan Yarbrough, RHP Yonny Chirinos, and RHP Brent Honeywell in the first three games, followed by RHP Burch Smith and newcomer RHP Jose Mujica in Games Four and Five if necessary. The RailRiders will counter with a relative new face in RHP Ronald Herrera for Game One, before turning to rotation stalwarts RHP Domingo German, RHP Chance Adames, RHP Brady Lail, and LHP Nestor Cortes for the remainder of the series.

Both teams are talented. Both teams have racked up the wins this season. Both teams have proven their mettle with First Round series wins. Only one team can claim the title, however. Durham Bulls vs. Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders. One last series to decide everything. It’s time to #BULLieve.