After a snowy spring training and what felt like a late spring, teams are ready to hit the field for another Powerline Baseball League season. In keeping with the time honoured tradition of predicting the outcome of the upcoming season on the league website, here is a shot in the dark regarding how 2019 could shake down (not confident enough to predict senior baseball to say ‘will’ shake down).
It is almost impossible to formulate a ranking based on a team heading into the season because there is not a lot of information about how a team’s off season went and it is a senior baseball league after all. It only takes one player’s shift to change at work or one wedding during the summer to alter a teams lineup drastically. The Armena Royals went from 3-11 to 11-3 in the span of a season, there is nothing saying it can’t happen again to another team for better…or worse.
Armena Royals (12-4)
The Royals went from bad to the best between 2017 and 2018. Missing the playoffs with only three wins in 2017 to running the table and winning eleven games in 2018 for their first PBL Championship since 2015. They are the best team in the league with solid pitching, good defence and an offence that can score runs a few different ways. It took until June 14 last season for the Royals to lose their first game and if their roster is similar, double digit wins should be expected. Zenan Sherbaniuk at the top of the order is a menace for opposing pitchers at the plate and on the bases with his speed and having Doug Morris and Luke Ryan hitting in the middle of the lineup is tough on pitchers. Throw in Sheldon Petryshen who isn’t afraid to make contact and a bottom third of the lineup that includes guys who can run and get on base and you have a strong one through nine capable of scoring the most runs in the league again. The pitching staff might lack the flash and dominance that other pitchers in the league possess but the trio of Ian Sherbaniuk, Lyndon Galvin and Doug Morris proved in both the regular season and the playoffs that they can handle the leagues best lineups just fine.
Leduc Milleteers (11-5)
The return to glory for the Milleteers fell a game short last season. The additions of All-Star catcher/second baseman Alex McIntosh and third baseman Del Kruk hitting in the middle of the order gave the Milleteers offence a boost to help it’s always great pitching and defence. Leadoff hitter Mykel Ruptash went through phases of the season where opposing teams couldn’t keep him off the bases giving them a top lead off man in the league. The Milleteers hold the deepest pitching staff in the PBL with Kirk Smith, Jon Anstey, Chad Soucey and Steve Pahl all more than capable of pitching well and shutting down opponents. Now the second longest tenured PBL franchise (2008) behind the Royals (1999), the Milleteers will be a big threat to dethroning the Royals and taking the pennant, especially if they can avoid a 2-4 start to the season like they had last season. Leduc appears to be rejuvenated and are again at the top of the league. While they might no longer be able to dominate the league like they did from 2009 – 2013 when they won five consecutive PBL Championships, they are back to being a championship calibre team.
Edmonton Expos (10-6)
2018 was a tale of two Expos teams. In the first half of the season the expansion team was a strong 5-2 and in a constant dog fight with the Armena Royals atop the standings. They would finish the season by going 3-4, with two wins being absolute slugfests, beating the Armena Royals in Edmonton 14-11 and the Tofield Braves, also in Edmonton, 16-14. The league seemed to catch up to the trio of Expos on the mound in All-Star Gary LeBlanc, Anthony Qaqish and Daniel Zuk, who all despite still pitching well started to become the victim of some fielding misfortunes behind them. The offence though can put up runs with the best and it often started with catcher Vaughn Rempel atop the order, who much like Jason Kendall would be a table setting catcher for his team. As seen in the Armena and Tofield wins, the rest of the lineup can put up runs, built around the middle of the order guys like Bret Barron, Daniel Zuk and Gary LeBlanc. Heading into their sophomore season the Expos should be expected to improve or at the very least play consistently start to finish which would put them in a pennant hunt. If I had to pick one team to swoop in and steal a PBL Championship, it would be the Edmonton Expos.
Holden Blue Jays (10-6)
Having a perennial PBL Cy Young contender in Kyle Muzechka makes the Jays almost a shoe-in for a PBL Playoff spot every year. If the lefty stays healthy and gets six or seven starts this season and Grayson Suprovich, Randall Ziegler and Stephen Hrabec continue to provide quality innings behind him and it will be tough to not have the Jays in that nine to ten win range. Last season Ryan Walker made an appearance with the Jays and is another quality arm if he is back with the team in 2019. The Jays issue has always been consistent offence. Zak Lang is a bonafide middle of the order hitter in the PBL and often puts the Jays on his back with Grayson Suprovich hitting infront of him. Early in the season Craig Weder was constantly in the scoring summaries with RBIs and pitcher Kyle Muzechka has never seen a right side of the field that he doesn’t like to hit to. The rest of the Jays can get streaky at times, when they are on, lead off hitter Colten Ziegler can cause issues for teams and provide RBI opportunities for the middle of the order and the other Zieglers, Allan and Randall, at the bottom of the order have the ability to turn a lineup over. When they are off however, the Jays need that strong pitching staff to anchor a few one run wins and close games.
Rosalind Athletics (9-7)
Dropping the A’s down the list and into an underdog role is tough, but it is another season where the A’s are a little older and like many teams have a little more commitments to contend with away from the diamond. If the A’s finish any higher than fifth, no one will be surprised as the team is renowned for throwing strikes, putting the ball in play and not making too many costly errors in the field during a season. That formula has led to wins for the A’s since they joined the PBL in 2015. The start of the season is also difficult for some of the A’s due to seeding and if they get off to a bad start, they might find it harder to climb back into the top of the standings this season especially if some of the regulars have their availability decrease. It is going to be a tightly packed playoff race again this season, and it feels like the margin of error is the smallest for the A’s, but don’t completely count them out. The A’s have been in the playoffs every season they have been in the league and they have made it to the Championship series three times, winning twice.
