Playoffs finalized as Vancouver wins tiebreaker

A four-run sixth inning propelled the visting Vancouver Wildcats to a 7-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Cobras in the North League wildcard tiebreaker, finalizing the 2019 PGBL playoff picture.

Oakland and London enter the postseason as each league’s top seed. The Athletes will face St. Louis in the SLDS, while the Arsenal open the NLDS against Vancouver. The other first-round matchups pit division rivals against each other: Chicago and Boston in the North, and Dublin and Louisville in the South.

The first-round South League pairings are a rematch from last season, when Louisville and Oakland advanced to the SLCS and the Long Rifles won the pennant in a six-game series. Chicago and Vancouver are the only North teams returning from last season’s playoffs after both teams lost in the Division Series a year ago.

The Cardinals, seeking a league-record seventh championship, extended their streak of making the playoffs to 15 seasons. With the tiebreaker win, the Wildcats earned their third straight NL wildcard after suffering first-round losses to the Roughnecks in each of the past two years.

The Long Rifles franchise is also seeking its seventh title, but its first since Charlotte won in 1999. Dublin, SL champion two years ago, is seeking the franchise’s third title overall but first since 2008 as Key West.

Oakland, making its fourth playoff appearance in five seasons, is seeking its first title after winning pennants in 2016 and 2010, the latter as Taiwan. St. Louis won the crown in 2015 and has qualified for the postseason 12 times in the past 15 seasons.

London, which won consecutive World Series as Toronto in 2000-01, is in the playoffs for just the second time as the Arsenal (2012). Its matchup with Vancouver is the first postseason meeting between the Maple Leaf rivals.

Chicago and Boston met in the first round in 2017, a four-game win by the Cardinals on their way to the championship. The Braves and Wildcats have never won the title but have one pennant apiece: Boston in 2004 and Vancouver (as the Calgary Flames) in 1991. However, current Wildcats management has never reached the World Series.

Vancouver ace Chris Sale allowed two earned runs and struck out seven over six innings to earn the tiebreaker victory. Trade deadline acquisition Gregory Polanco broke a 2-2 tie with an RBI double off Nick Pivetta and Vancouver added RBI singles by Didi Gregorius and Jean Segura, with a fourth run scoring on an error.

Pittsburgh led 2-1 after three innings on a homer by Justin Upton and an RBI single by Manny Machado, although Nick Markakis was thrown out trying to score a second run on Machado’s hit. Vancouver tied it in the top of the fourth on a homer by Gregorius that chased Cobras starter Zach Eflin.

Shane Carle faced the minimum nine batters in a three-inning save, allowing just a leadoff single to Machado in the ninth before Ronald Acuna Jr. popped out and Anthony Rendon grounded into a game-ending double play.

With the regular season officially over, the first 12 picks of the draft are set with defending champion Calgary claiming the first position in each round (although Memphis owns the Roughnecks’ first overall selection).