Who will Win the Players League Eastern Division in 2007?Brooklyn has won the Division 4 times. The Colonials match that total with 4 titles to their name. The Crickets have 3 titles to their name, and the Brewers and Eagles have never won since joining the league in 2001 and 2004 respectively. The Houston Apollos won the Division twice before being moved to the Federal League in 2004.
The Phoenix Fire swept the Brooklyn Bridges for the 2nd straight year to advance to the Players League Championship Cup. Last season, the sweep propelled them to the Union Cup, but this season they will have to compete in another Cup Series to advance. Opposing them are the Oklahoma City RedHawks, who defeated the Las Vegas Vipers 4 games to 2 to become the first Expansion team to win a Playoff series. With the addition of the Wild Card Series, this will mark the first time that both division winners lost and means that in it’s first season of existance a Wild Card team will advance to the Union Cup. Over in the Federal League, the Wild Card winners didn’t fare as well. The Houston Apollos lost to the Portland Pioneers, 4 games to 1. The Apollos feel behind in the series early and despite winning Game 4, would go on to lose in 5 games. Portland advances to face the San Juan Storm, who defeated the Buffalo Blizzard, who were making their first postseason appearance this year. The Blizzard were swept by the Storm, who will look to advance to the Union Cup for the 2nd year in a row.
San Juan won the season series 8-6 over the Pioneers, while the Phoenix Fire took the season series from the RedHawks 12-11.
The 2004 Playoffs have begun, and the Divisional Cup games have gone as expected in the FL, and provided some shockers in the PL.
Oklahoma City stunned the Las Vegas Vipers with extra inning victory in Game one as they took a 1 one lead in their series. Josh Lyons pitched 9 strong innings, and just 4 hits and 1 run before being replaced in the 10th against his wishes. The Phoenix Fire burned some Bridges in Game One with Brooklyn, winning 10-3 behind Pedro Luiz Lazo. The San Juan Storm thawed out the Buffalo Blizzard as they shut them out in Game One, winning 1-0 despite only getting 4 hits. The Portland Pioneers welcomed Dontrelle Willis to the postseason, tagging him for 6 runs, though only 3 were ‘earned’ on rout to a 10-3 victory.
Curt Schilling led the Fire to a 6-3 victory, helped along by a HR by Ken Payne and two dingers from Tagg Bozeid as they put the Bridges on notice for the 2nd straight year. The Vipers exploded for 5 runs in the 7th inning against the RedHawks, but it was not enough, as the RedHawks plated 6 runs and win 6 to 5 to but the Best team in the Players League in an early 2-0 hole in this matchup between two of the three freshmen clubs in the postseason. Over in the FL, Buffalo is still struggling to score against the Storm, and they lose 6-1. The Apollos lost to the Pioneers in a 12 inning game. Kris Tetz was named as the Player of the Game moments before allowing the tieing run in the 9th inning. Daniel Fornes would plate Derek Lee with a walk off double in the 12th to give the Pioneers the 3-2 victory.
With just 16 days left in the Regular Season left, the ULB Playoff Picture is taking shape. With the Union Cup in sight, teams are now in the final leg of the season long journey to the postseason. In the Players League, The Las Vegas Vipers have a virtual lock to make the playoffs for the first time in team history. They have a magic number of 9, and the Phoenix Fire are 6 games back heading into today’s games. The Brooklyn Bridges will also likely clinch their division for the 2nd year in a row, as they have a magic number of 2, and the Columbus Crickets are now 14 games back. The aforementioned Fire likely have the #1 Wild Card spot locked up, and will clinch a playoff berth with 2 more wins, or 2 more loses by the RedHawks, who will take the 4th and final spot in the Players League. The next closest team to them in the San Jose Jedi, who are 7 back. This will be the RedHawks first postseason appearance as well, should they hold on to their spot. They joined the league in 2001 as an expansion team.
Over in the Federal League, it’s looking like San Juan will once again head to the Postseason as a division winner, this time, as the FL Eastern Division Champs. They hold a magic number of 3 over the Buffalo Blizzard. The Portland Pioneers could once again be the Division Champs over in the West, as they have a magic number of 10 and a 5.5 game lead over the Houston Apollos, who also have a 10 game lead in the Wild Card race, with the Blizzard taking the #4 spot currently, though they maintain a slim lead over the 2004 FL East Champion New Orleans Gold Sox, and 1 game behind them are the Salt Lake City Bees. It’s looking like the Blizzard/Gold Sox/ Bees in the race to watch in the final weeks.
Here are your starters for the 2004 Union League Baseball All Star Game, which will be held in Sunny San Jose, home of the Jedi. Skywalker Stadium will host the All Star Game for the 2nd time. Last time the ASG was in San Jose, the Crickets Hall of Famer Michael Jordan won that game for the Players League with a Walk off Home Run. Who will provide the fireworks in 2004?
