Now the real fun begins – as we bid farewell to the Abbasids and Ayyubids, there remains six championship hopefuls that have a date with destiny next weekend. Six teams, seventy-two players, four semi-finalists, two finalists, and one champion. It’s that simple – we will crown the best team in BSL Season Four. Previous records, matchups, stats, and probabilities mean nothing. It’s do or die. Win, and you move on. Lose, and you move out. The only that stands in the way is Eid-ul-Adha this weekend.
The right side of the bracket has the Seljuqs taking on the Mamluks in the wild card game for the right to play the Mughals in the Semi-Finals. In this edition of rumours, we break down this side of the playoff bracket:
Wild Card Game #1 - Seljuqs vs. Mamluks - 2:00pm Birchwood 1
The Seljuqs have had quite the entertaining season this year. If there was ever a TV drama series made about a Muslim softball team, we can just imagine Netflix calling up BSL for rights to make a show about the 2017 Seljuqs. The season has been nothing but a roller coaster for the red army. It all started with surprising early round picks to shock the entire draft hall followed by a horrendous pitching debut for their new starting pitcher. Then came a dramatic walk-off win against the Nasrids. From the peak of the roller coaster, came a last inning tie against the Abbasids that included a player ejection. Back to the top of the ride, they demolished the Sultans 18-4 at Powerade followed by two losses the following week on their way down. A 7 run final inning tie against the Mughals and a dramatic walk-off single against the Mamluks putting them back into contention. In the penultimate week, Michael Arlitt saved their season with a diving catch that would have practically eliminated them from the post-season. As they celebrated a brilliant win, they learnt later that night their Captain Imran Merchant was done for the season with a broken wrist. All that is needed is a long post-season run and the rights to film a documentary on the most dramatic softball season should be making it's way to Hollywood.
On things for sure, the Seljuqs will have their work cut out for them as they enter the playoffs. We have all but assumed that Imran Merchant is done for the season with a cast on his hand, but you can never say with Imran, after all, he is superhuman. The two other mortal and sane GMs Ibrahim Sardar and Taha Iqbal are currently out of the country but are expected back just in time for their wild card matchup against the Mamluks. Currently, the biggest question for the Seljuqs, the same question all season, who is their pitcher. Four pitchers have started for the Seljuqs and the most reliable has been GM Ibrahim Sardar but it is unclear whether Sardar will be ready to pitch immediately after returning from a 12 hour journey the night before. Riyad Ramjaun may be called upon to make another start if Sardar doesn’t find his equilibrium. The Seljuqs offense has developed some good form as they enter the all or nothing stage of the season. Michael Arlitt has been swinging a hot bat and leading the team with a 0.611 average including a BSL record 6 hits in one game last Sunday. The Seljuqs don’t have a power filled lineup but have plenty of contact hitters that can wreak havoc on the base paths. Shoaib Gaya is on the verge of being one of those hitters, if he stops striking out. On the inside, he contains the power the Seljuqs need and unleashing it will be the key for the birds this post-season.
The Seljuqs will face the Mamluks in the wild card matchup, a team they have a 1-1 record against this year. In their first matchup, the Seljuqs were undermanned on Powerade green that resulted in a 12-5 loss and in their second on field 2, they climbed back for a 12-11 walk-off win on a Randy Panesar single. The Seljuqs don’t lack any motivation and will be amped up coming into their fourth consecutive wild-card appearance. The formula for success is simple: Reliable pitching and constant base-runners. The best chance the Seljuqs have at winning is to get to the Mamluks early and hold a lead. Against a stingy defence, they will find it very difficult climbing back to win again in a do or die game.
If the Seljuqs can get by the Mamluks, they will have the Mughals waiting for them. With a 0-1-1 record against the them, the Seljuqs will need the same formula if they will be able continue their inflatable Cinderella type season and reach the finals.
The Green Machine came into the 2017 season with a big target on their backs and it didn’t help that they got off to a disappointing start. It couldn’t get any worse to start the season when they lost their first 2 games by 1 run each. The following week they ran into the Ottomans stone cold wall to go 0-3 before they finally got their first win against the Nasrids. From there, the Mamluks ran into some good fortune to open their green gates against a shorthanded Seljuqs and a reeling Ayyubids squad at Powerade Centre. Sometimes when you get off to a poor start, you need a favorable schedule to turn your season around and full credit for the Mamluks for seizing the opportunity. The Mamluks went on to produce an 8-game winning streak that included the mid-season tournament title before they were up-ended by the Seljuqs in another 1-run loss. The Mamluks lost the opportunity to earn a bye as they lost another 1-run game to the Nasrids in week 8. The Mamluks results may be starkly different than last year but their dugout buffets certainly aren’t. The Mamluks enjoy the game with exuberant celebrations and smoked ribs that wait for them in the dugout. Team staff were thrilled to see the Ayyubids did not qualify for the second season as scavenger Umair Jabbar was eating significant portions of their feasts. Throughout the season, their success can be attached to the MVP-caliber play of Jibran Waqar. Already considered one of the best defensive players in the league, Jibran showed he can also play the long ball and cleanup by smashing a record with 16 homeruns in 14 games, 2 of which were at Powerade. He remains of the biggest threats in the league and can change a game with a single at-bat. The offense has been built around his power and the Mamluks use their spray hitting to keep defenses in check.
