As we head into the third week of the season, there are some big games before we take a break in honour of Her Majesty the Queen (Victoria Day). The weather doesn't want to co-operate so far with cold temperatures again this Sunday. Let's see the matchups for this week.
Nasrids (vs. Ayyubids – 2:00PM BW1; vs. Seljuqs – 3:30PM BW2)
We are fa-mi-ly! Our team sits at Oh-and-Three! That song is awful, much like the family picnic known as the Nasrids performances thus far. They’ve lost defensive battles, they’ve lost high-scoring affairs, and they’ve lost in a blowout…to the Sultans. This can’t be for real, can it? A team with former MVP Sir Nirvaan Latif, last year’s MOP Osama Buttar, and studs Hamza Waheed and Usama Mahmood? Again, much like the Seljuqs, we’ve seen this team at their worst, and it’s only a matter of time until their best shows up. They just can’t seem to find a formula that works. Against the Abbasids, they went with three pitchers. They’ve tried guys in different positions in the field – it’s just not clicking. GM Kashif Waheed just needs to re-evaluate his squa, and put his guys in positions to succeed. When you have a defensive stalwart in Usama Mahmood at short, a quality pitching duo of Nirvaan and Hamza, and a power bat in Buttar, there’s really no excuse. Maybe the guys just need more time to gel, but they’re all family – but what if that’s the issue? Everyone is too comfortable and don’t hold one another responsible, which leads to a more lax clubhouse versus the more competitive edge seen on other teams. You have to be nice to your family, maybe that’s the issue? Regardless of what the issue is, they need to fix it, and fast. With matchups against last year’s champion Ayyubids and the also-winless Seljuqs, they have to get at least one win on the day or else they find themselves in a hole maybe too deep to climb out of.
Ayyubids (@ Nasrids – 2:00PM BW1; @ Ottomans – 3:30PM BW1)
I know we refer to the Ayyubids as last year’s champions, but they’ve undergone such a facelift that maybe the title isn’t warranted. Regardless, they’ve been playing like a team capable of winning another, especially with the Jabbar brothers doing damage week in-week out. Ali Jabbar remains a force to be reckoned with on the mound, and Umer Jabbar continues to play big when it counts and keep his squad motivated and focused on victory. But yo, who the hell predicted Umair Jabbar coming out the gate like THIS? Rumour has it that after his bestie Rizvan Merchant had a son, Jabbar now plays second fiddle in Riz’s heart, and that in turn has led to this juggernaut dressed in black and orange. Could a broken heart lead to all these broken records? Umair is playing the best ball of his life, and is doing it all. You could also say that as a relatively young member of the League, he had a huge responsibility on his shoulders to be a leader the last few years on the Abbasids. Now that he’s playing with his older brothers that have taken on the clubhouse leader role more, he just has to show up, play ball and lead by example. The kid is turning heads around the League, and we’re excited to see if he can keep this going. The Ayyubids face the Nasrids and the Ottomans this week, and look to further their title defence in orderly fashion..
Seljuqs (vs. Ottomans – 2:00PM BW2; @ Nasrids – 3:30 BW2)
On one side of the spectrum, you have the Seljuqs, who have been beaten, and beaten badly. However, this team has far too much talent to really expect them to perform at this level all season. They were missing first round picks Furhan Azmat and then Sameer Rafique in back-to-back weekends, leading to guys playing out of position and a lack of chemistry in the side. They’re stacked with talent, notable with Imran Merchant, Taha Iqbal and the aforementioned Rafique and Azmat. With a hopefully full squad this week, don’t be surprised to see the Birds sing a different tune. They’ve had a flurry of runs in the late innings of games, and have trouble coming out strong out of the gate. GM Ibrahim Sardar recognizes that and does see silver lining in them closing games strong despite them being out of reach. It’s a far better scenario then being dejected in big losses. The teams have something to build on, but they just haven’t put it together yet. The task doesn’t get any easier this week, with a matchup against the Ottomans to kick off the day. If they can’t get the monkey off their back in game one, they face fellow winless team Nasrids in game two, which will have both teams seething for a win if remain winless after their first encounters.
Ottomans (@ Seljuqs – 2:00PM BW2; vs. Ayyubids – 3:30PM BW1)
Pitching remains the questions mark. They don’t have a true infield. They brought back the same group of guys so the same results will come in. This is just a taste of what other GMs were saying around the League after the Ottomans draft. However, with a combination of phenomenal pitching by AK and a staunch defense that’s given up the least amount of runs and produced the least amount of errors, those question marks entering into the season have changed into exclamation marks. Surely everything is peachy for the Turks, right? Wrong. The GM trio got ahead of themselves last year after a commanding first half of the season only to fall flat on their face into the second half and in the playoffs. They cannot afford to get complacent this time around, but there is still a lot to be happy about. Most notably, the bottom of the lineup has been stellar. Last year, the big O relied on Shaheen Limbada and Rehan Ahmad to pile on all the runs, but this year, it’s been more small ball and a more complete effort offensively from one through twelve. Newcomers Hamza Hussain, Junaid Mirza and AK have all been getting on base at will at the bottom of the lineup, easing the pressure on the big bats and letting everyone do their part to get Ws. With matchups against the Seljuqs and Ayyubids this week, the Ottomans look to make it 5-0.
