GARY | The RailCats and Wichita Wingnuts met in the second series of the season and at that point, the Gary players knew Wichita's toughness.
For the first month, the RailCats and Wingnuts battled each other for the top of the American Association's Central Division standings. Wichita won out by the first week in June, and ended the regular season with a 68-32 record, setting a league record for winning percentage and wins.
The Wingnuts had losing records to two teams this season: Grand Prairie and Gary.
Wichita dispatched Grand Prairie in the first round of the playoffs in three consecutive shutouts.
The RailCats are next, and they can't wait.
"They're the team. They set the league record in wins, they've got quality guys over there, guys who have been in the big leagues," outfielder Mike Massaro said. "You know what, there's one team they don't want to see in the playoffs and that's us."
The Wingnuts' starter in Game 2, Chris Smith, played with the Brewers (2009-10) and Red Sox (2008). Brent Clevlen, an outfielder, played for the Tigers (2006-08).
The RailCats won the season series 7-6 against the Wingnuts, with a 4-3 mark at U.S. Steel Yard.
While the RailCats dominated the regular season with a 20-10 record in one-run games, the Wingnuts dominated with their pitching. Head-to-head against Gary, Wichita pitchers compiled a 3.70 ERA, while RailCats pitchers had a 5.30 season ERA.
Five Wichita players were named to the American Association postseason all-star team, including player of the year first baseman C.J. Ziegler.
"They're good. When I say good, that's with an exclamation point," RailCats manager Greg Tagert said. "They are a good club. They showed it in their postseason series. Our club played well against them, like we did against every one of the upper echelon clubs in the league.
"If you're going to be one of the final two standing, you know the other team is going to be formidable. They are as powerful a club as I've seen, in terms of the wins and losses, the way they're built, the pitching, they've got all the dynamics in place that you have to have to get to this spot and I think we do, too."
The RailCats' wins against Wichita included a double-header sweep in late August, an 11-inning win in mid-June, and four one-run games.
"We're going to grind it out, we're going to play nine innings and give them the best we've got," Massaro said.
The RailCats ended their first postseason series since 2010 with a shutout win against Fargo-Moorhead, the best team from the American Association's North Division.
The 'Cats are the third wildcard team since Gary joined the league in 2011 to reach the championship round.
"To no disrespect to anyone else, the two best teams are left playing," Tagert said. "We'll see if we can do our part."