But the IronPigs won their final six games to tie Rochester for the Wild Card, and Lehigh Valley's 13-9 record against the Red Wings shoehorned it into the playoffs.
Now the IronPigs, who beat Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in four straight home games to punch their playoff ticket, will face the RailRiders in a best-of-five series starting Wednesday. Meanwhile, South Division champ Durham will face West Division winner Indianapolis in a best-of-five series.
The winners of these two series will square off in a best-of-five set starting Tuesday, Sept. 12. The first two games will be hosted by the winner of the Durham/Indianapolis series, while the remaining games will be played at the home of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre vs. Lehigh Valley series victor.
The winner of that series will not only win the Governors' Cup, but will also face the winner of the Pacific Coast League playoffs in the Gildan Triple-A National Championship Game on Tuesday, Sept. 19. That game will be played at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre's PNC Field, which means the RailRiders have a chance to become the first host team to play in the one-game, winner-take-all event.
Watch the chase for the Governors' Cup on MiLB.TV
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Railriders (86-55, North Division champion) vs.
Lehigh Valley IronPigs (80-62, Wild Card champion)
Lehigh Valley won the season series, 11-7
Game 1 at Lehigh Valley, Sept. 6 at 7:05 p.m.
Game 2 at Lehigh Valley, Sept. 7 at 7:05 p.m.
Game 3 at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Sept. 8 at 6:35 p.m.
Game 4 at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (if necessary), Sept. 9 at 6:35 p.m.
Game 5 at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (if necessary), Sept. 10 at 1:05 p.m.
While the Railriders won the division title, the IronPigs won the season series between these two teams. It goes to show how evenly matched these opponents are.
Lehigh Valley lost a number of key players to promotions to Philadelphia, including IL MVP Rhys Hoskins, right-hander Ben Lively and outfielder Nick Williams. Shortstop J.P. Crawford, who homered in Monday's playoff-clinching victory, got the call to the Major Leagues after that game.
But closer Pedro Beato, who led the league with 33 saves, said manager Dusty Wathan prepared the team for a late-season push.
"Dusty said it at the beginning of the year that we'd like to win with the guys that are here," Beato told The (Allentown) Daily Mail, "but, more importantly, we'd like to win with the guys who are in Double-A, Single-A, wherever down in the system.
"That's what has been happening the whole year. It was rough, especially after the month [of May] when we won so many games. It was tough to see the team losing players to the big leagues, losing a lot of games and it wasn't pretty. But now we're here."
Players to watch for the IronPigs include several top prospects for the Phillies, most notably second baseman Scott Kingery, who has hit .294 with eight homers and 21 RBIs since his late June promotion to Lehigh Valley, and outfielder Dylan Cozens who has 27 homers and 75 RBIs this season.
Video: Lehigh Valley's Kingery extends streak to 23
The pitching staff is led by right-hander Tom Eshelman, who is 10-3 with a 2.23 ERA in 18 starts, and Jose Taveras, who is 3-1 with a 1.32 ERA in seven starts for Lehigh Valley.
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre also has been hit by call-ups as the RailRiders have lost first baseman Tyler Austin and end-of-season IL All-Star Tyler Wade to the parent New York Yankees. But manager Al Pedrique said he is not worried entering the playoffs.
"The good thing with this organization is its depth," he said in an interview on the RailRiders radio network. "I'm sure we'll get some help from Double-A. But that's what happens in Triple-A. I feel good about the team that we have moving forward."
Players to keep an eye on include some the Yankees' top prospects, most notably righty Chance Adams, who is 11-5 with a 2.89 ERA in 21 starts for SWB, and third baseman Miguel Andujar, who has hit .317 with nine homers and 30 RBIs since his mid-June promotion.
Full International League playoff coverage
Durham Bulls (86-56, South Division champion) vs.
Indianapolis Indians (79-63, West Division champion)
Durham won the season series, 6-4
Game 1 at Durham, Sept. 6 at 6:35 p.m.
