2023 Quebec Capitales vs New Jersey Jackals

Frontier League Wild Card Playoffs: New Jersey, Evansville Win Showdowns

Frontier League Wild Card Playoffs: New Jersey, Evansville Win Showdowns

After a 96-game, summerlong grind, seasons came down to Game 97 for a quartet of Frontier League teams Tuesday in the Wild Card round of the 2023 playoffs.

Sep 7, 2023 by Briar Napier
Frontier League Wild Card Playoffs: New Jersey, Evansville Win Showdowns

After a 96-game, summerlong grind, seasons came down to Game 97 for a quartet of Frontier League teams on Tuesday.

Only two involved can say that their 2023 campaigns are still going.

The Frontier League kicked off its postseason with the one-game Wild Card round between the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds in the East and West Divisions for the right to play each division’s top seed in the Divisional Series later this week. And did they deliver.

In the East, a prolific pitching performance with the season on the line sent the winners through. 

In the West, a back-and-forth brawl saw every out and every batter matter – but just one team could say it survived.

Tuesday merely was the start of the Frontier League Playoffs. Stick around in the coming weeks for the main course. You can catch all the action on FloBaseball.

Here’s a look at Tuesday’s wild, wild Wild Card games, won by the New Jersey Jackals and Evansville Otters in the East and West Divisions, respectively.

East Division: Tavarez’s Complete-Game Gem Sends Jackals Through

Take a bow, Jorge Tavarez. 

New Jersey’s postseason debut in the Frontier League was a special moment for the club, and it got a special performance by its starting pitcher. 

The 28-year-old right-hander from the Dominican Republic got the call to take the mound for the Jackals during the game to decide their season, and he decided to stay there for all nine innings. 

Tavarez tossed a clutch complete-game three-hitter, striking out 10 Miners, as he held Sussex County’s bats at bay. The New Jersey offense – the most productive in the Frontier League during the regular season – got to work in the meantime, surging to a 5-0 win. 

RBI base hits from Rusber Estrada and Kevin Rolon in the bottom of the second inning each brought one Jackal home, while a fielder’s choice on a double play brought in another run an inning later. 

A run from a wild pitch and a solo home run from Keon Barnum in the fifth inning was extra padding in the end, as Tavarez was in his zone, being a vital reason why New Jersey is moving on.

What’s Next?

The defending champions, the Quebec Capitales, loom next in the Divisional Series, having earned the first-round bye by virtue of being the East’s winners and No. 1 seed. 

New Jersey and Quebec actually tied for the league and division-best record at the end of the regular season at 60-35 overall, but the Capitales held the tiebreaker due to winning the season series over the Jackals 6-3. 

The Jackals needed the Ottawa Titans to come through and defeat Quebec on the season’s final day to avoid the Wild Card round and earn the bye, but a walk-off win from Quebec sealed New Jersey’s fate and forced it to take victory in a winner-take-all game to keep its season alive. 

Now, having passed the test forced upon them, the Jackals receive as a reward, a three-game series against the Capitales – beginning with Game 1 on Thursday at 7:05 p.m. Eastern in New Jersey – to prove it was the East’s best championship threat all along. 

West Division: Evansville’s Bullpen Holds On, As Offense Chips Away

In the West, the division’s Wild Card game was about who was going to blink first. 

The tense encounter featured multiple lead changes, yet no advantage by more than one run. Evansville survived the game’s cutthroat nature by winning 4-3 on the road and completing sweet revenge over the Boomers, who eliminated the Otters in the same round in last year’s playoffs. 

The Otters struck first, getting an RBI double from Jeffrey Baez in the top of the first inning, but they fell behind for the first time when Schaumburg’s Brett Milazzo blasted a two-run homer in the bottom of the next frame. 

The two teams traded blows again in the fourth and fifth innings, as Evansville tied it at 2-2 with a base hit, only to give the lead back to the Boomers with an RBI double in the latter inning.

From there, however, the Otters’ bullpen arrived, and the game’s dynamic completely shifted. 

Starter Tim Holdgrafer was pulled after four innings and three earned runs given up, but the remaining five frames saw Evansville’s relievers combine to allow just one Boomers hit the rest of the way. 

Meanwhile, the Otters took back the lead with an eighth-inning base hit and sac fly, and with the pressure on to hold the slim lead, Kevin Davis and Jake Polancic combined to throw two perfect innings to help Evansville skate by.

What’s Next?

The runaway winners of the West, the Gateway Grizzlies, await the Otters. 

Having clinched the regular-season division title leading up to the regular season finale, Gateway was able to start its preparations for the playoffs early after its first division crown in 11 years and most wins (59) since the 2007 season. 

The task for the Grizzlies now, however, is to go one step further and end a 20-year championship drought, though an Evansville team that gave them a tough regular-season series – one Gateway won 5-4 – stands in their way. 

It’s a classic “unstoppable force vs. immovable object” type of matchup; no team in the West hit for a better average than Gateway’s .294 (second in the Frontier to New Jersey), while no pitching staff in the West had a combined lower ERA than Evansville’s 4.07 (second in the Frontier behind Sussex County). 

But keep in mind while watching the action unfold that the Grizzlies have some muscle in their rotation, too, having led the league in strikeouts with 883 for a K/9 rate of 9.55, also the best in the Frontier. 

If the Grizzlies are a team of destiny after setting so many new club benchmarks this season, here’s a chance to really prove it.