Camrose Roadrunners (7-9)
The Camrose Zimmers…I mean Roadrunners should be expected to improve upon their 4-10 record last season. The biggest off season acquisition in the league is perhaps the Roadrunners signing Cal Zimmer from the Camrose Axemen. Cal, who has been an on base machine with the Axemen since 2008, was a PBL All-Star in 2018 and will join Reg Zimmer, Lance Zimmer, Trey Zimmer and Spencer Zimmer on the black and purple in 2019. A handful of Zimmers on the hill for the Roadrunners will mean less free passes and more tough at bats for opposing hitters. The key will be for the Roadrunners to stay out of the way of their own success on the bases and in the field, something that another Zimmer can only help with. A step in the right direction for the Roadrunners in 2019 could see them become a tougher team to play against and maybe look to get to a .500 record with a win or two against a playoff team.
Camrose Axemen (6-10)
The Axemen will be by far the youngest team in the PBL for 2019 with catcher Kris Johnson likely being the last remaining veteran over the age of 23-ish. The team however could still be a tough team to play against this season as towards the end of 2018, the Axemen started to figure some things out beating the Armena Royals and losing close games to the Leduc Milleteers and Holden Blue Jays. The Axemen sunk to a 7-7 record last year and the key culprit being their defence. Too many costly errors led to big innings for opposing teams and despite an offence that scored 112 runs last year, it was often too much of a deficit to overcome. Big additions of Conrad Phillps and Derek Zimmer are expected to give the Axemen a great middle infield. Zach Willms, Brendan Erick, Jacob Kendall, John Robbins, Brady Ryan will joined by newcomers Ty Twitchell, Tanner Foss, Chase Parsons and Grayden Guntrip, all products of the Camrose Minor Ball system. The youth movement will make Matt Andreassen and Zach Bailey elders on the team as junior aged players. The talent is there, second year manager Zach Willms will need to figure out how to utilize that talent and keep it focused if the Axemen are to have success in 2019.
Tofield Braves (4-12)
There is no way else to put it, the Braves losing Craig Koughan and Craig Neufeld is going to hurt. Especially after they limped to a 4-10 record last season, a year removed from being a playoff team in 2017. Craig and Craig were a driving force in the middle of the Braves lineup, which still produced 116 runs in 2018 and without players to replace them, it might be a tough go for the offence this season. Right hander Corey Epp will once again be the workhorse for the Braves on the mound with Dustin Huebert, Sean Melanson and Ray Lehman expected to pitch as well. Veteran hitters like Rob Berrecloth and Dylan Berrecloth will need to produce even more now while youngsters Dustin Huebert and Shaye Yoder are expected to take on full time roles and contribute in big ways right from Opening Day. The Braves will see the return of Josh McDonald to the lineup after missing 2018 as well as seeing Scott Lawson joining brother Mark for 2019. The first year manager duo of Corey Epp and Dylan Berrecloth will need to work some John Gibbons magic as preventing runs in 2018 was an issue that needs to be resolved. They allowed an average of 10.07 runs agains per game last season.
Sherwood Park Athletics (3-13)
Everyone is waiting for the other A’s to take a step in the right direction. 2019 might be the season where a few wins could happen if the roster stays the same as last season or improves. There were close games, or at least portions of games that were close and often decided by a string of bad at bats or misplays in the field. The A’s finished their expansion season of 2017 off with only two wins before falling to a lone win (a forfeit by the Edmonton Expos) last season. Scouts have the A’s kryptonite listed as their defence. When good pitching performances were happening it was often the defence that would sour the game. The team can hit and at times string together some offence, but like the Tofield Braves, the weak spot is that run prevention allowing 8.86 runs against per game in 2018. Things can only go up for the A’s in 2019 and it feels like the time for them to steal a few games from teams that perhaps start to take them too lightly.
2019 PBL Champion | Leduc Milleteers
2019 PBL Finalist | Armena Royals
2019 Wild Card Winner | Holden Blue Jays
2019 PBL Championship Series | Leduc over Armena 2-1
2019 PBL Semi-Final Series | Leduc over Edmonton 2-1, Armena over Holden 2-0
2019 PBL Wild Card Game | Holden over Rosalind 5-4
2019 All Star Game | PBL over BRBL 7-5
Can the Milleteers learn from their close but no cigar 2018 PBL Championship series against Armena? I think so. I think we will get another great series between the two teams that will go three games. Last season the Milleteers had the Royals on the ropes in game two after taking game one. Heading into the fifth inning of game two the Milleteers were up 4-3 before the Royals tied the game and eventually won to even the series. It was a big momentum swing in the series as the Milleteers would never lead in game three, falling behind 7-0 at one point. But Leduc was nine outs away from the franchises sixth PBL Championship so by no means was it an easy series win for the Royals. The return matchup could make for a great trilogy of Championship’s between the two, Leduc winning in 2012 and the Royals winning in 2018.
It feels like the playoff spots will once again be a tight race this upcoming season between five teams with very little room for error. While the Wild Card Game will once again give the league five playoff teams, it will also be a game that teams won’t want to be in. Pitching is such a premium in the PBL and the Wild Card Game worked like it was supposed to in 2018 with Holden and Edmonton using their aces for the right to move into a best of three against the pennant winning Armena Royals. Whoever wins that Wild Card Game will likely only be able to pitch their ace once in a best of three, giving the rested pennant winners a huge advantage and puts more emphasis on the battle for those top three playoff seeds.
But who knows, it is senior baseball and anything can happen.