Mughals (vs. Mamluks – 5:00PM BW1; @ Abbasids – 6:30PM BW1)
Can we please take a second and revisit Zahid Merchant’s solo shot to start off the game against the Seljuqs? Okay, that’s a second…let’s move on. The “C+ infield” of the Mughals has been anything but, and they haven’t been quiet when reminding teams about it. The fiery Mohammed Ali Pasha broods after every groundout like he’s a gladiator, and the team’s responded well. Let’s not forget that everyone, including Pasha himself, were stunned at the Badshahs taking him as the fifth overall pick. That’s not a slight to Pasha (yes, for one I am not taking a shot at Pasha) – he’s definitely got the talent to be a first round pick – but for a team with a stud in Ziggy on the mound, why go for another amazing pitcher and fiery combatant? Well, the answer is right before as Pasha has seamlessly fit in with Rafique Choudhary, Atif Akhtar and Randy Panesar in the infield, turning double plays and routinely getting forceouts on grounders. Also, on the topic of the draft, did Zahid really knock it out of the park with the unknown commodities in Ismail Akhtar and Mohsin Zubair again? Last year, it was WPG’s finest and unknown commodity Furhan Azmat, and this year, the newbies in baby blue have hit home runs and cashed in runs like it’s nobody’s business. Once again, the self-nicknamed Ziggy the Zenith has found diamonds in the rough that are paying dividends immediately. The Mughals face the Mamluks in a highly-touted matchup this week at 5:30, and then close out against the Abbasids in game two.
Mamluks (@ Mughals – 5:00PM BW1; @ Sultans – 6:30PM BW2)
Straight up, the Mamluks look DEADLY. They’ve been amazing defensively, they have been piling on the runs, and The Regulator can actually pitch. Jibran Waqar’s been putting up Jibran numbers; the Chaudhry brothers are doing work in the outfield as expected; but, how about this Shahzad Ahmed kid. Twenty-five players were taken before him. TWENTY-FIVE. He was a fourth round pick! GM Rizvan Merchant saw very little of the boy from Ajax, and took a gamble on him in the fourth round that paid off. He was high on the Ottomans list, with Shahzad being Faisal Khan’s cousin and all, and the boys in Navy didn’t think anyone would touch him until he fell to them in the fourth round. But Rizzy reached, risked and got rewarded. He’s been solid at third base and has been tattooing the ball out of the park. He hit homeruns that cleared the train tracks on his first two at bats. Do you realize how far those train tracks are? No really, do you? Do me a favour and walk out to the train tracks before your game next week (don’t go on the tracks, that’s illegal). Then you’ll see how far that really is. The Green Machine looks unstoppable right now, and many GMs tabbed them as favourites coming into the season. The scary thing is they look even better than we thought they would. If Riz keeps finding the plate and his team keeps playing like this, we’ll be saying a lot more than “contenders” by the end of the season. They face a major test in the Mughals in game one of their weekend doubleheader, and follow it up with a date with the Sultans.
Sultans (vs. Abbasids – 5:00PM BW2; vs. Mamluks – 6:30PM BW2)
Dear Amir, please don’t come back from your vacation. Sincerely, your team. (On second thought, we need you back now)
That letter was figuratively penned by the Stallions after their 19-3 drubbing of the Nasrids sans their GM. The team absolutely annihilated their opposition and was clicking on all cylinders. However, that win is the only bright spot on a poor start to the season, and the boys in white look to turn their fortunes around this weekend. They have an ace on the mound in Tanseer Khawaja, and they have the bash brothers in Suhail Taji and W K that can turn any game with one swing of the bat. However, the biggest surprise has been Zain Malik (not that one). Malik joined the Ayyubids late and never lost a game with the boys in black on his way to championship glory. He’s brought great offense into the lineup for the Sultans and we expect him to continually provide a punch just after the heart of the lineup. Trust me, this won’t be the last time you hear his name in the rumours. With GM Amir Khalil making his way back into the side for this weekend’s doubleheader, it will be interesting to see which version of the Sultans show up. The demolition crew we saw against the Nasrids, or the meek lineup we saw in their losses. If I was a betting man, I would say this isn’t the last time we’ve seen an offensive outburst like that from this squad, but the question remains as to whether they can do it week in and week out. The Sultans face a tough doubleheader against two big offenses in the Abbasids and the Mamluks this weekend.
Abbasids (@ Sultans – 5:00PM BW2; vs. Mughals – 6:30PM BW1)
Expos Abbasids have been on the other side of some difficult losses. In week one, they had an offense firing on all cylinders only to meet the scintillating bats of the Mamluks. In week two, they jumped out to a big lead against the Ottomans, only to see the lead dwindle through small ball (and were subject to a three-man outfield due to missing bodies). The Abbasids finally got a result they can be proud of in a high-scoring back and forth matchup against the Nasrids. GM Ahmed Hussain really can’t fault his guys for their performances thus far. Omair Zuberi has been pitching well and not walking guys, the newcomers originally from La Bell Provence have been smashing the ball around the park, and the defense has not committed many errors. They’ve simply just met teams that played better than them. Of the teams with the losing records, this one definitely looks the best and is most likely to turn it around. They have all the makings of a team that can beat the best of them on any given day, and they look to be on the winning side of matchups more often than the losing side. It doesn’t help that they’ve been up against two of the undefeated teams on the season thus far, and it doesn’t get any easier with a date against the Mughals this weekend. The Abbasids first face the Sultans at 5:30PM and hope to keep their momentum from last week’s win going into this weekend.
Big games this week. See you on the field.