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2018 Playoff Preview: National League, The outlook of all seven NL teams vying for a trip to the ORW

NEW CARLISLE- The 2018 ORWBL regular season has come and gone and we are now looking ahead at the start of the playoffs. Will the Magic repeat and begin to cement themselves as an ORWBL dynasty, or will a new powerhouse emerge? Today we take a look back at the season that was for the NL and offer our best predictions for how things will play out.

7. Rolling Prairie Emery’s Army (8-16, 9.0 GB)

A proven, veteran team like Emery’s is never going to give 100% in any regular season, so purely going by record to see how RPE will fair in the playoffs may not be the best move. A closer look into the games Emery’s has played shows this is not necessarily your typical last-place team.

Despite getting beat up on by Granger, Rolling Prairie has played well against the good teams on their schedule. Being able to grab a game against Maple City shows the Army can beat anybody in the right situation.

This is key in a one-game wildcard, as this veteran squad will surely be bringing their A-team for perhaps the first time all year (ringing Matt Serge). With hopefully their full team of veterans showing up to join rookie pickup Roman Kuntz, it’s anybody’s guess as to how far they can make it.

Luckily for EA, their path to the World Series isn’t as bad as it could be. Being on the opposite side as Granger and New Carlisle helps. Couple that with the fact that Rolling already took a game from Twin Branch, and took two of three against the Landsharks, and an NLCS isn’t out of the question.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle will be getting past the first Wildcard. South Shore swept EA earlier in the season, so look for the Army to come in with some added motivation in hopes of not being General Emery’s disappointment yet again.

6. South Shore Silver Sluggers (8-16, 9.0 GB)

What started off looking like potentially the worst team in the league, South Shore really began to find their stride as the season got going. Despite a 1-5 start, the youngest team in the league proved they have the potential to play with anyone as they stole wins over Saugany Lake and South Bend to close out the season.

Manager Adam Cseh played with a number of lineups throughout the season, but after acquiring second-year pitcher Alex Zarazee the Sluggers finally began to have the lineup they’ve been looking for to close out the season. In a tight series with South Bend with this lineup, the Sluggers narrowly lost two games as they really began to find their stride and hit the ball hard. Zarazee’s impact on the mound as well as at the plate is an underrated storyline heading into the playoffs.

Despite finishing tied for the worst record in the National League, South Shore finds themselves with a good draw all things considered. They already swept EA once this season, and assuming they can get by them again the Sluggers would find themselves with a one game playoff with the Billygoats where anything can happen.

5. Lynn St. Leprechauns (10-14, 7.0 GB)

Much like the original founders of the process in the 76ers, the Leps are finally starting to see “the process” pay off. The Leps used a hot 4-2 start to help crack double digit wins for the first time in franchise history, as this is a team full of guys who are finally ready to compete in the playoffs.

The story of the season for Lynn Street has to be the play of MVP candidate Bailey Rhed. Rhed has helped carry the Leps to the 5 seed this year, as manager Nick Brassell has claimed Bails has won 6-7 games by himself to help the Leps. Bailey’s ability to get hot at the plate could be huge in a one game playoff scenario.

Perhaps bigger than the Leps’ improvements at the plate has been their improvements in the field. Their biggest issue in the last two seasons has been their tendency to make simple errors in the field, and cutting those out has been huge in their step up this year.

The Leps played well enough this year to get out of the first Wildcard game, but unfortunately, they’re tasked with a very tough Wildcard game against the defending National League champs, the Newts. Lynn St. did take two of three last week while hosting New Carlisle, but this is still not a favorable draw for the Leps. Although with a one game playoff anything can happen the Leps will still have to travel to Granger if they get past the Newts.

4. New Carlisle Newts (11-13, 6.0 GB)

Much like Emery’s Army, New Carlisle has been known to take parts of the regular seasons off the last few years. This season, however, they took that to a whole new level. An up and down season has consisted of big highlights (taking two of three at Granger) but also equally big low points (getting swept at home by Saugany Lake).

The biggest reason for the up and downs from the defending NL champs has been lineup inconsistency. Manager Koby Keck has deployed a different lineup in every series, and has played every 15 players on his roster this season. That, combined with some brutal hitting conditions all year have caused Newts players to put up some historically low offensive numbers. The bright spot is that their defensive and pitching have been among the best in the league. In fact, Koby Keck broke the ORWBL record for lowest ERA in a season with a 1.52 ERA to go along with his 5-0 record on the mound. But once again, there is a downside to playing such low scoring games as the Newts’ experience hasn’t exactly translated to the field. New Carlisle has just a 4-7 record in 1 run games this season.

Even in a down year that saw their first losing season in years, New Carlisle was able to secure the 4 seed and home field advantage in the Wildcard game against the Leps. Despite losing the series to the same Leps team last week, New Carlisle will undoubtedly head into this playoff confident and with a chip on their solider. If they can get past the Leps they will have a grueling three game matchup with Granger for a trip to the NLCS. Depending on who New Carlisle can get to show up for this playoff run, a World Series run is not out of the question but the clock is ticking for this aging franchise.

