2016 Playoff Rumours

Now the real fun begins – as we bid farewell to the Abbasids and Nasrids, there remains six championship hopefuls that have a date with destiny this weekend. Six teams, seventy-two players, four semi-finalists, two finalists, and one champion. It’s that simple – this weekend will crown the best team in BSL Season Three. Previous records, matchups, stats, and probabilities mean nothing. It’s do or die. Win, and you move on. Lose, and you move out. This is what we’ve all been waiting for. This is where heroes are born, where legends are created, where history is made. This is what we put it all on the line for. This is it. This. Is. It.
Wild Card Game #1 -    Seljuqs vs. Ayyubids    - 2:00pm Birchwood 1
Could it have been written any better? After the Ayyubids dominated the second half of last season on their way to the championship, it was clear that they would not be able to bring back all the guys from the year before to repeat. With Umer Jabbar possessing a desire to play with his brothers and Ibrahim Sardar taking over the Seljuqs as GM, we knew the Black and Orange of 2015 would be split up amongst both sides. Umer Jabbar managed to bring back his brother Ali from his championship side, but otherwise went with some new faces that led them to third place. On the other hand, Sardar went for familiarity with his old side in his draft, picking up the likes of Imran Merchant, Taha Iqbal, A R, and Sheraz Mahmood to represent the red and yellow with him. In all this, we forget these two teams represent a rematch of last year’s finalists even though both teams have new squads.

In the beginning of the season, the Ayyubids looked like they were going to be just fine, with Umair Jabbar playing out of his mind to early MVP chants and leading his team to glory, while big bats like Zain Khilji and Ahmad Ammad filled admirably to keep the runs coming on. The Seljuqs on the other hand looked awful; after experimenting with A R on the mound that spelled disaster, then resorted to Taha Iqbal pitching and it led to them playing a whole lot better. Today we find both sides facing off in a playoff matchup that’s bound to be one heck of a display, and if this wildcard game is anything like the regular season games, we’re in for a treat.
The most recent matchup between these two was a barnburner, with the final score being 22-19 for the Seljuqs AFTER FIVE INNINGS. That scoreline broke all sorts of records in the League, most notably the biggest combined run total in BSL History. It was a homerun fest with the Seljuqs especially capitalizing on debut pitcher Zain Khilji (who, oddly enough, was the GM for the Seljuqs last year) not being able to find the plate. The Ayyubids will feel a LOT more confident in their chances this time with ace Ali Jabbar back on the mound, allowing Khilji to move back to SS where he’s played admirably.

The key for the Ayyubids will be avoiding momentum going in favour of the Angry Birds. A team with tons of emotion, this group gets hype when the bats wake up, and when they are feeling it, it’s tough to put out that fire. The key for the Seljuqs will be forcing the united Ayyubids front to play as individuals. The Ayyubids play best when they are on as a unit – notably with their 15-2 dismantling of the Ottomans in the final week of the season with everyone chipping in. However, if the Seljuqs can frustrate their opposition and lead big bats like Umair Jabbar, Ahmad Ammad, and Hasan Afzal to try to be heroes, it could spell success for the Reds.
It’s tough to predict who will come out on top of this one. If the Ayyubids keep playing small ball and chip away at the Seljuqs, it could spell trouble. On the other hand, when the Seljuqs get hot at the plate, there’s virtually no stopping them. What we do know is that this one is going to be an onslaught by both sides – let’s hope that these two don’t exhaust themselves against one another before their big date with the Mamluks in the semis
Semi-final #1 -    Seljuqs/Ayyubids vs. Mamluks   - 3:45pm Birchwood 1

The Mamluks continued their dominance on the league last week following the breach of their perfect record and will look to go perfect the rest of the way. The team welcome back self-proclaimed MVP Mohamed Kala for the playoffs. Kala contacted reporters after his team's first loss to let them know that he was the only player missing and the team isn't the same without him. We couldn’t take him seriously. We can assume more than 90% of the league has their money on the mean and green but will cheer for any team that stand up to these bullies. Speaking of bullies, Shahzad is a big one, crushing anything thrown at him, but when the ump calls time, he is one of the greatest brothers to be around. Jibran Waqar will be pivotal to the Mamluks defense and is expected to resume his stealthy play at short while being the favorite for golden glove again this year. With the Chaudhrys, Hassan and Omer keeping it consistent at the plate and Taher 'Super' Mirza guarding the green, we are still wondering how they could possibly lose at Birchwood 1. Given the talent this team possesses, GM Rizwan Merchant has frequently been pushed aside in the media, but a lot of credit goes to the ace who has stood the mound gracefully having just earned his first pitching badge at the end of this season. Come playoff time, the pressure will rise along with the expectations. Will the Mamluks barometer take the heat?

The Mamluks sweeped both the Ayyubids and the Seljuqs in the regular season and are content with their potential matchups in the semis. On that thought, the Mamluks sweep everyone, so doesn’t matter, but the playoffs are a whole different league. The Ayyubids did put up a rally against the Mamluks in both season games in which the Mamluks had to release the big guns, but fended off the Seljuqs quite well. They would prefer to play the eagles vs ancient replica of Umer Jabbar's (Ayyubids), but both matchups shouldn’t trouble the league bests. Regardless, sleeping on any opponent now could turn them into bird food or fallen soldiers.

