Take that, millennials: Veteran managers fill Final Four slots

The Canadian Football League plays for the Grey Cup. Given the four teams still alive in this year’s I-75 League playoffs, should we be calling our trophy “The Greybeard Cup”?

Four managers with a zillion years of experience remain alive in pursuit of our 39th championship, after original franchise managers Dave and Mike Renbarger piloted their clubs to five-game series victories in the Division Series round of play.

Dave’s Bushwood Gophers, who survived a Game 161 tiebreaker with Dyersville to earn the sixth seed and a shot at No. 3 seed South Grand Prairie, rode a pair of victories from ace Justin Verlander to advancement. Mike’s Superior Titans came in with the No. 4 seed and dispatched Savannah in five games, after the Scorpions had lost their own division-title-tiebreaker Game 161 with South Grand Prairie to settle for the fifth seed.

That sets up semifinal rounds featuring:

  • #6 Bushwood vs. #2 Applegate
  • #4 Superior vs. #1 Margaritaville

In addition to Dave and Mike Renbarger being two of the league’s five managers who remain in the league from its 1980 debut, they are tied with six league World Championships earned in 39 years. Applegate’s Gary Kicinski, who is another of those five, although he did take a four-year hiatus, has three World Championships to his credit and is looking for a fourth. Margaritaville’s John McMillan has been in the league 16 years and is the defending champion with consecutive 106-win seasons on his resume.

In the Bushwood-South Grand Prairie tussle, the Gophers prevailed twice in matchups featuring Verlander and Warriors ace Max Scherzer, once in a blowout (Game One, 11-1) and once in a nail-biter (Game Four, 1-0). Verlander went 2-0 with a 0.63 ERA. Jesse Winker provided the offensive support, hitting .636 with four homers and a double. The Warriors’ only win came in Game Two by a 4-3 count.

Superior too rode some studly starting pitching to its series victory as Cory Kluber pitched a complete-game five-hit shutout in Game One (3-0) and went the distance again in the Game Five clincher, a 6-3 win. Bryce Harper hit .563 in the series with two homers, three doubles, six walks and seven RBIs. Savannah’s win came in a Game Three matchup of lefties, thanks to great bullpen work in relief of James Paxton and a four-run rally in the seventh for a 6-5 win.

Bushwood and Applegate split their 10 regular-season games, while Margaritaville had its way with Superior, winning eight out of 10.

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Gopher Holes for October

Ryan ZImmerman

Zimmerman

The Gophers didn’t remotely resemble a playoff team during the club’s disastrous 4-16 showing in July, but Bushwood was able to right the ship over the last three months.  That fast finish included a 12-8 August, an 11-9 September and a 13-7 October, just enough wins to earn a share of the final wild card.  It took a 5-3 victory over Dyersville in Game 161 to stamp Bushwood’s playoff ticket.

Ryan Zimmerman‘s contributions to the squad were enormous.  The slugging first baseman, selected with the 13th overall pick of the March draft, hit .299 with 46 homers and 122 RBI to earn team MVP honors.  Bushwood’s pitcher of the year also joined the team in March.  Yusmeiro Petit — the club’s third-round selection (No. 43 overall) — was a reliable closer who logged 93 high-leverage innings, collected 23 saves and went 10-4 with a 3.00 ERA.

Petit outperformed high-profile starters Justin Verlander (14-8, 4.73) and Jacob deGrom (16-8, 4.55).  Tajuan Walker (3.74) was Bushwood’s lone starter to post a sub-4 ERA.  Yu Darvish (6-12, 4.70, 39 homers allowed in 32 starts) was a major disappointment.

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Acuna, Soto, Ohtani, oh my! And 12 more first-rounders to salivate over

OK, it’s not the 2016 draft all over again, let’s get that out of the way. That draft had studs galore but a lot of them — Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, Addison Russell, Corey Seager — were skilled fielders at up-the-middle infield positions. This year’s draft is stacked with great-hitting outfielders and corner infielders. We expect all six players who are among the Rookie of the Year finalists to go in the top 8 of the 2019 I-75 League draft that will kick off our 40th season. It’s not a mock draft because team drafting positions have yet to be assigned. It’s just a rundown of the best players available. Want to look back at our midseason 15? It’s here. Be sure to read all the way to the bottom as we need your help.

1. Ronald Acuna, OF, Atlanta (Bats Right, Throws Right, Age 20): Probably the game’s next great superstar, a five-tool player who turns 21 in December. Hit .293 with a .366 on-base percentage, a .552 slugging percentage and a .918 OPS. Smoked 26 doubles, four triples and 26 homers in 433 at-bats. Stole 16 bases. Projects as a 3(-1)e8 left fielder. Previous rank: 1.

