USBL Downs PATP in Six Games to Win it All

Baseball history is littered with teams who posted league-best records during the regular season only to fail to win the big prize. This second season of the Grand Championship League (GCL) has added to that list as Play at the Plate (PATP) topped all other clubs with 101 wins and defeated ASBA in seven games to win the first round of the playoffs, only to fall in six to USBL in the GCL Finals.

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USBL also needed seven games to get past their first-round opponent, defending champions PEBA, so, while one could argue that PATP entered the Finals with a tired team, so did USBL. In the end, it was USBL’s just-good-enough approach that enabled their pitching staff to shut down PATP’s offense. In addition, their defense made no errors in the series.

When it came to handling the ball, PATP made just two errors, but both of them cost the team runs. PATP’s pitchers also made a bizarre habit of hitting USBL’s batters, particularly at the worst moments. USBL hitters were struck by pitches 13 times in the series, compared to none by PATP’s batters.

Further down the page, you’ll find summaries of the six games, along with links on the headlines to the Twitch.tv broadcasts that featured play-by-play by Eddy Vegas and color commentary by Jordan Windy and Brad Cook.

“The pitching staff and defense came through, and that along with the luck required for all playoff success, is the reason why the USBL are GCL champs,” said USBL GM Steve Crandell. “In 13 playoff games, the USBL scored less than 50 runs, never more five in a single game. And that was plenty, since our opponents scored less than 40. The bullpen overachieved all year, and then somehow outdid themselves in the postseason: 6 runs allowed in 45 relief innings. Two runs allowed in 42 innings for all relievers not named Jerry Stevens. Daggum, my relief staff played over their heads throughout the playoffs.”

He added: “No surprise, then, that a reliever was the USBL playoff MVP. It’s hard to make an MVP case from only 12.2 innings of work, but Brandon Reynolds can do it: 1 win, 2 saves, 4 hits allowed, 2 walks, and no runs. Reynolds’ case gets even stronger when you consider his teammates. His win was enough to tie him with 7 others for the team lead. Jim Hoffman was the only other pitcher with 10+ innings and an ERA less than 2. Hoffman-Reynolds is an easy comparison, since they shared the same inning count. Hoffman allowed two more hits, two more walks, and two more runs.

“The best position player was Nelson Snyder, even though he only batted in the .250s. His .769 OPS was second-best on the team, and he anchored a defense that committed only 1 error through the 13 games.”

He summed it up: “Even with Reynolds, the USBL didn’t have any individual standouts. And no dominating team performance in the playoffs. Just enough to win, the same model the USBL followed all year.”

Game 1: Two in the Ninth Seals the USBL’s 3-1 Win

Chuck “Wildcat” Wilson took the mound for USBL against PATP’s Tyler Michael and both starters pitched well, each going eight innings and allowing just one run between them. Wilson was more dominant than Michael, though, shutting out PATP on just one hit and a pair of walks, and his team carried a slim 1-0 lead into the ninth inning.

PATP summoned their closer, Jeff “Nitro” Robison, to keep their team in the game in the top of the ninth, but he hit the leadoff batter, Gary McCord, and then walked the next one, Travis Stokes. Pinch-hitter Jesus Ruiz came up next and grounded into a third-to-first double play, but center fielder Steffan Carver drove in Stokes with his first hit of the game and then stole second.

Alex Schultz drove in Carver with a double, giving USBL a two-run cushion heading into the bottom of the inning. USBL summoned closer Juan Pagan, who lost the shutout on pinch hitter Ben West’s solo home run but still closed the door on PATP for a 1-0 series lead.

Game 2: PATP Squanders Opportunities in 3-0 Loss

USBL lost a shutout in the ninth inning of Game 1 but five pitchers combined to hang nine goose eggs on PATP in Game 2 as they took a 2-0 series lead with a 3-0 win. Both teams had nine hits, but USBL made theirs count with a solo home run and a pair of doubles by DH John Irwin, whereas PATP could summon only one double and eight singles.

Game 3: PATP Comes Alive in 15-Inning Thriller to Cut USBL’s Lead

After five shutout innings in Game 3, PATP had scored just one run in the first 23 frames of this series, but their bats finally came alive in the top of the sixth as they took a 3-2 lead on a walk, a double, and a pair of singles. That chased USBL starter Nathaniel Shelton and PATP carried a 5-3 lead into the bottom of the ninth inning.

PATP summoned Robison to shut the door after starter Elliott “Bluto” Wells had pitched eight strong innings, and Nitro disposed of the first two batters. Then the situation fell apart as Robison struck Nelson Snyder with a pitch — part of an ongoing storyline in the series for PATP’s pitchers — and surrendered a two-run home run to Guillermo Padilla.

The reinvigorated home crowd erupted as Padilla circled the bases and then settled in for five scoreless innings before PATP finally broke through with an RBI single by De-shi Tseng in the top of the 15th. Runner Wayne Barry slid in just under the tag at home plate. That was enough for a 6-4 victory.

Tseng was the other part of the PATP storyline: That RBI was the only one for him in the series, and it came while he was batting in the ninth slot after being demoted from the lead-off position he had occupied in the first two games. He hit just .185 for the series and a mere .190 in the playoffs overall after batting .265 in the regular season.

Speaking after the game, PATP GM Kyle Stever remarked: “The only draft pick I regret (and, really, regretted the second I made it) was Tseng. I got enamored with his stats from the season before and figured he may have even developed some over the offseason to boost them even more, but I’m usually so anti-speed guys — especially low OBP ones — that it was very out of character for me. And, needless to say, his crappy playoffs were the cherry on top of a disappointing regular season for him!”

Game 4: USBL Takes Charge With a 4-2 Win

USBL proved in Game 4 that Game 3 was a fluke as they used two batters hit by pitches (including one with the bases loaded), three singles, a walk, and two fielders choice plays that plated runners to take a 4-0 lead in the bottom of the second inning. PATP managed to scratch out two runs on a wild pitch and a sacrifice fly in the seventh and eighth innings, but that was it for a team whose offense flew high after the mid-season acquisition of shortstop Ed “Outlaw” Young, who tried to will his team to the championship by hitting over .400 for the playoffs.

