(Game date: Sep 23, 2018) — The St. Petersburg Admirals have finally made a return appearance in the Bull Cup Championship Series, their first in 16 seasons. They will face off against the Montreal Metros in an exciting final, deciding round to the postseason for 2018.
The Admirals were last in the Bull Cup in 2002, when they were known as the San Diego Seagulls. They have never won the Bull League’s top prize, the team has produced solid players for many years, including Hall of Famer Always “Al” Rosy, a third baseman inducted in 2016, who had back-to-back MVP seasons with San Diego, in 1996 and 1997, and was a Rookie of the Year just two years prior to that.
The Admirals made a playoff appearance in their last two seasons in a row. In 2016, their last year in San Diego, they were eliminated in the first round by the Jacksonville Ravens after taking the series to it’s full five games. Though their solid outfield of Ger Vaartjes, Ricky Jalapeno, and Alex Viramontes all won batting awards in their positions, the team could not match up to the Ravens incredible rotation, which included Ricky Rodriguez, a Sandy Koufax Award winner that year.
The following season, in which they had relocated to Alaska, becoming the Anchorage Aces, the team once again made the postseason but was stymied by the Calgary Inferno, who steamrolled them and went on to sweep Jacksonville in the AELCS and then win the 2017 Bull Cup over the Montreal Metros.
This year, the Metros are in the finals again, but the Admirals will get their chance to crack them and take home the coveted trophy. After dropping game 1 of the AELCS to the Denver Danger, 9-4, the Admirals rallied and won the next 3 games straight behind four Takeo Otomo home runs, and key shutout relief appearances by Zach Duck, who earned two wins. Otomo was named Series MVP after hitting 5 home runs in total over the four games, out of 7 hits. The 38-year-old struck out just once while driving in 6 runs and scoring 7 times, hitting .389 during the series.
The Metros faced their own tough battle to get to the final round again. This time, it was the Minneapolis Ravens who put up tough resistance. The Ravens, who had formerly been in Jacksonville up until this season, have had solid pitching for years, which often carried them deep into the playoffs, though they had not appeared in a Bull Cup final since 2011, when they were still the Richmond Ravens.
But the Metros had their own ace pitcher back from a lengthy injury, as Judson Martel made his return after being out since August 7th with an injury — almost a year to the day after he was taken out of the 2017 season with a torn calf muscle, dashing his hopes of a playoff appearance in the last Metros postseason. This time, Martel was recovered in time for round 2, and he was ready to go the minute he stepped on the rubber.
Martel pitched a gem of a 7.0 inning Game 1, allowing just 1 run on 5 hits and 4 walks, and earning the win on the strength of a 2-run shot by RF Robert Araica. It was all the Metros would need to take the first game and set the tone. The Ravens battled back to tie the series with a 5-4 win in Game 2, before the series swung to Montreal where they were delivered a romping as Ravens’ ace Ricky Rodriguez finally got his turn on the bump and held the Metros to 2 runs as the Ravens tallied 8 in their favor. Rookie of the Year candidate Evandro Cerigo banged a 3-run shot against Montreal’s Yoshiaki Fujimara, and the series swung towards the Ravens.
Montreal evened it in Game 4 after delivering their own trouncing, this time racking up 11 runs as they chased Ravens #2 arm Jason Myers off the mound in the 7th inning, hitting him for 7 of those runs and scoring 4 more against reliever Alejandro Dominguez. Metros back of the rotation man Caleb “General” Patton, who was claimed on waivers from Dallas just before the season started, was zen-like through 8 innings, allowing just 3 runs on 8 hits.
The deciding game was as close as you can get, with Montreal edging Minneapolis 3-2 on the back of another stellar Martel performance, in which he weathered two solo home runs from the Ravens biggest bats, Evandro Cerigo and Gabel Reyes. Martel was unrattled, however, whiffing 7 batters and only allowing 4 hits in total as the Metros offense generated the runs they needed to first tie it in the 6th, then take the 1-run lead in the 7th after a run scored on an error by Ravens rookie SS Reynaldo Blas, who had been called into action full-time after the loss of All-Star Roberto Castro back on September 3.
Judson Martel earned his first playoff MVP nod on the back of his second win, one of the few pitchers ever to do so.
METROS vs ADMIRALS PREVIEW
The Montreal Metros were a notoriously difficult team to score against in 2018, allowing just 379 runs on them, 2nd lowest in the Lake League. Their starting rotation was 3rd best in the LL at a 3.68 ERA, and their bullpen ERA and defensive efficiency topped the LL with 2.87 and .708 respectively.
Given those numbers, one might assume the Metros have the Bull Cup in hand, especially with Judson Martel back in the mix. But you would be wrong to count out the Admirals, who have overcome the adversity of losing two of their top pitchers, Jose Soto and Chris Zerkle, to make it past the Elimination Round against a very tough Seattle Salts club. Then, with only Zerkle back, the Admirals dealt with Denver, a team that scores a dangerous number of home runs on home turf.
The Admirals were a run-generation machine all season, scoring 580 runs in all, topping the AEL. More than half the lineup hit over .300 and their oldest player set a season record for home runs, then won the series MVP in the last round of the playoffs after hitting five more.
They have an incredibly frightening offense that can explode unpredictably, as they have demonstrated time and time again throughout the season. St. Pete’s also had an incredible home record this year, 31-19 (.620), and because of their better overall record, they will enjoy the home field advantage to start the series off.
The Otomo factor will be huge in this series, and should the veteran bomber get loose against Montreal’s pitching, it will be lights out for the Metros. Otomo is currently on a 5-game home run streak though the playoffs, and has 8 long balls so far this postseason. Even more amazingly, he has only struck out 5 times in 32 at bats. However, if the impressive Metros rotation and bullpen can reel in Otomo and the St. Pete’s offense, Montreal has big bats of their own that can certainly generate runs when they need to. They have scored 50 runs in the postseason, a comparable amount to the Admiral’s 48 postseason runs scored.
PREDICTION: METROS IN 5, MARTEL WILL PLAY A HUGE ROLE IN NEUTRALIZING THE ADMIRALS BATS