With less than a week left in the season, Winter Park has just crossed a threshold that last year’s team never could have imagined: no shot at the regular season title. The Diamond Dawgs may have won their most recent game, but they don’t have enough games left in the season to chase down the Sanford River Rats at the top of the standings.
The Rats finally pulled off in the last week a feat they’d struggled against all season: leapfrogging the Altamonte Springs Boom (21-12-1). The Boom had led the league for almost the entire season before the Rats (24-11-1) went on a 9-1 tear in the last week and a half to finally best them. That includes a win over the Boom themselves on July 22, in a comeback 3-2 nail-biter.
In that game, the Rats’ pitching staff combined to throw only one strikeout in the entire game, but still managed to hold the typically league-leading Boom offense to only five hits. Hunter Melton, more well known for leading the team in home runs, pitched two hitless innings of relief to grab the save. He also drove in the winning run of the game, on a double that he was thrown out trying to stretch into a triple.
That win, plus two more against Leesburg (21-15) over the weekend, helped extend that Rats’ lead to two games nearing the final week of the regular season. But the Boom aren’t out of the chase just yet: they’ve yet to experience a 10-game period where they won less than six of them. Watch out for a comeback.
The Dawgs (13-20), on the other hand, continue to slide further away from championship contention. They entered midweek 10 games behind the Rats — their worst games-behind deficit in team history.
That’s within striking range of the DeLand Suns (18-17) and still well ahead of the Winter Garden Squeeze, who are in the middle of yet another losing streak, now at seven in a row. But for the Squeeze, who are 17.5 games out of first place and out of postseason contention, there’s a bright spot in the league’s rush to make up rained out games with doubleheaders until Aug. 2: They still have plenty of shots to make it to double-digit wins this season.
For the Dawgs, in a rare losing season, it would take a miracle run of seven straight wins to propel them to the .500 mark before playoff time. They have exactly seven games left, many of them set as rain-check doubleheaders, and every single one of them played on the road.
The Dawgs had a doubleheader at press time Wednesday, but will be nearby in Sanford Memorial Stadium for a doubleheader at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. Thursday, then in Leesburg at 7 p.m. Friday and 7 p.m. Saturday, then they close out the season with their best shot at a win, at 5 p.m. Sunday in Winter Garden to face the Squeeze.
Tuesday the Dawgs will likely travel to DeLand for a first round play-in game in the FCSL playoffs.
For the Rats, who also have seven games left, after a game at press time Wednesday they host the Dawgs at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. Thursday, then host the Squeeze at 7 p.m. Friday, then travel to the Squeeze for a 5:30 p.m. game-finisher makeup and 7 p.m. second game, then they host DeLand in a finale at 5 p.m. Sunday.
Sanford will likely host the winner of the first round play-in game in a best of three series beginning Wednesday.