Four rule proposals enacted that take effect in 2019

The I-75 League will switch to Maximum Level rules for its 40th season in one of two big changes enacted by managerial vote in early December.

Nineteen rule proposals were on the ballot but only four were passed. After a history of playing with Super Advanced Rules, the league will switch to Maximum Level rules for 2019 for the first time, with only “bunt for a base hit” enabled among the many Max Rules options:

The switch to Maximum Level also brings balks/wild pitches/passed ball ratings back into play after the league had not utilized those features in recent years. The rule was voted in on a trial basis and expires after the 2019 season unless a new vote is passed to extend it or amend it.

Another rule of significant impact voted in was the application of a 105% rule in setting at-bat and innings pitched limits for all players. Previously players were limited to their actual at-bat or innings pitched totals, except for hitters who had attained 550 ABs or 600 plate appearances — those players had been unlimited. But not any longer. So tracking of all players’ limits throughout the season will be required, which potentially will lead to more “saving at-bats” situations, player substitutions, longer games, yada yada.

Who benefits? All pitchers and all hitters with less than 550 at-bats, as they get an extra 5% tacked on. The more at-bats or innings pitched you have, the more you get added on. Continue reading

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Meet new manager Luke Walsh

Luke Walsh is about to undergo some big changes in his life.

He’s days away from completing his undergraduate degree at Iowa State in civil engineering, having taken the scenic route through college (5 1/2 years to complete his studies). The Iowan will be moving to the Denver area to take a job with WSB Engineering, where he will be designing community areas.

Luke Walsh

Luke Walsh

Why not throw in joining a Strat league?

Luke, 24, joins the I-75 League in time for our 40th season. He’ll replace Kevin Gergel, manager of the East Cobb Juice, who dropped out after one year due to other time commitments.

Luke is a big sports fan, particularly the NFL and MLB, and has become an active fantasy player. So active that he’s even launched a fantasy football podcast (Fantasy Blueballs — listen on Soundcloud, Google Play, or Apple podcasts). He participated in drumline at Iowa State, where he met Dyersville manager Ryan Renbarger and got his introduction to Strat-O-Matic.

In addition to playing and listening to music, Luke also enjoys other forms of entertainment, including movies, and his selection of a team name — the Greendale Zealots — is a hat tip to two of his interests. Greendale comes from the television show Community, which was set on the campus of a fictional Greendale Community College and aired on NBC and Yahoo! for six seasons. Zealots is a reference to a song off the album of one of Luke’s favorite artists, Childish Gambino.

Judging from the photo he passed along above, he’s also a fan of HBO’s Game of Thrones.

With all that going on, who has time for classes???

Luke’s baseball loyalties reside with the St. Louis Cardinals, and his fondest memory dates way back to the 2011 World Series, and particularly to David Freese’s Game Six heroics.

His present-day faves include pitcher Carlos Martinez and outfielder Harrison Bader. “CarMart unfortunately can’t seem to shake injury troubles, but when he is healthy and on he’s a blast to watch and can throw with the best of them,” says Luke. “Bader is hard-working and has the grit, attitude and talent to be a strong point of the team for years to come. Really looking forward to his growth.”

We’ll be looking forward to Luke’s growth as a novice Strat manager as well. Welcome to the I-75 league!

Margaritaville repeats as I-75 League World Champs

The turning point came in the seventh inning of Game Four.

To that point, Applegate had taken a 2-1 lead in the series and was up 3-0 through six innings. The Paperclips were nine outs away from taking a commanding 3-1 series lead. Starter Kyle Hendricks had allowed just one hit over six shutout innings.

Then, the dam broke.

Joey Votto singled and Justin Turner homered, cutting Applegate’s lead to 3-2 and bringing Hendricks’ night to a sudden close. Lefty Justin Wilson came on to face Charlie Blackmon, but Blackmon singled. Righty Fernando Rodney spelled Wilson and retired Gary Sanchez and Domingo Santana, but allowed Blackmon to steal second. The Clips decided no more messin’ around and called on lefty ace Andrew Miller to face Robinson Cano, but Cano laced a game-tying single. The very next batter, Francisco Lindor, blasted a two-run homer and in the blink of an eye, the Clips were down 5-3. Margaritaville had stifled the Clips’ momentum.

That inning ignited a Volcanic eruption that saw Margaritaville score 11 runs in Game Five (an 11-5 win), seven runs in Game Six (an 8-7 loss in 11 innings) and 10 runs in the decisive Game Seven, a 10-2 anticlimactic blowout that gave Margaritaville its second World Championship in a row.

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Clips to employ ‘secret weapons’ in desperate bid to upend Volcanoes

It’s Applegate vs. Margaritaville for the 2018 I-75 League World Championship, coined by some as “The Mismatch of the Century.”

No. 2 seeded Applegate fought back its longtime rivals, the sixth-seeded Bushwood Gophers, taking four out of five Pennant Series games to advance, while the top-seeded Volcanoes mashed No. 4 seeded Superior in five games as well, outscoring the Titans 37-14, to earn a chance to defend their league title.

But while record-wise, a matchup pitting a 106-win team against a 101-win team might seem like a juicy duel, Applegate Manager Gary Kicinski reiterated a midseason sentiment: “We have no chance. At least — not employing conventional weapons.”

Kicinski noted that since the trading deadline, the Volcanoes are 14-1 against the Paperclips and Titans, the teams with the second- and third-best records in the league. Margaritaville swept the Clips in a five-game series in September, the Titans in a five-game series in August, and just concluded the four-out-of-five playoff landslide against Superior. “They have future Hall of Famers up and down their lineup. They have the best of the players they drafted, and the best of the players Savannah drafted. It’s like one against two.”

But, all is not lost. By receiving special dispensation from the league commissioner, the Clips were able to make a pair of offseason off-the-books trades to acquire the key components they’ll need in order to have any chance at all of not getting their doors blown off.

Applegate has acquired Manager Dave Renbarger from the Bushwood Gophers in exchange for a bag of chocolate donuts, and manager Jason Renbarger from the New New York Hypnotoads in exchange for naming rights to something that is More More Sensible.

Dave Renbarger guided the Gophers to an improbable 11-4 record against Margaritaville this season, while Jason Renbarger skippered the worst team the planet has ever seen, one that went a historically bad 36-124, to a 3-2 series win over the Volcanoes in July. Dave will be in the third-base coaching box during the World Championship for Applegate and Jason will coach first.

“We know that John McMillan will manage his club differently against us in the postseason than he did against those teams during the regular season,” Kicinski said. “All of his top players will be active and the rules are different in the postseason.

“But if some of that Dave and Jason karma doesn’t rub off on us… we have no chance.”

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.

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.