Heading into the playoffs, the Myrtle Beach Pelicans are confident – even with their first-round series being entirely on the road.
The Pelicans, who lost nine of their final 10 games away from home, head to Winston-Salem on Wednesday to begin a best-of-three series in the Mills Cup playoffs against the Dash.
All three games – if necessary – will be played in Winston-Salem because the Dash topped the Carolina League Southern Division in both halves of the season.
However, the Pelicans like their chances despite their recent road woes.
“I think the recent struggles – if I was to give it a reason – was a result of us clinching a playoff spot,” Myrtle Beach pitching coach Brad Holman said. “We had unfortunately clinched that spot in the road trip and to get these guys to play spirited baseball the rest of the way was a challenge.
“It’s just a matter of the environment changing and they’re young, but that’s the way they do it – they rise and play according to the situation. These guys are an emotional bunch so hopefully they’ll catch hold and get that emotion going strong in the playoffs.”
The Pelicans (74-65 overall) finished third in the first half (36-34) and second in the second half (38-31), which earned them the playoff berth. Winston-Salem (87-51) won the first half (44-25) by three games and the second half (43-26) by five games.
Myrtle Beach was 9-11 against the Dash overall and earned a split in 10 contests at Winston-Salem.
“We’re pretty confident going into Winston-Salem,” Pelicans hitting coach Julio Garcia said. “We’ve played there pretty good all year. I think the pitching is pretty good and that’s going to be the key. We’ve been getting two-out hits lately and I think that is going to carry over into the playoffs.”
The Pelicans are well aware that it will be tough to win two games at BB&T Ballpark in a playoff atmosphere.
“I think anywhere you play on the road is going to be a hostile environment,” Myrtle Beach catcher Vinny DiFazio said, “but that doesn’t really matter. I think this team has unity and the chemistry we have will help us perform so we’re going to take it to them.”
Myrtle Beach led the Carolina League with a 3.28 ERA this season. However, Pelicans manager Jason Wood expects his team’s hitting to be a key as it goes up against the top-hitting team in the league. Winston-Salem finished with a .278 team batting average, while the Pelicans finished second-to-last in the league at .247.
“We have to get runners on base and those runners need to score, it’s as simple as that,” Wood said. “Our pitching has been pretty much where we want it so far, but we need to do well in those situations where we have runners in scoring position.”
Reliever Jimmy Reyes believes there will be plenty of scoring opportunities for both teams. “It’s a hitter’s park, but it’s a hitter’s park for both teams,” he said. “We’ve had struggles on the road in the past but it’s the playoffs now. Everyone is going to be recharged and amped up so I don’t think it will matter too much.”
According to Garcia, the approach is simple. “We just need to execute,” he said. “When we get pitches to hit we need to make sure to put them in play and put them in play hard. We’ll have situations to get runners in and we have to make sure to find a way to do it. To this point, I think we’ve been doing pretty good so we’re going in with the same plan and the same approach so I hope it will be enough.”
As for the recent road struggles? The Pelicans start with a clean slate Wednesday.
“Those struggles are behind us and I look forward to starting a new season 0-0,” base coach Kenny Holmberg said. “Winston-Salem is 0-0, so their best record in the league is out the window. We have to win one game and win another one. It doesn’t matter if we’re at home or on the road – we have to play good baseball.”
And if the Pelicans do, they could get one step closer to hoisting the Mills Cup
“I have all the confidence in the world in these guys and I think they can get it done,” Wood said. “It would mean a lot; it doesn’t matter what level you’re at, your goal is to always win the championship and I’m hoping we can pull it off.”
Contact MAX McKINNON at 444-1767.