It doesn’t seem long ago since I was previewing the 2009 British baseball season, but we’re now close to the end of the regular season schedule. The first stage of the postseason takes place in a little over four weeks’ time on Sunday 23 August and a number of teams have already qualified.
However, there is still much to play for over the next few weeks.
National Baseball League
The lineup for the NBL National Baseball Championship has been known for a while. Of the five teams that make up the NBL, all but the bottom side will head on to the Finals. Croydon Pirates’ win-less season so far has meant that the rest of the teams are assured of their places, with the Pirates only contribution being to provide the venue at their Roundshaw Playing Field home.
London Mets top the table with a 16-4 record. Their attempt to make it three championships in a row got off to a steady rather than a spectacular start, splitting their first eight games before heading into an off-weekend. Since then, the Mets have won eight games in a row to take control of the league.
Richmond Flames are three games back with a 13-7 record, with NBL newcomers Herts Falcons five games back on 12-10 and Bracknell Blazers six games back on 9-9. The Blazers swept a doubleheader over the Pirates last Sunday and they will host the league-leading Mets this Sunday at Westmorland Park in the only NBL fixtures of the weekend.
There are just eight NBL games after this weekend. The doubleheaders on 9 August see the Falcons hosting the Blazers and the Flames hosting the Pirates. The following Sunday is a make-up date with the Flames and Mets playing their doubleheader at Finsbury Park postponed from 7 June and the Pirates facing the Blazers postponed from 3 May.
The top four teams are jostling for position, but the real story from now on is whether the Pirates can win any of their remaining four games to avoid going through the whole of 2009 without a victory.
British AAA (South)
AAA has been dominated by the Essex Arrows. They have won all twenty-one of their games so far and have enjoyed the company of US TV star Jerry Springer on several occasions as well. The Arrows hold an insurmountable 12.5 game lead over Sidewinders (9-13) in Pool 2, while Herts Eagles (8-14) trail by a further game.
Pool 1 is much closer, despite Southampton Mustangs best efforts to run away from the pack with four wins from their last four games. Their 15-5 record puts them three games ahead of the Oxford Kings (12-8), with Bristol Badgers 5.5 games back and one game below .500 (10-11). Whichever team comes out on top will join the Arrows in the AAA National Baseball Championship where they will be matched up against the top two teams from the Northern Conference.
British AA (South)
AA should provide one of the most exciting battles down the stretch over the next three weeks. Three teams are fighting for just two play-off positions. Kent Mariners (13-5) lead the league by a single game over Brentwood Stags and Croydon Pirates III (both 12-6). The Stags are currently a shade ahead of Pirates III due to runs scored/against.
All three teams have two games left and the crucial one is scheduled for 9 August as the Mariners and Pirates III come head-to-head. The top two teams will go through to the playoff stage on 23 August. The league winner will face the fourth-placed team from the Northern Conference, while the runner-up will take on the second-placed team from the Midlands League.
British A (South)
The A League is split into three pools and two of the pool winners are already known. Bracknell Blazers 2 defeated Old Timers 8-7 on Sunday to complete a perfect 12-0 regular season in Pool 1. In Pool 2, Essex Archers have followed the success of their organization friends the Arrows with a 9-2 season so far and will attempt to make it 10-2 in their final game against Southampton Mustangs II this coming Sunday.
Pool 3 looks like going the way of Richmond Dragons, whose 6-4 record gives them a 1.5 game lead over the Herts Raptors. The Raptors need to win their final game against the Old Timers on 9 August and hope that the Dragons lose their two remaining games to give them a chance of winning the pool via the runs scored/against method.
The second-placed team with the best record will also qualify for the playoff on 23 August.
The Midlands League was revamped for the start of the 2009 season with the inclusion of two new teams based at US Air Force camps. Unsurprisingly, Alconbury Braves (13-1) and Mildenhall Bulldogs (13-6) have been impressive and they hold the top two spots in the league. The Braves have already secured the league title and move straight on to the AA League National Baseball Championship.
MK Bucks (10-7) and Leicester Blue Sox (4-13) have made sure of the final two play-off qualification spots for third and fourth placed finishes, although the Bucks could still grab second place from the Bulldogs if they win their remaining three games. Birmingham Maple Leafs (2-17), the defending champions, have had a very disappointing season and already will be looking ahead to better times in 2010.
The first year of a combined Northern Conference has been memorable for Harrogate Tigers. Not only do they currently sit top of the conference with an unbeaten 17-0 record, but they have also been awarded the rights to stage the AAA National Baseball Championship final weekend over 5-6 September. The Tigers will have home-field advantage at the event and may well find themselves matched up against the unbeaten Essex Arrows from the South.
The second-placed team in the Northern Conference will join the Tigers in the AAA NBC and the Liverpool Trojans (13-3) narrowly hold that spot right now ahead of Manchester A’s (14-4). Both teams should make the postseason in any case. The fourth, fifth and sixth placed teams will also head on to the postseason. Those positions are currently held by Menwith Hill Patriots (11-9), Bolton Robots of Doom (8-8) and Halton Jaguars (9-10), with Humber Pilots (8-12) close behind.
Full details about the British baseball leagues can be found at the British Baseball Federation website.