[MAW] 2019 Tournament #2 Preview (Jackson, NJ - 05/18/)
On Saturday May 18th, MAW heads to Jackson, New Jersey for the second tournament of the 2019 Mid Atlantic season. This tournament is the 13th regular season tournament in Mid Atlantic history. To mark the occasion, here are thirteen things to keep an eye out for on Saturday.
Tournament Field: ATF, Blue Balls, ERL, Juggernauts, Lemonheads, Longballs, New School Risers, Shortballs, Stompers
#13 – PARK EFFECTS
Only once over the prior twelve regular season Mid Atlantic tournaments – last August in Canonsburg, PA – have games been contested anywhere other than on Sheff and Buffalo fields. The second time will be this Saturday in Jackson, New Jersey. While the location change may very well prove to have no material impact on the outcome of the tournament, park effects are very real. Whether it is the short porch/high fence in right field on Sheff or the way the wind blows on Horn, the MAW home fields play a certain way – a way that has become familiar to many players. It is nearly a guarantee that fields in Jackson will not contain any of the peculiarities and features players are accustomed to in York. What is a home run to right field on Sheff or a long out on Buffalo might not be on Saturday. Just how – if any – that impacts the run scoring environment remains to be seen.
#12 – THE JUGGERNAUTS’ GO MINIMALIST
The Juggernauts entered the Opening Day tournament in April with a roster bursting from the seams in talent. At six all-star caliber players deep, that Juggernauts squad lapped the field when it came to quality players. The team’s 0-3 result, however, failed to properly reflect their inarguable talent. Due to outside, one-off circumstances, rumor has it that the Juggernauts’ roster may shrink from six players to as few as two in Jackson. The Juggernauts did not necessarily stumble on Opening Day because of their six-man roster. It was one day, one tournament and that broad of a conclusion cannot be drawn from such a small sample. Likewise, they won’t necessarily succeed in Jackson because of their smaller roster and if they do succeed, it might not be entirely due to their smaller roster size. However, a small roster for this even could have its advantages. Red will get more at bats – as will which ever player(s) join him – and that is never a bad thing. As long as the Juggernauts have enough pitching to get through the day, it would be surprising if they didn’t take a significant step forward this go-around.
#11 – CLARK GETS HIS CHANCE
Opening Day came and went with only two of the three new Stompers getting a chance to toe the rubber. Gino Joseph and Tom Gannon allowed just 5 runs and struck out 33 batters over 13 innings while Brice Clark’s MAW pitching debut was pushed off to another day. That day is now. With Gannon inactive for Jackson, there will likely be ample opportunities for Brice. The southpaw has been impressive in tournaments outside of MAW over the past couple of years and will be looking to show the stuff that made him a well-regarded up-and-coming pitcher. Word out of the Stompers’ camp is that Clark is prime and ready to show off just the kind of pitcher he knows he is capable of being. If Clark is able to provide the Stompers with 4-8 quality innings and Joseph can build off his Opening Day performance, the Stompers will be tough to score off of.
#10 – BINGNEAR LOOKS TO GET BACK ON TRACK
In the 2018 Mid Atlantic regular season – a season in which he seemed to suffer one hard-luck loss after another – the Longballs’ Sean Bingnear allowed just twelve walks and two home runs while facing 98 total batters. His 12% walk rate and 2% homerun rate compared very favorably to other Mid Atlantic pitchers and was a major reason why he was able to hold opponents to just four runs over 25 1/3 innings pitched. In his 2019 MAW debut, Sean’s ability to limit the free passes and keep opposing players in the ballpark was not nearly as strong as it was last year. At Opening Day, he allowed five walks (26%) and three home runs (16%) while facing just 19 batters over parts of three tournament games. While 2 1/3 innings is not nearly enough innings to draw any serious conclusions from, there is no doubt that Sean and his Longball teammates would love to see him return to form in Jackson. The Longballs are reportedly going to be without Tommy on Loftus on Saturday, which makes getting the “right” version of Bingnear on Saturday all the more imperative.
#9 – THE WIND [NON]-FACTOR
While not a single player did or would even consider using the wind as an excuse for their performance on Opening Day, with gusts well north of 20 MPH and a constant hard breeze all day the wind was certainly a factor back in April. There were several pitchers who the wind seemed to impact and perhaps a few home runs that would have merely been doubles or triples on a calmer day. If the current forecast for Jackson holds, the wind will play virtually no role on Saturday. The current forecast calls for the wind to remain comfortably below 10 MPH, which makes it a total non-factor. The other facets of the forecast look just as promising, with partly cloudy to clear skies and temperatures rising from the mid-60’s to the mid-70’s by late afternoon.
#8 – THE WILD CARD
The wild card team this tournament – the team who is the hardest to gauge and whose performance in either direction could have a big impact on the outcome – is undoubtedly AFT (the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, and Tobacco) comprised of veteran wifflers Gerard Fitzgerald, Phil Fresiello, Pete Slater, and K-Von. Due to the inclusion of K-Von (normally a NY Meat), this team won’t be playing for points but they certainly have the talent and experience to make a run deep into the day. This team has no shortage of bats, with Slater and Fitzgerald in particular standing out as accomplished, veteran hitters. Their success might hinge on how many wins they can they can get out of non-K-Von pitchers. If they can make it out of pool play and into the elimination round with minimal mileage on K-Von’s arm, then watch out.
