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.
The Oakland Athletes are off to a blistering 33-6 start and a 7-1/2 game lead in the Cactus Division. But the Las Vegas Gamblers don’t appear to fold their hand this early in the game.
Oakland pushed its current winning streak to 15 games by following a three-game home sweep of Memphis with a 4-2 victory in the opener of a two-game set at Louisville. Meanwhile, Las Vegas extended its surge to 10 games, backing up a sweep of St. Louis by rallying for a 4-3 win at Compton.
The Athletes are riding great beginnings from star players as aces Zack Greinke and Dallas Keuchel are off to 6-0 starts with sub-2.00 ERAs while slugger Paul Goldschmidt is leading the league with a .361 average, 14 homers and 52 RBIs. Oakland tops the game with a .296 team average and a .276 club ERA.
As for the Gamblers, Kole Calhoun leads the offense with a .336 average and a .575 slugging percentage with four triples. Taylor Jungmann has won five of his seven decisions while Chris Heston has a 2.90 ERA in 49 2/3 innings over eight starts.
UPDATE: Seeing the streak as an opportunity, Las Vegas made a pair of deals to bolster its rotation, acquiring Scott Kazmir from Memphis and Yovani Gallardo from Pittsburgh. Both pitchers had 3-1 records on sub-.500 clubs, with Kazmir leading the league with a 1.48 ERA and Gallardo checking in with a 3.59 mark.
Outfielder Starling Marte became a well-traveled player in short order since the PGBL draft. In a span of three weeks, Marte has been on four different teams.
The reigning champion St. Louis Clydesdales acquired Marte and Kelly Johnson from Las Vegas in exchange for Ian Kinsler and Marwin Gonzalez. Marte had been with the Gamblers for just over a week after being part of a six-player deal with Boston.
The Braves sent Marte, Andrew Heaney, Chase Anderson and a draft pick to Las Vegas in exchange for Stephen Piscotty, Adam Warren and Byung Ho Park.
In late November, Boston acquired Marte from Twin City along with Rusney Castillo and Bartolo Colon for a package of six players and two picks headlined by Yasmany Tomas, Kendall Graveman and A.J. Cole.
Marte is coming off a strong season with the Truckers. He hit .300 with 20 homers and 71 RBIs while stealing 55 bases and scoring 106 runs, second in the South League to MVP Jose Altuve of Oakland.
A string of trades since Draft Day have several high profiles headed to new homes:
Adam Jones was moved for the second time this offseason, heading from Boston to Las Vegas along with Didi Gregorius for relief pitcher Carson Smith and a package of draft picks.
Louisville picked up George Springer from London, also getting Pedro Alvarez while parting with Julio Urias, Beau Burrows and Bryan Morris.
Boston then dealt a package of six players and two draft picks to Twin City to acquire Starling Marte, Rusney Castillo and aging starter Bartolo Colon.
Then Tijuana joined the mix by snaring Adam Eaton along with Jake Peavy by shipping pitcher Alex Wood and three picks – including two first-rounders – to Flagstaff.
The Louisville Long Rifles acquired a new pitcher for the top of their rotation, landing Jake Arrieta in an eight-player deal with Las Vegas.
Arrieta went 15-9 with a 3.06 ERA last season with the Gamblers, and he appears primed for an even better season in 2016. He joins a Louisville staff that posted a 4.92 ERA and was led in victories by Tyler Matzek‘s five.
In return, Las Vegas landed pitchers Nathan Eovaldi, Wade Miley, Aaron Sanchez, Sean Newcomb and infielder Wilmer Flores. The Gamblers also received seven draft picks, including the No. 3 choice in the upcoming draft and two No. 1 selections next year.
Louisville also gets Jesus Montero and Danny Santana in the exchange.