Game 2 at Durham, Sept. 7 at 6:35 p.m.
Game 3 at Indianapolis, Sept. 8 at 7:15 p.m.
Game 4 at Indianapolis (if necessary), Sept. 9 at 7:05 p.m.
Game 5 at Indianapolis (if necessary), Sept. 10 at 1:35 p.m.
While Indianapolis and Durham did not play as many games against one another as did the North Division rivals, they aren't strangers. They're also frequent playoff contenders -- this will mark the Indians' third playoff berth in four seasons as well as the team's seventh Governors' Cup berth since joining the International League in 1998.
While Pittsburgh promoted righty Steven Brault, the IL Pitcher of the Year who was 10-5 with a 1.94 ERA, along with utility man Christopher Bostick, who finished third in the league batting race with a .294 mark, Indianapolis manager Andy Barkett said the changes will not affect how his team will need to play to be successful.
"This is basically the make-up of our roster, but there are some differences we have to navigate through," he said. "Our strength is our starting pitching, and it's all going to boil down to how well we pitch. We just don't have the lineup to beat someone 12-11. Pitching is the key to a series at this time of year, so it's going to come down to pitching."
The Indians have a few big names, most notably outfielder Austin Meadows, who batted .250 with four homers, 36 RBIs and 11 stolen bases in 72 games. Right-hander Tyler Glasnow went 9-2 with a 1.93 ERA in 15 starts.
Video: Indians' Meadows goes yard
For Durham manager Jared Sandberg, it was important to claim a division title. While this is his first playoff appearance in three seasons managing the Bulls, this year will mark Durham's 13th appearance in the playoffs in 20 seasons.
"We brought the winning tradition back to Durham," Sandberg told the Durham Herald-Sun. "It's something I'm very proud of. The front office staff here in Durham, they do an incredible job. It's a winning tradition. The fans come out and support us. So this was big for us as a ballclub but also for the city of Durham."
While the Rays did call some players up for the playoff run, the Bulls' top three starting pitchers all remain. Indianapolis will have to face righties Brent Honeywell, who was 12-8 with a 3.64 ERA and Yonny Chirinos, who went 12-5 with a 2.74 ERA, along with lefty Ryan Yarbrough, who was 13-6 with a 3.43 ERA.
Pacific Coast League playoff preview
Yarbrough leads the IL with 159 strikeouts, while Honeywell stands second with 152 whiffs. Chirinos has fanned 120.
Position players to watch for the Bulls include several top Rays prospects, most notably SS Willy Adames, who has batted .277 with 10 homers and 62 RBI, and 1B Jake Bauers, who has hit .263 with 13 homers and 63 RBIs.
Diaz wins battling title: Columbus third baseman Yandy Diaz finished with 374 plate appearance this season, roughly 10 shy of the number necessary to qualify for the batting title. But Diaz posted a .350 batting average that blew away the competition, and even adding 10 outs to his season's stats would not be enough to take away the batting crown. Thus, with his adjusted average, Diaz was recognized as the IL batting champ; his .454 on-base percentage is so far in front of the competition, he was awarded that title as well.
Brentz, Hoskins also win crowns: Lehigh Valley first baseman Rhys Hoskins had 29 home runs and 91 RBIs when he was promoted to Philadelphia in August. No one finished ahead of Hoskins in the RBI race, but Pawtucket outfielder Bryce Brentz nipped Richie Shaffer of Columbus, 31-30, to win the home run title.
Top pitching honors split: The IL's pitching Triple Crown categories were split between three different pitchers. Left-hander Steven Brault of Indianapolis, who was named the league's Pitcher of the Year, won the ERA crown with a 1.94 mark. Right-hander Aaron Slegers of Rochester won 15 games, two more than any other pitcher in the league, while Durham lefty Ryan Yarbrough led the league in strikeouts with 159. Lehigh Valley's Pedro Beato, the IL reliever of the year, topped the circuit with 33 saves.
John Wagner is a contributor to MiLB.com.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.