The PBL Cup has been hoisted by either Bardo or Leduc for the last six seasons, and seven of the last eight. Now both teams find themselves 0-2 to start the year. Bardo dropped their first two to Holden and Ryley. Leduc dropped their first two to Holden and Armena. Holden, Armena, and Ryley have been the runners up the last four seasons. Maybe this is the year one of them breaks through.
In his last act as league president Steven Pahl drafted up an unbalanced schedule based on the NFL model to punish the playoff teams by making them play the two extra games among themselves to increase league parody and encourage new playoff teams to emerge. It also made the playoff teams play three games in five days to start the season. Now there is a real possibility that Bardo and Leduc could be 0-3 after the opening week, while younger squads from Holden and Armena will battle it out for top spot in the standings.
Bardo`s tough start is somewhat predictable as they have been rebuilding on the fly for the past few seasons after losing the meat of their order to retirement and still relying on old warhorses Ryan Olsen and Chris Mittlestad to start their big games while waiting for their young arms to take over the reins. They still get contributions from championship holdovers Rob Berreclothe and the Neufeld brothers. They are starting to get contributions from youngsters Dylan Berreclothe and Sean Melanson. But the new Athletics just don`t intimidate like the old A`s that had some legendary mashers and a few hall of fame arms to shut down the opposition. To make matters worse they just got no-hit in a mercy shortened game from the defending regular season champs from Holden.
The tough start from Leduc is a little harder to explain, but when one peals back the onion there are a lot of similarities to the Bardo situation. The team that used to intimidate with endless starting pitching, the best defense in the league, and solid fundamentals is now making crucial base running errors, crucial mental errors, and leads the league in physical defensive errors. Some of it can be blamed on complacency, but the biggest factor is simply age. The Milleteers are starting to get long in the tooth. Their catchers and most of their infielders are on the wrong side of 30 and just don`t have the arm or range they used to. The outfield has lost a step or two. On the base paths they used to wreak havoc, now only a select few can reliably swipe a bag. They have also lost the Doyle brothers to injury, which has hurt their pitching depth and severely limited their hitting lineup. Even their endless supply of arms are now having to deal with age, injury, and even being out pitched by younger fire ballers, a statement that would`ve been unheard of in seasons past.
Like the Athletics the Milleteers have tried to rebuild on the fly, partly out of necessity due to injuries and retirements. They thought they had a future middle of the order cornerstone in Kirk Smith, but he moved to BC. Other moves in past seasons failed to pan out. This year for the first time Leduc will actually have a Leduc Minor Ball product suit up for them as that program is trying to get back to its former level. Still, it is the core that the team has gone with for the past six seasons that will drive the bus, a core that is six seasons older and more injury prone.
The aura of invincibility ended last season, as teams discovered that the Milleteers were beatable. In the past, with the exception of Ryley, most teams threw their third or fourth starter out there for the Milleteers to feast on, unless it was a must win game of course. Last year that changed. Maybe it was the slight stumbles in the previous finals against Armena and Holden that gave teams hope. Or maybe it was the fact that the Milleteers didn`t have first place wrapped up by June with another one of their quick starts. Teams started to show up thinking they had a good shot a winning. Before teams would have to play flawlessly to have a shot, and some nights that still wasn`t enough as the Milleteers pitching and defense would keep them in it to give them a chance. The team that used to always find a way to win is now doing the opposite, and beating themselves. You could use the bad weather and abbreviated preseason and lack of practicing for the poor start, but with the exception of last year’s final, the Milleteers played the same way last season.
With league parity at an all-time high, and with the former power houses faltering, the league is now as wide open as it has ever been. There is a chance they could both right the ship and sail right into the playoffs or even first place. There is also a chance they could both hit the rocks and miss the playoffs altogether. Either way the odds of the trophy seeing a different name engraved on it are better than ever.