York Revolution manager Mark Mason didn't want to use the term "must win" to describe the eight-game homestand that began on Wednesday night, but for his team's playoff hopes, it essentially is.
In this case, "must win" means making sure that York comes away with at least a winning record against two Atlantic League Freedom Division opponents.
In the first game of the homestand on Wednesday night, things looked bleak early. The Revs spotted the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs a 4-0 lead before eventually coming back to earn the 6-5 win. Twice the team erased deficits, first tying the game at 4-4 and then overcoming a 5-4 deficit in the seventh inning.
In the win column it signified a single win, but in the grand scheme of things, it could prove to be much more than that, especially when it comes to kicking off the homestand on the right foot.
"It's a big homestand, it really is," Mason said. "Because, when we get through this week, we're almost halfway through the half and in the month of September, there aren't a lot of games within our division. So, we're in our division all week, so this is a big week and we have to win at home anyways and that was a good start."
This homestand represents much more than just a chance to tally a handful of wins in front of the home crowd. On a larger scale, it gives York (13-12) a chance to get those wins against two teams that could pose the biggest threats to its playoff hopes.
The first four games come against the Crabs, the squad that won the Freedom Division first half, securing a playoff spot in the process. The Crabs entered the night only a game back of the Revs for second place in the division. After that comes a four-game set against the first-place Lancaster Barnstormers, who hold a three-game lead over York. In essence, it could be a make-or-break homestand for the Revs' playoff hopes.
The come-from-behind win is one that can certainly carry a lot of momentum going forward, but Mason was also quick to temper his emotions when discussing the comeback.
"We came back in Camden a couple times, but we fell a little short," he said. "Offensively, we've been doing a good job of getting guys on base, but today, we did a better job of getting them in."
When you stretch out York's upcoming schedule for the month, the team has 11 home games in August. Eight of them are during this homestand.
It's already been noted who the opponents are on this homestand, but once it ends, play against division opponents all but disappears. The easiest way to make up ground in a division race is to do it against division opponents. If York can't take advantage of that during the homestand, then it could be on the outside looking in come playoff time.
After the homestand concludes on Wednesday, 28 of the Revs' remaining 38 games come against teams in the Liberty Division. That includes 14 against the Somerset Patriots, a team that cruised to the first-half Liberty Division crown and has an overall record of 65-30 this season. Following the nice stop at home, York is faced with playing 15 of the team's next 18 games on the road.
Baseball is an unforgiving sport with the length of the season and the travel. So anytime a team can get a stint at home like this, it's essential to take advantage. Typically speaking, teams that wind up in the playoffs are the ones that are dominant at home. If the Revs want any shot of postseason baseball, it'll hinge on these next seven games.
Most managers, when they map out a homestand like the one that York is in, will shoot for a 5-3 or 6-2 record. But, when Mason was asked about what he wants the team's record to be by the end of it, his response was quick and precise: "8-0."
Notes: Andre Perez (3-for-4, homer, two RBIs, two runs scored), Luis De La Cruz (3-for-4, RBI, run scored) and Joe Constanza (2-for-4, one run scored) were the hitting stars for York on Wednesday. ... After starter Matt Neil struggled (3 2/3 innings, four earned runs), York's bullpen was excellent, allowing just one run in 5 1/3 innings. Stephen Penny pitched a scoreless ninth to get his fourth save.
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow on Twitter @P_Strohecker