Sure, the Harrisburg Senators and Bowie Baysox would both like to make the playoffs in the Class AA Eastern League. If the standings hold until Labor Day, the Nationals and Orioles farm teams would even meet each other in the division championship series. Neither manager, though, seems all that concerned.
Four teams will start play Thursday within five games of first place in the Eastern League’s Western Division. Harrisburg (59-46) is 1 1/2 games up on Bowie and Giants-affiliated Richmond, and it has a five-game lead on Indians-affiliated Akron. The top two teams from each division make the playoffs, and unlike the other two Class AA leagues, the EL does not split its season into halves.
“This sounds like a crazy thing,” Bowie Manager Gary Kendall said after his team lost two of three to Harrisburg this week. “You want to win every game and certainly you want to get to the playoffs, but if we play great baseball and fall a game and a half or a half-game out of the wild card in third place, I’d be tickled do death.”
Nationals phenom Bryce Harper had never played so close to D.C. during his first professional season. His appearances were well-advertised on the Baysox Web site, despite the team’s tie-in with the Orioles. Large weeknight crowds of 6,375 and 7,268 watched the first two games at Prince George’s Stadium before an above-average camp day audience of 3,763 watched Wednesday’s finale.
More grown-ups than usual, many of whom wore red, were at the 11 a.m. game in which the 18-year-old Harper hit his first Class AA home run and raised his average to .250 with a 3-for-4 performance in a 6-3 win.
The left-handed hitting Harper’s shot to right field came off Mike Ballard, a left-hander from the University of Virginia who entered Wednesday with a 6-0 record and 2.90 ERA in Class AA this season.
Harper “probably would’ve had a couple home runs already in another ballpark — our center field plays really, really big — but it was good to see him hit one today,” Harrisburg Manager Tony Beasley said after the game.
To Beasley, helping players advance is what matters most, no matter what time of the season it is.
“We’ve been in first place for quite some time now,” Beasley said. ”We’re not really concerned about the playoffs at this point. We just want our kids to play good baseball. If winning is a byproduct of that, so be it. What’s most important is that guys get together, guys develop and get to the next level.”
Even if the Senators and Baysox don’t meet in the postseason, there’s an even better chance of a Nats-Orioles matchup in the high-Class A Carolina. Frederick won the first-half title in the Northern Division, where Potomac is comfortably in second place this half — eight games of the two teams tied for third. The Keys are in first again, which would line them up to play the second-place team from the second half.