WILD FINISH SEEMS LIKELY
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WILD FINISH SEEMS LIKELY

The past weekend proved two things:

First, the Garden State Rivalry is alive and well and red hot, as the Jackals took two of three games over the Sussex County Miners, including Sunday’s 7-5 victory, and, at least temporarily, knocked the Miners out of third place and what would be the final spot in the postseason playoffs.

Second – and speaking of the playoffs – this is clearly going to be one of the wildest stretch runs of the Frontier League or any other league as five teams battle it out in a neck-and-neck scramble for that third-place wild-card ticket to the East Division postseason.

Quebec and Ottawa have been running in first and second places, respectively, so let’s leave them out of the equation for the moment. Either one can still be caught, but the race for the No. 3 spot is tantalizing itself for now.

If the season ended today, Tri-City would finish third and travel to Ottawa for a one-game wild-card showdown, with the winner of that game moving on to face first-place Quebec in a best-of-three series for the East Division pennant.

But, with 18 games left in the regular season, Sussex County is only ½ game behind Tri-City; New York is ½ game behind Sussex; Trois-Rivieres is ½ game behind New York and the Jackals are 2½ games behind Trois-Rivieres.

So, it’s five team bunched tightly together and all scheduled to face each other once or twice more during the final three weeks, beginning Tuesday night with the Jackals on the road in Pomona, NY, to start a three-game series with the Boulders.

After that, the local squad returns to Yogi Berra Stadium for a final meeting with the Empire State Greys, a travelling team put together by the league just before the season to round out an eight-team division. At the moment, the last-place Greys are 5-73.

Following the Greys, the Jackals host their final three home games against New York, then finish the season with a difficult road trip to Trois-Rivieres and Quebec before finishing the regular season with three games against the Miners up north at Skylands Stadium.

In fact, New Jersey might have the toughest late-August schedule on the books with six home games and 12 road games coming up. Trois-Rivieres, by contrast, will have 15 home games and just three road games.

The other three teams in the mix all have nine home games and nine road games remaining, but: Tri-City doesn’t have to face Quebec, and finishes the schedule against the Greys; Sussex still has six more games hosting the Greys; and New York has three left with the Greys but doesn’t have to face Quebec or Ottawa down the stretch.

The Jackals clearly have their work cut out for them. Impossible? No, definitely not impossible. Sweeping New York on the road would be a nice start. The two teams have only squared off once back in June, when the Boulder took two games of the three-game series.

JERSEY BATS REMAIN RED HOT

It’s been an incredible year at the plate for the Jackals, with no signs of anything easing up.

Start with Dalton Combs and Josh Rehwaldt, both enjoying dream seasons in the heart of a batting order that leads the Frontier League with a team batting average of .298. The Jackals are No. 2 in the league in runs and RBI and No. 3 in home runs.

Combs is fourth in the league at .352 and fifth in the league with 70 RBI. Rehwaldt cracks the league’s top 10 in three categories, batting .334 with 26 home runs and 71 RBI.

The rest of New Jersey’s lineup has been pounding the ball, as well, including Trevor Abrams (.327), Alfredo Marte (.303), Justin Wylie (.301 with 65 RBI), Santiago Chirino (.289) and Jason Agresti (.282). Unfortunately, Todd Isaacs (.327) is now on the injured list and will miss the rest of the season.

And, despite ranking No. 13 in pitching with a team ERA of 5.96, there have been some definite bright spots on the mound. Jorge Tavarez may have an ERA of 4.95, but he leads the team with 15 starts, a 7-3 record, a team-leading 91 innings and a No. 2 ranking in the league with 112 strikeouts.

Angelo Baez has made a nice transition from the bullpen to a starting role and currently boasts a sterling 2.54 ERA with 65 strikeouts and just 14 walks. Hansel Rodriguez has made a team-leading 28 relief appearance with a 2.12 Era, 52 Ks and 18 walks, and Jose Ramirez has five saves, a 1.21 ERA, 40 Ks and 12 walks. Nothing shabby in those numbers.

By Carl Barbati, former sports editor of the New Jersey Herald, Daily Record and The Daily Trentonian.