The Buffalo Bisons have already passed the tragic number eliminating them from the playoffs for the 11th straight season. The Herd was last seen in the postseason in 2005 when they won the International League North Division and lost in the semifinals to the Indianapolis Indians.
Ah, but there’s some lemonade to be made out of the sourness of another season of missing the playoffs. With five home games left at Coca-Cola Field, here are five things to watch with the Bisons:
1. September call-ups. Several members of the Herd will be playing for the call from the Toronto Blue Jays when the rosters expand on Sept. 1. Players need to be on the 40-man roster in order to move up, so that would discount catchers A.J. Jimenez and Erik Kratz, pending a roster move to free up a spot. That seems less likely now that the Blue Jays traded for their former catcher Dioner Navarro last week.
Arms are always a priority when it comes to a late-season push and playoffs. Right-handed reliever Ryan Tepera has been up with the Blue Jays six different times this season, where he is a combined 0-1 with a 2.89 ERA in nine games (9∑ innings, nine hits, five walks, seven strikeouts). Left-handed reliever Chad Girodo made his Major League debut on April 22 and earned three promotions to pitch in 14 games with the Jays. Righty Danny Barnes also made his MLB debut this year with a promotion on Aug. 2. Barnes, who started the year in Double-A New Hampshire, has allowed just one hit to left-handed hitters (1-for-41) at Triple-A.
Mike Bolsinger is also on the 40-man. The righty has been a starter for the Herd since the Blue Jays acquired him at the trade deadline, which might be a reason for Toronto to bring him up for some time in the bullpen. But Bolsinger is 1-3 with an 8.22 ERA in his four starts with the Bisons and is scheduled to pitch for the Herd Sunday afternoon.
Positional players in the September call-up mix include Ryan Goins, who spent the majority of the season with Toronto, then got everyday playing time in Buffalo when he came off the disabled list Aug. 1 after rehabbing a forearm strain. Andy Burns, who is listed as an infielder but can pretty much play any position outside the battery, has been promoted three times this season, but never got a start. Third baseman Matt Dominguez was recalled to Toronto twice and went 0 for 11 in five games.
Outfielder Darrell Ceciliani, who had two stints with the Jays, hit .313 in 26 games in July with the Bisons, driving in 17 runs with six doubles and six home runs that month. And yes, Dalton Pompey should make his Blue Jays debut this year. The outfielder has yet to see time with the big club in 2016 largely due to injuries, including a pair of foot injuries and a concussion.
Chris Colabello, who came to the Bisons first on an MLB rehab assignment after serving his 80-game suspension for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs then was outrighted to the team on July 25, could be recalled to finish up the regular season. But Colabello is ineligible for the playoffs this season under the rules of the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program.
2. Hot hitters. Jesus Montero may not be in the call-up mix, but he is in the mix for the International League batting title. Montero entered Saturday’s game hitting .318 – 10 points behind league leader Hernan Iribarren of Louisville. He dropped to .316 after going 0 for 3 in Saturday’s loss. Montero ranks second in the IL in hits with 146 and has hit .373 (28 for 75) in 19 games in August.
Ceciliani extended his hitting streak to nine games Saturday and is batting .333 (12 for 36) since Aug. 7.
“I’ve just been trying to slow things down,” Ceciliani said of his approach at the plate. “Stay short and simple at the plate. Swing at good pitches and just stay to the big part of the field – left center, right center – and try to hit balls hard back up the middle.”
3. Fun stats. Well, maybe they’re not all “fun” for the Bisons. Like the stat in which they lead all of affiliated baseball with the number of double plays they’ve hit into (149 after Saturday’s game). They also have not been very productive at late-game comebacks. They are just 1-for-53 when trailing after eight innings. But there are some fun stats in the mix. The Herd is trying for a winning season at Coca-Cola Field. After Saturday’s game, they stood at 33-34. Their last winning season at home was 2013 when they went 39-33 downtown.
4. The opponents. Lehigh Valley, in town through Monday, is looking to secure the IL Wild Card berth. The IronPigs entered Saturday 3ø games ahead of Rochester. Lehigh Valley features the No. 1 prospect in the Philadelphia Phillies organization in shortstop J.P. Crawford. At 21, he became the youngest IronPig in the team’s history, making his Triple-A debut in May. He is batting .255 with 28 RBIs.
Outfielder Nick Williams was the No. 2 prospect ranked by Baseball America in the preseason. He went 53 straight games without going hitless in back-to-back contests from June 2-July 30. He ranks second in the IL in runs (73), tied for second in extra-base hits (49) and fifth in total bases (203).
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre comes to Buffalo for three games on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. The New York Yankees affiliate leads the IL North Division with the best record (83-50) in the league. The organization’s top prospect, outfielder Clint Frazier, is with the RailRiders. Frazier was the centerpiece that the Cleveland Indians gave up when they traded with the Yankees for Andrew Miller. Frazier is hitting .226 in his first 23 games with Scranton. Also watch for outfielder Ben Gamel, the Yankees No. 24 prospect. Gamel is batting .310, just behind teammate Donovan Solano.
5. Promotions. The Bisons polish off the homestand with several giveaways and discounts. Sunday (1:05 p.m.) is Back to School Day with a pocket folder giveaway to the first 3,000 fans. Monday (7:05 p.m.) is the last Markdown Monday of the season, featuring $8 tickets if purchased in advance and $1 ice cream and popcorn. Tuesday (7:05 p.m.) will feature post-game pyrotechnics. Wednesday (7:05 p.m.) is Fantasy Baseball Night, where fans can download an app to win prizes during the game. Thursday (6:05 p.m.) caps off the home season with Fan Appreciation Night, with giveaways every half-inning and post-game fireworks.