LOUISVILLE, Ky. - With the Louisville Bats' Labor Day victory in the final game of the regular season, the team clinched its third consecutive International League West division title, and will start their best-of-five playoff series against the Durham Bulls on Wednesday evening at 6:05PM at Slugger Field.
Despite entering the season's final day a half-game behind the Columbus Clippers in the divisional standings, Louisville claimed the division crown, thanks to an 6-3 win over Indianapolis and a Columbus loss in Toledo.
Louisville's three-peat is de ja vu in more ways than one, as each of the last two seasons, the Bats and Bulls have squared off in the opening round of the Governor's Cup playoffs. The Bulls, who are the top farm club of the Tampa Bay Rays, have knocked the Bats out of the playoffs in each of those two seasons, last year defeating Louisville in a thrilling, five-game series en route to winning the IL Championship. In 2008, when the Bats won a franchise record 88 regular season games, Durham made sure their postseason trip was brief, taking Louisville out in four games.
Louisville's futile playoff history with the Bulls stretches back even further than the current three-year run, however, as Durham also knocked the Bats out of the playoffs back in 2003, which was the Bats last playoff appearance before their current streak. In the two teams first ever playoff matchup in 1998, Durham swept Louisville.
If the Bats hope to exorcise the playoff demons that the Bulls have caused, they will need to fare better against Durham than they did in the regular season. Louisville was 3-5 against the Bulls during the 2010 campaign, splitting a four-game set in mid-June at Slugger Field, while losing three of four in Durham just a few weeks later.
Louisville shut out the Bulls 2-0 in the two teams' series opener behind Chad Reineke, a starter who may face Durham again during this playoff series. In game three of the series at Slugger Field, the Bats got a walk-off, 5-4 victory when Wladimir Balentien plated Chris Burke with a sac fly to score the game-winning run in the bottom of the ninth.
When the teams met a few weeks later in North Carolina, Durham won the first two games of the set with some late inning heroics, and the Bats needed an eighth-inning Yonder Alonso grand slam in the series finale to avoid a sweep.
Perhaps there shouldn't be much stock put into the team's early season matchups, however, as the Bats have been a different team since the season's second half began. This year's division title may have been Louisville's most impressive of its three straight, as the team sit 13 games back of Columbus at the end of its series in Durham on July 2nd. Since that series against the Bulls, Louisville has experienced an unbelievable resurgence, reeling off a 39-16 record.
Reversing the Bats playoff fortunes against Durham will be no easy task, as the Bulls enter this postseason with the league's best record at 88-55, compared to Louisville's 79-64. Hopefully, Louisville will be able to seize its late season momentum and knock Durham out of the playoffs for the first time in the two team's playoff history.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.