The SportsTalk Shop: BML Playoff Primer

 

It has been another great season for the Blue Mountain League—especially when you consider that it is an expansion year. Entering the final week of the regular season, there are still many important games yet to be played that will determine which teams will make the 2014 playoffs.

And to be clear, even with so many teams so close together in the standings, the baseball this season has been of good quality rather than mediocrity. I believe all those fighting for the six playoff spots are strong teams who have had outstanding seasons. I honestly haven’t seen a “bad” or poorly played ball game in years (including our broadcasts, covering games for “RCN SportsTalk” and just attending games as a fan). The games are low-scoring with very few errors and good pitching each night. With that in mind, we take a closer look at all the teams that I have seen in person that are fighting for a playoff berth.

Bulls
The Bulls have ascended from the middle of the pack to recently taking over the #1 spot in the league (including two dramatic wins on RCN-TV that were part of their second half success). Player/Manager Mike Cudwadie spoke with me about the team’s approach a few weeks ago: don’t make mistakes and take advantage of every opportunity the opponent gives you. They have nine players with a batting average of .300 or better (with at least 33 plate appearances) and their pitchers collectively have a very impressive 2.65 ERA. Their key turning point this year was coming back from a 7-4 deficit with one out in the 7th inning to winning the game in extras.

Giants
I am thrilled to see Manager Ed Wandler’s team very much in the hunt for the top spot in the playoffs. No team has had more hard-luck losses over the last several seasons. Wandler has taken lumps in previous years by acquiring very young talent. However, he has groomed them through more than their share of one-run losses while building his players’ confidence and fundamentals for the game. Pat Kregeloh and Preston Koehler have two home runs each and have combined for 25 RBI this season. Ben Hammel, Justin Aungst and Darron Whitmore are the Giants’ pitchers who have the most wins heading into the regular season’s final week.

Royals
The 2012 BML champs had spent nearly the entire regular season in first place (their lead vacillated between one and three games over the last month). The team boasts some of the league’s best hitters in Ricky Rivera, Ian Burley, Logan Winchester and Dave Toth and three of the top pitchers (Ryan Amey, Jeff LaPorta and Jim Sawyer—all with ERAs under 3). Despite several tough opponents during the final week, Hellertown should qualify for the postseason and will be a very tough match-up in a short series with three great starters anchoring their pitching staff.

Dodgers
Like Northampton, the Dodgers have had some tough previous seasons and have had their share of tough losses so far this one as well. However, they have overcome adversity this season and find themselves in the heart of the playoff hunt. They feature arguably the most dangerous hitter in the league—Matt Edwards—who is hitting about 80 points lower than his career batting average and is due for a breakout week. The team overall is hitting just .227 but has seven pitchers with an ERA under 3. They will close out their regular season with another team fighting for its playoff life, the Orioles.

Orioles
This team seems to be the most volatile in that they have bounced between being anywhere between second to tenth in the standings during the season. They also could be very dangerous in the playoffs. I think Player/Manager Dave Stoudt has done a tremendous job of mixing a ton of young talent in with some of the league’s most established veterans. The Orioles also lost a few quality players from a year ago but the young guys have stepped up and will benefit now that they’ve had two turns through the schedule. They have one of the best receivers in the BML in Doc Neiman, a player capable of hitting anywhere in the lineup, and six-time All-Star Justin Jackowicz has pitched to a miniscule 1.18 ERA while leading the team in innings pitched.

Creekers
I thought Player/Manager Eric Schmitt made some great additions to his team over the last two seasons–one of them being Eric Forth, who is currently second on the team in both home runs and RBIs. But the story of Martin’s Creek season belongs to stellar southpaw C. J. Saveri, who has won eight of the team’s 11 victories so far this year, and has posted some awesome numbers, including ERA (1.72) and WHIP (1.08). The question I’ve been hearing from the long-standing BML faithfuls has been whether or not other pitchers will step up. If they do, and the bats hit the way they are capable of, the Creekers could still defend its 2013 BML crown in the postseason.

I have not seen the other teams battling for the top six playoff spots, but the team that I keep hearing about is the Yankees. They have three very good starting pitchers, which is key to winning in the postseason. They also have several impressive hitters and don’t hurt themselves defensively. With many of these teams playing each other in the regular season’s stretch run, it’s still impossible to get a solid idea of which teams will make the playoffs.

Which teams have impressed you in the Blue Mountain League? Which players also deserve some praise for having an outstanding season? Feel free to post your comments here or email us your sports opinions to RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and be sure check out some of RCN-TV’s final broadcast on Tuesday, along with our coverage of the BML this season on RCN On-Demand.

 

 

To Punkin’ & Stan – Behind the Mic – March 4th

I lost a couple of buddies within the last few weeks: Punkin’ Miller and Stan Sutphen.

Both men were real sports enthusiasts and I really enjoyed talking and, many times, arguing with them.

Punkin’ and I would chat at least once a week. He was not shy about telling me what he liked and didn’t like in the sports world. He was certainly a friend of this RCN and would call me often to offer a logical and sensible opinion about my world. He loved football and basketball and he always wanted to know which team I thought was the best. However, baseball was his favorite. He loved to complain about coaching the Orioles in the Blue Mountain League, but he, also, loved to coach the Orioles. Make no mistake, his favorite sport was baseball. He was not nearly as happy during the off season.

My paths in life often intersected with Stan Sutphen. When I was in college, I was an English student teacher at Easton and one of the men who offered valuable advice was Mr. Sutphen. We maintained a friendship from that time on. I followed Stan’s team on the radio and vividly remember listening to Dick Hammer on WEST radio to the team’s run to the Final Four in the PIAA state playoffs. He and I would later serve on the board of directors for the Nor-Car Federal Credit Union and there I learned just how intelligent Stan was in so many areas.

Punkin’ and Stan were alike in many ways. They both loved sports. They both were very opinionated and, often, very right. They both loved baseball (Stan would travel to Florida to see his Dodgers up close in the winter). They both were intelligent men. Both had a great sense of humor (Punkin’ with jokes and Stan with a very wry wit). Both probably contributed to an earlier passing than necessary. Both were assets to many, many people while they were here, and both men were very easy to like and respect.

I miss them both.


 

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)

  1. The Patriot League has a very good idea at the end of the season. Every team in the running for a tournament seed plays at the same time on the last Saturday of the regular season. All the men’s teams played at noon, with the exception of Navy-Bucknell. Those two teams had already solidified their seeds in the tournament. So, wouldn’t you know it, the standings all remained the same after Saturday’s games. The only teams who will repeat their Saturday matchup is Navy at Bucknell. Lafayette hosts Holy Cross, Lehigh hosts Colgate, and Army hosts American. The winners play Saturday, March 9, and the championship is Wednesday, March 13.
  2. The state basketball playoffs begin this weekend. Only one District XI top seed (A Girls) won the title. The titles were won by five #2’s, a #3, and a #6.
  3. RCN-TV produced 11 basketball games, 2 college games, and the regional wrestling tournament in 5 days this past week. We will have a college game, and 8 basketball games from Wednesday to Saturday this week. It’s the best time of the year.
  4. I see the temperatures will be in the 50’s this weekend. Time to clean the clubs.
  5. Are you ready for March Madness? Remember, the office pools are for “amusement only”.