BaseballSoftballUK announced recently that the official Opening Day and ceremony to mark the completion and use of the UK’s first dedicated baseball and softball facility at Farnham Park will take place on 20 July.
The facility has already been put to good use with school softball, local softball league games and a softball tournament all being staged there in its opening week. The BSUK’s story even notes that the Herts Falcons paid a flying visit and left extremely impressed by the sight of an international-specification full-size baseball diamond here in the U.K. at last.
With this great new facility being the expected home of this year’s National Baseball Championship, now seems like the ideal time to take a trip around the leagues to see whose visions of Farnham may become a reality later this season.
N.B. the following reflects the scores and standings as published on the BBF website on the evening of 19 June.
National Baseball League
Postseason set-up: the top two go straight through to the NBC. Teams finishing 3rd to 6th go through to a single nine-inning showdown (3rd v 6th, 4th v 5th) to decide the other two NBC participants.
As things stand today, the Herts Falcons (12-2) and the Southampton Mustangs (13-5) would automatically qualify for the NBC. The Mustangs showed their playoff credentials by taking two wins on the road against the reigning two-time champions the Harlow Nationals last Sunday.
The third-placed London Mets (9-3) are only one game behind the top two in the standings and have several games in hand. It looks like those three teams will battle the rest of the way for the two spots, with the team that misses out joining the Harlow Nationals, Bracknell Blazers and either the Lakenheath Diamondbacks or the Essex Arrows in the qualification round.
Postseason set-up. The top two from both the North and Midlands will meet in regional qualifiers (N1 v M2, M1 v N2) to produce two NBC entrants. The top four teams from the South will meet in a regional qualifier round to produce the other two.
The smart money would be on the Liverpool Trojans (11-1) and Nottingham Rebels (11-0) being the two Northern/Midlands NBC representatives; however, even though both look strong bets to win their respective divisions, they will then have to win a play-in game to book their place and anything can happen in a single nine-inning contest.
On the regular season form so far, the Milton Keynes Bucks (8-2) would likely be the other Midlands contender, with second place in the North being a battle between the Cartmel Valley Lions (7-5) and the Halton Jaguars (6-8).
The AAA-South is arguably the most competitive division in British Baseball this season and the battle for the top four playoff spots, followed by the playoff games, is sure to produce some exciting and dramatic baseball over the next couple of months.
Prior to last Sunday it looked like a case of five teams fighting for four spots, but the Herts Ravens’ two victories over previous division-leaders Oxford Kings suggests they may be able to put together a late run to get into the mix too. Those wins still leave the Ravens four games below .500 (5-9) so it’s fair to wait for a couple more weeks to see if they can truly be classed as real contenders.
As it is, the top five teams are the London Metros (11-5), Cambridge Royals (11-5), Bristol Badgers (10-6), Oxford Kings (10-6) and London Mets II (9-7). They’ll be competing over the rest of the season to make sure the are not the one team on the outside once all the regular season games are complete.
Postseason set-up. The North/Midlands regional qualifiers will include the top three teams from the AA-North and the third placed team from the AAA-Midlands, once again competing in single-game showdowns to produce two NBC entrants. The top six in the AA-South will make the playoffs with the third to sixth placed teams playing the first qualification round (3rd v 6th, 4th v 5th) and then the winners of those matches playing either the first or second placed team to earn qualification to the NBC.
The Birmingham Maple Leafs (5-7) hold a 2.5 game lead over the Leicester Blue Sox (2-7) for the third-placed Midlands spot, albeit with the Blue Sox having three games in hand to try to claw back the deficit. Current AA-North leaders the Hull Scorpions (11-1) seem a shoo-in to take one of the three Northern spots (at the very least). The Manchester A’s (9-4) and Harrogate Tigers (7-4) currently hold the other two playoff places, but both the Bolton Robots of Doom (6-5) and Sheffield Bladerunners (4-4) could still mount a serious challenge.
In the South, the current top six are the teams with winning records so they all look like having a strong chance to make it to the postseason. Richmond Dragons (6-5) and Sidewinders (6-4) probably will settle for first-round qualification spots, whilst Hove Tuesday (10-1), Daws Hill Spitfires (7-0), London Mammoths (8-2) and Guildford Mavericks (8-3) battle it out for the top two spots and the other two qualification spaces.
Hove and Daws Hill are the front-runners and they’ll meet this Sunday in a highly-anticipated match-up in High Wycombe. Hove Tuesday are sure to be the Spitfires’ biggest threat to their quest for an unbeaten season. They defeated the Mavericks 7-5 last Sunday and Guildford’s manager Matt Bruce was effusive in his praise after the game in the BBF report, stating, “Hove are easily the best team we have faced since 2011 and the same goes for the pitcher [Thomas] Izuta. Our coach Tony Oliva thought he was throwing around 85mph, and as a team they’re going to be tough to beat”.
Postseason set-up. The regular season format splits twelve teams into three Pools of four. The two Pool winners with the best record (or the next relevant tie-breaker criteria) go straight through to the NBC. The other Pool winner and the next three teams with the best winning percentages, regardless of the Pool they are in, will play a qualification round to determine the other two NBC participants.
This one is trickier to predict as tie-breakers may well be a factor, so let’s just work through who would be the in the playoffs if those spots were awarded today.
The two teams going straight to the NBC would be the London Marauders (6-2 in Pool C) and Herts Raptors (6-2 in Pool A). The Milton Keynes Coyotes have the same 6-2 record as the Raptors but are listed in second place in the Pool A standings, so they would take one of the other four playoff spots. They would be joined by Pool B leaders the Haverhill Blackjacks (4-3) and then two teams from Pool C, Guildford Mavericks II (4-2) and Tonbridge (4-4).