The new year has arrived, we are now only five months away from the 2019 season, so it’s perfect opportunity to revisit the successful 2018 Powerline Baseball League season.
In 2018 the PBL grew to nine teams with the addition of the Camrose Axemen and Edmonton Expos. The PBL has never seen a nine team league, the 2004 season which saw eight teams had been the largest the league was until last season. The league opted for a fourteen game season to avoid having the season run too long into the summer with an additional two games for a balanced schedule. The league ended up finishing in one of the earliest regular seasons in modern times with the final games played on July 5. It was an abnormal year for sure, there was only a small handful of games that were needing to be re-schedule. The unbalanced schedule, while voted in favour of by most teams, was talked about as perhaps needing to be changed back to a balanced schedule due to the close standings. For example, the Holden Blue Jays finished in 4th place, tied with the Leduc Milleteers who they only played once in the regular season. An additional game against the Milleteers and another one against the Tofield Braves, could have seen the Blue Jays move up the standings and avoid hosting the Wild Card Game. The Axemen, who finished a game back of the Expos, had only one game against the Expos and only one game against the last place Sherwood Park Athletics. A balanced schedule of two more games might have send some shifting in the standings as only one game separated Armena and Rosalind for the pennant, Holden and Leduc were tied in the standings and one game separated Edmonton and the Axemen for the wild card berth. It will be interesting to see if the league executive modifies this back to a balanced schedule for 2019.
The PBL held its first Wild Card Game in 2018, with the 4th place team hosting the 5th place team the day before the semi-finals would start (Wild Card Game Recap). The league has seen two tie breaker play-in games in the past, one in 2011 between the Ryley Rebels and the Bardo Athletics and one in 2014 between the Holden Blue Jays and Beaumont Angels. In 2018 it was the Blue Jays hosting the expansion Edmonton Expos in the one game elimination with the winner set to take on the pennant winning Armena Royals the following day. The Blue Jays would go on to win the Wild Card Game on Wednesday July 11 before heading to Armena to take on the Royals on Thursday July 12. The league created the Wild Card Game to get more teams involved in playoff baseball and reward the pennant winners with a series against the Wild Card winner. The Wild Card winner more than likely would use their ace and other pitching to win the Wild Card. The Jays would use Kyle Muzechka to dominate the Expos in a one hitter in the Wild Card Game to move on to play the Royals, where one of of the best pitchers in the league would at best be able to go five days later on Tuesday for game two. At the meeting prior to the season the league was pitched an idea of having two wild card games to reward the pennant winners and the second place team by having a 3rd vs 6th Wild Card Game and a 4th vs 5th Wild Card Game with the lowest seed remaining moving on to play the pennant winners. This was shot down for the 2018 season as the league wanted to see how well the 4th vs 5th place Wild Card Game went first. By most accounts the game was a success with a packed crowd in Holden to watch the Jays and Expos play on that Wednesday night in July.
The Powerline Baseball League returned to All Star glory in 2018, with a convincing 15-8 win over the Battle River Baseball League on a nearly thirty degree afternoon in July. Armena Royals 1B/OF Luke Ryan was named the game MVP, winning the Doug Wolbeck Memorial MVP award, by going 3 for 4 with a pair of doubles, three runs scored and four runs batted in. The PBL All Stars were managed by Ryan Yuha from the 2017 PBL Championship winning Rosalind Athletics. The PBL All Stars would jump out to a quick 7-0 lead in the top of the first inning before making it 15-4 after back to back four run innings in the fourth and fifth. A total of eighteen hits would be produced by the PBL pacing the offence to the most runs scored in an all star game since 2004. The win puts the PBL record at 10-6-2 since 2000. You can read a full recap of the All Star Game here.
he biggest story of the 2018 Powerline Baseball League was the mini-resurgence of the Armena Royals. The Royals won the 2015 PBL Championship, lost the PBL Championship in 2016, were looking like they weren’t going to win a game in 2017 finishing 3-11 and then rebounding by winning the PBL Pennant and PBL Championship in 2018. The 2018 Royals joined the 2014 Ryley Rebels as the most recent team to go from out of the playoffs one year, to winning the Championship the following year. The Royals would sit atop the standings from start to finish and wouldn’t lose a game until June 14 when they would finally fall 9-6 to the Holden Blue Jays. On May 24 fans were excited to see the 4-0 Royals take on the 4-0 Edmonton Expos but Mother Nature had other ideas and the game ended up being one of the few postponed games of the season.
Because of their dominant regular season the Royals were awarded with a playoff series against the Wild Card winning Holden Blue Jays, who wouldn’t be able to pitch ace Kyle Muzechka in game one. The Royals would win a close game one 8-7 before being dominated in game two by Muzechka to lead us to a crazy game three. With storm clouds surrounding Anniversary Park the Royals would clinch the series with a game winning catch in centrefield by Zenan Sherbaniuk in the rain, darkness and lightning. The win would send the Royals to the PBL Championship in a rematch of the 2012 series between the Royals and the Leduc Milleteers.
The Milleteers also had a resurgence in 2018 of sorts. The once dominate team that won five consecutive PBL Championships from 2009-2013 were quickly swept by the Rebels in 2014 and by the Rosalind Athletics in 2017 while missing the playoffs completely in 2015 and 2016. The Milleteers would exact revenge on the A’s in 2018 sweeping them in two games by scores of 6-1 and 8-7.
