The Express have been playing with a swagger for most of the season like they knew they were playoff bound.
Round Rock is headed to the postseason for the first time in four years after winning six of their final four games. The Express (84-56) finish the regular season with the best record in the Pacific Coast League for the first time in franchise history.
The Express will face the Iowa Cubs in the best-of-five PCL semifinals beginning Wednesday night at Dell Diamond and continuing Thursday.
“We're nasty,” Express infielder Myles Straw said. “If we want to step on the field with the Yankees or whoever, I'm all for it. Like I said, we're nasty. We're coming in hot this year. We feel it every day. We've been hungry since the All-Star break. We've been wanting this. We’re not scared of anybody.”
The semifinal series will shift to Iowa for the final three games beginning Friday night and continuing Friday and Saturday if necessary. The winner will face either the Sacramento River Cats or the Las Vegas Aviators in the Pacific Conference Championship.
“Iowa is a really good team,” Express manager Mickey Storey said. “We fared really well against them, but they have a good lineup, good bullpen. Those games weren't easy. A couple of games here it felt like playoff-type atmosphere.”
Round Rock will be a little shorthanded in the playoffs, as the Astros called up picture Cionel Perez, catcher Garrett Stubbs and outfielder Kyle Tucker on Monday when MLB rosters expanded.
Tucker had a historic season for the Express, becoming just the fifth player in PCL history to record at least 30 home runs and 30 steals. He set new career highs in home runs (34), RBI (97), total bases (257), runs scored (92), walks (60) and games played (125).
“We're a really deep team,” Storey said. “Every day I've given guys days off played guys at different positions, I think we're so dynamic that even without (Tucker) we can handle it. I’m sure Iowa will lose a good deal of people, too.”
Round Rock entered the final week of the season with a one-game lead over San Antonio in the American Southern Division and won three of four games against the Missions. Tensions boiled over in the series finale as three players were ejected and the bullpens cleared.
Despite losing the series opener to the Omaha Storm Chasers on Friday night, the Express clinched the division title and a playoff spot.
“It's fun, no doubt about it,” Express infielder Taylor Jones said. “This is a long season and when you get games that actually mean something, you can't help but gear up a little.”
The Express last made it to the playoffs in 2015 and lost in the league finals. Round Rock has one championship, in its first year in 2000, when manager Jackie Moore led the Express to a Double-A Texas League title.
“I definitely want to take a shot and try to win a ring,” Express infielder Nick Tanielu said. “I've never won one. We've come this far, you want to get it.”