Sporting the YBL’s most potent and formidable offense, the Al Thomas Athletics enter the 2016 postseason as the league’s top seed on the heels of a franchise record 28-win season. The A’s look to avenge last year’s heartbreaking first round loss to their rival Revere Rockies – a series which had them leading 2-0 at one point in the best of 5 series. A perennial powerhouse, Al Thomas has no shortage of talent with playoff experience, and many have ATBC pegged as the squad who will hoist this year’s championship plaque.
Sporting their deepest lineup in recent memory, the Sluggers from the South Shore can flat-out hit. Coach McDougall’s veteran squad has terrorized opposing pitching staffs all year long, averaging nearly 9 runs per game, while drawing an unheard of 173 bases on balls – the highest walks total by any franchise since .400Hitter began tracking statistics. With 7 Al Thomas hitters ranking in the top 13 in the league in runs scored, there is simply no room for error when facing their lineup.
Their bats are buoyed by a solid pitching rotation and deep bullpen. Bolstered by the return of former Pittsburgh Pirates 5th round selection Pat Bresnehan (6-0, 4.46 ERA, 34 K’s), Al Thomas is primed for a deep playoff run in 2016.
Looking to play the role of “spoiler” in round 1 are the #8-seed Brighton Black Sox, who enter postseason play with a 14-18 record. Piping hot out of the gate, the Black Sox rifled off big wins against defending champion Somerville and semi-finalist Stoneham en route to a 10-5 start. Relying on his bevy of veteran arms and a talented, fast, young corps of bats, Coach John Griffith created a winning atmosphere at his team’s new home at Brandeis University.
Then July hit…
First, the Sox lost promising young shortstop Jake McGuiggan to a pro contract with the New Britain Bee’s of the Atlantic Professional Baseball league. Then, the injury bug got hold of the usually sturdy Black Sox staff, with staff ace J.T. Ross tallying less than 40 innings pitched for the first time since 2009. With a 2016 regular season that was back-loaded with an inordinate amount of July games, the Black Sox did what they could to find pitching wherever they could, with catchers, first basemen and coaches shouldering the load on several occasions. They limp into August on a 4-13 skid, hoping for some postseason magic to aid them in their efforts to unseat the league’s top team.
Game 1 –Pat Bresnehan (6-0, 67 IP, 1.78 ERA, 48 K’s) vs. Matt Nicholson (1-3, 41 IP, 2.39 ERA, 14 K’s)
Game 2 – Willie Archibald (3-0, 36 IP, 1.94 ERA, 39 K’s) vs. Jared Rooney (4-5, 51 IP, 3.43 ERA, 33 K’s)
Game 3 – Bobby Freeman (6-1, 34.2 IP, 2.83 ERA, 28 K’s) vs. JT Ross (3-3, 39.2 IP, 3.00 ERA, 36 K’s)
Players to Watch
Since the franchise-ruining free agent pickup of Freddi Carrera in 2013, the Athletics have deployed a 3-headed monster of Freddi/Katsy/Lambo to score runs in bunches on a nightly basis. Carrera turned in another MVP-worthy campaign in 2016, leading A’s hitters in batting average (.423) and hits (41). James Katsiroubas lead the league in runs scored (36) and extra-base hits (16) while Steve Lambert pitched in with 31 runs and 30 RBI’s of his own. The all-star trio was joined by MVP-hopeful Matt Rodriguez, who paced the A’s with a league-best 40 RBI’s. The speedy Tom Trull turned in a career year, leading the circuit with 22 stolen bases, and a resurgent Jon Kostas finished up 2016 hitting at a .400 clip. Assuming the bats will remain true to form, the Al Thomas postseason might hinge entirely on which Willie Archibald shows up in August – the record-setting 2014 version who rattled off 5 playoff wins? Or the 2015 version whom surrendered 6 ER in 3.2 IP in a do-or-die game 5 against the Rockies.
Wheaton College standout Apolinar De La Cruz packs a whallop in the middle of the Black Sox order, leading his team in runs scored (20) and extra base hits (9). New addition, Spencer Tonies, turned in a fine rookie campaign with 30 hits and a .390 average. Former Washington Nationals 33rd Round pick Billy Cather has arguably the sweetest left-handed swing in the league and could create some matchup issues for the Al Thomas right-handed starters, along with Apo, Spencer, Rob O’Neil and the other Black Sox lefties.
Mike Hicks reached base at a .438 clip in 2016 thanks in large part to his league-leading 14 HBP’s. Establishing the inner half on Hicks and teammate James Katsiroubas could be a difference maker for opposing pitchers.
Black Sox catcher Cam Owens answered the call when his team needed an emergency start and he held the defending league champs to 1 run, scattering 5 hits over 6.2 gutsy innings. Griff may hand him the ball to see if lightning strikes twice.
The fact that the Al Thomas Athletics do not have their name etched on the YBL championship plaque this decade is criminal. They have been too good for too long to go home empty-handed once again. Griff’s Black Sox have plenty of talent, and have proven time and again that they can not only compete with, but BEAT the best teams this league has to offer…but ATBC lineup is just too deep and they’ll punch an early ticket to Round 2.
Al Thomas sweeps Brighton 3-0 in the first round.