LIGHT SIDE (Players League)
- C Brian Horner, BRO
- 1B Stefan Bailie, COL
- 2b Jose Vidro, OKC
- 3b Gary Sapp, BOS
- SS Brett King, BRO
- OF Shannon Carter, STP
- OF Kevin Forbes, BOS
- OF Ichiro Suzuki, LV
- OF Juan Morales, OKC (Won FL Vote)
- DH Kenneth Payne, PHO
- SP Andy Yount, PHO
- RP Scott Williamson, BOS
DARK SIDE (Federal League)
- C Eric Christopherson, SJS
- 1B Derek Baker, SJS
- 2B Jason Moore, LAS
- 3B Brian Sutter, HOU
- SS Alex Rodriguez, JC
- OF Daylan Holt, BUF
- OF Anduw Jones, WAS
- OF Albert Pujols, HOU
- DH Adam Dunn, HOU
- SP Roy Halladay, POR
- RP Rhett Parrott, SLC
Reserves will be announced later today once the Jedi Council decides who will oppose the forces of Darth Timms and the Federal League. May the Force be with you and don’t forget to go see Star Wars, Episode II Attack of the Clones back in theaters nationwide for a limited time.
What excited you the most about taking over the Bridges?
We had a good run last season. People didn’t expect us to reached the playoffs, but we did. Unfortunately though, we lost in the first round in the hands of Phoenix Fire. It was a good learning experience for us. Next season, we just have to play much better baseball, not only in the regular season, but also in the playoffs.
How do you feel about your first season in the league?
I was blessed for having a good team right off the bat. Reaching the playoffs on my first year was really fun. I have to give the previous GM a lot of credit for building a good team in here in Brooklyn.
What was your plan for the offseason?
Our first priority in the off-season is to acquire a solid starter. Our position players are pretty much set, we might add a couple of guys from free agency to solidify our line up even more.
Which rookies/prospects do you see potentially making an impact in 2004?
I’m really excited about our starting pitcher, Jay Gehrke. He came up late last season from AAA and really gave us a boost in the rotation. I like his development phase so far, and I expect him to be in the rotation this year.
Who is your team’s best player?
Well, I think the guys would agree with me on this, our best player is Wayne Edwards. Our young guys look up to him, and who can blame them? He’s also a great leader in the clubhouse.
Which team is your biggest rival?
I’m my short stint here in Brooklyn, I have to say our rival is Columbus. We were neck and neck last year racing to the playoffs. Luckily, we ended up on top. I expect them to bounce back this year and we’re up for the challenge.
The Phoenix Fire and San Juan Storm are heading to the 2003 Union Cup. It’s been a long season for both teams, and now they will face each other in a 7 game series to determine the 2003 champions. The Fire swept the Brooklyn Bridges in 4 games to advance in easy fashion.
The Storm had some demons to excise as they required 7 games to defeat the New Orleans Gold Sox, the team they lost to last year in the Federal League Cup back when they were the San Antonio DireWolves. The Gold Sox went on to win the Union Cup that year, but with a new name and new city to call home, San Juan believes 2003 is the year of the Storm.
Both teams feature solid lineups and upper echelon pitching staffs. Game 1 will feature 2002 Nolan Ryan Award Winner Pedro Luis Lazo for the Fire, while the Storm will counter with 17 game winner Dan Chergey.
The Phoenix Fire became the 2nd team to clinch their division this week, eliminating the San Jose Jedi from contention, and setting themselves up with a second shot at making it to the Union Cup.
Fire Slugger Kenneth Payne sums it up for his team. “Last season, we have a big series with the Crickets, but we lost Game Seven. When I look back at it, that loss still lingers. I think it was a big part of this season for us, a shot at redemption. Making it to the Union Cup and winning it is your ultimate goal every season. To make it to within 24 outs of getting there and not getting the job done? It sucks.”
Now, the Fire will face either the Brooklyn Bridges or the Columbus Crickets in the Players League Cup.
Jason Harrison has exploded for 10 HR in the early part of the season, leading him to declare that he is the best hitter in the ULB. “Yeah, of course I’m better than Payne and Edwards. Those guys can’t hold my jock.”
Harrison says that he has been overlooked because of the fact that he plays in Columbus and not a market like New York, or in the case of Payne, formerly Los Angeles.
“People overlooked me because I’m not MJ. Well, this year, MJ, he’s gone. Couldn’t play anymore anyway. I’m the next big thing here in Columbus. When I’m done here, people won’t even remember Jordan.”
When Asked about Harrison’s comments, last season’s HR champ Ken Payne reportedly responded. “Wait, isn’t he hitting like .199?”
After shoring up their pitching staff with the addition of rookie Chris Jones, who will likely be their 4th or 5th starter, the Pioneers continue to seek a bat for their lineup. The Pioneers are reportedly unhappy with Aghali Rokki‘s stats at first, and will look to shore up the position with a trade. Could they be looking at Boston’s Frank Thomas? The Big Hurt is a free agent going into the upcoming offseason, and their are rumors he will be looking for a megadeal.
Another option might be Brooklyn’s Glenn Davis. Davis is hitting .287 with 7 HR, and while not the prototype 1B with power, Davis is an excellent option against righties. He could platoon with Rokki facing lefties. The price on Davis would likely be high, but Portland could have the prospects to entice him away from Brooklyn.
The Giants’ Ray Rice would also be a good fit in Portland, but one wonders if the animosity between GM’s Huff and Jefferies would prevent the pair from working together. One final option might be Curtis Underwood, who’s reportedly on the trading block. The Vipers 1B is hitting .222 with 14 HR, but a move away from Vegas would likely help his batting stats. Underwood’s stats at home read .175/.251/.350 and away he improves to .269/.337/.456.