The game was typical of USBL’s wins in the series: They scored four runs on just five hits and one walk, and they took advantage of all opportunities handed to them as they left just three batters on base. In contrast, PATP had seven hits (all of them singles) and walked five times, but they stranded nine men.

USBL also showed in the game why a reliever was chosen by GM Crandell as their team MVP as they used five pitchers to secure the victory. Three relievers faced just one batter each as USBL created favorable match-ups to neutralize PATP’s offense, and Pagan set up the save for Reynolds. Pagan saved 28 games during the regular season, but Reynolds had 14 saves of his own, so USBL wasn’t afraid to use a bullpen-by-committee approach when necessary.

Game 5: PATP Claws Back With a 4-1 Victory

PATP managed to flip the script in Game 5 and cut USBL’s lead to 3-2 as they cruised to a 4-1 victory. They left six runners on base while USBL stranded 10, and they finally showed off the power they were capable of all year as they socked three home runs and a double.

Game 6: The Game Finishes the Same as USBL Defeats PATP, 3-1

Any hope PATP had for a miracle comeback ended with a whimper in Game 6 as USBL used a pair of doubles, a triple, and eight walks to score three runs. PATP managed just a run on six hits, all of them singles.

USBL pulled out all the stops on the pitching side, using an amazing eight hurlers to ensure a championship victory, while PATP’s ace Elliott Wells, who was 23-8 with a 2.48 ERA during the regular season, was merely ordinary: 6.1 innings pitched and three hits, two runs, and five walks allowed, with four strikeouts.

Looking back at the pre-season draft, Crandell remarked: “USBL drafted one slot ahead of PATP. I had Wells as the 4th best pitcher, right after the guys who went 1,2,3. But I liked Snyder a lot as a shortstop and picked him instead. Probably made a mistake with that one. It was interesting to me how many good teams picked late in the draft order.”

Stever added: “As for the draft, I remember my league basically writing us off after seeing where we were drafting. The league’s talent seemed top heavy when the file first got released, so the fact that two late drafters both made the Finals is pretty ironic. I never imagined Wells slipping through, though, to be honest — a lot of missed picks ahead of him, in my opinion.”

In the end, Crandell summed it up: “I still believe OOTP playoffs are just like real-life baseball: 50-50 prospects that go to whoever gets the most lucky breaks.”

GCL Finals Preview: Who Has the Edge?

Playoff histories in all sports are rife with tales of clubs who were The Team to Beat, only to fall to a lesser opponent before achieving glory. Rare are championships that feature the teams with the top two records in a league competing for the big prize. Rarer still are situations where those top two teams fought tooth-and-nail to come out on top in the previous playoff round.

And yet we find ourselves with such a situation in the Grand Championship League’s second season: A Finals that features not only the top two teams by record (101-61 Play at the Plate (PATP) vs. 94-68 USBL) but also two clubs who survived epic seven-game Semi-Final series. Both teams found themselves on the precipice numerous times but kept fighting back. In fact, USBL faced elimination twice when they were down 3-2 in the series but won convincingly in Games 6 and 7.

“Our first round series was considerably more of a dog fight than we were anticipating,” said PATP GM Kyle Stever. “Despite never once trailing in the series (with wins in all of the odd-numbered games and losses in the evens), it still came down to the slimmest of margins after a heroic effort by our team’s ace to get through.”

He added: “It seemed that, even in our victories, we either left an inordinate amount of men on base and were saved by great pitching, or we were able to knock a few in but couldn’t keep the other team from doing the same. In fact, with the possible exception of Game Three [won by PATP, 9-4], I’m not sure there was a single game in the series where we performed as I’ve come to expect this season. A big part of this, in my opinion, was the struggles of one of our best bats, Jorge Sandoval, who didn’t do much cleaning from the #4 spot in the series – and who we’ll look towards (despite knocking him down to the 5th spot) for a bounce back series in the Finals, for sure.”

Steve Crandell, USBL GM, had this to say: “Winning the division title was great. Making the Finals feels more like a stepping stone, a 50-50 proposition that happened to break in our favor.”

He added: “The USBL has had high expectations from draft day forward: a few of the players have been saddled with less-than-stellar scouting reports, even when the career stats suggested otherwise, and that may have provided motivation. At any rate, there’s still work to be done to consider this postseason successful.”

Looking Ahead to Game One

Of course, surviving a do-or-die Game 7 has a way of depleting a team and leaving them vulnerable for the next round, but in this case both teams are on a level playing field. If either team is vulnerable, it could be PATP, as Stever explains: “The fact that the series went as it did will certainly be a drag on our squad in the Finals as well. Our team’s undeniable MVP from the first series (and the regular season, as well), Cy Young candidate Elliot Wells, is coming off a Game 7 where he put the team on his back and will not make his series debut until Game 3.” Wells posted a 2-1 record with a 1.57 ERA in the Semi-Finals.

Stever added: “That also means Wells will be unable to potentially pitch three times in this series, as he did in the last. In his stead, Tyler Michael (18-15, 3.75 ERA) will open the series and potentially pitch three games in it, depending on how things break. We recognize that our opponent will be similarly affected by his previous seven-game series, but we see this as a definite feather in their caps because Wells is, clearly, the cream of either team’s pitching crops. That said, though, we still feel like our rotations will match up well with one another – it just doesn’t appear to be as strong an advantage for us as it could have been.”

PATP’s pitching staff ranked in the top five in seven categories this year, and was ninth and tenth in two others, while USBL’s hurlers were in the top five in no categories and in the top ten in seven of them. However, USBL was in the top three in five hitting categories while PATP was in the top three in none and in the top five in three categories.

However, Crandell expressed concern for his mighty offense: “No significant changes contemplated, but we could stand to see more offensive production. Only six homers total in the first round. We’ve suggested to DH John Irwin that he might want to nudge his playoff slugging percentage above the .167 mark.”