The Mamluks come into the playoffs riding a hot streak and their bats clicking at the right time. The top of the order has been ignited by Zain Khilji who is having the best year of his career since GM Rizvan Merchant made interventions in his personal life. Team management is aware that this is usually the time Khilji tends to face injury issues and they have placed a two week ban on any sports for their leadoff man. They have also benefitted from three players having brilliant bounce back years. Aftab Sheikh is a top candidate for most improved player and he made it a little more convincing going 6-6 and belting a Birchwood 1 homer last Sunday. Javwaad Ahmed is back to hitting over 0.500 and Saoud Ramjaun has doubled his hit total from the last two years combined. Those three have solidified the Mamluks bottom order and have brought plenty of luxurious dishes to the buffet every week.
In the wild card game, the Mamluks will face the Seljuqs logging a 1-1 record against them this season. Their first matchup was a blowout victory against a less than full Seljuqs lineup on Powerade and the second a walkoff loss on BW2. The Mamluks are one of the chattier teams and it was interesting to watch the Seljuqs defeat them at their own game but they still come into the wild card game as heavy favourites. The Mamluks offense is a close second to only the league leaders and have the ability to blow a game open and their defense is far superior to the Seljuqs especially without Imran Merchant. The concern for team management is the failure to win close games this year and they are playing against a team that has won half their games by a couple runs. The formula for the Mamluks is simple: Score early and often. If the Mamluks offense scores in bunches, they will be very difficult to beat.
If the Mamluks can get past the Seljuqs, they will set up a re-match of last year’s final against the Mughals. They split their season series against the Badshah’s this year including a statement win in week 7. Both teams know each other very well and team scouts will be working overtime to prepare for the wild card and semi-final matchups.
Semi-final #1 - Seljuqs/Mamluks vs. Mughals - 4:00pm Birchwood 1
The mighty Badshah’s have been a model of consistency in BSL and they just completed their fourth consecutive regular season with 10 plus wins. The success has been built on a steady, non-flashy approach to the game and intense scouting. They surprised everyone with their early round picks of Bilal Javed, Yousaf Chaudhry and W K and many questioned how new players would affect their team chemistry and baseball IQ with such a stark contrast from previous rosters. The new Mughals have found a way to bring the troops together and continue to play the same style of softball. The baby blues started off the season 4-0 until they self-destructed at Powerade Centre including a 17-5 blowout loss to the Nasrids. Speaking of baby blues, there were cries heard from the left side of the infield that week. The Mughals responded with a 4-game winning streak until they lost to the Mamluks in week 7. They came into last Sunday playing high-leverage games against the Ayyubids and Nasrids, needing two wins to lock up 2nd place and they responded royally with two solid outings to easily win both games and earn the all-important bye and home field in the semis. The power bats of Ismail Akhter, Bilal Javed and W K and all bats in general are starting to come alive at the right time but the biggest concern for them before the playoffs is the health of AGM and gold glover Nadeem Hussain. Nadeem was held out of last week’s games to help him recover from a pulled groin muscle and team doctors have been working overtime to help him get back to full health.
The Mughals have been a team built on stingy defence and pitching this year. They have only allowed more than 12 runs twice this season both coming in blowout losses. Apart from those two games, they have held their opponent under 10 runs in 8 games including their last three. It wouldn’t be a Mughals write up without talking about GM Zahid Merchant. No one can deny he has been the team staple every year and his consistency on both sides of the field will be so damn important in the playoffs. This year, Z recorded the best ERA in a BSL season with the help of his stellar outfield and will look to do it again in the second season. On the other side of the ball, the Mughals offense has really struggled compared to their standards having only scored more than 15 runs three times (only once against a playoff team). Despite having a potent lineup, they have been unable to score many 7-run mercy innings to blow games open as consistency in the order just isn’t the way it used to be. With four players batting under 0.400, their bottom order has been rolled over too many times to keep innings alive and looking in deeper, W K is the only Mughal player having a career year with the bat. However, many Mughals are starting to find their swing including Aazar Zafar, Yousaf Chaudhry and Bilal Javed. Their success in the playoffs will be heavily dependent on their ability to score runs to give their defence the opportunity to shut down games.
The Mughals will play their 4th consecutive semi-final next Saturday against the winner of the Mamluks v Seljuqs wild card game. Mughals have shown they are slow starting team which could spell trouble if their opponents come out hot from their wild card game. A good start will be mandatory to avoid having to chase, a position the Mughals have not been comfortable with. They don’t have a clean record against either team so they will should expect a difficult matchup regardless who comes out on top. The Seljuqs were conveniently defeated by the Mughals in their first matchup but were forced to score 7 in the final inning to tie their second matchup. The Mughals defeated the Mamluks by one run in their first matchup but got dusted by the Mamluks by 13 runs in their second matchup. The Mamluks probably pose more problems for the Mughals as a team that can easily outscore them. The formula for their success on Saturday: Score early and keep their composure. If the Mughals can get their power bats going, their pitching and defense should have enough to carry them through to the championship Sunday.
Next week, we will preview the left side of the bracket with the Nasrids/Sultans and Ottomans. Eid Mubarak everyone!