After some inclement weather delayed the final game of the season between the Camrose Roadrunners and Armena Royals for almost a whole week the playoffs finally have a start date. The Milleteers playoff run will start on Wednesday, July 27th in Leduc. The opponent will be last year's runner up, the Ryley Rebels. The Rebels looked to be an early favorite to host a playoff series early in the year, then the wheels fell off as the team struggled just to put a lineup on the field. They righted the ship just in time to get into the playoffs through the back door as they used a walk off home run against the Milleteers in the final game of the season to move into a tie for the final playoff spot. Then they clawed their way back from a three run deficit against their arch rivals from Bardo to prevail in a one game sudden death elimination to make it into the finals.
The Milleteers are the two time defending champs, and hold a lifetime 14-4 record, including a 4-0 mark in the playoffs, vs the Rebels. The Rebels are no ordinary 4th place team however as they were finalists last year and looked like an early lock to at least have home field advantage in the first round of the playoffs before commitment issues almost derailed their season. They looked to have righted the ship and come into the playoffs on a roll as they beat the Milleteers in the last game of the regular season, then edged their rivals from Bardo in an elimination game. The fact that they have been playing with their season on the line for the past two weeks, they should have no problem playing at playoff intensity to start the series.
Offense: This year the roles were reversed as the normally hard hitting Rebels, who led the league in offense the year before struggled a bit this year as the offense finished in the bottom half of the league and only produced 5.4 runs per game. The Milleteers on the other hand scored at a near record clip as they averaged 11.5 runs a game, one of the best totals ever in the modern era, a big departure from a squad that in the past was usually near the bottom of runs scored. Despite the numbers the Rebels are a dangerous bunch as they still have the most powerful lineup in the PBL, which especially becomes a factor at home in the comfy confines in Ryley. A big question mark for the Rebels will be if their top slugger Kyle Reinhold will be able to bounce back from the DL in time for the series. The Milleteers attack is a little more balanced, as they have a couple of guys who can reach the seats, to go along with some speed on the base paths, and also a lineup that puts the ball in play as they don't strike out a lot.
Pitching: Both teams have some top notch starters as the Rebels feature a one-two punch of Craig Koughan and Curt Stensrud, while the Milleteers have Steve Pahl, Brad Engel, and Ryan Walker. Koughan was the workhorse for Ryley this year as he threw 42.2 innings and sports a nice 2.30 ERA. The hard throwing Stensrud has dominated this year as he has a 2-0 record, 1.43 ERA and has averaged two strikeouts an inning. The Rebels will need these two to keep the Milleteers in check and go deep into ball games to have a shot as beyond reliever Kris Kushnerick, the Rebels have few bullpen options. The Milleteers pitching staff for the fourth year in a row gave up the fewest runs per game in the regular season. Starters Steve Pahl (4-2, 3.62), Brad Engel (3-0, 1.00, 2011 All Star), and Ryan Walker (2-1, 1.29) give the Milleteers a deep starting staff. The big difference between the two teams has to be the Milleteer's bullpen as they have the Doyle brothers from the right side and Kelly Landaker from the left side to help bridge the gap to hard throwing closer Jon Anstey.
#2 Camrose Roadrunners vs #3 Holden Blue Jays
The other series will see the young Holden Blue Jays taking on the surprising Camrose Roadrunners. The Roadrunners relocated from Tofield in the off season due a dispute with the town over diamond up keep. After missing the playoffs for over a decade and often getting steam rolled most nights the move has payed off as the Roadrunners finished second in the regular season and now many of the long time Lakers will finally get their first taste of post season ball. After the youngsters from Holden got their first taste of PBL playoff ball last year, it seems odd to give them the experience edge, but since this will be the first playoff experience for most of the Roadrunners, the experience the Blue Jays gained last year in their thrilling first round series could be a factor.
Matchup: Two teams with identical records and similar styles of play. Both teams rely heavily on their ace pitchers Muzechka and Roth, but also have some other good arms to compliment their staffs and keep the games low scoring as neither team has a lot of fire power on offense. All year the Roadrunners have been able to win low scoring, close games, which should serve them well. They also swept the season series with the Blue Jays. The Blue Jays do have a secret weapon though as they feature a dominant lefty at the top of their rotation, which has been a rare sight for PBL hitters to face over the last several years. How the Roadrunner's hitters adjust to the ball coming in from the wrong side of the mound could be the difference in the series as they could face Muzechka twice in three games.
Offense: The 2011 Roadrunners are one of the lowest scoring playoff teams of the modern era as they averaged just 4.6 runs a game in the regular season. They have a few guys with some pop, but often resort to playing some small ball to score runs, which should serve them well as the games always tighten up in the playoffs. The Blue Jays play the same type of game however, as they often rely on getting guys on, then getting them over by bunting and stealing and putting pressure on the defense, they just do it a little better as they averaged almost a run more per game.
Pitching: This is where the series should be won and lost as the series will feature a marquee pitching matchup as 2010 PBL Pitcher of the Year Kyle Muzechka will likely faceoff against 2011 PBL Pitcher of the Year Alex Roth. With the possibility of these two All Stars facing each other twice in a three game series it should be a low scoring affair with defense playing a key roll as a mistake could be costly.