Leduc would take game one against the Royals in Armena with the Royals rally coming up just short before a heated affair in Leduc would see Armena come away with the win to push the series to a third and final game. The bounce back year was complete as the Royals would win their fifth PBL Championship since 2002. Royals pitcher Doug Morris would have to be the playoff MVP for his work on the mound alone picking up a win in game three vs the Holden Blue Jays, a win in game two against the Leduc Milleteers and a win in game three vs the Leduc Milleteers. All three wins came in elimination games.
PBL Playoff Recaps – click on the link for the full story.
Wild Card Game – Edmonton Expos at Holden Blue Jays
PBL Semi-Final Game #1 – Holden Blue Jays at Armena Royals
PBL Semi-Final Game #2 – Rosalind Athletics at Leduc Milleteers
PBL Semi-Final Game #3 – Holden Blue Jays at Armena Royals
PBL Championship Game #1 – Leduc Milleteers at Armena Royals
PBL Championship Game #2 – Armena Royals at Leduc Milleteers
PBL Championship Game #3 – Leduc Milleteers at Armena Royals
How did they rest of the league fair? Here are the final standings;
- Armena Royals (11-3, 1st Place) – the Pennant, the Championship, All Star Game MVP winner and leading the PBL wire to wire was a big success for a team that finished with only three wins in 2017. Good pitching, good fielding and better hitting was the blue print for the Royals success. The Royals also benefited greatly by more of the roster being available full time proving that consistency in a roster helps dramatically.
- Edmonton Expos (8-6, 5th Place) – the expansion team at one point was neck and neck with the Armena Royals for the first part of the season before falling down to a 8-6 finish. Strong pitching, big bats and the ability to recruit from the Edmonton area will serve the franchise well. The Expos did experience a forfeit loss due to an illegal player which was appealed successfully by the Sherwood Park Athletics and some small roster issues but those were chalked up to first year growing pains.
- Leduc Milleteers (9-5, 3rd Place) – off season acquisitions led to the Milleteers returning to a championship calibre team. Strong pitching from Kirk Smith and the rejuvenation of Steve Pahl and Jon Anstey made the Milleteers the best defensive team in the PBL allowing a league low 49 runs. New Milleteers Alex McIntosh and Del Kruk made an immediately impact to the team in their first season with the team while a roster full of stable veterans helped carry Leduc to within one game of their sixth PBL Championship since 2008.
On Par Seasons
- Camrose Roadrunners (4-10, 7th Place) – a four win season by the Roadrunners has been an improvement over the lean seasons of winless baseball but the Roadrunners continued to struggle to win games. They had a new look in 2018 sporting black and purple vs the traditional black and grey we were accustomed to. They are continuing to improve with the recent additions of Lance, Trey and Reg Zimmer and maybe push for a playoff spot soon.
- Holden Blue Jays (9-5, 4th Place) – strong pitching, good defence and scoring just enough to win continues to be the success formula for the Jays. Kyle Muzechka continues to be the most valuable ace in the league winning big games. The Jays have become almost a guarantee for the playoffs, but have not been able to take the next step and win a championship since 2010. The pitching a defence allowed the second lowest amount of runs scored in the league (58) and the offence, despite scoring the third fewest runs (68) in the league, can score when they need to. The Blue Jays were also able to schedule two games in Vegreville to expand the team’s and league’s reach.
- Rosalind Athletics (10-4, 2nd Place) – four seasons in the league and four trips to the playoffs. While the roster is aging and becoming more and more part time, there is still quality fielding and hitting to win games and a whole pen full of guys who can throw strikes. A second place finish and trip to the playoffs rewarding the team for a good season was nothing new for the Rosalind Athletics.
- Camrose Axemen (7-7, 6th Place) – the inability to hold runners and the inability to field a baseball at times cost the Axemen numerous games. Scoring runs wasn’t the problem (112) but prevent runs (109) was. The 7-7 expansion Axemen missed the wild card game by a single game and were Jekyll and Hyde at home (5-2) and on the road (2-5). The team contains a lineup that can easily be the youngest in the league 1-9 and another lineup that might be the oldest. More young players are on their way as the team will undoubtedly continue to improve with experience.
- Sherwood Park Athletics (1-13, 9th Place) – the A’s were set to become the most recent team to post a winless season but a successful appeal gave the A’s a 1-13 record. The A’s have been expected to tap into the large Sherwood Park Minor Baseball Association for players and will hopefully be able to one day. Winning only one game after a two win season in 2017 was an unfortunate step backwards. But everyone is expecting the A’s to start the climb up the standings soon.
- Tofield Braves (4-10, 8th Place) – like the Axemen, offence wasn’t the problem in 2018, defence was. The Braves scored the second most runs with 116 but allowed the most 141 (19 more than the second most) run last year. There are some young bodies in All Star Dustin Huebert and Shaye Yoder being added to the mix but the strong core has gotten a little older and outside of pitcher Corey Epp, innings have become a struggle to try and fill.
In 2018 the league was able to expand its coverage with support from the Vegreville News Advertiser, the Tofield Mercury, the Camrose Booster and the Camrose Canadian. The PBL’s social media reach grew in 2018 and hopefully in 2019 the league can get more coverage in the Leduc and Sherwood Park media. The Camrose Canadian is no longer publishing due to Post Media cut backs, the last edition they produced was in August 2018. The goal of reaching out to the media is to try and let more people know about the PBL, it’s teams and it’s players with the hope that the more people know about it, the more people will want to participate in it.
The 2019 season will close out yet another decade of Powerline Baseball League action. While it is unclear exactly when the PBL started but we are closing out what will likely be it’s seventieth decade of operation. This of course is based on the fables that the league became the Powerline Baseball League post World War 2 when power lines were being installed in the area. The PBL is doing well and isn’t worrying about staying afloat, instead it is looking to continue to grow.