On the pitching side, Crandell had this to say: “Wildcat Wilson (13-10, 4.40 ERA) is rested, so he’ll take the mound for Game 1. One target is for the starters to get through 6+ innings intact. USBL relievers pitched 21.2 innings in the first-round playoffs against PEBA and let up two earned runs. If we get anything close to that kind of performance again, it could be a fun series.”

Whither the Series?

Crandell noted: “We won five of six from PATP during the regular season, as if that means anything.” Indeed: USBL pummeled PATP during a sweep in May, outscoring them 21-6 while shutting out PATP twice, but when the teams met again in August, USBL took two of three from PATP but was outscored, 16-14.

What will baseball’s fickle hand of fate have in store for the Finals? Stay tuned.

PATP, USBL Win Game 7s, Head to the Finals

Both first-round playoff series in this second Grand Championship League (GCL) postseason went the distance as Play at the Plate (PATP) played two one-run games against ASBA — losing Game Six but winning Game Seven — and defending champions PEBA gave up a 3-2 lead versus USBL with a pair of defeats.

Now 101-game winner PATP, owners of the GCL’s best record this season, squares off against 94-game winner USBL in the Finals.

Ninth Inning Drama

Both games between PATP and ASBA were nail-biters that had PATP’s hometown fans on the edges of their seats. In Game Six, PATP entered the bottom of the ninth down, 5-3, but DH Jorge Sandoval’s solo home run off ASBA closer Dan Burns (4-5, 36 saves, 1.94 ERA, 0.96 WHIP) electrified the hometown crowd.

They were on their feet as catcher Dale Parker drew a four-pitch walk and was replaced by speedster Jose Martinez, who swiped 13 bases in 42 games this year. Martinez promptly stole second base and the crowd noise grew to a steady roar, but pinch-hitter Jorge Hernandez waved through a blazing fastball for the final out.

ASBA starter Lee Armstrong, who lasted just 2.1 innings in a 9-4 loss in Game Three, went 5.2 innings and threw 109 pitches for the Game Six win. A trio of relievers held PATP at bay until Burns shut the door for his second save of the series. For PATP, it was Dirk Morrison who took the loss after picking up the win in Game Three. He managed to throw seven innings, however.

In Game Seven, PATP summoned Elliott “Bluto” Wells for his third start of the series, having previously won a game but lost another. ASBA countered with Jose Martinez, who shut down PATP in a 1-0 victory in Game Four. Martinez was shaky early, allowing a first-inning solo home run to shortstop Ed Young, who hit .367 for the series, and allowing a double and a single the next inning for another run.

However, Martinez settled down and didn’t allow a run the rest of the way while Wells gave up his only run in the top of the fourth on a ground-out. ASBA almost evened the score in the top of the sixth when right fielder Bernard Rich singled, moved to third on a base hit by DH Steve Cash, and tried to score on second baseman Butch Manning’s sacrifice fly. However, the ball wasn’t very deep, and PATP left fielder Carlos Bernard unleashed a pinpoint throw to home that easily nailed Rich, much to the delight of the fans.

ASBA couldn’t get anything else going until the top of the ninth against PATP closer Jeff Robison (8-5, 44 saves, 2.53 ERA, 1.11 WHIP). There were two outs when catcher Pedro Gonzales reached first on an error by second baseman Bruce King, who simply dropped the ball. The raucous crowd, standing on their feet and screaming for a berth in the Finals, fell silent as King stood with his head down and Gonzales trotted off the field in favor of pinch runner Jesus Velez.

Center fielder Peter Britton, who already had two hits in the game, notched his third when he ran the count full before launching a line-drive single that put the speedy Velez at third. That set the stage for an epic 11-pitch battle between Robison and first baseman Bobby Nix, who at one point fouled off five of six pitches, including three in a row with a 3-2 count.

Finally, Nix hit a sharp grounder that PATP shortstop Ed Young scooped up and threw to first for the final out of the game. It was fitting that Young made the play, since he was a prize acquisition in PATP’s mid-season trade with Asahi2. Young and his teammates basked in the roar of the crowd before heading to the locker room to find out who would be their opponent.

PEBA Gives Up the Lead

In the other series, PEBA traveled to USBL’s home turf with the lead, 3-2. Jim Taylor, who won 15 games this season, got the nod for Game Six after having won Game Two for his team, 5-4. USBL countered with Game Two loser Nathaniel Shelton, who also notched 15 wins this season.

In a reversal of Game Two, USBL won, 4-2, thanks to a middle-inning outburst that saw second baseman Gary McCord single in catcher Jesus Ruiz, right fielder Alex Schultz hit a two-run home run, and left fielder Guillermo Padilla hit a sacrifice fly. PEBA answered with a home run in the top of the seventh, but their best chance at completing a comeback was with runners on second and third with one out in the top of the eighth — a pair of USBL relievers came in to record the final two outs without further damage.

In Game Seven, PEBA put their season in the hands of 16-game winner Tomas Sanchez, who allowed just two runs, one of them unearned, in Game Three but ended up with a no decision as the bullpen fell apart. USBL trotted out 18-game winner Lloyd Patterson, who started Games One and Four; the former was a win, the latter a loss.

USBL promptly got all the runs they needed off Sanchez in the bottom of the first as third baseman Pete McPherson walked, shortstop Nelson Snyder doubled him over to third, left fielder Guillermo Padilla grounded out into a play that scored McPherson and moved Snyder to third, and DH John Irwin hit a sacrifice fly. Second baseman Gary McCord punctuated the scoring with a solo home run.

PEBA did all its damage in the top of the second, when right fielder Cody Turner hit a two-run home run, his third of the series. USBL tacked on two more runs in the bottom of the fourth and that was it for the scoring in Game Seven.

USBL summoned closer Juan Pagan in the bottom of the ninth and he struck out the first two batters before allowing a single to third baseman Luis Gonzales. The next batter, catcher Roy Clark, hit a line drive into the right field gap for a sure double, but the throw from the outfield, and the subsequent relay, were right on the money to nail Gonzales at home and send the crowd into a frenzy. It’s not often that a play at the plate decides a playoff series, but it was a fitting end to an epic seven games.

