From the way the Tampa Yankees played Sunday's game, they seemed to be the best in the Florida State League's North Division.
The 7-2 win over the Brevard County Manatees, who won the first-half North title, just made it official. Tampa clinched a playoff berth Thursday with a 5-1 win over the Manatees and closed the book on the second-half division title with Sunday's victory.
Brevard County looked invincible in the first half of the season, charging to a 7.5-game lead over the second-place Daytona Cubs and an 11.5-game lead over the fifth-place Yankees, who were 30-37 at the midway point.
Tampa took advantage of the clean slate afforded by the second half, winning 43 games through Sunday. To that point, the Yankees had lost only 17 times in the second half, fewer than any other Class A Advanced team.
While the remarkable turnabout is undeniably the result of a team effort, third baseman Brandon Laird's second-half production has provided Tampa with a spark. Laird, who was hitting .242 heading into the All-Star break, wrapped up the weekend with 74 RBIs and is among the league's best in that category. He's also boosted his average to a more respectable .266, and all but three of his 13 home runs have come in the second half.
Catcher Austin Romine also stepped up over the past few months, filling the spot left vacant by Jesus Montero, who was promoted to Double-A Trenton in the beginning of June. Romine, who taken in the second round of the 2007 Draft, is hitting .274 with 12 home runs and 70 RBIs through Sunday.
Hector Noesi (3-0), who spent the first several months of the season with the South Atlantic League's Charleston RiverDogs, has provided the Yankees with decent starts since coming up. In Sunday's clincher, he tossed five shutout innings, allowing just three hits and striking out five. He improved to a combined 6-4 with a 2.92 ERA on the year.
Tampa will face Brevard County again in their first playoff series, beginning Sept. 8.