2. Juan Soto, OF, Washington (L/L, 20): Soto has a ridiculous batting eye for a 20-year-old, walking 79 times in 414 at-bats for a .406 on-base percentage (among full-time players, only Mike Trout, Mookie Betts and Joey Votto were better). He was hitting over .300 most of the year as well before finishing at .292 / .406 / .517 / .923 with 25 doubles, a triple and 22 homers. Made some boneheaded plays on the bases and isn’t the best fielder in the world, but he just turned 20! Projects as a 4(0)e3 left fielder. PR: 4.

3. Shohei Ohtani, P/DH, L.A. Angels (L/R, 24): Still can make a case for Ohtani to go No. 1 as he presents an unusual pitching/hitting combination that Strat will have to deal with. Elbow injury cut into his playing time and diminished his value somewhat, but he still gives you a hard-to-beat .285 / .361 / .564 / .925 offensive card with 21-2-22 extra-base numbers in 326 at-bats. He also stole 10 bases. On the mound, Ohtani offers 51 and two-thirds innings to the tune of a 1.16 WHIP and a .203 / .289 / .322 / .621 mark. Had Tommy John surgery on Oct. 1 and won’t pitch until 2020. PR: 3.

4. Walker Buehler, SP, L.A. Dodgers (R/R, 24): Slender rookie stud posted a 0.93 WHIP in 137 innings, limiting hitters to a .193 batting average. Has a Vanderbilt pedigree, is a former first-round pick (2015) and already has his Tommy John surgery out of the way. Will have a balanced card with overall numbers of .193 / .256 / .300 / .556. PR: 7.

5. Max Muncy, IF, L.A. Dodgers (L/R, 28): Crushed 35 homers in 395 at-bats. Say no more. But we will anyway. Plays three infield positions (best at first base) plus left field. Posted .263 / .391 / .582 / .973 numbers overall and is even more merciless against RHPs (.261 / .401 / .601 / 1.002). Projects as a 3e13 first baseman. PR: 15.

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Margaritaville duplicates 106-win total; Game 161s settle two playoff berths

The Big Prize was long-ago largely settled, that being league best record and No. 1 playoff seed, which Margaritaville sewed up awhile ago.

But there was plenty of drama elsewhere as the I-75 League wrapped up its 39th season and set the stage for playoff clashes:

  • Bushwood and Dyersville finished tied for the final playoff spot when the Treblemakers exploded for a 15-win October to match the Gophers’ 88-win total. But Bushwood captured the playoff game 5-3 thanks to 6 2/3 hitless bullpen innings, ending Dyersville’s season and allowing Bushwood to claim the No. 6 playoff seed.
  • Savannah and South Grand Prairie tied for the Southbound Division title at 90-70, resulting in a one-game playoff, won by the Warriors 4-1, as Max Scherzer and two relievers held the Scorpions to three hits. SGP was awarded the division crown and a No. 3 seed, while Savannah settled for a No. 5 seed.
  • In the Westbound Division, Applegate won 4-out-of-5 against Superior and went on to a 15-win month. The Clips needed almost all of those wins as Superior went 12-3 in its remaining games to finish just three back of the Paperclips. Superior collected a No. 4 seed and division champ Applegate, by virtue of its 101 wins, secured the division crown and first-round bye.

Margaritaville racked up 106 wins for the second year in a row and will use its first-round by to await the winner of No. 5 Savannah vs. No. 4 Superior.

Applegate will take on the winner of No. 6 Bushwood vs. No. 3 South Grand Prairie.

At the other end of the spectrum, the New New York Hypnotoads set a futility record with a three-win October that resulted in a 36-124 record, obliterating the league record of 114 losses and even topping the modern major league loss record of 120 set by the 1962 New York Mets.

Superior’s Avisail Garcia won the league batting title at .349. South Grand Prairie’s Giancarlo Stanton clubbed 61 homers and drove in 141 runs to win both of those titles.

Bismarck’s Zack Greinke was the league’s only 20-game winner; he finished second in the ERA race to Superior’s Corey Kluber (2.39). Destin’s Chris Sale whiffed 301 to win the strikeout title.

Lava Flow for October

Joey Votto

Votto

With 13 wins in October, the Volcanoes reached 106 wins for the second consecutive year.  The matching 106-win seasons invite comparison between the 2017 and 2018 Volcano versions.  Each team led the I-75 league in runs scored – the 2017 team with 996 runs; the 2018 team with 971 runs.  The “new” Volcanoes were better at preventing runs – the 2017 team allowed 756 runs; the 2018 team allowed 678 runs.  By “Pythagorean” math (a team’s won-loss percentage is approximated by the formula runs scored squared divided by the sum of runs scored squared and runs allowed squared), the 2017 team exceeded their forecast by five games (101 forecast wins, 106 actual), while the 2018 team lagged their forecast by one game (107 forecast wins, 106 actual).  David Ortiz led the 2017 team with 130.9 runs created (and won the mythical I-75 league MVP award voting).  Ortiz’s void was more than filled by Joey Votto, who led the 2018 team with 162.7 runs created (and who also won the mythical MVP award voting).  Both teams led the league in home runs: 314 for the 2017 version; 272 for the 2018 version.  Over two seasons, the Volcanoes have hit 586 home runs.

