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AL Playoff Preview: Can the Magic repeat?

6. Gardena Golden Showers (3-21, 17.0 GB)

It’s been a tough inaugural season for this Caleb Martin-led squad from Michigan City. The Golden

Showers were winless entering the final week of the season until they picked up a series sweep thanks to Cabo forfeiting the series. Had Cabo been able to play the series, there’s a good possibility we’d be looking at the first winless season in ORWBL history. Thankfully for Gardena, that isn’t the case but they do have some work to do in searching for their first played win.

One huge issue for Gardena this season is a problem that typically plagues first-year franchises; defense. The Golden Showers gave up an American League worst 239 runs. Those 239 runs don’t look as bad when you take into account their hitter friendly ball-park, as we have seen teams in the past succeed espite giving up a lot of runs. The issues reside in their inability to score as well, as they have been the lowest scoring team in all of ORWBL. In fact, Gardena is the only team in the league to not score 100 runs for the season.

This has led to a league-worst -150 run differential. A league worst offense coupled

with a near league worst defense is certainly not a recipe for success in today’s league. There have

certainly been moments when it seems like Gardena is starting to figure things out (despite being swept, the Golden Showers managed to hold both Hudson Lake and Twin Branch to under 10 runs in each

game) but they have yet to piece everything together for an entire game, let alone series.

The good news for Gardena is that their opponent in the Wildcard game (Hudson Lake) was the team in which they played their most competitive series against.

A win over the Heat would be an upset of historic proportions, but for this team with nothing to lose and everything to gain, it isn’t completely out

of the question.

5. Bourissa Hills Wildcards (9-15, 11.0 GB)

Once one of the most historic franchises in ORWBL history, Bourissa Hills underwent some identify

changes this past off-season as they made the transition from the Pterodactyls to the Wildcards.

Wildcard is an appropriate name for this experienced squad, as their performance this season has

changed drastically not only from week to week, but even from game to game. Even with their sub-.500 record,

Bourissa Hills has played every series tough especially against the top tier AL teams.

For the Wildcards this season, everything has started with their 2-headed monster of Luke Stanisci and the skipper Zach Rehlander. Both players have been at or above a .600 batting average all season long, and Stanisci even was voted to start in this year’s All-Star game. Those two are especially potent when joined in the line-up by 2 nd year outfielder Cody Carlisle, as when Carlisle has been available he has quietly made a case for himself as a Darkhorse Gold Glove candidate.

The Wildcards have had a much better season then their record indicates, as their run differential sits at just -12 despite their 15 loses. This indicates that they have either gotten unlucky in some of their games or they have had difficulty closing out games.

Regardless of which that is, manager Zach Rehlander has to hope a focused

Wildcards squad will be showing up ready to roll for this year’s playoffs.

In these playoffs, the Wildcards will be tasked with taking on a team they just dropped a tight series with last week in the Godfathers. They will once again be the road team, but in a one game Wildcard anything can happen. Wildcards fans will hope that truly is the case, as this team could be an AL sleeper if they can get the bats rolling at the right time these coming playoffs.

If they can find a way to get by Great Lakes then the Wildcards would be tasked with taking on the juggernaut that is Maple City. Despite getting swept by the Magic this season, every game was within 4 runs so, as their nickname

suggests; anything can happen!

4. Great Lake Godfathers (12-12, 8.0 GB)

Perhaps no team in the league has taken a step up this season like the Godfathers. After spending the last two seasons multiple games under .500, Great Lakes has improved their record to an even 12-12 this season and have played the top teams in the league incredibly tough. A hot 9-3 start has a lot to do with that, as Great Lakes has found themselves beginning to drop off as the year has progressed.

However, this recent slump does nothing to discredit the successful season they have had and is not a reason to count them out in this year’s playoff. As mentioned earlier, Great Lakes got off to a scorching 9-3 start to the season but have faltered down the stretch. The biggest reason for that is their bats. As their record has cooled off, their bats have as


During their hot start it was rookie Brian Shembarger leading the way, as at one point he was

leading the league in both homeruns and RBIs. Through the first half of the season he looked like the surefire rookie of the year, but his bat has cooled off down the stretch. Another cause for concern for Great Lakes is the health of manager Mark Haase. Rumor has it Haase has been struggling with some sort injury as of late and that has caused him to miss 5 games this year. At full strength Haase is one of the better players the league has to offer, and Great Lakes needs him healthy if they want to make a run.

