Well since the weather isn’t cooperating so that we can actually play some ball, I thought I might as well write about it, despite the falling snow. Here come the 2014 predictions. After a season of unheard of parity in which any team on any given night had a shot at winning in the regular season, the playoffs ended quickly and quietly with three sweeps and the Milleteers again standing on top of the heap. Four of the six playoff games were tight affairs though and the young Holden Blue Jays did not look out of place at all in the finals. After pretty much going 0 for 7 in the predictions last year, with the silver lining of predicting a close race I bought an old magic eight ball at a garage sale to give it another go this year. With all the teams retooling and recalibrating as is the nature of senior ball in Alberta, let the crap shoot begin.
1. Leduc Milleteers 10-4
After seeing their three year regular season title reign end the Milleteers seemed to lose their unbeatable aura as they had to scratch and claw their way to a frustrating third place finish. The Milleteers bring back all their main pieces from last year, plus they get the Doyle brothers (at least in some capacity) back, which should give the offence a bit of a boost and provide some more depth on the mound. The Milleteers also added a couple of youngsters in graduating midgets Clark Cabtree and TJ Grabia, and also returned glove man Adam Ducharme to the fold. As usual the Milleteers should be fine on the mound as they boast the deepest staff in the league. Judging by some of the new physiques in spring training defensive range could be an issue. The offense may also have to make a shift from the speed game to the power game. The pitching should still be enough to keep them in most games, which should translate in to another playoff run.
About the same reaction a few of the Milleteers have had when picking up ground balls in spring taining.
2. Ryley Rebels 8-6
Since the Rebels re-entered the league they have been the ones that many pundits predicted would end the Milleteers reign, or at least be the ones always challenging them in the finals. The Rebels continued their Jekyll and Hyde act in 2013 as on some nights they looked great and the next they would lay an egg. They also continued their recent trend of missing the playoffs in odd numbered years. Since they have finished second in every even number year since their rebirth it would be a good bet to put them down for a home playoff series come mid July. Of course if commitment issues and injuries to the pitching staff crop up again that could put that streak in jeopardy. On the other hand the recent acquisition of Scott Koughan, former Fort Saskatchewan Athleitcs pitcher and brother of perennial All Star Craig Koughan could give them the ace they have needed to put them over the top.
If the Rebels players show the kind of commitment to the team that their coaches have to each other than it should be a banner year for the club.
3. Holden Blue Jays 8-6
After playing some inspired ball down the stretch to honor their fallen teammate, the young Blue Jays put a regular season title in the bank, and gave the Milleteers all they could handle in the final before coming up a hair short. Pretty impressive, especially considering a good chunk of the team wouldn’t have even been able to legally celebrate a championship if they had pulled it off. Last year the Blue Jays road their good young arms and defence to a first place finish. If former All Star lefty Kyle Muzechka can return to health the Blue Jay rotation will rival the Milleteers in terms of both quality and quantity. The big question will be if the extra pounds from legal liquor consumption will give the Jays a little more juice on offense to give those young arms some run support.
4. Armena Royals 7-7
The Royals proved last year that 2012 was no fluke and that they were real contenders. They kept on rolling from their 2012 playoff run and were the class of the league until they dropped their last two regular season games to give up the pennant and then were swept in the first round. Offensively they led the league last year, and should be up near the top again this year as they have a good mix of speed, power, and contact ability. While questions remain on the mound, they do return a five game winner in the form of knuckle baller Ian Sherbaniuk. The bigger questions might be in the dugout as the team has turned over the coaching reins to rookie coaches Adam Johnson and David Ritz. The two headed coaching monster will have to refocus the team after the late season implosion and get them pointed back in the right direction. And they will most likely have to do it without being able to count on consistent contributions from veterans Clark Banack, Wes Wilson, and ace Joel Boettger, as the trio are flirting with semi retirement.
From the outside looking in the Royals might be the most intriguing franchise in the league as they could continue their impressive run over the last season and a half and be contenders, or could collapse the way they did at the end of last season and return to playoff after thoughts. Just to be safe I’ll split the difference and put them down for a 0.500 record and to just scrape in on the last day of the season.
The Royals will have to soldier on without possibly three veterans from their glory years.
5. Bardo Athleitcs 6-8
The Bardo Athletics continued to rebuild on the fly last year as for the fifth year in a row they had to replace veteran hold overs and stars from the championship years with unproven youngsters, and for the fifth year in a row they snuck into the playoffs in fourth place. Manager Craig Neufeld has done a great job piecing together a line up and pitching staff the last few years that have been able to grind it out for a playoff berth. This year should be much of the same as the A’s still have a few big bats from their glory years left, and return work horse starter Ryan Olsen. If the A’s can get a few quality starts from former ace Chris Mittlestad and their young guys keep progressing they should be in the thick of the race again this year.
6. Beaumont Angels 6-8
The young Angels got a bit of a rude welcome to men’s baseball last year, but with a year’s experience under their belt and a few additions the Angels should get the taste of a playoff race this year. The Angels had no problem scoring runs last year, but a leaky defence and a pitching staff short on experience led the league in runs allowed by a wide margin. If the Angels can tighten this up they should be a lock to eclipse their four wins from last year.
7. Camrose Roadrunners 3-11
The Roadrunners are the other team in the league to see a leadership shake up as Sheldon Petryshen and Brett Keohane take over for long time PBL vet Josh Banack. The Roadrunner offense again failed to score a lot of runs last season as they finished dead last in the category. To make matters worse ace Alex Roth was on the shelf a lot with injuries, especially early, and the Roadrunners just could not produce enough with their pop gun attack. If Roth returns he should get some help on the mound as former Royals closer Kyle Ellis is rumored to be suiting up for his former rivals. If that is the case and Roth returns to his 2011 form the scrappy Roadrunners should be able to contend for a playoff spot.
Could he be the Roadrunners savior ? If not, at least they will be a lot sexier.