PATP, PEBA on the Finals Brink With 3-2 Series Leads

A fifth-inning sacrifice fly provided all the scoring in Game Four of the PATP-ASBA series as ASBA took the win, 1-0, but PATP won Game Five, 8-3, with three home runs and jumped ahead, three games to two, in the series.

Meanwhile, USBL surrendered their 2-1 series lead against PEBA as the defending champs won Games Three and Four by 6-3 and 5-1 scores, respectively.

PATP Takes the Lead

Play at the Plate (PATP) had the best record in the GCL’s second season with 101 wins and the eighth-most runs in the league, but ASBA’s Jose Martinez (10-9, 2.95 ERA) shut them down over seven innings in his first start of this postseason. He scattered four hits and a pair of walks, with four strikeouts.

PATP put Game One winner Elliott Wells on the mound and he did his best to keep his team in the game, lasting seven innings and allowing just one run on four hits and three walks, with a pair of strikeouts.

In Game Five, PATP’s Tyler Michael avenged a 9-4 drubbing in Game Two by going the distance in an 8-3 victory, allowing just two hits and three walks while throwing 111 pitches. ASBA starter Matt Woods had been the winner in Game Two, but this time he allowed six runs in seven innings.

ASBA opened the Game Five scoring on right fielder Bernard Rich’s two-run first inning home run, igniting a frenzied home crowd that began to sense maybe their team could pull off an upset in this series. PATP responded in the top of the next frame with a solo home run by DH Jorge Sandoval and tied it up in the fifth on a sacrifice fly.

The next inning, the floodgates opened: center fielder Craig Zimmer, with a .412 batting average in this series, tripled on a scorching line drive to right-center field to lead off the action for PATP. Always-dangerous shortstop Ed Young struck out next and first baseman David Bradley was walked, a head-scratching decision that became even more painful when Sandoval launched a three-run home run to put PATP ahead for good.

PATP added three more runs in the eighth on a solo homer by Zimmer and a two-run double from catcher Dale Parker. The restless home crowd began booing and was little mollified by third baseman Chris Jordan’s too-little-too-late solo home run in the bottom of the ninth.

PATP heads home for Game Six of the series ahead, 3-2, with the chance to secure a berth in the Finals in front of their fans.

PEBA Pulls Ahead

In Game Three of the PEBA-USBL series, PEBA electrified their home crowd by jumping out to a 4-0 lead after six innings. Center fielder Jorge Rivera drove in a run in the third with a single and doubled in another run two innings later. Catcher Roy Clark added two more with a two-run, bases-loaded single in the bottom of the sixth.

USBL struck back the next inning with three runs off PEBA starter Albert Duncan, who was seeing his first action of this postseason. First baseman Travis Stokes led off the scoring with a solo home run and third baseman Pete McPherson knocked in two more three batters later with a single.

The score remained 4-3 until the bottom of the eighth inning, when PEBA added a pair of insurance runs. USBL put runners on first and second with two outs in the top of the ninth, but PEBA closer Ricardo Williams earned his second save of the series by coaxing second baseman Gary McCord to pop up to right field.

In Game Five, PEBA starter David Dixon (20-5, 2.25 ERA) avenged a 4-3 loss in Game One, for which he earned a no decision, by tossing eight strong innings in a 5-1 victory. PEBA got started early with a first-inning run off USBL starter Chuck Wilson, who was tapped for his first start of the series.

The run didn’t score without some controversy, however: Shortstop Will Barnes singled, sending second baseman Gabriel Quinones from second to home on a ground ball to shallow left field. USBL catcher Jesus Ruiz field the throw to home in time to tag Quinones, but the runner lowered his shoulder and barreled over his opponent, dislodging the ball. Ruiz was okay, but the USBL dugout began jawing at PEBA’s side and the umpires had to step in to calm the situation, which was reminiscent of the two hit batters in Game Three that almost ignited a brawl.

The score remained 1-0 until the top of the fourth, when Stokes singled in a run. In the bottom of the sixth, PEBA pulled ahead for good as first baseman Griffin Price hit a solo home run and right fielder Cody Turner doubled in runner Antonio Hernandez from first – Hernandez was able to avoid a collision at the plate and prevent any further possible confrontations by sliding around Ruiz and tapping the dish with one hand.

The series now moves to USBL’s home stadium for Game Six with the defending champions up, three games to two.

PATP, USBL Take 2-1 Series Leads

Two days after ASBA knocked around Play at the Plate (PATP) in a 9-4 Game Two victory, PATP returned the favor with a 9-4 win of their own in Game Three of the series. Meanwhile, USBL took advantage of a breakdown in PEBA‘s bullpen to plate three runs in the eighth and ninth innings and pull out a 5-2 Game Three win. There was some drama around two USBL batters hit by reliever Jake Wolf in the eighth, but calm was restored without any ejections.

The Grand Championship League (GCL) playoffs now stand at 2-1 in favor of PATP and USBL.

What Comes Around Goes Around

ASBA jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning against PATP on a pair of base hits and a walk, but PATP silenced the hometown crowd by pouring on five runs in the top of the second inning.

PATP center fielder Craig Zimmer, who is batting .400 for the series after three games, got his team’s offense going by pounding a base hit up the middle on the first pitch he saw. He then stole second base and scored on left fielder Carlos Bernard’s single.

Right fielder De-shit Tseng and shortstop Ed Young followed up with singles, the latter scoring Bernard, and then first baseman David Bradley walked to load the bases with one out. With a 1-1 count on the next batter, DH Jorge Sandoval, ASBA starter Lee Armstrong balked in a run on a call that had many in the crowd booing. Armstrong seemed rattled after the balk and ran the count to 3-1 to Sandoval before surrendering a two-run double to him.

In the top of the third, Zimmer again got the best of ASBA by walking, stealing second, and scoring on Bernard’s ground out. That was it for Armstrong: he gave way to reliever Francisco Escobedo, who pitched 3.2 innings total while giving up another pair of runs.

