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2017 Playoff Preview: American League

NEW CARLISLE- The 2017 ORWBL regular season has come and gone and we are now looking ahead to the start of the playoffs. Can the Newts surge forward to yet another championship, or will someone finally end their reign of terror on the league? Today we take a look back at the season that was for the AL and offer our best predictions for how things will play out.

6. Bourissa Hills Pterodactyls (10-20)

Once one of the most successful and feared teams in the league, the Dactyls will finish the season under .500 for the seventh consecutive season. This run of mediocrity is not a good sign such a historic franchise. Despite their poor record, there have been some positives to come out of the 2017 season. Their week 4 series win over the Hudson Lake Heat showed this team may have some life in them after all.

That series win combined with close series against Maple City and Granger are both things manager Zach Rehlander can look to for encouragement leading into their wild card matchup with Cabo. Despite only going 2-4 against Cabo in the regular season, all six of those games occurred on the same day and a reasonable argument could be made that the Dactyls could have just been having a poor day at the plate. This close knit squad is led by the longtime workhorse Evan Layman on the mound. A four year vet, Layman has been the primary pitcher for Bourissa Hills for a few years now and the hope for Dactyl fans is that he will have enough left in the tank come playoff time to help lead them to an upset.

The Dactyls do sport a sneaky offense that can put some runs on the board if you let them. Thanks to all the new teams joining the league in the last few years, the Dactyls find themselves as the third longest tenured core in the league and that experience in ORWBL play is going to need to come in big as they will need a big time upset to take down Cabo in the wild card.

5. Great Lakes Godfathers (11-19)

Mark Haase has to be pleased with the way his team has played this season, as the Godfathers nearly tripled their win total from last season. With a series win over Jet City and a sweep over Olive Township, Great Lakes has quietly become a very competent team in ORWBL. Despite not having a particularly potent offense, Mark Haase (6.50 ERA) and Billy Beckman (9.08 ERA) have pitched well behind a solid defense that seldom makes a mistake in the field.

This is the type of team that is not going to beat themselves, they’re going to make you work for every run. On the offensive side of things, it’s really just been the Mark Haase show once again as the 2016 AL Rookie of the Year has followed up last year with an equally impressive sophomore season, pacing the Godfathers with a 0.482 BA to go along with over 50 home runs.

Haase is the star of the show up in Michigan and he has gained a very nice reputation throughout the league as not only a great player, but also as a very well-liked individual. The biggest thing that has held Great Lakes back has been the lack of help behind their star. Billy Beckman started the season hot as anyone in Week 1, but has cooled off considerably since then.

If he can find that same stroke that helped them shock Jet City on opening day, perhaps this team could pull off a similar stunner in the wild card against Hudson Lake. Unfortunately for the Godfathers, they went 0-6 against the Heat in 2017 but once the playoffs come around anything is possible.

4. Hudson Lake Heat (15-15)

Hudson Lake entered 2016 with some high expectations, as they lost in the NLCS against the Magic last season. Even though they had a very successful 2016, manger Jared Monhaut decided he needed to make another move to push them into elite territory, and he did just that, signing former White Lightning ace Doug Benner.

Benner has been one of the best young players in the league and his pitching was seemingly the missing piece for the Heat. Monhaut wasn’t done there, however, as he later executed a big trade for former White Lightning OF Levi Miller, and Lynn St. Catcher Dusty Curl. All signs pointed to a huge 2017, but that wasn’t the case at least for awhile. The Heat started off very slow including losing 3 straight series.

That all changed when a simple lineup change was made. Off-season acquisition Levi Miller was inserted into the lineup and instantly the team looked like who they wanted to be all along. With notable series wins over Granger and Emery’s, the Heat enter the playoffs as hot as anyone and are hoping Miller’s presence will continue to lead them to success. The Heat always had a monster big three of 2016 MVP Bobby Bushman, Jared Monhaut, and Ben McDonald, but with Benner and Miller joining the lineup this team is now incredibly well balanced.

It will be interesting to see how these five play in the playoffs, but an encouraging sign for Hudson Lake fans is that on the off week before the playoffs started up Monhaut took that exact five to Skokie Illinois to play in the World Wiffleball Championship. The Heat went 5-1 before falling in the Elite Eight to the Newts in a close game, but it was clear the Heat were just as good as any team in Skokie. If they can carry that momentum into the playoffs and avoid an upset by Great Lakes, they’ll be in for an interesting matchup against rival Maple City. The sky's the limit for this high powered Heat lineup.

3. Cabo Yabos (17-13)

It’s not often a team that finishes four games over .500 flys under the radar, but that’s exactly what this Grant Duncan-led squad did this season. They had an average innagural ORWBL season in 2016, but this veteran team really stepped it up this season. Cabo has consisted of a combination of a number of well known tournament teams including but not limited to; Grandmother’s Quilt, Malorts!, and Warsaw Whitecats.

