(GAME DATE – Sept. 16, 2019) — The St. Petersburg Admirals, led by the veteran GM/manager, Brandon Popper, have clinched the Metro League East pennant, and are the first team to secure a playoff spot in the 2019 season.
The Admirals will now see their 4th consecutive playoff, and their 6th since 1995, in what many observers are calling a new era of dominance for the club, once based in San Diego, and later Anchorage.
Currently the team is 88-60 (.595), and about to break the 3 million mark for attendance, an impressive number even in the league’s first 162-game season. If the club finishes the year at their current win percentage, it will be their 3rd most successful season on record, after 2017 (61-39, .610), and 1999 (48-32, .600).
But the real measure of success will be a Bull Cup championship, which has eluded the team since its 1991 inception as the San Diego Seagulls.
This year may be their best chance yet of achieving that goal. After losing the 2018 Bull Cup series to Montreal in 4 games (of a best-of-5), the team retooled in the offseason and came back with a vengeance for this year. Their main roster moves were adding international free agent, right handers Young-lau Weng, as well as former Ravens closer Shigenobu Takahashi, and a trade to acquire 3B Israel Medina and OF Danny Huertero from Calgary.
The Medina/Huertero trade cost the Admirals one of their best starters, Chris Zerkle, but was seen as a necessary and critical addition to the overall depth of the lineup. Medina has platooned with up-and-comer Keith Barton at the hot corner, still managing 32 home runs and an average just shy of .300 in 97 games this season, while Huertero was an important addition while the Javelin, Alex Viramontes, was on the mend from post-concussion syndrome in May.
The rotation has held up well without Zerkle, with all but one starter posting a winning record, and all five in the double-digits for wins. Jose Soto is in the Metro League lead for ERA and strikeouts, and is on the verge of a triple crown.
Future HOFer Takeo Otomo has been less than productive this season, but the 39-year-old was league championship series MVP only last year, and was the HR leader as well. He has a surprising knack for coming in big in clutch situations, and could do so again in the post-season this year.
And while there is talent in spades again this year, Katai Kitagawa is particularly noteworthy, as the young center fielder in his 6th season has the team lead in hitting, OBP, WAR, hits, runs, doubles, and stolen bases, and the league lead in two of those stats (hits and steals). A true five-tools player, Kitigawa is already gearing up for the post-season, hitting .409 with 3 homers in the last week.
There will be no post-season opponent taking a wild card spot from the Admiral’s own ML East division, so instead we look to the ML West for the other three playoff teams in the Metro League.
The likely 2nd wild card is going to be the Arizona Cowboys, who at 80-69 (.537) are 7½ games ahead of the Miami Storm. The undecided race will be the Seattle Salts and Nevada Speeders, who have traded first place a few times over the past few months.
The Salts hit a mini slide over the past week, and the Speeders have caught up. Now 86-63 (.577) they are just ½ a game behind the leaders, who have one less loss. Assuming neither team leaps over the Admirals in win-loss record, the Admirals will likely face the Cowboys in the first playoff for that 2012 expansion franchise. If this season’s record against the Cowboys is anything to go by, it could be a tight series, as the Admirals have only edged Arizona 8-6 this year.