- Marc Katz Contributing Writer
Red, white and blue bunting will be draped over guardrails at Fifth Third Field beginning Wednesday night.
The Dragons are in the playoffs again.
With their recent form, the Dragons could be in the mix for a title, beginning with the first game, when Dayton hosts regular-season champ West Michigan to begin a best-of-three series.
The next two games will be played at West Michigan on the outskirts of Grand Rapids.
“We want to win the whole thing,” Dragons manager Luis Bolivar said. “But we want to go game-by-game.
“I haven’t mentioned it (the playoffs) to the team, but they know the plan.”
They know, because Bolivar has stressed winning from the season’s start. He also adheres to the Reds’ goal of developing players first, but makes sure they don’t lose a winning attitude as well.
The Dragons qualified for the playoffs with a strong 41-29 first half, finishing second to West Michigan. Then they had a miserable start to the second half, but enter the playoffs with a 16-5 record over their final 21 games, including a three-game winning streak at Lansing to complete the regular season Monday.
In the Midwest League, two teams in each of two divisions play a best-of-three first round series. Winners play a best-of-three second round series. The championship series is best-of-five.
“We want to go home, but we want to keep playing in the playoffs,” first baseman Bruce Yari said.
Despite many call-ups and injuries, the Dragons retained their two best hitters — Jose Siri (.293, 24 HRs, 76 RBI, 46 stolen bases) and Taylor Trammell (.281, 13 HRs, 77 RBIs) and two best starting pitchers — Tony Santillan (9-8, 3.38 ERA, 24 starts) and Scott Moss (13-6, 3.45, 26 starts).
Santillan was to begin the first game of the series against the Whitecaps, but shoulder soreness convinced the Dragons to hold him back, at least one game. Instead, Andrew Jordan will start in his place, followed by Scott Moss on Thursday and Santillan, if he is ready and if the game is needed, Friday.
Bolivar did give some of his players some time off during the last week of the regular season, but he wanted to continue to win. While they began the second half winning only four of 21 games on the road, they finished by winning nine of their last 10.
“I want the guys to finish (the regular season) strong,” Bolivar said. “Everybody is bringing something to the table.”
As it has happened, despite huge expectations from the initial team in 2000, the Dragons have not been a playoff regular. After qualifying for the postseason their first three years, the Dragons made the playoffs only three times in the next 14 seasons, and have been left out of the playoffs in the previous five seasons.
This is their first appearance since 2011 when the Billy Hamilton-led team made the first round, where the Dragons were eliminated by Lansing.
Four times Dayton has made the second round of the playoffs and has never advanced to the championship round.
What may make this season different is the Dragons have winning records against most of the teams they could face in the playoffs. Dayton is the only team to have a winning record against West Michigan (11-8) and beat Bowling Green in nine of 16 games while finishing 7-7 against Fort Wayne. In the Western Division, Dayton was 3-0 vs. Quad Cities, 2-1 vs. Cedar Rapids and Peoria and 1-2 against Kane County.