PATP starter Dirk Morrison ended up lasting 5.2 innings to get the win, surrendering four runs along the way. ASBA did most of their damage against him in the bottom of the third, when they scored three runs with two outs. ASBA DH Steve Cash, who is hitting .429 for the series, had a base hit in the inning and three for the game.

USBL Not Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf

In the other Game Three, USBL pushed a run across with some small ball as shortstop Nelson Snyder walked, moved to second on left fielder Guillermo Padilla’s single, tagged up and advanced to second when DH John Irwin flied out to to deep right field, and scored on second baseman Gary McCord’s fly ball to left that outfielder Glenn King seemed to lose in the lights for an error.

PEBA evened the score at 1-1 on right fielder Cody Turner’s home run in the bottom of the fourth. USBL came back with a run in the top of the fifth and held the lead until PEBA used a pair of walks and a single to tie it up at 2-2 in the bottom of the seventh.

Then the top of the eighth arrived and PEBA starter Tomas Sanchez retired Padilla for the first out before giving way to reliever Jake Wolf. Sanchez had allowed just two runs, but with his pitch count hitting 115, the time seemed to have come for the bullpen with the seventh-best regular season ERA to take over.

Wolf, who posted a 5-0 record with a pair of saves, a 1.40 ERA, and a 0.93 WHIP, seemed to be the best bet to hold USBL at bay, but he immediately got into trouble when he hit Irwin with a pitch. Clearly the fastball had gotten away from him, but Irwin maintained a steady glare as he trotted down to first and both benches erupted in shouting.

Cooler heads prevailed and a seemingly-rattled Wolf surrendered a full-count walk to McCord before giving up a deep fly ball to center off the bat of first baseman Travis Stokes, who picked up his first hit of the series as the ball bounced off the wall for a double.

Irwin scored and McCord blew past a stop sign from his third base coach to barrel toward home plate. As the relay arrived to PEBA catcher Roy Clark, McCord slid around his opponent, just barely touching the dish with one hand as Clark lunged to make the tag.

After Wolf got catcher Ryan Woods to ground out, he plunked center fielder Steffan Carver with his first pitch. Immediately both benches emptied and Wolf threw his hands up in the air in protest – he could be seen saying “Why would I do that?” in the replays. Luckily, calm was quickly restored, warnings were issued to both teams, and Wolf finished the inning without allowing additional damage.

In the bottom of the eighth, USBL also relied on their bullpen, using four pitchers to navigate the top of PEBA’s lineup without surrendering a run. Wolf continued on the mound for PEBA in the top of the ninth and gave up another run that left the final score 5-2 and the defending champs down 2-1 in this series.

Series Knotted at 1-1 as ASBA Drowns PATP, PEBA Wins By a Run

Both first round playoff series in the Grand Championship League are now tied at one game apiece as ASBA’s seven-run 6th inning led to a 9-4 pummeling of the mighty Play at the Plate (PATP) and PEBA nipped USBL, 5-4, with help from left fielder Glenn King’s three-hit performance.

Oh How the Mighty May Fall

PATP put Tyler Michael (18-15, 3.75 ERA) on the mound against ASBA and saw him promptly surrender a pair of first-inning runs on DH Steve Cash’s two-out triple. The hit rolled to the wall in right field and took an awkward carom that allowed the not-usually-fleet-footed runner to slide into third just ahead of the throw.

PATP finally answered in the bottom of the 5th inning on center fielder Craig Zimmer’s three-run bomb that woke up the hometown crowd. He hit it on the second pitch from ASBA starter Matt Woods (13-16, 4.33 ERA), who ended up lasting 8.1 innings before giving way to closer Dan Burns (4-5, 36 saves, 1.95 ERA, 0.96 WHIP) to mop up the ninth after third baseman Roberto Martinez’s solo home run.

ASBA quickly quieted the crowd in the top of the sixth when third baseman Chris Jordan led off with a triple that rattled around in the right field corner. He then scored on right fielder Bernard Rich’s sacrifice fly. The next batter, Cash, singled and moved to third on second baseman Butch Manning’s base hit before scoring on shortstop Chandler Abbotson’s single.

Left fielder Whit Benjamin then singled to load the bases and catcher Pedro Gonzales walked to bring in another run. The next batter, center fielder Peter Britton, singled to drive in two more runs and finally chase Michael from the game. Reliever Mario Diaz surrendered a two-run double by first baseman Bobby Nix before finally bringing the inning to a close without further damage.

The series now takes a day off before moving to ASBA’s home field for the next three games.

PEBA Holds Off USBL

In yesterday’s other game, defending champs PEBA slipped by USBL, 4-3, to even up their series too, before moving to PEBA’s home stadium for the next three games. The visitors jumped out to a quick 1-0 lead in the first inning when King doubled in second baseman Gabriel Quinones, who had legged out an infield hit to start the game.

USBL struck back in the bottom of the third as third baseman Peter McPherson and shortstop Nelson Snyder both walked to set up left fielder Guillermo Padilla’s massive 424-foot, three-run home run.

PEBA roared back with three more runs in the top of the fourth inning off starter Nathaniel Shelton (15-13, 3.28 ERA), who ended up lasting just 4.2 innings in the loss. PEBA used three singles and a double to take the lead, 4-3. An inning later, they added another run, chasing Shelton in the process, as third baseman Luis Gonzales scored on DH Julio Diaz’s sacrifice fly. The ball wasn’t very deep, setting up a play at the plate, but Gonzales slid in just under catcher Ryan Woods’ tag.

USBL added another run in the bottom of the sixth, but the score remained 5-4 until the end. USBL set up runners on first and second with no outs in the bottom of the ninth off PEBA closer Ricardo Williams (5-7, 44 saves, 2.06 ERA, 1.27 WHIP), but Padilla went down swinging on three pitches and DH John Irwin grounded into a game-ending double play.

Two Dramatic One-Run Games Open the GCL Playoffs

Play at the Plate (PATP), owners of the best regular season record in the Grand Championship League’s second edition, jumped out to a 1-0 lead in their best-of-seven series against ASBA with a 4-3 victory on Monday. They halted a furious ninth-inning rally by ASBA to secure the win.

