With three weeks remaining in the International League season it would be easier to name the teams that don't have legitimate playoff aspirations instead of listing all those that think they do.
That's thanks to the league's wild-card berth, which has become the best route to the postseason for many teams since the playoff races in the three IL divisions all have clear-cut favorites:
t Pawtucket has gone 19-12 following the All-Star break to pull away from the pack, giving the Red Sox a 31/2-game cushion over Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and 5 over Buffalo and Ottawa in the North.
t Durham has posted a 13-10 mark after the break to open up a 3-game lead over Charlotte in the South.
t Louisville has struggled since the break, losing 15 of 24 games. But the Mud Hens, Columbus, and Indianapolis have done little to take advantage, and the Bats still hold a 71/2-game advantage over Columbus and 9 over Toledo.
Thanks to the IL's wild-card race, though, a number of teams still have playoff hopes.
Here's a sneak peek at each of the teams involved in the IL wild-card battle.
Buffalo: How the mighty have fallen as the Bisons have lost 17 of 22 to turn a sure playoff berth into a struggle just to reach the post-season. To make matters worse, Buffalo will play most of its remaining schedule against other playoff contenders from the North Division - with most of those games coming on the road.
Charlotte: The Knights have posted a 17-9 record since the All-Star break to make themselves a solid contender. And Charlotte has won two out of every three games against the rest of the teams on its schedule. Only one problem: The Knights have 18 road games left and are 19-36 away from Knights Stadium.
Columbus: The Clippers have sneaked back into the race by winning 12 of 16 games after the break. What's more, Columbus is a stronger team now with the addition of Bubba Crosby, who led the Pacific Coast League in hitting before being traded, and pitchers Scott Proctor and Brett Prinz. And the Clippers have eight games left with struggling Louisville, including six at home.
Ottawa: The Lynx have been streaky since the break, winning five of their first six, then losing nine of 11 before winning four of five. But almost all of their remaining games are against either teams above the .500 mark or Syracuse, probably the hottest team in the league.
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre: The Red Barons won 11 of its first 12 after the break to catch, then pass Buffalo in the wild-card hunt. Beating up on other teams in the North Division will be a tough task, but one made easier by a number of home games. Scranton hosts both Syracuse and Buffalo for five games, and those 10 games probably will decide the Red Barons' playoff fate.
Toledo: Friday night's loss at Columbus left the Hens two games under .500 and staring up at five teams in the playoff hunt. That's quite a task, one made even more difficult by the team's lack of offense and shoddy defense. The good news is that no one in the hunt has more home games left than the Hens.
The Rest: Don't look now, but Syracuse has had the best record in the league since the All-Star break, a 17-9 mark. As a result the SkyChiefs have moved to within six games of the leaders. ... Rochester and Norfolk have been inconsistent since the break, while Richmond and Indianapolis have too many mountains to climb.
How will everything turn out? Here are a few bold predictions: Buffalo, Ottawa, and Scranton will take turns beating on one another, with Rochester and Syracuse taking bites out of all three. Charlotte's “road” to the playoffs will be difficult, forcing them instead to focus on catching Durham in the eight games the two still have left.
Columbus, as Toledo has learned recently, is a much better team that it was early in the season. Look for the Clippers to push the North Division clubs for the wild-card berth.
MILLION FAN MARCH: In just two seasons Fifth Third Field has hosted nearly one million Mud Hens fans, with that milestone fan set to visit the park tomorrow.
So far this season a total of 426,609 tickets have been sold. That total, along with the 547,204 fans at the park during the regular season last year, combined with the two 10,300 sellout crowds for last year's playoffs, push the Hens' attendance at the new park to 994,413 - roughly 5,600 fans short of the mark.
To honor this milestone the team will select one fan and give them a chance to win one million pennies - or $10,000. If the 100th pitch thrown by a Charlotte hurler is hit for a home run, the fan will win the pennies.
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