The 2015 regular season is complete in the Can-Am League, as the six teams that are part of the league have all completed their 97-game schedules.
In past years, the top two seeds would meet in a seven game championship series, but with the league now having six teams (as opposed to four in previous years), the league has expanded the playoff bracket, as the top four teams record-wise will now compete to win a league title.
Unfortunately, the league’s two new teams, the Ottawa Champions and Sussex County Miners, did not qualify for the playoffs this season, as they finished fifth and sixth in the league standings, respectively. As per league rules, the league’s two “travel teams,” the Shiokoku All Stars and the Garden State Grays, were not allowed to qualify for the playoffs, as they both played shortened schedules this season.
As the playoffs are scheduled to start on Wednesday, September 9, here’s an inside look at the two first round match-ups:
#1 ROCKLAND BOULDERS (63-34) vs. #4 TROIS-RIVIERES AIGLES (50-46)
For the second straight season, the Rockland Boulders reign as the league’s division champions. They will take on the Trois-Rivieres Aigles in the first round of this year’s playoff series.
The Boulders, who won the league championship in 2014, look to defend their title, while the Aigles will make their first ever postseason appearance in franchise history.
With an explosive lineup and an experienced pitching staff, the Boulders will be a very tough team to face throughout this postseason. Rockland was an offensive force this season, posting a .292 team batting average while slugging 79 home runs in the process. They also scored 622 runs as a team, which tops in the league.
It’s very hard to single out one or two players on this roster, but a few names stand out with this Boulder team. Center fielder Jared McDonald made a big impression in his first season with the team, posting a .337 batting average out of the lead-off spot. Along with McDonald, the team has relied on the bats of Stephen Cardullo (.331 batting average) and catcher Marcus Nidiffer (league-leading 22 home runs and 93 RBIs), and have gotten solid production from shortstop Junior Arrojo (.310 average) and converted first baseman Charlie Law.
And let’s not forget, the Boulders have the Can-Am League Player of the Year Joe Maloney hitting in the middle of their order. In his second season with the Boulders, Maloney really turned it up a notch, as he hit .337 with 14 home runs and 83 RBIs this season.
With regards to their pitching staff, the Boulders will be led by Richard Salazar (11-4, 3.15 ERA), who was a major factor in the team’s championship run a year ago. The team has a lot of postseason experience, and Can-Am League Manager of the Year Jamie Keefe will rely on guys such as Stephen Harrold, Bo Budkevics, and closer Luis Sanz to help lead them back to the finals.
The Aigles might not have the offensive firepower that the Boulders have, but this is a team that has played extremely well in the second half of the season. Having to fight their way into the playoffs, Trois-Rivieres went 9-1 in their last 10 games, holding off the Ottawa Champions for the fourth and final playoff spot.
Trois-Rivieres is led by outfielder Steve Brown, who hit .301 with 12 home runs and 64 RBIs in 90 games this season. In order to keep up with the Boulders’ offense, the Aigles will need guys such as Pedro Lopez ( team high .314 batting average), Craig Hertler, and Javier Herrera to continue swinging hot bats. Second baseman Jose Cuevas is also a guy the team could rely on, as he has playoff experience from the past two seasons playing for the New Jersey Jackals.
To slow down a good offense, pitching is vital, and the Aigles’ returned ace Matthew Rusch (7-4, 3.10 ERA) off the disabled list just a few days ago. Rusch, along with Ryan Bollinger (11-7, 3.64 ERA) will be called upon to try and slow down the potent Boulders’ offense.
Although the Aigles are the hottest team heading into this year’s postseason, it will be hard for them to slow down the Boulders, who have a lot of talent throughout their entire roster.
Rockland in four games.
#2 QUEBEC CAPITALES (54-42) vs. #3 NEW JERSEY JACKALS (54-43)
With only a half game separating these two teams, it should be a very fun series, as an old rivalry is renewed in the first round of the playoffs.
During the Capitales’ run in which they won five straight championships from 2009-2013, Quebec defeated the Jackals three years in a row during that time period, knocking them off in the finals during the 2011, 2012, and 2013 seasons. The 2013 championship series was decided in a winner-take-all game 7, and if this series is anything like that one, fans of both teams will be in for a treat this upcoming week.
