(GAME DATE — April 26, 2021) — The preseason predictions were out in time for Opening Day, and so far, just after 3 weeks of play, the predictions are shaping up accurately for the high-flying defensing champion Chicago Pit Bulls.
Chicago won the Bull Cup as a 2nd wild card entry in the 2020 postseason, finishing 85-77 (.525) in their LL West division, before taking down Boston and Toronto on their way to the finals, where they took Nevada to game 6 and won the series 4-2.
This year’s preseason predictions have them topping the league with 99 wins, 63 losses, which if it rings true would be their best win percentage finish since the 2011 season, when they were 52-28 (.650).
Having last year’s Rookie of the Year and MVP winner, John Rambo, is certainly a big reason why. But this past offseason the club also made inroads in improving their starting rotation and bullpen, acquiring #3 man Lazaro Lozano and #4 man Bob Mesh, along with former Nevada closer Nate Kremer.
Lozano was 11-16 with a 5.39 ERA last year with Pittsburgh, and became a Pit Bull in the October contraction draft. With the solid run support offered from the Chicago bats, team GM Scott Davis had confidence that this middle rotation arm could quickly become a solid contributor with a winning record. Mesh was also acquired in the contraction draft from the now defunct Norfolk Sharks. Again, Davis overlooked his 10-11 record and 6.30 ERA, instead banking on improvement with the Pit Bulls bats behind him.
Nate Kremer was a free agent signing, at a reasonable price of just over $3.6 million. He harassed Chicago last year in the Bull Cup finals, going 1-0 with a save and a 1.29 ERA over 5 appearances. When he became available in free agency, Chicago jumped at the chance to sign him knowing full well his value as a closer, especially in a postseason run. But the 30-year-old’s regular season numbers are impressive and worth the price alone: 21-23 career record, 111 saves (including 3 so far this year), and a 2.94 ERA, he has amassed 380 K’s in relief and sports a 1.23 WHIP.
The offensive lineup of Rambo, backed by power duo Mike Strang and Jon Guillot, speedster Dennis Guppy (another contraction draft find), and outfielder Justin Kelly, virtually guarantee another deep run into the postseason, and is deep enough to weather injuries and slumps. Look for a reappearance at the Bull Cup if the team stays healthy.
NEW YORK, CALGARY COULD SURPRISE
The New York Dragons missed the postseason last year, going 84-78 with a late season run that did not quite catch the Toronto Nomads. This year, they are predicted to top the LL East division with 95 wins, largely due to their solid rotation of Steve Rollins and Ron Alder, both of whom could approach 20 wins this year.
The Calgary Inferno, who played to a dismal 73 win finish last year, are projecting over 1000 runs, and a .291 average. After moving back to the ML East division, they really only face St. Pete’s as their only serious competition, and with a rotation that includes former Admirals starter Chris Zerkle, they could give them a run for their money down the stretch. Predictions have Calgary with 95 wins, 10 ahead of St. Pete’s 85.
ANOTHER TIGHT ARIZONA/NEVADA RACE
The ML West is projecting another very close race between the Arizona Cowboys and the Nevada Speeders, with both teams approaching the 90-win mark but falling just short given the reduction in teams and the strength of Calgary and St. Pete’s in the east, two teams who they will battle with over limited wins.
The Speeders could end up outscoring all ML teams in runs and are projecting 1025 on the season. They will definitely need their top ace, Al Mota, back in the rotation if they hope to keep the opposing runners off the bases and maximize their run scoring. The acquisition during the offseason of former Norfolk Sharks batting champ and 2-time MVP Danny Sanchez will be key in maintaining their offensive momentum.
Arizona hopes to counter with reliable arms like Robby McWeeney and Isaiah Strachan, backed by the big bats from T.K. Yang, Alexis Rosa, and Joe Keuppers, who have been consistent producers for the Cowboys over the past few seasons.
Now that the Cowboys have tasted the postseason for the past two seasons in a row they are hooked and thirsty for more.
The big question is do they have the depth and resilience to match Nevada, St. Pete’s or Calgary and propel themselves to a first finals appearance in 2021? Time will tell!