The Bull League’s interleague matches get underway today, and one of the ones to watch will certainly be the Ohio Oxen hosting the Calgary Inferno.
Long time fans will remember that these were the two teams that faced in a Bull Cup Championships recently, when the Oxen claimed the prize in 2016.
That year’s final playoff series was hotly contested, going the full five games. Many of the players from that series are still with their teams, such as Ohio’s 2016 Rookie of the Year, RF Ollie Oxenfree (though he is currently at AAA-level Toledo), and first baseman Garth Goyle, and of course 2016 Bull Cup MVP, catcher Tyrone O’Saurus, as well as Calgary’s Israel Medina, Cody Martin and Logans Run (who is on the DL at the moment).
But analysts put Ohio as the favorites for this mid-season series, which could severely hamper Calgary’s chances at staying relevant in their division race going into the second half.
Calgary’s biggest names from that 2016 Bull Cup series are now just memories. AEL MVP Dao-zi Ling signed with Rimouski after last season. The Inferno are also missing 2016 Elimination Round MVP, CF Billy Leyva, who left for free agency after that season and signed to Detroit.
Plus, the Inferno are having a dreadful season. They are 3 games below .500, and 7½ games out of first, behind the resurgent Nevada Speeders and the very competitive Seattle Salts. The Inferno are 3-7 in their last 10 games, and are having the worst July, so far, of any AEL team.
Ohio has had its share of struggles this season, as well. But seem to be on the ascendant, despite missing veteran arm Heath Smokem, and solid-contact second baseman Alec Tricity, both of whom are injured.
Both teams are scoring machines, but Ohio’s pitching is altogether miles ahead of the flailing Inferno. In fact, one internet meme has surfaced expressing how fans and critics feel about the Inferno’s 2018 season, coming off two Bull Cup wins and three straight appearances in the last three seasons, and falling to where they are now.
That’s not to say Ohio will have an easy ride through the next four games of the interleague home-and-home series. But with 8 players out with injuries or listed as day-to-day, the Calgary Inferno are in full panic mode, or close to it, closing out the first half of the season.
Numerous veterans will likely depart after this year, including the injured Logans Run, closer Kevin Krohn, and bullpen stalwart Sergio Maestas. Plus, two talented players hold opt-outs after this year, including Cody Martin, and Takahide Higuchi, the international free agent signed in November.
Martin, a 5-time All-Star and 2-time Bull Cup champion, is currently paid $17 million a year, but could see a substantial pay increase by opting out and signing as a free agent with someone else. Working in Calgary’s favor is that Martin is not known to be looking at a big pay raise necessarily, though he is said to have a rocky relationship with Inferno manager Corey Swartzendruber.
Ohio’s RHP Nick Pruitt (1-1, 2.73) is scheduled to get the start against Calgary’s RHP Takahide Higuchi (3-6, 4.87), tonight at 7:05 pm EDT in Cincinnati.