PBL 2016 Season in Review: Las Vegas Narwhals

Like the PBL’s other expansion teams, the Las Vegas Narwhals had a rough time of it in 2016.  Following the Narwhals through their maiden voyage felt like spending too long a night on the Strip: the bright lights and showmanship lost their charm, and fans were left feeling disoriented and hung over with nothing to show for it.  But hope springs eternal in Sin City, and there were enough positives to suggest the possibility of a brighter future.

“My team did pretty terrible, but I’m not too surprised,” said Vegas owner/GM Tricia Butler.  “I was hoping they’d do better, but there is always next year.”

The Narwhals definitely made an impression visually with their eye-catching purple-and-gold uniforms and their pleasure dome of a stadium, MGM Jackpot Field, with its built-in casino and neon foul poles and laser light shows.  Unfortunately, the team on the field was a lot less memorable.

Their offense was lackluster all around.  They were second-to-last in batting average (.251) and runs scored (626), and dead last in OPS (.712).  Despite playing half their games in a launching pad built for homers, they hit only 148 longballs, 10th in the league.

The biggest problem area was second base, where journeyman Emile Vandever and rookie Brad Green combined to put up some of the worst numbers in the league.  Collectively, they hit under .200 with little to no power and a 3-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.  “I should have just sent them up without bats,” said manager Benjamin Banks Mahoney of his second-base tandem.  “Couldn’t have been much worse.”

On the bright side, 3B Jamar Whitworth had an unexpectedly strong season, hitting .304 with decent pop.  Their other third sacker, Ikaru Suzuki, recovered from a poor start to his .262 with and .812 OPS.  DH Andrew Zocken’s all-or-nothing swings produced 182 strikeouts, but also 36 homers and 103 RBI.  And a pair of veterans, LF Arthur Mealey and 1B Brooks Defoor, provided steady production.

On the hill, the overall picture was similarly grim.  Their 5.56 ERA and .861 OPS were second-worst in the league.  The rotations was a shambles, with righties Juan Carlos Lopez, Chuck Weaver, and Jesse Zepp combining for 75 starts, a 15-37 record, and an ERA north of 6.  The bullpen was even worse, with closer Chris Allen’s 5.63 ERA the best among regular relievers.

Optimism is harder to find on the pitching staff, but there were some bright (or less-dark) spots.  Righty Jose Oro (12-13) and lefty Nick Armstrong (8-17, 4.59 ERA) weathered their rookie seasons with grace, and show promise as a future 1-2 punch atop the rotation.  And while Allen’s numbers were inflated by a penchant for gopher balls, he still converted 80% of his save opportunities.

Can the Narwhals get better in 2017?  Absolutely, especially with a few key upgrades.  The pitching staff needs plenty of work; they could use a veteran innings-eating starter or two and several bullpen arms.  The offense is in better shape, but it could sorely benefit from a couple of big bats as well as a fix for the gaping hole at second base.  Butler says that she is “open to trading to get some new players throughout the season!”

In addition, the team would benefit from cutting back on its enjoyment of the Vegas nightlife.  Several Narwhals frequently seemed to be in rough shape on the mound and at the plate.  Without naming names, Butler admitted that “the players often get carried away in Sin City.”  Their manager was among the worst offenders; witnesses said that they frequently saw Mahoney out with his players up and down the Strip at all hours.  Perhaps if the man known as “B. Money” were willing to curtail his partying a bit, his team might be persuaded to do the same.

Unfortunately, the Narwhals seem to be a long way from hitting the jackpot with a postseason appearance, let alone a title.  But with some smart trades, fewer late nights in clubs and casinos, and continued growth from their young players, 2017 might not be a total bust.

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PBL Expands By 4 For Season 2

After a rousingly successful debut season, the Patriot League is growing aggressively for its second season.  Commissioner Jeremiah Mills has officially announced that the PBL will be expanding from 8 teams to 12 for the 2017 season.  “Our first season was a tremendous success,” said Commissioner Mills, “and we’ve clearly demonstrated that there’s an appetite and an audience for this.  I know going from 8 to 12 may seem like a big jump, but I see it as a sign of how well we’re doing that we’ve got four new owners who want to join us.”

These are the new teams that will be joining the fold next season:

carolina-cometsCAROLINA COMETS

The Comets, who will be joining the PBL’s Eastern Division, are the brainchild of owner Steven Roseman.  Roseman believes that there is a significant untapped market of baseball fans in the Carolinas, and he expects the Comets to demonstrate it.  Roseman has committed to his vision with money, constructing a retractable-roof stadium in Catawba, NC to house his team.  Catawba is located roughly equidistant from the Charlotte and Winston-Salem/Greensboro metropolitan areas, and he expects to draw fans from both cities.