Meanwhile, a walk-off home run by light-hitting center fielder Steffen Carver, who hit two in the game but just five during the season, gave USBL a dramatic 4-3, 16-inning victory over defending champs PEBA in the first game of their series.

Ninth Inning Drama For PATP-ASBA

In the PATP-ASBA game, both teams moved runners into scoring position but couldn’t capitalize on the opportunities until PATP broke through with two runs in the bottom of the fourth inning against starter P.J. “Otter” Ackerman, owner of an 18-11 record. Third baseman Roberto Martinez singled on the second pitch he saw to lead off the action and moved to second on center fielder Craig Zimmer’s walk.

Second baseman Bruce King then grounded into a fielder’s choice that sent Martinez to third. An 0-1 pitch to the next batter, left fielder Carlos Bernard, went wide and allowed Martinez to score the game’s first run. Then King stole third base and scored on right fielder De-shi Tseng’s double.

ASBA answered in the top of the sixth, finally breaking through against PATP starter Elliott “Bluto” Wells, who posted a 23-8 record with a 2.48 ERA during the regular season. First baseman Bobby Nix and third baseman singled to lead off the inning. Two batters later, DH Steve Cash knocked them both in with a double that banged high off the wall. Despite swiping just 11 bases during the regular season, Cash tried to take third during the next at-bat and was gunned down.

In the bottom of the next inning, PATP took back the lead on a monstrous 388-foot two-run home run by first baseman David Bradley, who hit 30 dingers during the regular season. Ackerman stayed in the game for ASBA until the bottom of the eighth, when he allowed two runners on base and reliever Chris Pegram was summoned to staunch the bleeding.

That set up a dramatic top of the ninth inning against closer Jeff Robison, who posted an 8-5 record with 44 saves and a 2.53 ERA during the regular season. Right fielder Bernard Rich, who hit just .254 this season, led off with a single and advanced to third when the next hitter, Cash, reached on an error.

Up to the plate stepped second baseman Butch Manning, who smashed a ground ball deep into the hole at shortstop. He was out on a close play at first, allowing Rich to score and Cash to move up to third. After shortstop Chandler Abbotson struck out, pinch hitter Manuel Andrade grounded out to end the threat. Robison and the hometown crowd could both be seen breathing a heavy sigh of relief after the out was recorded.

A 16-Inning Battle to Remember

The USBL-PEBA contest was uneventful until the bottom of the fifth inning, when Carver launched an enormous 435-foot, two-run home run on the first pitch he saw from PEBA starter David Dixon (20-5, 2.25 ERA). Dixon knew he had made a critical mistake as soon as Carver made contact and declined to even turn around and watch the ball’s flight. The USBL home crowd erupted and Carver’s incredulous teammates repeatedly slapped him on the back when he returned to the dugout.

PEBA quickly quieted the crowd in the top of the sixth, however, as solo home runs from right fielder Cody Turner and center fielder Jorge Rivera tied the score off USBL starter Lloyd Patterson (18-7, 3.24 ERA). It remained that way until the ninth, when catcher Roy Clark doubled in Antonio Hernandez, who had a pinch-hit single to lead off the top of the inning.

In the bottom of the ninth, PEBA summoned closer Ricardo Williams (5-7, 44 saves, 2.06 ERA) to shut the door on ASBA, but Carver was at the center of attention again when he singled to lead off the frame and advanced to second on a sacrifice. Shortstop Nelson Snyder then singled and Carver raced home without a throw, once again sending the crowd into a roar.

With the score knotted at 3-3, the teams worked their way through another six scoreless innings until Carver once again stepped to the plate in the bottom of the 16th for USBL. Setup man Cisco Estrada (5-4, two saves, 3.33 ERA, 0.97 WHIP) was on the mound again for PEBA after tossing a scoreless 15th.

Carver let the first pitch sail by for ball one before knocking a foul ball behind the screen. Then he pulled the third pitch he saw and the crowd leapt to its feet as it carried into right field, sailing, sailing, sailing until it landed just over the wall.

Carver thrust his arms into the air as he circled the bases, the crowd roared, and his teammates gathered to meet him at home plate. Before this series started, nearly everyone would have picked several of his teammates as postseason home run heroes over him, but there he was, grinning like a kid at Christmas. The first man to congratulate him was left fielder Guillermo Padilla, owner of 36 home runs this season.

PEBA players slowly left the field as the celebration continued, but there’s plenty more baseball to be played. Stay tuned.

GCL Season 2: A Playoff Preview

The regular season of the second iteration of the Grand Championship League is in the books, and congratulations are in order to the teams headed to the playoffs:

• ASBA took the Heinsohn Division with an 88-74 record, five games ahead of RFTP.
• PEBA wrapped up the Raht Division at 93-69, nine games over FOBL.
• USBL secured the Cook Division with a 94-68 mark, three games ahead of BSA.
• Play at the Plate (PATP) won the Palkowski Division with a league-best 101-61 record, nine games ahead of OTBA.

All four teams headed into the playoffs on the right foot, with records of at least 6-4 in their last ten games, and three of the four posted solid September marks: PATP was 15-5 for the month, PEBA was 10-10, ASBA was 13-7, and USBL was 14-6.

With the worst regular season record of the four clubs, ASBA gets to take on PATP in round one, while PEBA and USBL, with just a game separating their records, will square off.

Here’s a handy look at the playoff previews for both series:

PEBA vs. USBL

PEBA vs. USBL

ASBA vs. PATP

ASBA vs. PATP

PEBA: ‘If it Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It’

PEBA GM Nigel Laverick, tasked with defending his league’s championship during the first GCL season, had these thoughts about his team’s chances: “When I drafted the PEBA squad, I felt confident that we had a squad capable of reaching the postseason and despite not reaching the heights I felt we were capable of, we have achieved the target we set ourselves. We have failed to shine in almost any category of stats, but the consistent level of performance carried us through.”