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Clip Files for October

Aaron Judge

Judge

Applegate went 15-5 in October to close out the 2018 season at 101-59, earning the Westbound Division title and a first-round bye. It was Applegate’s seventh-straight 80-plus win season, the longest such streak in the league. … Applegate opened play in the month with a 4-1 series win over its closest pursuer, Superior, which would prove pivotal as the Titans went 12-3 in their other October games and the Clips won the division by just three games. … Applegate went 10-5 vs. Superior for the season and 43-17 (.717) inside its own division. … In the showdown series with Superior, Applegate pitching recorded a 1.91 team ERA, allowing just 10 runs, 39 hits and one homer. Superior was shut out twice and held to one run in 11 innings in another game. All of the games were close and four different relievers recorded saves for Applegate. … The Clips had fewer hits (32), but nearly twice as many walks (27-14) and clubbed six homers, leading to 19 runs. … Joe Mauer hit .316 and scored six of the runs. … The Clips won Game Two 4-0 despite mustering just two hits, capitalizing on 11 walks and a three-run ninth-inning homer from Aaron Judge. … The 3-1, 11-inning Game Three win was secured with the help of a gb(A)++ roll off the bat of Willson Contreras with the bases loaded and the infield in in the 11th.

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These hitters will know no limits in 2019

Every year a select group of hitters fall short of the magic “550” at-bat number to qualify as unlimited, but they nonetheless earn unlimited status by virtue of attaining 600 plate appearances. Here are those players for the 2019 I-75 League season (source: Baseball-Reference.com):

  1. Matt Chapman, 3B, Applegate (547 ABs but 616 PA): A fortuitous draft pick for the Paperclips, given that injuries limited current 3B Josh Donaldson to 187 at-bats.
  2. Stephen Piscotty, OF, New New York (546 / 605): Good season with 41 doubles and 27 homers, plus an .822 OPS for Year Two of the Hypnotoad Rebuild.
  3. George Springer, OF, Bushwood (544 / 620): Comparatively a down year for Springer but still a solid contributor.
  4. Michael Conforto, OF, Dyersville (543 / 638): Hit a career high in homers with 28, but a .243 average helped drag his OPS below .800.
  5. Lorenzo Cain, OF, Superior (539 / 620): After career highs in steals (30) and on-base percentage (.395), expect Cain to be a fixture atop the Superior lineup for 160 games.
  6. Jeimer Candelario, 3B, Tatooine (538 / 619): Switch-hitter is just 24 and still developing, hitting .224; Rebels can afford to let him develop with a stacked lineup and other options at third base.
  7. Chris Taylor, OF/2B/SS, Margaritaville (536 / 604): Versatility will remain valuable but lost 75 points on his OPS compared to 2017 (.850 to .775).
  8. Justin Upton, OF, Destin (533 / 613): Not counting his rookie year, Upton had a career low in doubles (18) but still hit 30 homers. Posted .807 OPS, but that was 94 points lower than last year’s career-high .901.
  9. Max Kepler, OF, Dyersville (532 / 611): Posted numbers very similar to 2017 (.319 / .408 / .427), but we’re guessing Dyersville was hoping for a breakout year.
  10. Brett Gardner, OF, Superior (530 / 609): Not counting his rookie year, Gardner posted career lows in on-base percentage (.322) and OPS (.690) and only swiped 16 bases.
  11. Jason Kipnis, OF/2B, Tatooine (530 / 601): If the Rebels were counting on a bounce-back year from Kipnis, they didn’t get it. He pretty much posted the same meager numbers as 2017. Rebels will have better options.
  12. Eugenio Suarez, 3B, Bismarck (527/ 606): Breakout year for Suarez with career highs in most key offensive categories, including homers (34), slugging (.526) and OPS (.892).
  13. Mookie Betts, OF, Savannah (520 / 614): Rumored to have had a pretty good year.
  14. Joey Votto, 1B, Margaritaville (503 / 623): Got his usual 100 walks and plus-.400 OBP, but dipped to just 12 homers.
  15. Mike Trout, OF, Boulder (471 / 608): The ultimate beneficiary of this rule, Trout played in just 140 games for the Angels, but can put a career-high and league-best OPS (1.088) to use every single game for the Tree Huggers.