#7 – SEEING TRIPLE
The third team to make its way out of the Ridley Park Wiffleball League will make their MAW debuts on Saturday. Just because their third in line to debut doesn’t make the Blue Balls the least of the Ridley Park travel teams. Stacked with players who have cut their teeth in RPWL over the years and some that have competed in prior MAW tournaments, the Blue Balls are by no means coming into this tournament unprepared. Like AFT, the Blue Balls are a true wild card team for this event capable of knocking off some good teams and making some noise late into the day.
#6 – A MILESTONE DAY FOR SOUP?
During Mid Atlantic’s two seasons in existence, ERL’s Connor Young has set many high water statistical marks both on the rubber and at the plate. The two-time Mid Atlantic MVP could add a few more “firsts” to his already impressive list of MAW accomplishments on Saturday. If Connor picks up a pitching win in Jackson, he will become the first MAW pitcher to notch 30 career wins (including Mid Atlantic Championship tournaments). In addition, he needs just 17 plate appearances to reach 400, a mark he should almost certainly hit on Saturday. A little further out of reach might be the 3 pitching starts needed to reach 40 for his MAW career and his next big milestone – 500 career strikeouts – will likely have to wait for another day as he currently sits 79 away.
#5 – WHO WILL THE NEW SCHOOL RISERS KNOCK OFF?
It has been just a little more than a year since the New School Risers debuted in MAW – a debut in which they made it all the way to the finals while knocking off both the Longballs and ERL along the way. At the 2019 Opening Day tournament, the Risers’ didn’t quite have the magic they had a year earlier going 1-2 and finishing outside of the top four. However, the Riser’s final spot in the tournament standings doesn’t tell the entire story. After beating the Yaks by total bases in their opener, the Risers lost 1-0 on a walk-off to ERL and gave up a lead in the 4th and final inning against the NY Meats. A couple bounces the other way and the Risers’ Opening Day looks a whole lot different. Based on their competitiveness in April, it would be surprising if the Risers didn’t knock off at least one – if not several – quality teams on Saturday. In fact, when it comes to that it might be less of a question of “if” and more of a question of “who” the Risers will take down this weekend.
#4 – THE SHORTBALLS PLAN FOR AN ENCORE
At the Opening Day tournament, the Shortballs proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that they can hang with – and beat – the top teams in Mid Atlantic. What they do on Saturday won’t change what they have already accomplished in that regard. Nonetheless, you can bet these guys are chomping at the bit to get back out there and show that they will be a force to be reckoned with all summer long. In tournament wiffleball, it sometimes just takes one strong finish to turn a team into a consistent contender. The knowledge and confidence that comes with finishing second in a stacked tournament field is invaluable. On Saturday, the Shortballs will try to ride the wave of momentum that started on Opening Day to another final-four appearance. To do so, they will have to work around some scheduling conflicts. Reportedly, the Shortballs will have Jack Libero and Frankie Campanile for only part of the day which will make getting off to a hot start imperative. If Libero’s bat heats up right away and the team can get two games out of Campanile before he departs, you have to like their chances of making the elimination round.
#3 – HOME FIELD ADVANTAGE FOR THE LEMON HEADS
The Lemon Heads will have the home field advantage on Saturday as they look to right the course after a rough start to the season. Home field advantage in tournament wiffleball may not seem like much, but it is not without its benefits, specifically when it comes to the travel side of the equation. As quaint of an idea as it might be, waking up in your own bed the morning of the tournament can only have positive repercussions. Of course, the key for the Lemon’s success on Saturday will hinge less on their sleep schedule and more on the effectiveness of their ace who will be making his 2019 debut . . .
#2 – LUTICK RETURNS
After missing both the Winter Classic and Opening Day due to college baseball commitments, the Lemon Heads’ ace will be back on the rubber in Jackson. The last time we saw the rubber armed righty, he threw 46+ high quality innings in a single day to lead the Lemon Heads on a remarkable run to the finals at the 2018 Mid Atlantic Championship Tournament. There is little doubt that Ray is already one of the top pitchers in Mid Atlantic but he is not ready to rest on his laurels. Ray – who relied heavily on a hard drop for most of 2018 – has been working to expand his arsenal during the wiffleball offseason while also pitching for the Cabrini University baseball team. A fresh Ray with an increased offering of pitches is a scary through for the Lemon Heads’ opposition on Saturday.
#1 – WHITENER MAKES HIS 2019 DEBUT
Dan Whitener was arguably the best pitcher in all of wiffs in 2018. On Saturday, he will make his highly anticipated 2019 debut when he takes the field with ERL. Not only are Dan and his ERL teammates very much looking forward to having him back on the field, but he is one of those pitchers that other players – except maybe if you are unluck enough to face him – also cannot wait to see in action. What makes Whitener so formidable is how fully formed of a pitcher he is. Yes, he throws a billion miles per hour, but he is more than just velocity. His pitch acumen is among the best in the sport. He has a plus change up and a very good understanding of when to use it. Dan’s overwhelming velocity does not at all hinder the movement he gets on his pitches. Whitener steamrolled through the competition in both MAW and Palisades last year and with his college baseball career now behind him, his best wiffleball days may yet be ahead of him.