(GAME DATE – Oct. 8, 2019) — The Ohio Oxen will face the Minneapolis Ravens in the best-of-7 Lake League Championship Series, which begins today in Minneapolis.
The Ravens are the first Bull League team to achieve 100 wins in a season after the league expanded the schedule to a full 162 games for 2019.
The Oxen face a daunting task in trying to dispatch the West Division pennant winners. The 2016 Bull Cup champions missed the playoffs in 2018 and barely scraped through the Elimination Round against the East Division pennant winners, the New York Dragons.
The Oxen suffered injuries to closer Marty Melvins and top rotation arm Rusty Rowe, although both were listed as day to day and Rowe is expected to start the series opener.
But both of these teams were top run producers in the LL and carry explosive bats in the lineup, meaning that pitching, defense and roster depth will likely be the deciding factors in the matchup.
The Ravens have the edge over Ohio in all three of those categories. Four-time Sandy Koufax Award winner Ricky Rodriguez leads the rotation and will start game 1, and then game 5 if the series reaches that point. Former Boston Brawlers right-hander Pete Sharpe slots at #2 in the rotation. He was 18-6 with a 4.09 ERA this season, and picked up a playoff win against Toronto in the first round. Aaron Miller is the #3, he finished the season 18-7 with a 4.57 ERA.
If the ERA’s sound high for these last two starters, it’s worth noting that the Ravens had the 3rd best starter ERA in the LL. Their offense is a match for Ohio’s, and their defense includes three Platinum Glove winners as starters in the infield. The Ravens dispatched the Toronto Nomads in a 3-game sweep in the first round, leaving them with several days of rest compared to the Oxen.
During the regular season, Minneapolis had the clear advantage over their division rivals in Ohio, going 13-7 through the year, and with a .630 win percentage at home. They swept their late September 3-game home series against Ohio, and ended August on the road against the Oxen with a 3-1 series win that included an Aaron Miller shutout.
Ohio is hoping that history favors them, however. The Ravens have not won a Bull Cup Championship since 1996, despite making 13 playoff appearances since that time. The Oxen have the experience needed to go deep into the playoffs, including their 2016 Bull Cup win, and 3 other championships since 2006.
When the long ball fails the Oxen, they have a knack for manufacturing runs through smallball play, and boast two players (Ricky Marte and Corny Maise) in the lineup with 40 or more steals in 2019.
While Ohio may be the distinct underdog, they are capable of surprising bursts of offense that can sometimes leaves opponents bewildered, and so this series may go the distance the full 7 games.