By JAMES COOK email@example.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Like many people, Monday was a day off for the Traverse City Beach Bums.
“Just relaxing,” Beach Bums manager Gregg Langbehn said Monday.
The calm before the storm.
This morning, the team takes off for suburban Cleveland for a three-game season with Lake Erie to close out the regular season that will go a long way in determining if one or both of the teams will continue playing past Thursday.
Entering the league’s final week, only one playoff spot has been decided. Schaumburg (58-35) has locked up the West Division and is in.
The Beach Bums and Crushers are tied atop the East with identical 54-39 marks. Florence has 52 wins, Gateway 51 and River City 50. That’s five teams fighting for the remaining three spots.
Winning two of three would not only guarantee the Beach Bums a playoff position, but also the East title.
“More important is just getting into the playoffs, first and foremost,” Langbehn said.
And that can be done in a number of ways.
Essentially, the Beach Bums’ magic number is one. A single victory in the three-game series against East co-leader Lake Erie clinches a spot in the post-season. So does a loss by either Florence or River City.
Gateway is three games behind the Bums with three left, but Traverse City owns the tiebreaker against the Grizzlies, so they’re a non-factor as far as TC’s playoff hopes.
Lake Erie is basically in the same place as Traverse City, standings-wise. So, ironically, a split in the series’ first two games would actually make both teams happy — and playoff-bound — and set up a regular-season finale for the East crown.
River City has the tiebreaker on Traverse City for a wild card spot, but has a 3.5-game deficit to make up. The red-hot Rascals have a make-up game with Evansville (a contest which is tied 8-8 in the 9th inning from a rain-suspended May 30 game), making the season’s final three days an important four-game series against the Otters.
“There’s a lot of different scenarios,” Langbehn said, “but I do know if we win one game, we’re going to get in.”
Traverse City’s starters for the Crushers series will be Johnny Omahen (8-9, 3.55), Jake Sabol (10-5, 2.95) and then either Ben Rawding (1-0, 2.14) or Mike Devine (6-2, 3.94) in the finale. Lake Erie — led by former Beach Bums manager Jeff Isom — counters with Alex Kaminsky (7-5, 3.41) and Matt Rein (8-6, 2.39) in the first two games of the series, with no starter announced for the third. Langbehn said he’ll decide the third starter later, after taking into account the success of each against the Crushers, who are one of the league’s teams that isn’t as dominated by left-handed hitters.
There’s a decent chance if neither team sweeps that the Bums and Crushers could turn right around and play each other to open the playoffs, which start Saturday.
“If that goes that way, we’ll really get to know each other for about a week or 10 days straight,” Langbehn joked.
He added that even if the Beach Bums end up having to play the Crushers on the road starting Saturday, they’ll come home for a day in between instead of staying in Avon, Ohio.
“We’ve been fortunate for four consecutive years that every game we played meant something,” Langbehn said. “This organization should be proud of that.”
The only time the Bums didn’t make the playoffs in those previous three seasons was in 2011, when Lake Erie came into Traverse City and overcame a 1.5-game deficit in the final two contests of the year and walked away with a playoff spot of its own.
“That was a gut-wrenching couple of days for us,” Langbehn said. “We had that game-and-a-half lead with two to go and just couldn’t do it. It was an interesting season. There was a lo of turnover on that rosters. It’s funny how we end up playing that same team in similar circumstances. But for those of us that were around for that, yeah, we’ve thought about it and talked about it.”