He added: “I think the policy for the playoffs will be one of ‘If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.’ We are not having the best of Septembers [10-10], but the line-up has had a little tweak recently, which I hope will pay dividends. The switch to a four-man rotation for the postseason will help and I anticipate meeting PATP in the Grand Final. We’re 4-5 in the season series with them and I believe I might have spotted a slight chink in their armor. I didn’t have time to set it up right for the recent series, but I believe if we might them in the final it might just work. Time will tell, but I wish all four teams in the postseason the best of luck.”

USBL: ‘Time to Rely More Heavily on the Top Arms’

Asked about his team’s upcoming series against PEBA, USBL GM Steve Crandell said: “It feels great to make the playoffs. The team had a strong final run to get this far. We swept PEBA in our most recent series against them, and we were 4-2 overall for the season, but that doesn’t mean anything. Every game’s a toss-up from here on in.

“Time to rely more heavily on the top arms in the rotation. I’m still undecided about Wildcat Wilson or Jim Hoffman for Game 3. Wilson is on a 6-1 run and brought his ERA down almost a full run in that time. Hoffman has the better full-season performance, a stronger pickoff move, and more intimidating eyebrows.

“PEBA looks like a well-balanced team, and they don’t have much in the way of platoon differential to plan for. Even so, I’d like to see the USBL take more advantage of lefty-righty match-ups out of our bullpen in the late innings. The field manager and I haven’t always seen eye-to-eye on that one this season. Somewhat surprising, given that the GM and field manager are the same person.”

PATP: ‘We’ve Already Won the Real Championship’

Finally, PATP’s Kyle Stever had this to say about his club, which exploded out of the gate with a 21-7 April and never looked back: “First off, I’d like to say that, in our minds, we’ve already won the real championship. OTBA and ourselves were obviously the two best teams in the league in the hands-down best division in the league – and they gave us a hell of a fight all year (if they had been in any other division I would eagerly be anticipating a potential playoff square-off, but instead all I can do is tip my hat to their fine club and look forward to crossing paths again in the future).

“To come out on top in our 162-game series (and by such a large amount as well) is a stronger moral victory than any volatile 7-game series’ outcome could be. That said, moral victories don’t count for much – and the prize goes to the winner of the postseason crapshoot, so we’re going to go in and roll the die with the other 3 competitors. We feel we have the best chance of the 4, of course, even if it is only something like 30-25-25-20 odds.”

He added: “As for a first round upset, anything is possible in the postseason. I’ve had teams even more dominant than this one in other leagues not take home the postseason prize – it just is what it is once you get to October. That said, a first round loss would, indeed, be an ‘upset,’ as this is an extremely strong team that is actually, in my opinion, built even more for the postseason than regular season.

“To expand on that comment, you can take a look across the aisle at our first round opponent in ASBA. They went through the regular season relying very heavily on their talented and deep rotation (and it served them very well, obviously); however, with two-game spurts followed by a day off, that advantage is wasted because the fifth man in the rotation won’t see action. In our case, after successfully running a four-man rotation all season long, the fourth man likely won’t even either. (For what it’s worth, that was a large factor in the decision to trade away an elite SP in the Young deal).

“As such, we feel that we actually match up relatively well 1-3 vs. 1-4 with ASBA’s rotation – completely neutering their strongest asset. On our side, the acquisition of Young was with an obvious eye towards the postseason as the three-man gauntlet of him, Sandoval and Bradley is perfectly suited to succeed in short, random spurts like the playoffs – and, of course, we can continue to lean on the old adage that ‘defense wins championships.’” He chuckled a little at the thought.

Stever concluded: “As for our own adjustment’ for the postseason, the primary one is what was mentioned above – we will be dropping Zumuya (who performed admirably in the #4 slot after the Young deal, but was always better suited for a swing-man role) and running a four-man rotation (giving our Cy Young contending ace an extra start in each series). The bullpen roles will stay the same – as will their strategy (why fix what isn’t broken?).

“As for the lineup, it will stay as it was for game 162 as we already made our changes in mid-September (prepping for the postseason by trying to find an optimal combination beforehand) by sliding Young to SS full-time, getting Martinez’s bat (and glove) back in the lineup every day at 3B and putting up a platoon at 2B with King and West. We obviously take a small hit defensively at SS (though it’s not as if King was playing up to his potential defensively anyway), but get a huge boon on both sides of the ball with Martinez back in the fold full-time and also get a sizable upgrade offensively at 2B with the aforementioned platoon (which is expected to produce just shy of .700 OPS and elite defense based on the two players’ season splits).

“At any rate, no matter what happens, we’ve really enjoyed our time in the GCL – and couldn’t be prouder of our nearly end-to-end run at the top of its standings. Even if we do get ‘upset,’ that won’t take away at all from what this roster was able to accomplish this year. That said, good luck to the rest of the competitors… even with the crapshoot nature of the postseason, I have a feeling you’re going to need it.”

How Have the Trades Worked Out?

The second iteration of the Grand Championship League is now in the first week of September, and the standings have remained largely unchanged from previous reports. We’re 144 games into the season and just 18 games remain.

• ASBA leads the Heinsohn Division by 6 games over RFTP and 7 over MBWBA. ASBA was 5-5 in its last 10 games, but RFTP was 4-6 and MBWBA was 3-7.

• Defending champion PEBA continues to control the Raht Division with a seven-game lead over FOBL. Their magic number is 12, the lowest of any of the division winners.

• In the Cook Division, USBL continues to hold a narrow one-game lead over BSA, thanks to eight wins in their last ten games. Asahi2 has been even hotter, and their recent 9-1 run has kept them just four games out.

• Finally, Play at the Plate (PATP) still holds the GCL’s best record at 87-57, despite a recent 3-7 funk, and OTBA is six games out (3-7 in their last ten) while Corporate League is seven behind (6-4 in their last ten).

How about the players responsible for their teams’ success? PATP, which was looking for help with offense when they swapped a pair of great pitchers for shortstop Ed Young, has seen that strategy pay off: Young and teammate David Bradley are in the top seven in league batting average.

