The 2017 Durham Bulls won every championship there was to win, as the team took home not only the Governors' Cup as International League Champions but also the Triple-A National Championship. The Bulls made the postseason after winning the I.L. South Division with an 86-56 record. The club then dispatched of Indianapolis three games to one in the First Round, before prevailing over Scranton/Wilkes-Barre three games to one in the Championship Round. The Bulls finally capped their historic campaign with a 5-3 victory over Memphis in the Triple-A National Championship Game.
Triple-A National Champions
The Bulls claimed their second Triple-A National Championship in 2017 with a 5-3 win over the Memphis Redbirds at PNC Field. The Bulls' two championships are in a four-way tie for the most of any franchise, while the club is also tied with two other teams for the most appearances in the 12-year-old event at three. The title is the first for Durham since 2009, when they also defeated Memphis 5-4 in 11 innings.
Governors' Cup Champions
The Durham Bulls won their fifth Governors' Cup after defeating the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders 6-4 for a 3-1 series win. The Bulls took Game One of the series 6-0 in Durham before the RailRiders returned the favor with a 4-0 shutout in Game Two. The Bulls then took the pivotal Game Three in Scranton 6-2 before finishing the series with the 6-4 victory in Game Four.
20 Years of Success
The Bulls became a Triple-A team and joined the International League in 1998, beginning a 20-year run of unparalleled success. Despite their short history, the Bulls' five Governors' Cups are tied for sixth all-time. No other team has won more than three in that time. Durham has also played in 11 total Governors' Cup Finals, with no other franchise participating in more than six in the 20-year span. Overall, the Bulls have won the South Division 13 times and made the playoffs in 14 of their 20 seasons.
Starting & Finishing Strong
547,841 fans visited the DBAP in 2017, the second-highest total in the ballpark's history and the fourth consecutive season of more than a half million in attendance. The Bulls accomplished this feat by both starting strong and ending strong at the box office. The club began the year with their largest Opening Week crowd in franchise history, with a paid attendance of 52,228 over the first seven home games. The Bulls then capped the year by hosting crowds of 10,000 or more paid fans for four consecutive days for the first time in team history.
Bauers Named Governors' Cup Finals MVP
Bulls' first baseman Jake Bauers was a one man wrecking crew throughout the playoffs en route to being named MVP of the Governors' Cup Finals. The 21-year-old slugger had at least one hit in all nine of his postseason games, including multiple hits in five of those contests. Overall, Bauers led all I.L. hitters in the playoffs with a .576 SLG % and 7 Runs scored, while also tying for the league lead in Average (.394) and Hits (13). The Rays' No. 5 prospect tied the Bulls' postseason record with 14 total hits, joining Nick Franklin who accomplished the feat in 2014.
It Feels So Right to be Wong
Second baseman Kean Wong saved arguably his best offensive game of the year for the final contest of the season, as the Hawaii native was named the MVP of the Triple-A National Championship game after going 3-4 with a home run, double, four RBI, and a run scored. Wong's game-changing grand slam in the fourth inning was the first granny in the 12-year history of the winner-take-all contest, while his seven Total Bases set a new record as well. The 22-year-old also tied the title game's record with four RBI and three hits.
Consistency Breeds Success
A major reason for the Bulls' success in 2017 came from a surprisingly consistent roster. Despite more than 180 roster moves throughout the season, the Bulls featured 13 players on their National Championship team that were also with the squad on Opening Day.
At the heart of the Bulls' consistency throughout the season were a trio of players who could be counted on to be in the lineup virtually every day. Jake Bauers (132), Patrick Leonard (131), and Willy Adames (130) all played in 130 or more games for Durham, marking the first time in the franchise's Triple-A history that three players eclipsed the mark. Only four other times in the current 20-year club history did even two players appear in 130 or more games (1999, 2000, 2003, 2004). Additionally, Casey Gillaspie (125), Johnny Feld (111), and Kean Wong (105) all broke the century mark in games played, the first time since 2014 the Bulls' sported six players to reach the plateau.
The Bulls welcomed their 10 millionth paid fan in their Triple-A history in 2017, with the historic fan among the 10,147 in attendence for Durham's 6-3 win over Scranton/WB on Saturday, August 11th. The milestone fittingly came during the 20th anniversary season for the Bulls as a Triple-A team and as an affiliate of Tampa Bay.