In this series, it is important to note that games 1 and 2 will be in New Jersey, with games 3 and, if necessary, 4 and 5 being in Quebec. The higher seed usually gets the preference on which games they want to host, but it was agreed upon by both managers to follow this schedule.
For the first time in a while, Quebec featured a new look, as the team lost some key contributors from the 2014 season. Last year’s Can-Am League Player of the Year Balbino Fuenmayor was signed by the Kansas City Royals organization, while veterans Rene Leverett and Sebastien Boucher sought baseball opportunities elsewhere.
Although the team has seen some major changes, manager Patrick Scalabrini always seems to find a way to be successful. Scalabrini and crew will rely on the right arm of Karl Gelinas (10-3, 2.10 ERA) to lead the way. Gelinas has not pitched since August 28, but is scheduled to start Game 1 in New Jersey. It might be a surprise to some, but Quebec has closer Deryk Hooker scheduled to start in this series. With a few injuries to the pitching staff, the team elected to start Hooker on September 3 against Sussex to prepare him to start in the playoffs.
On the offensive side, the Capitales are led by 2015 batting champion Yuniesky Gurriel, who posted an outstanding .374 batting average during the regular season. Along with Gurriel, the team has gotten solid production from Alexei Bell (.317 average), and former Rockland Boulder, Will Walsh (.288 average). Jean-Luc Blaquiere also provides a steady presence behind the plate for the Capitales.
The X Factor in this series for Quebec is center fielder Kalian Sams. In his first season in the Can-Am League, Sams really caught the attention of many people, as he posted a .279 batting average with 16 home runs and 65 RBIs. With an offense that really wasn’t stocked with power bats, Sams has added some much needed pop in the middle of the order. It will be crucial for the Jackals’ pitching staff to try and slow him down this series.
The New Jersey Jackals have been successful in getting to the playoffs during the past few seasons, but haven’t been successful in bringing a championship back to Little Falls, NJ. Manager Joe Calfapietra and crew look to change that this season, as they search for their first ever Can-Am League title and fifth championship in franchise history.
New Jersey is the only team in the Can-Am league team to feature three pitchers with 100+ strikeouts this season, as John Walter (10-2, 3.07 ERA, league leading 127 strikeouts), Gabriel Perez (8-4, 2.89 ERA) and Brian Ernst (8-7, 2.96 ERA) were all able to accomplish the feat. Walter will get the ball in game 1 this series, as the team hopes he can set the tone in the series early on. He will be followed by Ernst and Perez respectively, with Shawn Sanford likely to get the ball in game 4.
The bullpen needs to step up in this series, as Calfapietra has some very good arms he can rely on late in the game. The team must create the bridge to get the ball to closer Hector Nelo, and it’s likely the Jackals will rely on Brandon Sisk, Donnie Joseph and Alex Powers to get the job done.
Offensively, the Jackals have been very good, as their .284 team batting average ranks as the second best team average in the league. Leandro Castro (team high .322 batting average) and Mark Threlkeld (.307 average) have been steady contributors all season, and the team has benefitted from solid production from second baseman Anthony Gomez and newcomers D’ Vontrey Richardson and Vinny Zarrillo.
The guy to look out for in the Jackals lineup is A.J. Kirby-Jones. Kirby-Jones was acquired in a trade with the Laredo Lemurs earlier in the season, and struggled early on, but has really turned it up in the second half of the season. In 85 games, the 26 year-old posted a .292 batting average and hit 19 home runs, which ranks second in the Can-Am League.
This is a very tough series to pick, as both teams are very talented and have shown they can compete at a very high level. With the series shifting to Quebec for the final three games (two if necessary), Quebec has a slight edge, especially if this series goes to a game 5.
Quebec in five games.
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN TO THESE GAMES:
This season, the Can-Am League introduced a new online television stream, so fans all over the world can tune into the games. If you are interested in watching some of these playoff games, you can go to www.canamleague.tv, and can check the playoff schedule by going to www.canamleague.com
Each individual team also has their own online radio stream, so you can listen to the games that way as well. To listen to a specific broadcast, please see the team’s respective website for more information.