LL Division Leaders Look Set, But Wild Cards Not Carved in Stone

(GAME DATE — Sept. 5, 2020) — As the days wind down until the end of the 2020 schedule it looks more and more certain that the Boston Brawlers (84-55) and the Minneapolis Ravens (85-54) will seal playoff spots as the division champs for the LL East and LL West respectively.

But the wild cards are less certain, even as the Toronto Nomads have put up an incredible effort to work their way into the first wild card spot after a dire six weeks to the season. Until the Nomads took 3 of 4 from California in a set that began May 16, they had sunk to 13-28 and were in 5th place by then.

Fast forward to now, they improved to just over .500 by the All-Star break, have gone 31-21 since that time, tying the Ravens and just 1 win short of the Brawlers, and amazingly they have posted the best road record in the Bull League, at 45-27.

An early injury to #2 in the rotation, Alex Medina, looked certain to derail the Toronto comeback attempt, but they pressed on despite having some of the worst hitting stats in the LL, ranked 9th or 10th most of the year in batting average, OBP, runs scored, and home runs. But Toronto enjoyed great outings from ace Knuckles Malone, Danny Dalton, and Ruben Medina, who picked up a Pitcher of the Month Award for July.

Closer Damien Hines remained steady, extending his saves streak to 22 games before it was finally ended by Boston just this month. They have so far held off adding too much to their expanded roster with their AAA team in a playoff race and their AA team in the Heifer League post season, but the team did bring up third base prospect Nick Yagaslov, son of retired Tidals MVP Yuri Yagaslov, and the team likes what they see so far from him.

The New York Dragons, who were previously ahead of Toronto in the LL Easr standings, are now 3 games behind the Nomads in the second wildcard. They have stumbled into September, but have a Sandy Koufax Award contender anchoring their rotation in Steve Rollins, and are getting very good run production from the likes of Pedro Rosario, Justin Good and veteran Carlos “Mexican Menace” Mendoza, who opened August hitting for the cycle against Pittsburgh.

NY could retake the top wildcard if they pull their socks up, or if Toronto trips up. The teams only play 3 more times before the end of the year, and while the Nomads do have to contend with Boston once more, they have three series to go against the worst team in baseball this year, the Montreal Metros, are about to open a four-game set with the ML’s punching bag, the Dallas Deputies.

Meanwhile, the Dragons must face the solidly built Nevada Speeders, along with the Milwaukee Hops, who are no pushover, with a lineup headed by Les Groves and Jason Nelson, who formidable hitters. They then must face Pittsburgh, who may give them easier wins, but afterwards they run into Boston, then Toronto, the Boston again after a quick away series in Detroit.

Depth might be the key factor for the Toronto-NY wildcard race, and the Nomads outmatch NY in pitching depth. Should both teams maintain their pace, they should leave the Detroit Motorheads as the outsiders for the wildcard. But the Motorheads have powered back to .500 after a dismal April and May. Last year’s LL Rookie of the Year, Payton Bint, has been on fire. “Big P” is in the middle of the home run race with the Ravens’ Chris Zahn and the Pit Bulls’ John Rambo. Dennis Guppy, another big run producer for Motown has been solid as well.

Dennis’ brother, Martin Guppy, has been a steadily improving commodity in the Detroit bullpen, joined by James Seegar and Jesus Carrillo as the most capable arms on the roster, and filling in where the lackluster starters have been unable lock things down.

Detroit lies waiting in the weeds for either NY or Toronto to trip up, and they are just 3½ back in the wildcard race with two more valuable players coming back from injuries in the next two weeks. Detroit has a tough schedule ahead, which includes Ohio, Chicago and Minneapolis, but wins in their NY series and gains leveraged out of their Norfolk series could help propel them into the postseason.

Chicago and Ohio seem like unlikely outriders in the wildcard race, but both teams have recently closed the gaps. Chicago, at 68-71, is just 5 games out of the wildcard. Once seen as a write off for 2020, the immense offense they have in their batting order has put them close to contending. Their top three in the batting order have more home runs than some entire LL teams. If LL leader Rambo’s home runs were deducted from the team total, they would still be ahead of every other LL team except for Minneapolis.

Ohio is no slouch either, and have the third best run production in the LL this year, along with the top team batting average at a shocking .296. But with arguably the worst defense in baseball, an embarrassingly deficient starting pitching staff save for June trade acquisition Lou Bricknell, and two important pieces on the disabled list (contact man Section Attack and slugger Tyrone O’Saurus), the Oxen will need a miracle to escape the slaughterhouse and wedge their way into a postseason.

Whatever the case, the LL playoff race is sure shaping up to be an exciting finish again for 2020!

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