Even with the cool bats and injury issues, Great Lakes still managed to finish .500 for the year. A

huge reason for that is the two-headed pitching monster they have in fan-favorite Matador Smith and former Cy Young winner Nate Arndt. Both pitchers have thrown over 50 innings this season and have been very effective, with both holding sub-7 ERAs. With those two holding down the fort on the mound,

Great Lakes has some room for error on the offensive end if they find themselves cold in the playoffs. Great Lakes has had an up and down season overall but there is no doubt around the league that the Godfathers are not a team to be taken lightly. If they can get the bats going like they were in the beginning of the season, and if Matador and Arndt keep throwing gems, this team could be a tough out.

In the Wildcard game they’ll take on a Bourissa Hills team they just took 2 of 3 against and if they can get past them they’ll have a tough matchup with a Maple City team that has had their number over the years but with a healthy Mark Haase and some hot bats, anything can happen!

3. Hudson Lake Heat (15-9, 5.0 GB)

Hudson Lake, similarly to Great Lakes, has taken a big step up this season. The difference between these two, however, is the manner in which they’ve improved. The Heat have gone from a young, streaky team to a legitimate contender this season, and this is with former MVP Bob Bushman injured for a good part of the year.

Despite dropping their series to the two top teams in the AL, Hudson Lake handled a difficult interleague schedule phenomenally, going 5-1 against the two top teams in the

National League. That stellar interleague play would give the Heat a lot should they advance to the

World Series. The Heat were built around a big three of Bob Bushman, Jared Monhaut, and Ben McDonald but have acquired former White Lightning stars Doug Benner and Jasen Webb over the last two seasons.

These two additions have been key in their step up, as Benner’s stellar pitching and Webb’s play in left field have locked down a defense that otherwise wasn’t one of Hudson Lake’s strong suites in years past.

Webb’s defense in particular has been huge for the Heat because their former left fielder Bobby

Bushman has been injured for a good part of the season. Bushman has been able to take his time

transitioning back to the field from his injury in large part because of the how good Hudson Lake’s

defense has been without him. Hudson Lake has always been a team capable of putting up runs in a hurry, and this season it looks like they have the defense to match that as well. The biggest question-mark facing the Heat is consistency. In the games they have lost this season, they have struggled to piece together runs as a team. They cannot afford to hit a cold-spell in a win or go home scenario.

Despite a nice 15-9 record, Hudson Lake still find themselves playing in the Wildcard game as the #3 seed. Luckily for them, their matchup is with the 6 seeded Golden Showers, a team without a non- forfeited win this year. Assuming they can get by Gardena, the Heat will have a tough 3 game series with the South Bend Muffs. The Muffs took 2 of 3 against the Heat earlier in the season, but that was without Bushman in the lineup. With Bushman being back, it is a whole new series. The Heat have a starting five that could rival anyone in the league, they just need to put it together for one playoff run.

2. South Bend Muffs (17-7, 3.0 GB)

The Muffs have wasted no time getting back to their winning ways in their first year back after a one-year hiatus, as they have stormed out to a 17-7 record which is good for tied for second best in the entire league. This Anthony Rieff led South Bend has sported solid offensive and defensive numbers alike, and were one of the most consistent teams in the league as they only had one series loss all season.

South Bend has utilized solid defense and has done just enough at the plate to get by. The

biggest concern, however, is their bats down the stretch. After starting the season 14-4, the Muffs were only 3-3 to end the year despite those games coming against two sub-.500 teams.

Personnel-wise, this is certainly a different Muffs team then those early Muffs teams. No longer is there Matt Serge dealing on the mound, as he has since retired and been replaced with Cy Young hopeful Aidan Cotter. Instead of the hard-hitting Seth Shail patrolling the outfield, 2 nd year star Garrett Ruiz has positioned himself out there and proved to be one of the best young power hitters in all of ORWBL.

