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Bulls may settle for wild card

By MIKE READLING

© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 15, 2001


Since joining the International League in 1998, Bill Evers and his Durham Bulls never have failed to make the playoffs. They never finished short of first in the Southern Division.

That's one streak that will end this season. With Norfolk running away with the division title, the Bulls are left to fight for the scraps of the wild-card spot.

Chief among their concerns are the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons and, to a lesser degree, the Syracuse Chiefs.

Entering Tuesday night's games (Durham was scheduled for a doubleheader against Columbus) the Red Barons had a five-game lead on the Bulls for that wild-card spot, and Durham led Syracuse by one. Durham had cut the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre lead to two after Aug. 8, but its three-game losing streak has pushed it back in the pack.

There is good news for the Bulls, however.

Twelve of their next 14 will be played at home, and of the remaining 22, two (Norfolk on Aug. 30-31) are against a winning team on the road. The Red Barons are on the road for 14 of their final 23, including five against North Division leader Buffalo.

Whoever earns the wild card will play the Bisons in the first round, with Buffalo holding homefield advantage in the best-of-five series. However, in the format adopted by the league, if Durham were to make the final the Bulls would host the final three games of the best-of-five series against either Norfolk or Louisville.

Durham wasn't even thinking about wild-card races until a hot streak after the All-Star break. The Bulls went 19-14 to get in position for a postseason berth.

HURTIN' HITTER: Bakersfield's Matt Diaz has not played since Friday and has not recorded a hit since Aug. 7 Tuesday, leaving him with a minor league-leading 157 hits, equal to the total for his first two pro seasons. Diaz left Friday night's game with a sore left wrist and has not played since, although he is expected back in the lineup any day.

EVERS TO SECOND: Durham's win Aug. 8 gave Evers his 304th as the Bulls manager, moving him past Clarence "Ace" Parker and into second on the all-time victory list. Evers, at 306 wins, trails George "Peanut" Whitted, who won 317.

STRIKING IT UP: Charleston's 14 strikeouts at the hands of two Savannah pitchers Sunday lengthened its dubious lead in that category over the rest of minor-league baseball. RiverDogs batters had struck out 1,123 times through Monday. High Desert of the California League and the Midwest League's Dayton Dragons were tied for second with 1,082.

HEATING IT UP: Princeton's Toe Nash hit his fifth home run of the season Sunday, a grand slam against Burlington, and finished 3-for-4 with a run scored and an RBI Monday night. Nash has improved his average to .263 with eight doubles and 17 RBI.

SOMETHING BREWING: Over the past week Jace Brewer, the Rays fifth-round pick in 2000, is 10-for-24, including a home run, six runs and four RBI. For the month he is batting .367.

E-GON ON TOP: Hudson Valley Renegades designated hitter/shortstop Edgar Gonzalez (30th round in 2000) is leading the New York-Penn League in hits, doubles and extra-base hits and is second with a .347 average and 38 runs.

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