3. Twin Branch Billygoats (15-9, 2.0 GB)

Even if Twin Branch couldn’t quite replicate the season their Granger counterparts had last season, the Billygoats 15-9 record is nothing to be ashamed of. The Goats sported the second-best differential in the NL, and was consistently a good defensive team all season. The only true blemish on their record is their lack of wins against top tier teams. They were able to steal a game from Granger, but were swept by Saugany Lake late in the season.

As mentioned earlier, this Goats team has made its mark on the defensive side as pitcher Andrew Doran has just a good of case for Cy Young as anyone. Doran has quietly posted one of the better pitching years in recent memory, as he has had a sub-4.00 ERA for a majority of the season. That defense is a big reason the Billygoats have the record they have. It will be interesting to see what will happen the further they progress in the playoffs, however, as they haven’t found themselves in too many high scoring games. The Billygoats don’t have a single player batting over .425 so if they find themselves in a shootout that could be a cause for concern.

Despite having a stellar defensive, the Billygoats will have to play at a hitter friendly park as they will take on the winner of the Sluggers and Emerys. If they win that they will have to play the Landsharks who already swept them in low scoring affairs. If the Goats want to advance past the NLDS they will need to take advantage of the conditions and figure out their offense. For this team, it will end up being the offense that will dictate how far they will go this postseason.

2. Saugany Lake Landsharks (15-9, 2.0 GB)

After starting the season with just a 1-5 record and last place in the NL, Saugany Lake stormed back and earned themselves a first round bye in the playoffs. The Landsharks have been red-hot as of late as they accumulated a 10-2 record in the month of June. Despite a negative run differential, Saugany has prided themselves on their chemistry and overall resiliency on the field and at the plate.

Leading the charge on the mound has been Cy Young hopeful Mikey Smith. The younger Smith brother has been a strikeout machine this season, as he led the entire National League with 17 punch outs. The Sharks have really relied on him being a workhorse in games 1 and 3 this season, but an underrated aspect of their success has been their ability to switch things up for game 2s. In the last month they have typically pitched Kadin Abegg in game 2 and being able to switch things up has been huge for them as Abegg has amassed a 5-1 record this season as their #2 starter.

At the plate there isn’t one guy that stands out for the Landsharks, as most of their team have similar offensive numbers, relying on everyone to step up when needed. That team-oriented offensive has proved to be just enough thus far, as their defensive has really locked in in their recent hot streak as well. Having a Webb in left field is a big advantage, but just like on offense this is a very well-rounded squad with everyone needing to contribute.

While relying on everyone equally sounds good in practice, there have certainly been instances this year where all their bats have gone cold. And that is the biggest issue with this squad. While everyone has been solid at the plate, they are similar to the Billygoats in that there are question-marks about if they have enough great hitters to make a run. Luckily, they get to find the answer to that pretty quickly as they have a chance to play the defensive-minded Billygoats once again. If the Landsharks want a chance to make a World Series run, they’re going to need their bats to heat up in a big way. If that can happen, watch out!

1. Granger Panthers (17-7)

After taking ORWBL by storm, Granger returned this season to capture their second consecutive regular season National League crown. Despite having the #1 seed once again, this season could not be more different from last season. Granger has battled injury and chemistry issues all season, and still have found a way to lead the NL in wins. That consistency and resiliency speaks to how good this young core really is.

When 2016 Cy Young candidate and team leader Griffin Smith went down for the season with a shoulder injury at about the halfway point, it was clear someone else needed to step up for Granger. This was especially true since prize off-season acquisition Tony Koch has spent the season batting under .400.

Thankfully, centerfielder Austin Williams has put together an MVP-caliber season of his own, as he is certainly in contention for the award. Williams and left fielder Seth Campbell’s defense has been the key factor in Granger being able to repeat this season. Despite Williams’ incredible season, it seemed like Granger still needed help as catcher Tiki Serosynski has been battled an ankle injury of his own all season. Granger’s front office then went out and signed arguably best player from the tournament team Clutch Players; Andrew Seradski. Seradski has been a huge move for Granger as his solid defense and big bat has been able to alleviate some of the pressure building on the other core guys after the injuries piled up.

For Granger, anything short of a trip to the World Series would be considered a lost season. After losing the Newts in 4 games last year, they’ll get their shot at a rematch in the NLDS in what would be a highly competitive series between the two rivals. New Carlisle took two of three at Granger once before this season, and that is all the more reason for Granger to be hungry to finally knock off the Newts from the top of the National League and march into the World Series.

Writer’s Prediction:

Wild Card Play-in:

#7 Rolling Prairie over #6 South Shore (1-0)

Wild Card:

#4 New Carlisle over #5 Lynn St. (1-0)

#3 Twin Branch over #7 Rolling Prairie (1-0)

Divisional Series

#4 New Carlisle over #1 Granger (2-1)

#2 Saugany Lake over #3 Twin Branch (2-1)

Conference Series

#4 New Carlisle over #2 Saugany Lake (3-1)

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