The Oklahoma City RedHawks have been the hottest team in the Pacific Coast League since the All-Star break. The RedHawks hope to ride that momentum to a PCL title.
Closing out the regular season with their 10th walk-off win of the season Monday afternoon at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, the RedHawks open a first-round, best-of-5 series by hosting Games 1 and 2 against Omaha on Wednesday night and Thursday night.
OKC trailed Albuquerque by 41/2 games at the All-Star break. Bolstered by a 21-4 home record since the break, the RedHawks clinched the division title with nearly a week left in the regular season.
“Everyone is excited,” said OKC third baseman Brandon Laird. “We've had a really good year. Everyone in the lineup has contributed, one through nine. Our pitching has been great. We just have to keep it going.”
This is the seventh time in 10 seasons as a Triple-A manager that Tony DeFrancesco has taken a team to the playoffs. Six times he won division titles with Sacramento, Oakland's Triple-A affiliate.
DeFrancesco's Sacramento teams won PCL titles in 2003, 2004 and 2007 and reached the finals in 2009.
“Playoff games are a different atmosphere,” DeFrancesco said. “Everyone knows there's a little more on the line. This is what you play for.”
Asher Wojciechowski, a 24-year-old right-hander out of the Citadel and a first-round pick in 2010, will start Game 1 for the RedHawks.
Wojciechowski, who has split time between Double-A and Triple-A, has an 11-8 record with a 3.32 ERA this season. He's 9-7 with a 3.56 ERA in 21 starts in Oklahoma City.
“It's always great experience to play in high-pressure games,” Wojciechowski said. “We're excited. For any pitcher, it comes down to mixing your pitches, have good command and hit your spots.”
Center fielder George Springer, a candidate for Minor League Player of the Year, won a championship ring in his first full season a year ago with Lancaster in Class A. He's hoping to make it two rings in two seasons.
“Even though there's more on the line, the key is to relax and have fun,” Springer said. “This has been a great team to play on. This is the playoffs. This is when you can really make it count.”
The winner of the RedHawks-Storm Chasers series will meet the winner of the Salt Lake City-Las Vegas series in the PCL finals, another best-of-5 series that will start next Tuesday night in either Oklahoma City or Omaha.
“This been a lot of fun to be part of something like this,” said first baseman Jon Singleton, who was mobbed by teammates after supplying a walk-off, game-winning RBI double in a 2-1 win Monday afternoon. “As long as we continue to play good baseball we can do very well in the playoffs.”
OKC has won despite going through constant changes. Of the Astros' 25 current players, 16 played with the RedHawks this season.
The RedHawks have some veterans. Utility man Jimmy Paredes, Jose Martinez, Laird and several pitchers have played in the majors.
“We have two terrific young players in Springer and Singleton, and Jose Martinez is hot right now,” DeFrancesco said. “We have our No. 1 guy, Wojo, going in Game 1. Our bullpen will be fresh. We just have to go out and play good baseball.”