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Yankees’ minor league affiliates battle for playoff spots

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The Yankees top six minor league affiliates are all in contention heading into the last full week of minor league action.

Sea Dogs vs. Trenton Thunder AA baseball Photo by John Ewing/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

The minor league season is winding down, and the top six Yankees affiliates are in various stages of playoff contention. Two teams have already clinched playoff berths, while the other four clubs either lead their division or are within four games of a playoff spot. These teams all are looking to extend their seasons into September.

Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders (70-60, 1.5 game lead in division)

Yankees fans have been amazed as time after time players have arrived at the major league level and produced for the big league club. What has been equally impressive is that with all the players being pulled up to the major league roster, Scranton has led the International League’s North division for most of the season.

The RailRiders will get a boost this week as Luke Voit plays a series of rehab games with the team, and when he is promoted, the International League leader in OPS Mike Ford should return for the final week of games. Nick Nelson and Brian Keller have helped stabilize a rotation that has been shorthanded at times with the number of roster moves required to keep fresh arms in the major league bullpen.

Scranton’s final week of play consists of a series on the road with the bottom two teams in their division—Lehigh Valley (Phillies) and Pawtucket (Red Sox)—before finishing at home with Toronto’s Triple-A affiliate. While there is a Wild Card in the International League, it is likely to be the Charlotte Knights from the south division.

Double-A Trenton Thunder (Clinched playoff spot by winning the first half)

Trenton won the first half of the season, and they will have a home playoff game on Friday, September 6 with more home games to follow that weekend if necessary. The recent arrival of Clarke Schmidt, alongside a dominating month by James Reeves out of the bullpen, has helped offset a starting rotation that has lost depth due to promotions and injuries. The offense is led by Chris Gittens, who has 22 home runs on the season and paces the Eastern League with a .901 OPS.

High-A Tampa Tarpons (32-30, 1.5 games back for second-half title)

Despite having a 60-68 record on the season, the Tampa Tarpons have put themselves in position to take advantage of the Florida State League’s split schedule playoff format. After finishing 13.5 games out of first place in the first half, Tampa has played itself into contention for a second-half playoff bid.

The current division leader Dunedin Blue Jays also won the first half title, but unfortunately for Tampa, the second-half playoff spot goes to the second-best overall record in their division if Dunedin holds on to win again. Tampa would have to make up significant ground for this to happen.

The Tarpon’s pitching staff has been led by breakout performer Miguel Yajure this season, and bolstered of late by the return of Glenn Otto from the IL. The promotions of Luis Media and Alexander Vizcaino from Charleston help as well. A three-game sweep of the Florida Fire Frogs this week kicked off a stretch where Tampa has 15 games in 13 days to end the season.

Low-A Charleston RiverDogs (30-30, four games back of second-half title)

The RiverDogs missed winning the first-half title by half a game, and currently have the most work to do of the Yankees’ minor league affiliates. They have a four game series with the first place Asheville Tourists starting on Monday.

Canaan Smith continues to elicit praise from scouts and observers of the South Atlantic League, and the return of Josh Breaux from the IL has provided an additional offensive boost. The pitching staff continues to be effective despite many of its best performers being promoted to Tampa over the last month. Roansy Contreras has a 1.08 ERA in four August starts, and is the linchpin of the starting staff.

Short-Season Staten Island Yankees (35-30, 2.5 games back of division, two games behind Wild Card)

Staten Island has won six of their last eight games to close in on the division lead. Despite being only two games out in the division, they currently sit in last place amongst the tightly packed N.Y.-Penn League’s McNamara division.

The team has ridden the strong middle infield duo of Josh Smith (1.088 OPS) and Ezequiel Duran (13 home runs) over the last month. The good news is that should Staten Island fail to win their division title, the Wild Card will likely come from the McNamara division. The last six games of the season come against teams in their division giving Staten Island a chance to control their destiny.

Rookie Advanced Pulaski Yankees (40-23, clinched a playoff spot)

Pulaski is 40-23 on the season, and has already clinched a playoff berth. They have a three game lead in the division with five to play. Paced by Chad Bell’s team leading nine home runs, Pulaski leads the Appalachian League in home runs. Reid Anderson sports a 6-1 record, leading the staff that is second in the league in ERA and strikeouts.

The Yankees have their top six minor league affiliates in the thick of playoff races late into the season. Not only will playoff atmosphere and games that matter benefit the young players rising through the ranks, but extending the season for these affiliates also means more opportunities for the players returning from rehab will see game action on their way back to the majors. Luis Severino, Dellin Betances, and Giancarlo Stanton are a few players who may benefit from the opportunity to get in game reps on their way to the majors.