The Edmonton Expos (8-7-1) and the Tofield Braves (8-8) both won 8 games, good for the fourth and fifth best records in the Powerline Baseball League in 2019, but thanks to sub .500 records from the Camrose Roadrunners (7-9), Camrose Axemen (5-11) and Leduc Milleteers (4-11), they will face each other at Empire Park in the PBL Wild Card Game on Monday night.
This Wild Card game is a battle of two closely matched teams as the Expos were 4-4 at home while the Braves were 4-4 on the road. The Expos managed to score 101 runs on the season while the Braves were right behind them with 96 runs scored. The two teams met twice this season with the Expos winning in Tofield on May 14 by a score of 9-3 while the Braves took the final game of the season 7-6 against the Expos on Friday July 12, in what became a preview for the Wild Card Game.
How They Got Here
There is a difference in recent play for the two teams. The Expos are limping into the playoffs finishing the year 2-3 with both wins (vs Sherwood Park, vs Axemen) coming as 7-0 forfeit wins. In that stretch Edmonton would fall 10-0 to the Holden Blue Jays, 13-3 to the Rosalind Athletics and then finally 7-6 to the Braves to end their season. Tofield on the other hand got fire to end the season, pulling to within half a game of the fourth place Expos by going 4-1 in their last five. Fighting for a Wild Card berth in a tight race with three other teams has meant the Braves have been playing playoff like baseball since the beginning of July. As the teams dropped out of contention, the Braves were still battling the Camrose Roadrunners for that final spot. The Roadrunners would pick up a 7-0 forfeit win against the Leduc Milleteers who couldn’t field a team on July 11 which put the Braves two points back of Camrose. The Braves would need three points in their last two games to lay claim to the last Wild Card berth succeeding with a 15-2 win over the Armena Royals and then clinching their spot with the 7-6 win in nine innings vs Edmonton.
While the Braves had to get hot to get into the playoff picture, the Expos played fairly consistently throughout the season. Never challenging the top three and never in real danger of falling out of fourth place and home field advantage for the Wild Card Game for most of the second half of the season. Stealing a point on the road in Armena on June 6th would prove to be the difference in home field advantage for the Expos this season.
Previously In The Playoffs
In 2018 the Expos played in the first ever official PBL Wild Card Game. The Expos would finish 8-6 on the season and have to travel to Holden to take on the 9-5 Blue Jays. In the one game winner moves on to play the Pennant winner, the Expos were held in check with a 6-0 loss after generating only one hit. The lone hit off of Blue Jays ace Kyle Muzechka came to lead off hitter Vaughn Rempel in the top of the first. The flare into right centre would be the only hit of the game as the Expos offence just couldn’t generate enough offence to even threaten the Jays. The Expos will have to chalk up 2018, their first season in the PBL, as a learning experience and draw from it for the 2019 Wild Card Game.
Last season the Tofield Braves fell into a funk, finishing the season 4-10 as they found themselves in eighth place. The team was the second highest scoring team in the league, however they allowed a league high 10.07 runs per game as the pitching and defence was thin. The Braves only appearance in the playoffs was in 2017, their first season in the league, when they would a 10-4 second place team and take on the Holden Blue Jays in the semi-finals. After getting up in the series after winning game one 2-1, the Braves would once again run into pitching issues with Holden winning game two 6-1 and game three 15-3 to end Tofield’s season.
What To Expect
Both teams will need to play Monday’s game like it is their last of the season. So any rested arms will be available to managers Brett Barron (Expos) and Dylan Berrecloth (Braves) as neither team will want to leave an arm on the bench in an elimination game if it is close. The Braves will have an experience advantage with the likes of Ray Lehman and Rob Gillrie on the roster as both players have seen plenty of playoff success over the course of their careers. The Expos can be dangerous, especially with some of the names on their roster who could factor into the game if they don’t have any AA commitments on Monday night.
It is fair to say that fans should expect a close game, whether it is a close pitcher’s duel as the hitters struggle, or a slugfest like the 16-14 game we saw between these two teams last season (Expos were victorious in that one). While the Expos might be more aggressive, close to reckless at times, on the base paths, the Braves could have an advantage in the field with a slight edge defensivley. However, it is senior men’s baseball and it is July, aka the Dog Days of July, meaning a nagging injury could flare up or someone could be on vacation and the entire lineup and game plan would have to change.
Who knows. It’s too close to call in this Wild Card Game. Vegas would have the Expos as the favourite I am sure for nothing other than home field advantage. But the Expos were 4-4 at home this season while the Braves were 4-4 on the road. Over a sixteen game season, the Expos scored only five more runs than the Braves. It feels like one bad inning is going to sink one of these team’s seasons. A bad hop, a string of hits, an error, bad base running (or good base running) or a close call. But in this matchup, it feels like it could go either way.