Izzy Wilson, right, celebrates with Ceddanne Rafaela after he made a catch to end the top of the seventh inning on June 7 at Hadlock Field. Both players have been instrumental to the success of the Portland Sea Dogs late in the season. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

As the baseball regular season wound down, the Portland Sea Dogs caught fire.

They put together a pair of eight-game winning streaks over the final four weeks of the Eastern League schedule to secure a playoff berth thanks to the best second-half record (45-24) in the league’s Northeast Division.

The Sea Dogs will host first-half winner Somerset in the opener of a best-of-three series at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Hadlock Field. The Patriots have been consistently good, finishing the first half 19 games over .500 and the second half 11 over, giving them an overall mark of 83-53.

The Sea Dogs rebounded from a 30-39 first half with solid pitching, timely hitting and consistent defense. They held a team meeting in Richmond, Virginia, in late June as the first half was coming to a close and talked about the chance to start anew.

“There was nothing we could do to change the first half because it was gone already,” said outfielder Izzy Wilson. “With the ups and downs, it’s all about staying strong and sticking together. That’s what got us here.”

The Double-A affiliates of the Red Sox and Yankees have faced off in four six-game series this year. At Hadlock, they went 3-3 in late May and did the same in mid-July. In New Jersey, the Patriots went 5-1 in late April and early May but the Sea Dogs won 4 of 6 last week.


Whether the big league rivalry trickles down to the minor leagues is a matter of perspective.

“Red Sox versus Yankees, everybody knows about that rivalry,” Wilson said. “I think it reflects down to the minor leagues as well. It’s going to be pretty exciting facing the Yankees in the first round.”

Christian Koss, a Sea Dogs middle infielder, said he figures a rivalry must include some significant history. That’s tough to do in the minors, where rosters turn over frequently.

“Everyone on this team and everyone on Somerset I don’t think has a past,” Koss said. “You can talk about the Yankees and the Red Sox, but for us down low it doesn’t seem as heated.”

Koss is quick to point out that he expects a very competitive series.

“They’re going to want to beat us as bad as we want to beat them,” he said. “Every pitch, every swing, everything matters.”


After a travel day, the series resumes at 6:35 p.m. Thursday in New Jersey. The Patriots would host a decisive Game 3 on Friday night.

In the Southwest Division, first-half winner Richmond opens its best-of-three series at second-half winner Erie. The SeaWolves lost their regular-season finale Sunday afternoon in Richmond, but still squeaked in to the playoffs because Bowie lost Sunday night to Akron.

Erie and Bowie tied at 41-28 in the second half, but Erie won their head-to-head matchup 11-7.

The two division winners are scheduled to begin a best-of-three championship series starting Sunday in either Pennsylvania or Virginia. Should the Sea Dogs advance, that championship series would finish at Hadlock Field next Tuesday or Wednesday night.

Starting pitchers for Tuesday’s Game 1 are left-hander Shane Drohan for the Sea Dogs and right-hander Randy Vasquez for Somerset.

Drohan, 23, was a fifth-round draft pick of the Red Sox in 2020 who played three years at Florida State. He broke camp in April with High-A Greenville and earned a promotion to Portland in mid-August. He has made five starts in Double-A and the Sea Dogs have won the last three of them, including a 10-9 slugfest in 11 innings. He has a 1-1 record and a 3.38 earned-run average.


Vasquez (2-7, 3.90) has made 25 starts for Somerset, including five against the Sea Dogs, who have won the past four after falling in April. He didn’t make it out of the third inning in either of his most recent two starts against Portland.

September has brought out the best in several Sea Dogs. Middle infielder David Hamilton is batting .429 in the month and takes an eight-game hit streak into the playoffs. He had multiple hits in seven of those eight games. He also set the franchise record for stolen bases in a season with 70.

Outfielder Wilyer Abreu joined the Sea Dogs in early August as part of a trade that sent Christian Vazquez to Houston. His on-base percentage for the month is .463 with 18 walks and 13 hits in 15 games.

Wilson, after a miserable first half, finally seems to have hit his stride. He ended the regular season on a 10-game hitting streak that included three home runs – one more than he hit in April, May and June combined. He hit .360 in September.

Other Sea Dogs of note: multitalented Ceddanne Rafaela, who has played a dozen games at shortstop as well as 60 in center field; first baseman Niko Kavadas, who has 26 homers over three levels this season; and infielder Matthew Lugo, Boston’s second-round draft pick in 2019 who was called up last week after hitting 18 home runs for High-A Greenville.

Lugo is the nephew of former big league outfielder Carlos Beltran.


Tickets for Tuesday’s game remain available. As of Monday afternoon, the Sea Dogs had sold roughly 3,500 seats in a ballpark with a capacity of over 7,300.

Chad Epperson, in his first year as manager of the Sea Dogs, said that talk in Richmond in late June set the stage for the second-half surge.

“I don’t think our first-half record indicates what kind of ballclub we were,” he said. “It was self-inflicted at times, but we knew in the second half we could improve on that team concept, be more team-oriented, and I think the guys bought into that.”

He explained further.

“They’re trying to make a play for that guy on the mound, they’re selling out to move a runner up,” he said. “These last three weeks have been fun to watch. And they’re not done.”

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