Well here it is, back by popular demand (1 demand on the website that is), the annual PBL predictions. After the debacle of last year’s five way tie for first showed that these predictions are just crap thrown against the wall, lets give it another go. To make things even more interesting the league not only expanded to eight teams, but added a perennial power house from the Battle River League in the form of Rosalind to make the league even more competitive every night. One things for sure, there will be two or three teams that miss the playoffs this year that would have been serious contenders in years passed. With only four playoff spots up for grabs and a balanced schedule, every game will have post season consequences. So without further ado here is my take on how things will shake out.
In 2014 the Rebels finally broke through and did what was predicted of them when they re-joined the league back in 2009. They plugged all their holes in the off season and got hot down the stretch before vanquishing their playoff nemesis, the Milleteers, before squeaking past Holden in the finals. The Rebels finally fixed their catching issues when they added Chad Nelson, who also gives them speed at the top of the order. Then they shored up the pitching staff as they added Scott Koughan and Shawn Pilgaard to the rotation and closer Tom Shulba to the bullpen. They tightened up defensively and went with a more contact approach on offense, and rode these adjustments to a title. Now we will see if they repeat this success or suffer a little championship hangover. And if there is a team that knows a little about hangovers, it would be the Rebels.
With no obvious weaknesses, other than volatility which was kept in check last year, and the best offense in the league, the Rebels have to be favored to repeat. According to their website they have also added flame throwing perennial BRBL All Star Barry Truss to the top of their rotation and former NCABL Jon Van Sickle-Kope to their outfield so they are not just sitting around polishing the trophy as they look to try and keep it for a while. Of course they have had a nasty habit of missing the playoffs in odd numbered years, so there is that to consider, so they will probably finish fifth.
Finally the Iron Curtain has fallen and we will get a chance to settle the debate once and for all if the PBL is superior to the BRBL. Or not. The Rosalind Athletics are not your typical expansion team as they have two provincial titles and five BRBL finals appearances in recent memory, so they enter the league as instant contenders. It should be interesting to see how Rosalind fares, especially early on, having to bring it 2 week days a week, every week, as opposed to strolling in to Hardisty or Amisk on a Wednesday with a skeleton crew and pumping a bunch of high schoolers and slow pitch players by twenty runs.
If any BRBL team was equipped to handle the rigours of the PBL it would be Rosalind though as they have plenty of pitching depth, good defense, fundamentals, and contact ability. Their roster is littered with quality ball players and more than a few have already had success in the PBL.
I predict Rosalind makes a smooth transition and immediately challenges for top spot this season. Or at least becomes the most successful Athletics franchise in the league. They also tip the balance of power even more in favor of the PBL in the annual All Star game.
Well its official: the Blue Jays might as well change their name to the Bridesmaids. The Blue Jays managed to lose their third heart breaking final in four years as Ryley out lasted them. The Blue Jays have the best 1-2 power pitching duo in the league, plus the only lefty in the league in closer Kyle Muzechka. They also boast a good defense as well and paced the league by only allowing 41 runs against. The problem still is scoring runs as they finished second last in that category. The offense is improving though as Zach Lang and Brandon Majeski provide increasing thump.
Look for another up and down season due to the inconsistent offense from the Jays, but ultimately their power pitching gets them into the big dance. I also predict 2 game ejections for All Star Grayson Suprovich to go along with multiple double digit strikeout performances as he has become the league’s most high octane hurler and combustible personality.
The Milleteers enter unchartered territory this season as they no longer have the belt. They will also be without the services of Murray Doyle and Ryan Walker so their once deep pitching staff is starting to look a little shallow. Add to the fact that they have all of a sudden become the oldest team in the league, a retooling is in order. Milleteers management has recognized this and have brought a handful of rookies to camp out of the Leduc Minor Ball system. The last time the Milleteers brought a bunch of teenagers to camp they started their title run. Of course their core wasn’t on the wrong side of 30.
The Milleteers still have the best pitcher in the league in Jon Anstey as well as veteran stalwarts Chad Soucy and Steven Pahl to lean on and keep them in games. Offensively they have gotten older and slower and now rely on the homer more than the stolen base and aggressiveness that used to be their forte, which has translated into inconsistent run outputs. Look for the Milleteers to scratch and claw their way toward a post season berth this season, much the way they did last year. On a positive note the club did go 9-2 in the regular season after a horrendous first week, so they still have the ability to go on a big run.
The Royals are another team facing a bit of uncertainty as longer time player coach Jason Buzzell moved to Nebraska to protest the Keystone pipeline to hurt the recovery of the Alberta oil patch even more and stick it to us, or maybe just for family reasons. It will be interesting to see how the change in management will help or hinder the club, but there is no denying the Royals will miss Buzzell’s presence in the batting order. You can question some of his moves as a manager, but you could always pencil him in for a 0.350 plus batting average and he was a tough out every time.
The Royals have been a team on the cusp since their improbable run in 2012, as for the past two seasons they were the class of the league for long stretches before sputtering out and the end and bowing out in the first round. They have a potent, contact based offense that sprinkles in some speed and power now and again, and have routinely been near the top of the league in offense. On the mound they have depth, plus a rare knuckle baller who has racked up a bushel of wins the past few seasons. If they can continue to build on their recent success and sustain it late in the year they should contend for the cup again this year.
The Angels proved they are quick learners as they went from the basement in their first season, to a tie for first before in their second, before bowing out in a one game playoff. The youngsters are also getting a lineup boost as former All Star slugger Kirk Smith decided the Milleteer lifestyle was no longer for him after spending the windup party in the drunk tank. With the rest of their young lineup another year wiser and stronger the Angels should contend for a playoff spot again this year. The balanced schedule might hinder them a bit as they won’t get the extra games against last season’s bottom feeders, and they will no longer have the element of surprise. With those two elements working against them I predict they will fall just short of a playoff berth.
The Bardo Athletics had a tough 2014 as they became the best 4 win team in league history, but at least they could lay claim as the being the best “Athletics” last season, but that is no longer the case. The former league powers continue to rebuild on the fly with new players while a few former championship hold outs still occupy top spots on the squad. Despite only a -11 run differential the team could only muster less than a handful of wins.
A few additions and early breaks last year could have wrote a different story for Bardo. They will need those this season even more so to contend with the league expansion. I would expect much of the same this season as the Bardo A’s will hang tough, but ultimately lose a bunch of heart breakers to fall out of contention.
This was the prediction I have the most confidence in, so pencil the Roadrunners to make the playoffs. Last year was rock bottom for the squad that had been trending downward since their second place finish in 2011. With retirements, defections, and injuries decimating the roster, first year manager Bret Keohane spent most of his time just trying to wrangle up 9 healthy bodies. Add to the fact that the playoff race was so tight, no one took it easy on the Roadrunners either as they routinely got mercied. In the past the Roadrunners figured out a formula to do more with less as they scratched and clawed their way to wins in close games. This resiliency should give them a shot at bouncing back from the basement.
This year can’t be as bad and with a return to health for a few regulars and some shrewd additions the Roadrunners can bounce back to respectability, if not it will be a lot of long summer nights of crooked numbers.
There you have it. I’m not predicting a crazy five way tie for first or an imperfect season from the Roadrunners, but I am predicting a 3 way tie for fourth with Leduc beating Armena to slip into the playoffs. I’m also predicting the Rebels repeat as to put a curse on their season.