The Columbus Clippers are in the postseason once again after defeating the Indianapolis Indians on Wednesday afternoon. The first team to clinch their division in the International League this year, the Clippers now look to win their fourth championship since 2010.
We’ve gone over the top producers as well as some of the under-the-radar players. Let’s take a look at the team as a whole, how they got to this position, and their chances to repeat as Governors’ Cup Champions.
Examining the league stats, it appears the Clippers are an offense-first team. They rank second in the International League in runs scored averaging nearly 4.5 runs per game. They also rank second in batting average while leading the league in homeruns with 120 on the year. On the pitching side it’s a different story. They’re seventh of 14 teams in ERA, eighth in strikeouts and fourth in walks (not the good fourth…fourth most). These numbers paint a picture of a potent offensive club that will allow opponents to score some runs, but will outscore the opposition more often than not.
And by more often than not: 24 games over .500 the Clippers currently stand as they have the second-best record in the International League. You don’t experience that much success by accident. The Cleveland Indians are having a great season but have generally struggled to find continued success over the last several years. During that time the team was able to work deals and slowly build depth in the organization, which has contributed to the Clippers’ winning ways recently. As John Sickels writes on Minor League Ball, the Indians organization arguably ranks as a top-ten system based on talent and depth, and could rank as high as top five next year. That train of talent runs right through Huntington Park, so the success the Indians front office has acquiring young talent will always flow through Columbus. It’s no coincidence that before 2010 the last championship won by the Clippers was in 1996 and they’ve won three since: The partnership between the Columbus Clippers and Cleveland Indians began in 2009.
Now let’s take a quick look at the competition. There’s one team with a better record than the Columbus Clippers in the International League, and that’s the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders. They’re the Triple-A affiliate of the New York Yankees, who were the beneficiary of the addition of a significant amount of minor league talent at the MLB trade deadline, including from the Cleveland Indians. Luckily for the Clippers, much of that talent (with the exception of former Indians farmhands Clint Frazier and Ben Heller) has not yet made it up to the AAA level, and the best players who did play in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre are now playing in the Bronx. For that reason, I’ll exclude them from contention.
*I realize that’s no reason to completely exclude a team from championship consideration but too bad.
The other teams likely to compete for the Governors’ Cup are the Leihigh Valley IronPigs and either the Charlotte Knights or Gwinnett Braves. The Knights and Braves are locked in a battle for first place in the International League South Division (actually all four teams in the division are only separated by three games), but the Knights, who currently lead the division by a half game, are 13 games under .500. This is just a bad division. So I’m eliminating them from contention as well.
That leaves the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, the AAA affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies, as the remaining competition for the Clippers. Like the Clippers, the IronPigs are 24 games over .500 and having one heck of a season. They’re a little more of a balanced team as they pitch better than Columbus yet don’t hit quite as well. According to my records, the IronPigs have never won the International League championship before (new to the league in 2008). They got as far as the Governors’ Cup Finals in 2010 before being defeated by, you guessed it, the Columbus Clippers.
The Clippers have been in this position before. They have the talent to go all the way. Ohio has been rich in championships recently. There’s excitement within the organization up the road in Cleveland. The Clip Show is going all the way this year. Our Hometown Heroes will have fans ringing their bell all the way home as they bring another Governors’ Cup to the 614.