The East Boston Knights snatched the 4-seed with a second-place finish in the Yastrzemski Division. Eric Bellavia has led them through a bit of roller-coaster season that saw the Knights (21-10-1) vacillate between the top and middle of the Yaz division. With a similar style of play as their round 1 opponents, the Knights have no glaring weaknesses. They have really put up some highly impressive, almost unrealistic statistics with a .426 OBP to go along with 122 steals, a new YBL record (since the inception of 400hitter, only two other clubs have amassed three-digits in steals). And they back it up with a grocery list of pitchers who could each contribute significantly in the series.
On the flip side, the Stoneham Sabers (22-10) quickly established themselves as the team to beat in the YBL with a big win over Revere and then 2 more over Somerville in the first month+ of the season. There is never an ‘easy’ inning against the Sabers with their solid pitching, tough bats all the way through the lineup and speed all over the place. Player/Manager Angelo Colucci has kept the kids focused and has the comfort in knowing there will be superior defense at the 3 key positions on the field.
Stoneham may have taken the season series 2-0, but they have yet to play EB on one of their many turf fields.
Players to Watch
The Knights can march 7 hitters to the plate who hit over .340 (with at least 35 ABs) in 2014, including Marty Dunlap (.375) and Josh Valerio (.352) who both had solid years. Wilson Mercado (.364, 24 RBI) was one of the scarier hitters in the YBL as usual, and Brad Tardugno (.343, 17 RBI) always seems to be lurking on deck when guys get on base. Shepard and Allison will anchor the starting rotation, and Billy Riggieri (5-2, 31 IP, 2.09 ERA, 39 K) will likely start game 4 (if needed). Max Ockner (1-2, 1.31 ERA) should get plenty of innings in relief. But Eastie also has THE guy to watch in the postseason. Victor ‘the better’ LeBron was lauded with “dude is the real deal” merely a couple weeks into his rookie YBL season. Since then, his legit-ness has only escalated with a .459 avg, 3 HR and a ridiculous, YBL record 45 SB (surpassing Drew Tambling’s old mark of 37). If this guy is getting on base with any regularity, stopping Eastie will be like trying to get a bad pie at Santarpio’s.
Stoneham may not have a LeBron of their own, but there is no debating that they are one of the more complete teams top-to-bottom in the league. Now in his 4th YBL campaign, Mike Robinson (.268 avg, 15 SB) has been a pitcher’s nightmare who brings power and speed in addition to being a top-tier YBL center fielder. And while 2014 has seen a slight regression from mmmRob at the dish, this 3-hitter can break out at any time. Jake Zelnick (.408 avg, 4 triples) leads the team in hitting, and Travis Adams (.358 avg, 11 doubles) has been among the top 2-way catchers in the YBL. The Sabers also have their own arsenal of wings, to the point where they can play matchups. Greg Dubela (4-2, 1.78 ERA) and his rubber arm could easily see a start in the first few games, or even be the primary reliever leading up to a potential start in game 4. One thing is for sure, these guys can play on any of the 11 different surfaces the schedule throws at them.
The Eastie bullpen. If the starters are able to get through 5 innings with minimal damage, they will hand the ball to either John Tangherlini (2-1, 2.28era) or Max Ockner (1-2, 1.31 ERA) to close the door for Bellavia. If those 2 are on point, the Sabers could be working uphill.
Colucci – A career .324 hitter, Ang has had a tough 2014 despite logging his 4th consecutive 90+ AB season. History has shown that he has a certain flair for the dramatic, so 1 big hit can easily wake this hairy, hardball-hammering beast and cause big problems for Knights pitching.
X-Factor – Is there any question? THE BEACH. If the weather holds off, Stoneham will get to host the Knights at the most ligament-terrifying field on the eastern seaboard for at least 1 if not 2 games this upcoming weekend. Are there any 2 fields more vastly different than Rec Park and Maplewood?
While Eastie was up and down all year and Stoneham hit a bit of a rough patch over the last couple weeks of 2014, both teams have shown that they are perennially among the league’s best. This series is going to be all about taking it one pitch at a time. Hits will become outs, and mistakes can quickly turn into chaos. The combination of pitching and hitting from both squads could lead to a bunch of 2-1 games, 15-14 games, or anything in between.
Stoneham moves on in 5