Ducks Clinch Playoff Berth, Look to Snap Winless Streak Since 1994
They were inconsistent at best. They were good at times, mediocre for the most part and really bad for a stretch. But regardless of how they got there, the Long Island Ducks will be in the Atlantic League playoffs for the sixth straight season.
The Ducks did not win the Liberty Division in either half but qualified for the postseason because they had the best overall record while the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs won both halves. The Newark Bears found their way into the dance in the same fashion and will face the Somerset Patriots in the Freedom Divisional Round.
Now the Ducks need to concentrate on breaking an eight-game playoff losing streak. Since winning the Atlantic League championship in 2004, the Flock have found themselves on the short end of the score each and every time and have been swept in the first round four consecutive years and counting.
Perhaps with the organization celebrating their 10th anniversary they will be able to succeed. They certainly have the horses to do so and were led all year by third baseman Ray Navarette, who is currently batting .311 with 24 home runs and 95 RBI. Other bright spots offensively were outfielders Estee Harris (.272, 10, 59), Johnny Hernandez (.271, 9, 50) and George Lombard (.335, 10, 47).
"I get my work in and just go up there and try to have a quality at-bat every time," said Lombard, who was originally drafted by the Atlanta Braves in 1994. "I've never been a numbers guy. The first year I was drafted, I hit a buck-40, so I've never been caught up with stats. [They] don't mean a thing until the season is over when you can look back and reflect on your year."
Pitching-wise, Troy Cate is leading the way by going 12-5 with a 3.44 ERA. Veteran Randy Leek has an 11-10 mark with a 4.31 ERA. Closer Bill Simas has 26 saves and was one of the many heroes from the Ducks' run in '04.
Even with just a few days left in the regular season schedule, the Ducks have the luxury of setting up their pitching rotation for the playoffs. Manager Gary Carter has not announced any names yet and has a three-game weekend set against the Camden Riversharks to do so.
With the option of playing the first two at home, the Blue Crabs will host the opener on Thursday and Game Two on Friday at Regency Furniture Stadium, located in Charles County, Maryland. Games Three through Five will be played at Citibank Park, if necessary.
The Ducks should expect to face Southern Maryland ace Ryan Bicondoa, who won 11 games against six losses with a 4.66 ERA at press time. The team's big thumpers are outfielders James Shanks and Jeremy Owens, who have hit a combined 44 home runs and 170 RBI. Former major leaguer Michael Tucker is an outfielder/first baseman and is hitting over .300. He brings the experience that a young group such as this needs.
No, it will not be an easy task for the Ducks and the first step is to break the hex of the consecutive losses. After that happens, anything is possible.