SYRACUSE – They played 142 games of baseball that meant something and in the scheme of recent history against the backdrop of this season, that wasn’t an easy feat.
The Buffalo Bisons were in the hunt for the International League wild card spot until the second last day of the regular season, the deepest run since the club was eliminated on the same day in 2007.
Eliminated on Sunday, the Bisons came out and had some fun on Monday in the last game of the season.
The Herd tied a season high with 20 hits, four apiece from Darin Mastroianni and Brett Wallace, in an 8-2 win over the Syracuse Chiefs at NBT Bank Stadium.
“We deserved that right there after battling the way we did for so long,” manager Gary Allenson said. “Too bad it’s not Aug. 32nd instead of Sept. 1. We would have had 20 wins in August.”
While they missed a 20-win August, they had some pretty good numbers. Here’s a look at some of them:
• The Bisons were 19-12 in August, the most wins in a month since they were 23-7 in May 2005.
• They finished the season 11 games over .500 (77-66). It’s the first time they were 10-or-more games over .500 since 2005, the last year Buffalo made the playoffs.
• The Bisons had the best divisional record in the IL North, going 44-36.
• The Herd did it all while managing 238 roster moves and using 73 different players.
The Bisons ran out of time in their chase for a playoff spot. While there are plenty of games available that led to the “if only” analysis, the real hiccup came around the All-Star break when the Herd went on a seven-game losing streak. Dealing with some major roster shuffles, the Bisons fell four games below .500 and 11 games out of the divisional race.
But a seven-game win streak late in July kick-started the comeback as the Bisons welcomed new players, and new pitchers onto the roster. With a full complement of parts and competitive, supportive attitude in the clubhouse, the Bisons made August exciting for the first time in nearly a decade.
“You know, 73 players. 77 wins. That’s a win per player. A little more,” Allenson said. “You try to be realistic as a manager. At one point we were struggling enough where I didn’t think we would get to .500 not alone win 77 games. It just goes to show you they never gave in.”
The crux of Buffalo’s success came on the mound.
The Bisons’ pitching staff finished with a league-leading earned-run average. Buffalo’s 3.52 ERA edged Rochester which finished at 3.53.
After the game, Allenson did not know who the September call-ups to the Blue Jays would be. However, Dalton Pompey, Daniel Norris and Kendall Graveman all tweeted they were called up.
Toronto media members are reporting Ryan Goins, Anthony Gose, George Kottaras and Sean Nolin up along with Dan Johnson and Brandon Morrow who will be activated off the Blue Jays DL.
Norris, the top pitching prospect for the Blue Jays, has a lightning fastball and his location was impressive in most of his five outings. He made four starts for the Bisons, going 3-1, before moving to the bullpen. In his first relief outing Sunday he threw two hitless innings giving up one walk with three strikeouts.
Graveman was the surprise of the bunch, not on anyone’s radar when he started the season in Class-A Lansing. The 23-year-old righty moved up four levels, making it Buffalo on Aug. 1. In six starts he was 3-2 with a 1.88 ERA.
Their performances followed Marcus Stroman, the Herd’s Opening Day pitcher who was recalled by the Jays on May 30 and has been with the big club ever since.
Next up was Aaron Sanchez who started the season in Double-A New Hampshire and came to the Bisons on June 12. He stayed little more than a month, getting the call to Toronto on July 22 where he’s made 14 relief appearances going 2-1 with a 1.66 ERA.
“It’s weird. You had Sanchez and Stroman at the beginning and then you’ve got guys like Norris and Graveman at the end and they’ve all done a great job,” veteran Bisons catcher Mike Nickeas said. “You look at the young arms that have come through and some of the veteran arms we’ve had around to anchor the staff. It’s been a wonderful pitching staff all year. It’s been a pleasure to catch.”
Backing up the quality pitching staff was the best Bisons’ defense in the modern era. The team committed just 84 errors this season, the first time they’ve ever been under 100 for a season. The previous club record was 102 last year.
The defense was bolstered up the middle by the play of Goins and Jonathan Diaz as they swung between second and shortstop for the majority of the season. The duo had chemistry turning double plays and made individual grabs that backed up a trusting pitching staff.
Offensively the Bisons rode the wave of the baseball season and broke out in August. The team drove in 132 runs in the final month with four double-digit run games. They benefited from the power of Kevin Pillar before he was plucked back by the Blue Jays last week. Pillar’s 39 doubles led the IL. In 100 games for the Herd he drove in 59 runs and batted .323.
Late season additions of Cole Gillespie (claimed off waivers from Seattle July 5) and Matt Hague (claimed off waivers from Pittsburgh Aug. 18) added pop at the plate for the Herd.
Then there players like Pompey who came through the system. Pompey started the season in Class-A Dunedin and made his Triple-A debut on Aug. 21. With two doubles on Monday, he ends the season on a five-game hitting streak, having hit safely in 10 of his 12 games with Buffalo. He finished with a .358 batting average here, and had an overall .317 batting average for his three minor-league teams in 2014. He spent all of 2013 playing Class-A ball.
“I just wanted to try and gain as much experience as I could,” Pompey said. “Seeing all these guys who are a lot more experienced than me, I just try to pick their brain and get whatever sort of advice that I can out of them. Just coming out here, playing every day, treating it the same as if I was in high-A which I was earlier this year. It’s the same game. Just go out and do my thing. That’s all I can control.”
The IL playoffs begin Wednesday with the best-of-five semifinals.
Syracuse (North Division) will play the first two games at Pawtucket (wild card) with the next three in Syracuse. The Durham Bulls (South Division) will open at the Columbus Clippers (West Division). The best-of-five finals will run Sept. 9-13 with the Triple-A National Championship gane to be played Sept. 16 in Charlotte.
The Bisons next game will be Opening Day, April 9 against Rochester at Coca-Cola Field.