RubberDucks Playoff Bound with Eastern League Western Division Crown

With a win on Sunday, the Akron RubberDucks clinched a playoff berth in the Eastern League playoffs and became the third Cleveland Indians’ minor league affiliate to guarantee bonus baseball this season after previous efforts from the Triple-A Columbus Clippers and the High-A Lynchburg Hillcats.

The RubberDucks took a page out of their parent club’s book on Labor Day, as Akron decided on a bullpen game with the Eastern League Western Division title on the line. With their ticket already punched for postseason play, they opted to rest their starting rotation, but instead, they stole the crown as Daniel Salters’ first Double-A home run, a two-run shot in the sixth, broke a five-all tie as the ‘Ducks held on for an 8-6 win to clinch the top spot in the division.

It was fairly new faces in the clubhouse like Salters that helped to get the job done on Monday as the RubberDucks won their ninth division title in team history and finished the season on a tear, winning 21 of the last 26 games after a particularly rough stretch at the end of July. Then, two of the club’s young stars, outfielder Bradley Zimmer and Clint Frazier, were promoted to Triple-A.

Akron (77-64) got its division championship by the thinnest of margins, holding just a half-game lead over the Altoona Curve in the Western Division.

Robbie Aviles got the “start” for the ‘Ducks on Monday and gave up a pair as Akron fell behind to Bowie, 2-0. Former Indians outfielder Chris Dickerson doubled home a run before scoring on a sacrifice fly while the Baysox were trying to salvage their season finale, hoping not to end their year with a four-game sweep at the hands of the RubberDucks.

Akron’s Greg Allen homered to lead off the bottom half of the first, cutting the Bowie lead to 2-1. He was up again in the third, but was not involved in the action as he flied out to center before Yan Gomes drew a walk and Mike Papi gave the ‘Ducks a 3-2 lead with a two-run homer to right center. Sloppy play from the Baysox gave Akron more runs as Joe Sever singled, Alex Monsalve struck out but reached safely on a wild pitch, and Salters singled home Sever with a grounder to right. Another wild pitch scored Monsalve, giving Akron a 5-2 lead.

Four straight two-out extra base hits off of Akron’s Argenis Angulo helped Bowie tie the game in the top of the fifth. Back-to-back homers started the scoring to make it a 5-4 game. Former ‘Duck Quincy Latimore doubled and came in to score on a second double to tie the game. Jordan Milbrath entered in relief and got a pop up to end the threat.

Akron dodged a bullet in the sixth after a leadoff walk, a wild pitch, and a single against Milbrath put runners on the corners with nobody out. Bowie’s Julio Borbon lined to left fielder Papi, who gunned down Tucker Nathans at the plate for the double play. Dickerson flied out to end the inning and the momentum of the big inning swung completely in the ‘Ducks favor in the bottom half as Monsalve singled before Salters sent a two-run homer over the wall in right-center to give Akron a 7-5 lead. Gomes would deliver the eighth run for Akron later in the inning, scoring Ivan Castillo on a two-out ground ball single to left.

Milbrath retired all three outs in the seventh on strikeouts before turning the ball over to Casey Weathers, who earned his first save of the season despite giving up a run in the ninth. Milbrath got the win in relief, his first at the Double-A level while making his first appearance for Akron. He worked two and one-third innings, allowing two walks and a hit while striking out three, in his first action off of the disabled list and since his promotion from High-A Lynchburg on September 1.

The ‘Ducks will now play in the Eastern League Western Division Series from People’s Natural Gas Field in Altoona. Games 1 and 2 of the best-of-five series will take place on Wednesday and Thursday before the series moves to Canal Park on Friday. If needed, the two teams would play Game 4 on Saturday night and a potential deciding Game 5 on Sunday night.

Julian Merryweather is expected to start Game 1 for Akron. He was 8-2 in eleven starts with the High-A Hillcats with a 1.03 ERA and 1.02 WHIP and was a Carolina League All-Star before his promotion to Akron midseason. With the RubberDucks, he was 5-4 in the regular season with a 3.89 ERA and 1.24 WHIP in 13 games.

Fireworks will conclude any of the games played at Canal Park over the weekend as the RubberDucks will look to celebrate some big wins while earning the right to host the first two games of the Eastern League Championship.

Photo: David Monseur/MiLB.com

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