Happ rides 'W' streak to Players League playoffs

April 28th, 2020

With 27 players online and a bunch of playoff spots up for grabs, there was plenty of digital-scoreboard watching and scrolling through the standings page on the final full night of the MLB The Show Players League’s regular season.

"It makes you feel like you're playing baseball,” veteran Giants outfielder Hunter Pence said during Monday’s slate of games. “The game's amazing, and there's a connection and a bond that we've built with all the players in this league. It's just really cool to be a part of."

By the time it was over, six players had clinched spots in the eight-team playoffs and the top five seeds were secure. Blake Snell (Rays) will head into Friday’s quarterfinals as the top seed followed by Joey Gallo (Rangers), Bo Bichette (Blue Jays), Jeff McNeil (Mets) and Dwight Smith Jr. (Orioles).

They’ll be joined in the first round of the playoffs by Ian Happ, who managed his Cubs to 10 wins in his final 11 games -- and scored exactly enough runs to give himself the advantage in a potential tiebreaker scenario in his loss to league commissioner Trevor May (Twins).

After that? Tune in to ESPN2 at 10 p.m. ET on Wednesday night to find out. The final three spots are still unsettled, and there are two games left to play. Lucas Giolito (White Sox), Tommy Kahnle (Yankees) and Gavin Lux (Dodgers) are all still in the running.

Happ started off 9-9 then reeled off 10 straight victories, which he celebrated by playing “Go Cubs Go” and flying the “W” flag behind him at all times. He held on to defeat Gallo, 6-5, on Monday night -- “That’s a huge win,” Happ said afterward. “That’s a big upset.” -- then he beat Luke Jackson (Braves), 4-2.

That set up a season-finale matchup with May, who had just been eliminated from playoff contention in a loss to Ty Buttrey (Angels). May emerged with a 3-2 win, but Happ -- with a 19-10 record -- would have the runs-scored tiebreaker edge over Lux (Dodgers), who scored 77 runs during the 29-game regular season.

Buttrey’s win over May was one of several upsets on Monday night that impacted the Players League postseason picture. Kahnle (Yankees) seemed like he could cruise into the postseason, but he lost a pair of one-run games to Buttrey and Cole Tucker (Pirates). Now, Kahnle faces a win-and-in situation in his season finale on Wednesday night.

The ebullient Tucker, meanwhile, was so busy conversing with fans in his Twitch stream chat room that he didn’t even realize he’d beaten Kahnle. If he’d stuck with that strategy throughout the season, Tucker suggested, “I would've won the whole game” rather than finishing 6-22.

Coincidentally enough, former Cubs pitcher Carl Edwards Jr. (Mariners) helped his old team clinch a playoff spot on Monday night. Lux had a chance to secure a bid, but Edwards pulled off a wild rally in the sixth inning -- two bunts, a wild pitch, back-to-back walks to load the bases, a run-scoring walk, a sacrifice fly and another hit -- to beat Lux.

The playoff picture

  1. Blake Snell (Rays) -- 24-5 (clinched top spot)
  2. Joey Gallo (Rangers) -- 23-6 (clinched No. 2 seed)
  3. Bo Bichette (Blue Jays) -- 21-8 (clinched No. 3 seed)
  4. Jeff McNeil (Mets) -- 21-8 (clinched No. 4 seed, will play Smith in quarterfinals)
  5. Dwight Smith Jr. (Orioles) -- 19-10 (clinched No. 5 seed, will play McNeil in quarterfinals)
  6. Ian Happ (Cubs) -- 19-10 (clinched a spot, but seed could be 6-8)
  7. Gavin Lux (Dodgers) -- 19-10
  8. Lucas Giolito (White Sox) -- 18-10

Outside looking in
9) Tommy Kahnle (18-10)

Up next
So, what’s left? The final night of the regular season, with a couple of spots at stake.

After an off-day on Tuesday, the Players League will return at 10 p.m. ET on Wednesday night with two games airing on ESPN2: Giolito (White Sox) vs. Amir Garrett (Reds) followed by Lance McCullers Jr. (Astros) vs. Kahnle (Yankees).

Heading into those games, Happ (19-10, 78 runs) owns the sixth seed with Lux (19-10, 77 runs) in seventh. Those players have completed their regular-season schedules. Giolito (18-10, 96 runs) is in eighth, and Kahnle (18-10, 90 runs) is just outside of the playoff picture in ninth.

Both Giolito and Kahnle have more runs than Happ, so if Giolito beats Garrett, he’s in the playoffs. If Kahnle beats McCullers, he’s in. If they both win, they’re in and Lux is out with Happ bumped down to the eighth seed.

This weekend, the winners of the televised, best-of-three quarterfinals will advance to the best-of-three semifinal round. The Players League’s first season will conclude on Sunday with a best-of-five championship series. Games will be Friday-Sunday on ESPN, ESPN2 and FS1. Times and matchups are TBA.