The opening series of the playoffs on Wednesday and Thursday of this week featured the top two teams of the Midwest League Western division, Quad Cities River Bandits and the Cedar Rapids Kernels. The Kernels finished 2nd in the 1st half of the season and 1st in the 2nd half, while the River Bandits finished 2nd in the 2nd half of the season. Overall standings had the Kernels and the River Bandits 1st and 2nd, respectively, but it was the River Bandits who took two games to advance.
The 1st game was played at Modern Woodmen Park in Davenport with the home team squeaking out a victory, 2-1. The River Bandits relied on 3 hits from Carlos Correa and 2 hits by Rio Ruiz to provide just enough to win. Chris Devenski started and pitched 5 innings of 3 hit ball, while giving up only 1 run, despite his 3 walks and only 1 strikeout. Mitchell Lambson and Andrew Walter (1-0, 0.00 ERA) shut down any Kernel threat by striking out 8 and allowing only 1 hit.
On Thursday for the 2nd game, the River Bandits travelled to Veterans Memorial Stadium to finish the Kernels' season, in front of their home crowd, by winning 4-2. The River Bandits' offense wanted to make sure they had more breathing room, so they piled on 1 run in the 2nd inning and 3 runs in the 4th. Roberto Pena doubled home Ruiz, who reached on a walk, with 2 outs to start things off for the River Bandits in the 2nd.
Ruiz would strike again in the 4th by leading off with a home run, breaking a 1-1 tie. Pena and Jordan Scott would both single - Scott with a bunt single. Brian Blasik would follow with a bunt, but would be called out at first, allowing Pena and Scott to advance. With 2 outs, Teoscar Hernandez singled home both Pena and Scott on a fly ball to left field. Hernandez, Pena, and Ruiz led all hitters with 2 hits each.
Joe Bircher (1-0, 1.80 ERA) would stay solid for 5 innings, while giving up only 3 hits and 1 run, and striking out 5 Kernel batters. The only run he gave up was a solo home run to the 1st batter of the 1st inning. After J.D. Osborne and Patrick Christensen held the Kernels to just 1 more run in the next 3 innings, Walter would end the 2nd game in a row, picking up the save this time, which was his 1st as a River Bandit.
The River Bandits will host the 1st game of the divisional finals on Saturday, September 7, against the Beloit Snappers, who handled Clinton LumberKings in 2 straight games, also, 9-6 and 6-2. The River Bandits and the Snappers have both won 7 games against each other, but the River Bandits have won the last 4 of 6 games against the Snappers. It should be plenty of action on a Saturday night at Modern Woodmen Park. Go River Bandits!