The youth movement has been on in South Bend, as only 1 (Austin Rieff) of their five most played players this season can even legally purchase alcohol. Even with all the turnover, South Bend still has stayed true to its roots of being a good defensive team who minimizes errors in the field. Led by Gold Glove candidate Connor VanOverberge, the Muffs were able to use their defense to take series wins over both Maple City and Hudson Lake. Couple VanO’s defense with the play of potential rookie of the year Mark Richards, and South Bend is one of the few teams with a viable candidate for every major award.

The pieces are certainly there for a World Series run, but concerns over their play in recent weeks is certainly warranted. South Bend will need to figure out their offense in a hurry, as they will waste no time facing a championship contender as they will most likely take on the Hudson Lake Heat in the ALDS. The Muffs took two of three earlier this season against the Heat, but both teams were without arguably their best overall players (Bob Bushman and Garrett Ruiz, respectfully). With those two in their team’s lineups it’s a totally different series.

However, South Bend hopes that their mix of young talent and the strong

veteran presence in their locker room will be the perfect recipe for a World Series run. The Muffs are a team who have proved they can beat top teams in the regular season, but after an early exit to the Newts in 2016 they are still looking for their signature playoff run.

1. Maple City Magic (20-4)

The defending World Series champs entered 2018 with high hopes of a repeat, and so far, they have done everything they could to do so. With only four losses and one series loss on their record, Maple City separated themselves from the rest of the league as they finished three games up on the next closest team.

After a sort of worrisome opening series loss to the Muffs, Maple City has gone on an 19-2

run on the rest of the league, quickly proving themselves as the best regular season team in the league. The Magic have put themselves in a fantastic position to repeat, as they were able snag the #1 seed in the AL which means they will avoid having the play both Hudson Lake and South Bend, the only two AL teams with wins against them this season. However, if history tells us anything, it is that nothing in ORWBL is a guarantee.

Maple City has walked through the 2018 regular season with not only the best record in the league, but the best run differential as well. Not only that, but thanks in large part to reigning Cy Young winner Wes Ellis’ pitching, the Magic have given up an AL-low 120 runs. Ellis has been dueling on the mound this season, as he amassed a stellar 12-2 record to go along with his usual stellar ERA. He is certainly a favorite to win yet another Cy Young award for his team. However, Ellis has his defense behind him to thank as well, as Maple City has shored up their defense as the season has progressed.

There was certainly a learning curve after losing long-time left fielder Zach Liberatore to law school, but MVP candidate Caleb Jonkman has quickly taken his place and established himself as a Gold Glove candidate in the process. Somehow, we’ve made it this far without mentioning a Jonkman, but that certainly isn’t due to his play. Caleb is the MVP favorite in the AL as he was hovering around the ORWBL batting average record all season long, eventually settling for an average a little over .650. In fact, the elder Jonkman would’ve won the triple crown in the AL had it not been for his younger brother beating him

out in RBIs.

Jared himself has had quite a season, as he won the HR derby and put him near league

leading power numbers all season. The Magic have assembled an all-star caliber team, as they have acquired great players from other teams to fill their roster up and down. When we can write an entire summary without even mentioning ORWBL staples like Shane Anderson, George Stainko, Drew Luther, and Johnny Arndt, you know the team is pretty good.

For manager Al Friedman, it was a dream-like year as towards the end of the season the Magic were able to repeat once again as AL regular season champs. The Magic’s main concern heading into the playoffs would have been having to play both the Heat and the Muffs, but with those two slated to play each other in the ALDS, that is no longer a worry. Maple City needs to be careful not to overlook Great Lakes and Bourissa Hills, as both teams could be on upset alert, but if the post-season is anything like the regular season, Maple City may find themselves heading back to the World Series for the third consecutive year.

Writer’s Prediction:

Wild Card:

#4 Great Lakes over #5 Bourissa Hills (1-0)

#3 Hudson Lake over #7 Gardena (1-0)

Divisional Series

#1 Maple City over #4 Great Lakes (2-0)

#3 Hudson Lake over #2 South Bend (2-1)

Conference Series

#1 Maple City over #3 Hudson Lake (3-2)

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