BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Hope springs on baseball’s Opening Day. The Bisons seek to tap that reservoir again for the first homestand of summer.
As part of a new playoff format instituted in Triple-A, the International League standings have been reset for the second half of the season. The team with the best record over the final 75 games will advance to Norfolk, the team with the best record from the season’s first half, hosting a best-of-three series for a spot in the Triple-A World Series playoff against the Pacific Coast League champion in Las Vegas.
“It’s an opportunity to start anew,” said manager Casey Candaele, whose club was 14.5 games behind Norfolk in the first half with a 34-41 record. “It definitely gives you a feeling of having a whole new season to re-do where we were at to end the first half.”
As was the case in April, however, Opening Day 2.0 at Sahlen Field was delayed. The Bisons begin their six-game series with a doubleheader Thursday night after the previous day’s game was postponed because a mechanical error in the sprinkler system made the infield unplayable. The original season opener was postponed three times because a torn tarp could not protect the field from heavy rain in early spring.
“Everybody has high hopes,” Candaele said. “It’s like at the start of the season.”
Although every Triple-A player is striving to get called up to the majors before the minor league playoffs start in September, chasing a championship at this level is still important, Bisons outfielder Rafael Lantigua said.
“Everybody has their goal to get to the big leagues, but to get there you need to help your team compete and win,” Lantigua said. “That’s what they are looking for in the big leagues. Winning is the main goal of baseball, and that’s the mentality most players have.”
The reason for the revised playoff format is the amount of roster turnover Triple-A teams often have over the course of the season. The teams that win the most games early on are not always competitive in the later months. That also means the standings from the first half might not predict how the race for the second half pennant will play out.
“At the major league level, after the All-Star break, things change a lot,” Candaele said. “It’s notoriously a time when some teams make big moves, and some teams fold. Anything can happen and there’s no way to know how that will play out at our level.”
The Bisons should have stronger crowd support at home in the second half of the season, due to warmer weather and children being out of school. This current homestand also includes promotions that boost attendance, including Monday night’s Independence Eve game on Monday night which annually approaches a sellout.
“We always love playing in Buffalo, especially when the weather is nice and there are more people here,” Lantigua said. “We have really high expectations for the second half of the season. We think we can compete and go on to Las Vegas.”
Jonah Bronstein joined the WIVB squad in 2022 as a digital sports reporter. The Buffalonian has covered the Bills, Sabres, Bandits, Bisons, colleges, high schools and other notable sporting events in Western New York since 2005, for publications including The Associated Press, The Buffalo News, and Niagara Gazette. Read more of his work here.