Despite being housed in an up-to-date modern facility, Roseman expects his team to play with old-fashioned flair.  The Comets certainly won’t lack for color under the direction of manager Taylor “Two-Buck” Ashy, a protege of Knoxville Smokies skipper Snuff Wallace.  “Ol’ Taylor reminds me a lot of myself,” said Wallace, “only meaner, drunker, and crazier.”  The Comets will also get a healthy dose of flair from their hometown stars. Left fielder Stargell Jackson‘s father is a diehard Pittsburgh Pirates fan who named his son after his hero, Hall of Famer Willie Stargell.  Southpaw starter Randy “Satchel” Flats earned his nickname due to his multi-pitch arsenal and quippy nature, both reminiscent of Negro League great Satchel Paige.

kalamazoo-kazoosKALAMAZOO KAZOOS

The Kazoos will be competing in the league’s Western Division.  Owner Will Norman selected his team name to honor “America’s greatest musical instrument.”  He doubled down on the kazoo motif by naming his stadium Kazoobie Kazoo Field, securing the sponsorship of America’s oldest and most venerable kazoo manufacturer.

Norman’s unorthodox choices extend to his choice of managers.  Jacques “Zippie” DeFlute has no background in baseball.  The Montreal native played several years of minor-league hockey.  More recently, he has been a traveling musician.  Despite his lack of baseball experience, DeFlute’s upbeat, effervescent personality is sure to make him a hit with the fans of western Michigan.

The fans are also sure to love the Kazoos’ pair of hometown stars.  CF Damian Mash was a star at Kalamazoo College, and SS Johnny Shorts is a native of neighboring Portage.

The Kazoos hope to establish a regional rivalry with the PBL champion Milwaukee Bear Claws.  It seems likely that rivalry will be fairly one-sided at the outset, but as DeFlute said, “It gives us a goal to shoot for.”

 

 

las-vegas-narwhalsLAS VEGAS NARWHALS

The Narwhals are prepared to make a big splash in the Western Division.  Win or lose, the squad from Vegas is certain to attract attention.  From their striking violet-and-gold uniforms to their stadium, MGM Jackpot Field, which will be the second Patriot League stadium (along with Orlando) to have a built-in casino, the Narwhals are sure to be noticed.  The team is going to have the glitz and glamour of Sin City, which is the way owner Tricia Butler wants it.  Bright lights, big flies, and high scores… that’s what Narwhals baseball is going to be about.

The Narwhals’ style and flair starts at the top with manager Benjamin Banks Mahoney, who prefers to go by “B. Money.”  Mahoney’s goals for the season are to “win a lot of games and raise a lot of hell, and not in that order.”  Mahoney’s quest will be aided by the Narwhals’ local stars.  LF Andrew Zocken figures to bring a lot of pop to the heart of the Vegas order.  And ace pitcher Jose Oro has the golden fastball to blow it by visiting hitters.

Traditionalists are likely to hate the Narwhals, finding the uniforms gaudy and the stadium more like an amusement park than a ballpark.  But the team will fit well with its city.  The fans of Las Vegas can look forward to a summer of high scores and high stakes both on and off the field.

new-orleans-sazeracsNEW ORLEANS SAZERACS

While it’s far from clear how well the Sazeracs will fare in the PBL’s Eastern Division this season, the team is going to have a lot of fun along the way.  According to owner Jeff Wiggins, that’s by design.  Wiggins said he loves the Big Easy because it’s “a fun location [where you’re] able to bring your drinks wherever you want.”  He’s made it his goal to assemble a team that reflect the fun-loving spirit of the city.  He said that the team’s motto will be “Work Hard, Play Hard.”

The team’s outlook is also reflected in its name.  Wiggins named the team after the Sazerac, “a strong all-alcohol drink invented in New Orleans.”  Te Sazerac (made with 1/4 oz Absinthe, one sugar cube, 1 1/2 oz Rye whiskey or Cognac, and three dashes Peychaud’s Bitters) is one of the most famous products of New Orleans, and the name gives the team a true local flavor.  Continuing the alcohol theme, the Sazeracs will play at Abita Field, named after a local brewery.

The team will take the field under the veteran leadership of former Angels manager George Knox, who is known for having a “magic touch” with his players.  New Orleans will also be led by a pair of hometown heroes, outfielder Ben Williams and shortstop Al Angel. Wiggins believes that Williams and Angels will be wildly popular, because the fans “are just as likely to see them hitting a home run or making a game-saving play, as they are to see them out on Bourbon Street with everyone else.”

 

Along with the PBL’s expansion, Commissioner Mills announced that the playoffs will be expanding next season as well.  Going forward, the top two teams in each division will make the playoffs.  The winners of the two division series will face each other in the Patriot Series.

“We are confident that the expanded playoffs will only increase fan interest in our league,” said Commissioner Mills.  “This year, the action is going to be hotter than Snuff’s temper!”