Wild Card Game #2 -    Sultans vs. Ottomans    - 5:30pm Birchwood 1

In the second wild card game, we get two sides that know each other very well. The Ottomans and Sultans met each other in an epic semi-final in year one where the Ottomans rallied from a huge deficit to upset the Sultans. While the Ottomans squad barely resembles the 2014 crew, the Sultans built this 2016 team to reunite the old gang for a chance at changing the past. They wouldn’t have asked for any other opponent than the Ottomans in their first playoff game since that loss in 2014. These two teams met early in the season with the Ottomans destroying the Sultans by a score of 14-3. Right before the break, the Sultans returned the favour by beating the Ottomans 12-3 to level the season series. Both teams haven’t scored a ton of runs this year so we expect this to be a low scoring and tight affair. 

The navies come into their third wild card game in a row looking to break through this year. They ended the regular season on a sour note with a humiliating defeat but GM Hashim Ghazi is hoping that is enough to light a fire under this experienced group. They have two of the league’s best players in Rehan Ahmad and Shaheen Limbada but nobody else in the lineup has lit the league on fire. Shoaib Bhatti has been the only extra base hitter outside of their two superstars and the Turks will need more substance from Shoaib Gaya and Zain Fancy if they are going to score enough runs. You can bet teams won’t let Rehan or Shaheen beat them so some of the other guys will have to step up in a do or die game. It will be interesting to see the Ottomans batting lineup as they have been tinkering with it all season long. We will also have to wait and see who pitches on Saturday. We would expect A K would get the call for the big game but they gave Hamza Hussain the ball in other crucial games so nothing is certain. A K has had a great comeback year and we know he has the nerves to stay cool in pressure situations based on his play in BISL. Pitching this weekend will be a true test whether he is an ace in this league. The Ottomans have experience in the post season and should know what is needed to win. They will be facing a wily veteran pitcher from the Sultans so they will need to be at their best. The Ottomans are definitely the favourites going into this game but they will have to play much better ball to get the job done.

The stallions season has been a roller coaster ride for their players and their fans. They went into the Ramadan break on a high after two huge wins and into the top 4. That lasted only till their first games after the break where they lost two heartbreakers to drop all the way down to 6th. The Stallions won a do or die game against the Abbasids to get into the second season but no one knows what to expect with this bunch coming into this weekend. GM Amir Khalil drafted this team to reunite the 2013 squad that was 2 outs away from the finals. They brought back Noor Sheikh, Ahmad Ramadan, veteran Tanseer Khawaja and labelled their team chat Sultans Redemption. While they have gotten mediocre seasons from power bats Suhail Taji and W K, Shamil Khadaroo has stepped up recently to provide an offensive spark to the bottom order. Zain Malik is one of the most improved players this year and has been given a big task to play the hot corner (3rd base). Which defensive Sultans team will show up? They are amongst the league leaders in errors per game and face a team that commits one of the least. GM Amir Khalil has tried to get his infield to minimize the errors and they seem to be turning the corner but how will they fare in a pressure filled game. They have nothing to worry about on the mound with Tanseer Khawaja leading the team but he will need help behind him to keep the Ottoman bats under control. The Sultans have their chance at redemption, will they be able to seize the opportunity? We will find out Saturday afternoon.
Semi-final #2 -    Sultans/Ottomans vs. Mughals   - 7:15pm Birchwood 1
The Mughals have setup a dynasty of their own at BSL and have gathered the townsmen and any outstanding resources to bring to the playoffs this weekend. They have had an incredible season despite trailing the more incredible Mamluks, but have shown they can now take anyone down and are relishing in a lengthy win streak going into the semis. Their team chemistry comes to mind when we evaluate their success this season and the past 2, hosting very similar squads and mentality. Most of the players are having above average seasons and their batting lineup is deep and dangerous especially looking at the stats board. Zahid Merchant, Faraaz Alvi, and Atif Akhtar are always on base for Mohammed Ali Pasha Ismail Akhter to smash them home while Nadeem and Zuhair Fancy look for the extra base hits to chip away at the score line. Surprisingly, the Mughal defenses have held up really well against league artillery where on paper, they would fall short in comparison to others teams in the league. There is something about their chemistry that seems to upgrade their players every season no matter where they come from, except Mohammed Ali Pasha, he’s the same old story. We wouldn’t be surprised if Zahid Merchant is the terminator and half machine. On the real though, Pasha has been all class at short, digging down to make plays some shortstops wouldn’t be able to. The Mughals put together at their best are certainly capable of taking the cup a second time and with style.

The 2nd Semifinal will see the Mughals suit up against the winner between the Ottomans vs. Sultans in a matchup the baby blue will want to see the navy blue lose. It’s obvious to see why as the regular season indicates a split in their games against the Ottomans and sweep against the Sultans, but the loss came early in the season when the team was finding their rhythm. The Mughals have plenty of momentum going into this weekend, but a slight change in direction could throw them off their game and road to the finals.

It’s the moment we’ve all been waiting for – the playoffs are finally here. All six teams possess what it takes to be champions, but only two will have a shot at claiming the throne by the end of day Saturday. We will have a quick write-up posted when it’s all said and done Saturday featuring a short Finals preview, but until then, we inch closer to the question that’s been on our minds all season – who will reign?