FIRST-TO-WORST-TO-FIRST FOR OAKLAND

The Oakland Athletes became the first club to clinch its 2018 postseason berth, wrapping up the Cactus Division title on Aug. 29.

Oakland locked up the title after Rhys Hoskins’ three-run first-inning homer led to a 6-5 win over Louisville. Coupled with Twin City’s 10-inning 7-6 loss to Dublin, the win erased the Athletes’ magic number as they improved to 89-41 and extended their lead over the Truckers to 34 games.

With the top record in the PGBL, Oakland is on pace to complete a complete bounce-back after falling from a league-best 123-39 record in 2016 to a league-worst mark of 54-109 a year ago.

The division title is the Athletes’ third in four seasons following a run of three straight last-place finishes. Oakland also posted the league’s best record in 2015 (116-46).

Early blockbusters add drama to Confederate Division

The Louisville Long Rifles struck the first major deal of the 2018 season by acquiring star pitcher Max Scherzer from Toronto.

But the Dublin Guinness responded immediately and acquired Paul Goldschmidt in a blockbuster nine-player trade with Cactus Division leader Oakland.

Dublin, the reigning SL champion on a 10-game win streak that has forged a five-game lead over Louisville and St. Louis, sent Christian Yelich, Rhys Hoskins and Brett Gardner along with three draft picks and two prospects to Oakland.

The Athletes, up seven games in their division and tied with the Guinness for the SL’s best record at the time of the deal, included Michael Brantley, Trevor Rosenthal and Dominic Leone along with Goldschmidt.

Dublin’s response came after the Long Rifles struck their big deal, getting Scherzer along with Felipe Rivero and Chris Ianetta from the Tigers for a package of young talent that included Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and two-way Japanese star Shohei Ohtani as a player to be named later.

Cardinals capture fifth PGBL championship

Mark Teixeira’s three-run home run capped a five-run fifth inning and Matt Carpenter added another three-run shot in the eighth as the Chicago Cardinals captured their fifth PGBL championship with an 8-3 win over Oakland in Game 6 of the World Series at The Coliseum.

Garret Cole setWorld Series champs 2016tled down after the Athletes’ three-run first to finish with seven strikeouts in seven-plus innings. Carlos Villanueva retired all four batters he faced, striking out Francisco Cervelli to finish Chicago’s second title in four seasons.

Chicago won the final four games after Oakland took the first two contests at home. Teixeira hit .412 in the Series with three homers and eight RBIs to earn MVP honors.

The Cardinals won 98 games in the regular season but entered the postseason as the North League’s No. 4 seed after finishing third in the Norris Division’s tight three-team battle. Chicago ousted Ottawa in a four-game Divisional Series meeting and topped Cleveland in a six-game NLCS.

The 123-win Athletes were pushed to the brink by Las Vegas in their Division Series before advancing with a 6-2 win in Game 5. Oakland then got three shutouts in the final four games to claim a 4-2 SLCS win over defending champion St. Louis.

SL playoff berth, Norris title at stake on final day

The 2016 PGBL season enters its final day with one division championship and one playoff berth still up for grabs, with the Las Vegas Gamblers and Compton Outlawz vying for the final South League wild card.

Las Vegas holds a one-game lead on Compton, with the Gamblers due to pitch Lance Lynn against Twin City while the Outlawz send Chris Archer out against Louisville. Compton needs to win and have the Truckers play spoiler to force a one-game playoff at Las Vegas.

Whichever team earns the spot will grab the No. 4 seed in the SL behind Oakland, St. Louis and Tijuana. The Athletes charged to the best record in the league, clinching the Cactus Division and the top overall seed with ease. St. Louis outdistanced the field in the Confederate Division and Tijuanja retooled at the deadline to hold on to the first wild card spot.

In the North League, the season-long battle royale in the Norris Division will end with all three contenders separated by one game. Boston and Cleveland sit at 98-63 entering the final day, while Chicago finished at 98-64 and claimed the No 4 seed as the second wild card.

The Tribe hold the head-to-head tiebreaker and host last-place Pittsburgh, while the Braves entertain Maple Leaf Division champion Ottawa. Cleveland and Boston will square off in the first round of the playoffs, with the division winner getting home field advantage.

The other first-round matchups will see the Argonauts facing the Cardinals, the Clydesdales battling the Tequila Swiggers and the Athletes drawing either Las Vegas or Compton.

On the opposite side, Twin City, Flagstaff and London have secured the top three slots in the draft order. While Brooklyn is locked into the No. 10 spot, the rest of the order remains to be finalized.

 

 

 

 

Midseason notes: Braves hit All-Star break atop Norris

After three consecutive last-place finishes, the Boston Braves are more than half way to a worst-to-first turnaround.

The Braves, who won a total of 66 games over the past two seasons, reached the All-Star Break at 53-33 to hold a 3 1/2-game lead over Cleveland and 5 1/2 in front of Chicago in the Norris Division race.

Rookie slugger Kyle Schwarber has been the star of the Braves’ offense, with 19 homers and a .313 average – almost exclusively against right-handed pitchers. Danny Valencia checks in with team highs of 21 homers and 64 RBIs while hitting at a .280 clip.

Across the way in the NL, the Ottawa Argonauts have shot to a 14 1/2-game lead in the Maple Leaf Division. Infield stars Josh Donaldson and rookie Carlos Correa each have 20 homers already, while Taijuan Walker boasts an 11-2 record.

Meanwhile, the Oakland Athletes continue their dominance in the SL, bolting to a 70-15 mark that has put the 23-year-old league record of 130 wins within striking distance. The Athletes all but have the Cactus League crown secured with Las Vegas 26 1/2 games back.

Oakland’s Zack Greinke leads the league with a 15-0 record and a 1.82 ERA while Dallas Keuchel follows close behind at 14-1 and 2.58. Paul Goldschmidt has his sights trained on a possible SL Triple Crown, leading the way with a .338 average and 95 RBIs. His 25 homers are second in the SL, five behind Tijuana’s Jose Bautista.

Not to be forgotten, the defending champion St. Louis Clydesdales are up 5 1/2 games in the Confederate Division as they attempt to win a third straight division crown. Rookie outfielder Randal Grichuk has shined with a .303 average and 19 homers.

Among other individual leaders, Chicago has three different players pacing the NL in the Triple Crown categories: Nick Markakis hitting .356; Giancarlo Stanton with 33 homers and Mike Trout with 73 RBIs.

The Cardinals’ Gerrit Cole owns a 2.16 ERA while Cleveland’s Michael Pineda has the NL’s best record at 13-1. Toronto’s Max Scherzer has the inside track to the strikeout title with 170; Louisville’s Jake Arrieta tops the SL in punchouts with 128 to go along with an 11-4 record and a 2.20 ERA.

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