Historic Strikeout Total
The Bulls pitching staff ended the regular season with 1,421 strikeouts for the year. The impressive K total easily broke the Bulls' own International League record of 1,287 from 2016, and also set a new all-time record for Minor League Baseball after surpassing the 2015 San Jose Giants' 1,383. If that weren't impressive enough the Durham staff also entered some truly historic territory with their strikeout total placing them eighth all-time in all of professional baseball, falling just beding the 2013 Detroit Tigers and the 2015 Chicago Cubs despite playing in 20 fewer games than the teams in front of them.
Yarbrough & Honeywell Pace Strikeout Record
Leading the way for the Bulls' historic strikeout total were two pitchers who finished atop the individual K leaderboard in LHP Ryan Yarbrough and RHP Brent Honeywell. Yarbrough finished the regular season with 159 punchouts, the most in the I.L. and the second-highest total in Bulls history behind Jaime Schultz's 2016 total of 163. Finishing right behind Yarbrough was Honeywell, who ended his campaign with a career-high 152 strikeouts. Honeywell actually beat out his teammate for the top spot in K/9 IP ratio, where the Rays' No. 1 prospect paced the league at 11.06 compared to Yarbrough's 9.10.
That's A Lot Of Wins
The 2017 Bulls came up just short in their bid to finish with the most wins in franchise history, but the club's 86-56 final record still ranks 4th all-time. The club finished just one game back of the 2013 team for third all time, which was also the last team to win the Governors' Cup. The 2010 Bulls ended the year 88-55 (.615) for the best Triple-A record in team history, wihle the 1962 squad went 89-51 (.636) while playing in the Class B Carolina League for the best overall record in Durham history.
With Room to Spare
Durham ran away with the I.L. South Division in 2017, as the club finished with a league-best 15 game advantage over second place Gwinnett. The robust cushion marked the first time the Bulls finished with a double-digit lead in the division since ending the 2013 campaign with a 10 game advantage over second place Norfolk. The 15-game difference is also the largest for any divisional winner in the I.L. since Durham won the South by 16 games over Gwinnett in 2010.
South Division Champs
The Bulls clinched the IL South Division this season to return to the Governors' Cup Playoffs after a two year absence. With 13 division titles in their 20 years as a Triple-A team, the past two marks marked just the second time that the Bulls failed to win the division in back-to-back seasons (the other was a three-year stretch from 2004-2006). Since Durham joined the International League in 1998, only Norfolk (3) and Charlotte (2) have won more than one division title.
A big reason for the Bulls' success in 2017 was the club's dominance over the rest of the I.L. South Division. The Bulls went a combined 46-24 against the three other teams in the division, with winning records against all three clubs as well. The most lopsided series was against Charlotte, as Durham dominated the season series 18-5 including a 12-1 mark at the DBAP. The Bulls finished the year 14-8 versus Gwinnett, and 14-11 against Norfolk as well.
Bulls vs. The Best
While the Bulls certainly took care of business against their weaker opponents in 2017 with a 52-31 record against sub.-500 teams, Durham also finished with a solid winning percentage against the league's best teams. Against the six teams in the I.L. that finished the year .500 or better, the Bulls went 34-25 for a .576 winning percentage. The Bulls biggest success came against divisional rival Gwinnett, where Durham went 14-8. The club also posted winning records against Indianapolis (6-4), Rochester (4-2), Lehigh Valley (4-3), and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (4-3). The only team to finish the year with an overall winning record and a winning record vs. Durham was Columbus, who finished the year 5-2 against the Bulls.
Leading the League in Shutouts
The Bulls finished the regular season tied for the league lead in shutouts with 18. The 18 blankings were the most by the club in at least the past 12 years, and marked the first time Durham led the I.L. in shutouts since they tied Syracuse for the honor in 2014 with 15. The Bulls were also able to add to their season total with two more shutouts in the postseason, one each against Indianapolis and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in the two rounds of the Governors' Cup Playoffs.
Chirinos' Complete-Game Shutout
RHP Yonny Chirinos starred for the Bulls throughtout the 2017 season but was no finer than on May 13th, when the Venezuela native threw a nine-inning, complete game shutout in the Bulls' 5-0 win over Toledo. Chirinos was dominant throughout the night, as he allowed only three hits and two walks while striking out nine and allowing just one base runner to reach second base. The nine-inning blanking was the first for a Durham pitcher since Justin Marks' no-hitter on 7/15/16.
Click here to view the complete year end notes.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.