By: Nick Roark
Tennessee Smokies manager Buddy Bailey and his team have heard the chatter. With one eye on the Jackson Generals and the other on potential playoff opponent Mobile, the Smokies know their ticket to the postseason is nearly punched. The only thing standing in the way is their magic number: three.
Any combination of Tennessee wins and Jackson losses totaling three will seal the Smokies’ place as second-half Southern League North Division champions with a chance at earning their first outright Southern League title since 1978.
“I look at it one day at a time,” Bailey said of his club’s impending postseason berth. “You look at all of (your opponents) really cause anything crazy can happen. I just hope that we keep playing at the level we have.”
The Smokies have played well as of late, winning their last three series and going 11-4 in 15 games since Eric Jokisch no-hit the Jacksonville Suns. With Tennessee likely to clinch their playoff spot either Saturday or Sunday, Bailey hopes to get his players some rest in time for a title push.
“Hopefully we get in but whenever it is and then have a luxury to rest a guy a day or two. But at the same time hopefully we win and we’re sharp for the playoffs,” Bailey said.
The Southern League’s North Division first-place team is fresh off a five-game set in Birmingham, where the team won three-out-of-five while Jackson dropped five straight games to the BayBears as part of a stretch that saw the two teams play doubleheaders on three consecutive days.
Bailey commended his pitching staff for being able to keep Tennessee in ballgames while at Regions Field, a place the 53-year-old skipper characterized as “a tough place to score runs.”
“The wind kind of blows in, the ball doesn’t carry,” Bailey said of the newly built park. “You’ve got to really backspin it to beat somebody to a gap or get it out of here.”
The starting rotation took advantage of the ballpark by delivering quality starts in three of the five games with both Nick Struck and Matt Loosen falling one out short of claiming their own quality start.
With a scheduled off day before the team travels to Chattanooga for their final regular season series, Bailey hopes to realign his rotation for an opening round matchup against Birmingham.
“Hopefully we have [the second-half championship] by then and we can set it up where it fits us the best,” Bailey said.
Although the third-year Smokies’ manager did not offer insight to how he would set his rotation, left-hander Eric Jokisch would be a likely candidate to get nod in Tennessee’s opening postseason affair with Dae-Eun Rhee going second. Struck, Loosen and Eduardo Figueroa would compete for the final rotation spots.
While Tennessee might possibly be celebrating their second-half title Saturday night by spraying champagne blaring loud music, Bailey hopes his team can continue its steamroll throughout the remainder of the regular season.
“If we can go with the momentum that we have right now and finish up solid the rest of this second half, I think we’ll be a contender in the playoffs.”
To stay current with all the latest news, follow Smokies on Radio on Twitter and like the Smokies on Radio Facebook page. Nick Roark is the Senior Beat Writer for the Smokies Radio Network. You can follow him on Twitter here: NickRoark4.