(GAME DATE – Sep. 12, 2019) — Not that either team had a hope after the first few weeks of the 2019 season, but both the Chicago Pit Bulls and the Calgary Inferno can start planning for their off-season golf activities as they have been officially eliminated from playoff contention.
Chicago is on track to post their 3rd worst season in club history, behind last season’s dismal 30-70 (.300) finish, and 2001’s reprehensible 28-52 (.350). Calgary, which won the Bull Cup in 2015 and 2017, will miss their 2nd playoff in a row, and only their 3rd since 2010.
In addition, the Inferno are on pace to have their worst-ever finish in franchise history, and are currently 60-85 (.414). The next worst season by win percentage came in 2011, when they slid to a 34-46 (.425) finish.
Both teams were once reliable playoff powerhouses, with Calgary making 12 playoff appearances since 1995, and Chicago finding the post-season 11 times.
This year, the Pit Bulls were marred by injuries, low attendance, and declining fan interest. Attendance has sunk to an average of about 3,750 fans per home game. A roster house-cleaning has left them with one of the youngest, and least experienced lineups in baseball, and they arguably have the worst pitching ever crafted in the Bull League.
Last year, the club gave up the second-most hits in Lake League history, 970, beaten only by the Ohio Oxen. They allowed 542 runs, approaching the record set by the 2001 Toronto Ducks (553). Pit Bulls batters set a new league record for batter strikeouts, with 919 whiffs recorded.
Though 2019 is the first Bull League season played out to 162 games, Chicago has nearly had a clean sweep in reclaiming all three league records. They stand at 1,137 batter strikeouts, the most in the LL. They are at 1,409 hits allowed, and 861 runs allowed, and counting. Detroit is the only team to allow more hits, but it’s close (1,414).
For his part, GM Scott Davis has been unmoved by his team’s poor performance, and previously explained that this was all part of the strategy. Indeed, two seasons running of very poor performance has resulted in the acquisition of potentially game-changing draft picks, including John Rambo selected in June of this year, and Makanaakua Mano who was picked up in 2018.
Rambo, chosen first overall in the 2019 draft, tore up the NCAA while with Arizona State, posting a .419 average with 34 homers and 86 RBIs in 52 games last spring. He has already been moved up to AAA, where he hit .333 and maintained an OPS of 1.262. Rambo will be a likely spring training invitee in March 2020. Meanwhile, Mano, who was taken 9th overall last season, is also projecting to be a home run slugger. The 1B from Yokohama U in the Pacific Rim College League averaged over .300 right up until hitting AAA this year, and is a threat to hit 30 or more home runs a season.
Chicago still needs to resolve pitching problems, but could be seeing it’s last early pennant race exit for some time.
Calgary Not Looking As Rosy
The Inferno have a tougher climb back to relevance, however. Once the jewel of the former American Eagle League (now Metro League), they lost many experienced bats and arms to rising contracts over the past few years, and have raided the prospect cupboard often.
Gone are many of their former playoff heros, such as Jan Conch (Toronto), Manny Davila (New York), Danny Huertero (St. Pete’s), slugger Dao-zi Ling (California), Cody Martin (Arizona), and Israel Medina (St. Pete’s), all noteworthy names who helped bring the Inferno to a 2017 Bull Cup championship finish.
Their rotation once included top arms like Fernando Latorre (California), Sergio Maestas (New York), and Matthew Rendall (Detroit), with only Enrique Nunez a hold over from that year’s championship rotation.
Nunez suffered an injury plagued season in 2019, and has been out since June 18 with radial nerve issues in his throwing elbow. He will not return this season. The 33-year-old Nunez also missed 3 months last year with a rotator cuff strain.
Rookie RF Omar Little shows some promise batting .326 and knocking 20 home runs this year, but little else about the lineup shows hope for the future. DH Todd Salvato may have led the team with 34 homers, but he’s 35 and blooming late in life. With talent like Cesar Torres and Jordan Reyes spinning their wheels in the lineup, one wonders if Calgary won’t look to trade their younger rising stars to multiply their future talent or bolster the ailing rotation and bullpen, which posted a worst-in-league ERA of 6.56 so far this season.