The Pacific Coast League came oh-so-close to having four new playoff teams for 2013.
It went right down to the last day, in fact, before reigning American Northern Division champion Omaha pulled out an 8-4 victory over Round Rock to repeat by one game over Memphis, which lost 2-1 to Oklahoma City.
Now it will be the Storm Chasers' turn to take on the RedHawks for the American Conference crown.
Over in the Pacific Conference, Las Vegas rallied late to take the Southern Division title from perennial winner Sacramento. The 51s will take on the Salt Lake Bees, who led the Northern Division almost wire to wire.
Oklahoma City RedHawks (82-62, American Southern Division champions) vs.
Omaha Storm Chasers (70-74, American Northern Division champions)
Season series tied, 8-8
Game 1 at Oklahoma City, Sept. 4 at 8:05 p.m. ET
Game 2 at Oklahoma City, Sept. 5 at 8:05 p.m. ET
Game 3 at Omaha, Sept. 6 at 8:05 p.m. ET
Game 4 at Omaha (if necessary), Sept. 7 at 8:05 p.m. ET
Game 5 at Omaha (if necessary), Sept. 8 at 3:05 p.m. ET
The current Oklahoma City RedHawks barely resemble the squad that first took the field back in April. Though that is often par for the course at Triple-A, it can be rare for a team to still sustain success with so much roster turnover.
"We're all on the same page," said third baseman Brandon Laird. "Our pitchers are doing their jobs -- we're playing great defense and our lineup, one through nine, is filled with good hitters, and it's getting us runs when we need them."
Laird is one of the only players who has spent almost the entire season with Oklahoma City, hitting .277 with 16 homers and 79 RBIs in 119 games. He also batted .200 with two homers in 11 games with Houston earlier in the season.
While the RedHawks soared to the best record in the PCL, the Astros have struggled. Still, Laird said he and his teammates are doing a good job of not wondering when the next call-up will be.
"There's a lot of opportunity in this organization, but I think it's just more focusing on what I need to do and what I can control," Laird said. "I think that's what everyone's doing. Nobody up here is thinking about the big leagues. We're going to the playoffs here. Our only goal right now is to go win a ring."
Armed with top prospects such as outfielder George Springer (.311, 18 homers, 53 RBIs, 22 stolen bases) and right-hander Asher Wojciechowski (9-7, 3.56 ERA), Oklahoma City will enter the playoffs as one of the favorites to win the PCL crown.
Laird and his teammates were the first to clinch a playoff spot but also the last to find out their postseason opponent when it took Omaha until the final day of the season to clinch.
"Whoever we do play, we just have to keep doing what we're doing," Laird said prior to the Storm Chasers' triumph. "Just keep going out there, pitching well, putting runs on the board and getting good defense."
Omaha, which was won the American Northern Division the last two season, took home the PCL title in 2011 and fell in the Finals to Reno last season.
Salt Lake Bees (78-66, Pacific Northern Division champions) vs.
Las Vegas 51s (81-63, Pacific Southern Division champions)
Las Vegas won the season series, 10-6
Game 1 at Salt Lake, Sept. 4 at 8:35 p.m. ET
Game 2 at Salt Lake, Sept. 5 at 8:35 p.m. ET
Game 3 at Las Vegas, Sept. 6 at 10:05 p.m. ET
Game 4 at Las Vegas (if necessary), Sept. 7 at 3:05 p.m. ET
Game 5 at Las Vegas (if necessary), Sept. 8 at 3:05 p.m. ET
One of the only things that has always seemed guaranteed in baseball is that the Sacramento River Cats will be in the PCL playoffs every year. Maybe it was just their new affiliation, but someone forgot to tell the Las Vegas 51s that this season.
"It's the Mets' first time in the PCL [Pacific Southern], so they're new to this division, being in Vegas, so maybe they didn't hear that Sacramento always wins this division," outfielder Jamie Hoffmann said. "So it's just worked out pretty good that we came in here for a first year and had some success."
Now Hoffmann and his fellow 51s will give Las Vegas its first playoff series since 2002. They will take on a similar squad in the Salt Lake Bees, who last played in the postseason in 2008.
"It's going to be exciting," said Bees first baseman Efren Navarro. "For the most part we, both sides, played high-scoring games. I think the pitching is going to be the big key for this matchup, not just the pitching but the defense and the offense. We all have to put it together to beat the 51s. They're talented."
Navarro was not kidding about the high-scoring part. In 16 games against each other, the Bees and 51s have combined for 200 runs. Las Vegas has scored 103 times, an average of 6.4 per game, while taking 10 of 16 match-ups, including four of five in Salt Lake from Aug. 16-20.
"We went up there [in August] and that was one of the times where we were real hot," Hoffmann said. "I think it's going to be a pretty good series. It's just a matter of who's going to stay hot."
Navarro said the Bees have not forgotten that series and would like a little payback.
"Oh yeah, definitely," Navarro said. "But like I said, they have a good offensive staff. It's going to be a hard series. I feel like our team is ready. As long as we take care of the baseball, everything else will take care of itself."
Missing in action: A few notable performers this year in the PCL were called up by their big league teams Sunday and will not be available in the playoffs. The Mets recalled third baseman Zach Lutz (.293, 13 homers, 80 RBIs) from Las Vegas. Salt Lake lost its closer, Ryan Brasier (5-2, 4.13, 10 saves) to the Angels. The Astros selected outfielder Trevor Crowe (.304, three homers, 23 RBIs, 16 stolen bases) from Oklahoma City. Omaha will not have catcher Brett Hayes (.233, 17 homers, 44 RBIs) behind the plate as he is returning to the Royals. Infielders Carlos Pena, Pedro Ciriaco and Johnny Giavotella and reliever Donnie Joseph also got called to KC on Tuesday.
Last-minute reinforcement: The Angels swung a trade with the Dodgers on Sunday when they acquired infielder Rusty Ryal for cash considerations. Ryal, who hit .264 with four homers and 49 RBIs for the Albuquerque Isotopes this season, provides depth at both infield corners for Salt Lake.
Winning while losing: The Omaha Storm Chasers became the first team with a losing record to qualify for the playoffs since the PCL went to a four-division format in 1998. The previous worst record by a division winner was 73-70 by the 2010 Oklahoma City RedHawks.