This team has plenty of depth and while their roster tends to fluctuate week to week, that hasn't appeared to affect their play nor has it effected manager Grant Duncan’s shit talking on twitter as both have been at their absolute best this season. Cabo has managed to prove that their veteran wiffle talents cannot be overlooked and that talent starts with Hall of Famer John Premetz. “Prem” followed up his ASG MVP season in 2016 with another all star berth this season, however this year he was joined by Duncan as well as final man in Dan “Cat” Zieger. Cat is considered by many to be the best defensive catcher in the league and his prowess behind the plate is an underrated component of Cabo’s success in 2017.

It helps that Cat has been catching primarily for the league leader in ERA in Whitt Huffer. Whit paced the AL with a Kershaw-esque 5.21 ERA and although he only pitched 67 innings, he has as good of a case as anyone to be the Cy Young winner. If Duncan and Premetz can keep on hitting and Whitt can keep dealing on the mound, Cabo could be a tough out in the playoffs.

They’ll open up playing the Dactyls in the wildcard game and assuming they get passed them, Cabo will have an enticing matchup with Jet City. After dropping two of three to the Junkballers in the regular season, Cabo will be expected to have another tight series if it comes to it.

2. Jet City Junkballers (18-12)

Shane Anderson, Drew Luther, Tony Koch, an Arndt. In 2011 you would’ve thought we just named off one of those high powered historic Federalist line-ups. But, in 2017, that team goes by the Jet City Junkballers and they too have a very explosive line-up. After a few years apart, Luther, Koch, and Anderson are back playing at Old Rock but this time it’s younger brother Nate leading the charge in place of Nick. Make no mistake, however, the youngest Arndt isn’t just the little brother.

The 2016 Cy Young winner, Nate brings a unique pitching arsenal to the mound to go along with an incredibly powerful bat making him one of the most multidimensional young players in the league. Coming into 2017 it was assumed that Arndt would be providing the power for this team, but after he went down for a few weeks with an ankle injury, it was notorious contact hitter Tony Koch that stepped up in that department. Koch passed the league with a blistering 72 home runs and that, combined with his usual stellar batting average has made him as deserving of the MVP as anyone.

The player that may end up being the X-factor for Jet City is Luther. Drew has quietly had another fantastic season at the plate and he’s provided some great veteran leadership to Jet City’s youngsters out in the field as well. The player he may have made the most impact on is rookie Garrett Ruiz.

Jet City’s biggest weakness has been their lack of consistent fielding behind Arndt’s pitching. That has changed this season as Ruiz has provided them with incredibly stellar play out in left. After making a run to the HD Classic final, Jet City knows that they can play with anybody. They’ll be hoping their recent success can keep them “Zoomin” to a playoff berth in what may be the franchise’s final season.

1. Maple City Magic (22-8)

After a few years of mediocrity, Maple City is officially back as they enter the playoffs as the AL’s #1 overall seed for the second consecutive year. This Maple City team may have what it takes to go the distance, as they combine familiar faces with some new ORWBL blood that are all hungry to get their hands on a World Series ring.

Offensively, this balanced line-up is led by ROY frontrunner Caleb Jonkman. Jonkman led the league in batting average in his inaugural season, hitting a robust .609. The left-handed hitting Jonkman stars in fastpitch Leroy Wiffle and has made a seamless transition to ORWBL’s slowpitch style of play and is certainly hoping for some off-season hardware come award time. While Jonkman's play on the field has been stellar, his team leadership has been something that Alex Friedman describes as "franchise changing."

Another player expecting some hardware is ace pitcher and two time World Champion Wes Ellis. Ellis led the league in strikeouts with 32 Ks to go along an 11-2 record while maintaining a 6.00 ERA. That knuckleball will be key if this Al Friedman-managed squad hopes to return to the World Series yet again. There are only a few game changing pitchers in the league and Ellis is certainly one of them.

This is a very solid an experienced Magic team and they will very seldom make mistakes and it shows as they had the least amount of runs allowed of any ORWBL team in 2017. Despite having a good defense led by Zach Liberatore in 2016, Manager Al Friedman managed to make a free agency splash yet again. In 2016 he signed Emery’s Army’s own Eric Johnson after EA folded, but with EA returning he decided to make another addition as he knew Johnson would be headed back to Rolling Prairie. It wasn’t long after the Muffs folded from ORWBL that Friedman signed both of the Rieff brothers.

Maple City has quietly become a hot free agency destination that has rivaled even New Carlisle in that regard. With a star-studded line-up full of experienced players and arguably the most depth in the league, Maple City is hoping they can avoid an upset in the AL as they have their eyes set on another World Series appearance with their end goal being the first ORWBL Championship in team history.

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