While the team is still around the middle of the league in many offensive categories, they’ve still seen a boost that has helped them maintain first place. Despite giving up two solid pitchers, PATP remains a top ten club in most pitching categories. On top of that, both pitchers they dealt have struggled with Asahi2: Kade Alderdice and Blair Middleton have both posted 4.66 ERAs on their new team.

Power at the Plate

The GCL’s stand-out at the plate is RIBC third baseman Francisco Munoz, whose .572 slugging, .973 OPS, .289 isolated power, 40 HR, and 118 RBI are all league-leading stats. He has helped propel his team near the top of the ranks in many offensive categories, but RIBC’s poor pitching (they’re near the bottom in ERA, runs allowed, hits allowed, BABIP, opponents’ average, walks, and strikeouts) has doomed the team to a 68-76 record, 13 games behind USBL in the Cook Division.

RIBC GM James Paterson went on a trading spree shortly before the deadline in a desperate attempt to bolster his team’s pitching, acquiring starter Hector Rivera and reliever Joe Raines from ULB and starter Rob Brown and reliever Mark Bacon from RFTP. After the former trade, Paterson conducted a rambling press conference during which he summoned the ghost of wrestler Randy “Macho Man” Savage to explain his seemingly desperate moves.

While Brown has pitched well for RIBC, posting a 7-4 record with a 2.40 ERA in a dozen starts, Rivera (5-4, 3.86 ERA), Raines (0-2, 7.36 ERA), and Bacon (1-3, 4.07 ERA in the closer’s role) have all struggled.

‘The Great One’ Delivers on His Nickname

On the pitching side, Domingo “Great One” Cruz has had an incredible season for FOBL, with a 26-5 record an a 2.35 ERA in 35 starts. He and Albert Trevino (17-8, 2.79 ERA) have anchored a rotation with the seventh-best ERA in the GCL at 3.49. Unfortunately, the bullpen hasn’t fared as well (3.85 ERA, 19th in the league), and the team is near the bottom in several hitting categories.

Cruz’s success has come despite him not being dominant in most of the pitching categories. For example, he’s not in the top five in shutouts (he has none of those) nor complete games (just one for him), and he’s fourth-worst in the league in opponent’s slugging percentage (.294). However, he’s only allowed six home runs this year, along with 213 hits in 256 2/3 innings pitched, so most starts involve either him finding ways to win or his teammates doing so.

One Division Race Remains Close

As the dog days of August near their end, three of the four division races in the Grand Championship League have opened up, with ASBA, PEBA, and Play at the Plate (PATP) taking leads of six games or more in the Heinsohn, Raht, and Palkowski Divisions, respectively.

In the Cook Division, however, BSA and USBL have turned the race for first into a two-team affair, with the latter just a game out, while former leader Asahi2 has dropped to seven games back.

“I think we’re in really good shape,” said Asahi2 GM Jay Holowach. “There’s a lot of baseball yet to play, but we were as far as nine back, so it’s good to be in striking distance.”

He offered those comments when his team was just four games back, but after back-to-back series against BSA and USBL that saw them lose five of those six games, Asahi2 is beginning to fade fast.

Are One-Run Games the Key?

BSA GM John Bosma had this to say: “One of the keys to BSA taking the division lead has been John Hill picking up his play for the stretch run. He’s put up a .914 OPS so far in August and this team’s fortunes are largely tied to his performance. It’s critical that ‘Brain’ continues to play to his lofty potential.

“One of the most stark differences between BSA and contending division foes, USBL and Asahi2, is performance in one-run games. USBL and Asahi2 are a combined 56-40 when the difference between victory and defeat is only one run. BSA, on the other hand, is just 21-23. BSA fans have been frustrated by the club’s performance in close games all season and things will have to improve in this regard if GCL2 hardware is their future.

“It would be very helpful if the team’s defense could improve a bit. 7th place in defensive efficiency isn’t bad but we feel like the team has the talent to be even better in that regard. The rotation was expected to be excellent and they haven’t disappointed (2nd overall in starter ERA), but the pen really needs to step it up (11th in RP ERA). No one saw shortstop Dave Jordan’s season coming but continued success out of that position (3.6 WAR so far) helps BSA’s chances a great deal.

“It’s looking like The Cook Division playoff race is going to go down to the wire. We in BSA’ville are confident that this team has all the talent to get the job done – we just have to make sure we’re putting the talent in the best position to win each day.”

An Inconsistent Season Leads to High Anxiety

Finally, USBL GM Steve Crandell had this to say: “It’s been an anxious season for the USBL. The team got off to a great start, then slumped into the midway point. Picked it up again, then lost 10 of 12 in late July and early August. That collapse included three losses against the team we’re chasing, BSA. And now we’re on a six-game win streak, three of those over the 3rd place team in the Cook Division, Asahi2. The front office has absolutely no expectations for what might come next.

“No aspect of team play has been consistent. Seven runs scored in the AFBL series, followed by 33 against ULBA, provides one recent example. Good time for the bats to get hot again. The USBL is back up to 4th in runs scored, 3rd in team OPS, and 2nd in home runs. A lot of the pickup is thanks to 4th round pick Guillermo Padilla. 55 games into the season, his OPS was stuck at .550. His next 55 games brought him up to .735. John Irwin is another bright spot. Best OPS on the team at .870. Up 80 points in August.

“The USBL is 11-5 in extra inning games, 30-20 in one run games, which might suggest a decent bullpen, or at least a decent amount of good fortune. But then there’s the fact that our closer has blown six saves. The team is currently 11th in starter ERA, 9th in bullpen ERA. The back end of the rotation, Chuck Wilson and Jeff Thomas, has been floundering, even though Wilson recorded his only shutout of the season against Asahi2 this week. The team could use a few more outings like that, if we’re going to claw our way back into first.

“There’s no grand strategy to supplant the BSA. At this point, with only 18 games left, we’re hoping for a few more breaks to go our way, and an end to the cycle of frustrations. Maybe that will be enough, maybe not. Thanks to Michael and Brad and all the GMs and leagues taking part, for creating this opportunity, and keeping the season fun.”

Here are the current standings:

GCL standings 030114