By IAN WILSON
The sprint marathon that is the Western Canadian Baseball League regular season has concluded and now the games really matter.
Through 56 games for each of the 10 WCBL squads from Alberta and Saskatchewan, individual milestones were accomplished and players have illustrated what they can do in the field, the batter’s box or on the mound.
The contests that are already in the books have set the table for the remaining eight playoff teams and determined the matchups in the East and West divisions.
Here’s a look at the best-of-three instant rivalries, including the schedule, team statistics, head-to-head matchups and leading performers:
(1) Moose Jaw Miller Express vs. (4) Swift Current 57’s
- Game 1 at Ross Wells Park in Moose Jaw, Monday, Aug. 7th at 7 p.m.
- Game 2 at Mitchell Field in Swift Current, Tuesday, Aug. 8th at 7 p.m.
- Game 3 at Ross Wells Park in Moose Jaw, Wednesday, Aug. 9th at 7 p.m. (if necessary)
Head-to-Head: The Miller Express won seven of eight games against the 57’s in the regular season and racked up 65 runs while allowing just 30 runs in those contests. The two squads met in the opening round of the 2022 playoffs, with Moose Jaw sweeping the best-of-three series by scores of 9-2 and 5-3.
Moose Jaw Batting Leaders: Lefty hitter Dawson Tweet was all over the leaderboard, not just of the Miller Express but of the WCBL as well. Tweet led the league in batting average (.411), runs (61), and on-base percentage (.490). He put together a record 36-game hitting streak and his 90 hits tied the single-season mark set by Tristan Peters of the Okotoks Dawgs in 2019. In addition, the Manitoba product smacked a team-best 22 stolen bases, 16 doubles, five triples and 36 runs batted in (RBI). Corner infielder Austin Gurney was the top long-ball clubber on the Miller Express. The British Columbia native launched five homers.
Moose Jaw Pitching Leaders: Right-handed pitcher Ethan Merk logged more innings (62.1) than any other Miller Express hurler and he was also tops in wins, with an 8-1 record, and strikeouts (53). Merk appeared in 14 games, 11 of them starts. Julian Gonzalez had the best ERA (2.13) on the club while working primarily out of the bullpen in 42-plus innings. The team saves leader was Zach Sigmon, a righty from Florida who closed out four games and went 3-2 with a 3.70 ERA in 18 games.
Swift Current Batting Leaders: Outfielder Cory Bonstrom was a standout in several offensive categories, including runs (39) and walks (40). The Arizona native also led the WCBL in stolen bases with 30. Hometown slugger Ethan Murdoch was the top power hitter for Swift Current, leading the way in homers (4) and RBI (30). Outfielder Justin Barnes had the highest batting average (.342) on the team, while infielder Carter Hinds collected the most hits (60).
Swift Current Pitching Leaders: Georgia southpaw Kenny Jinks did it all. He led the pitching staff in games (19), innings pitched (51.2), Ks (58), wins (5), saves (3) and ERA (3.31).
Miller Express Team Stats: Moose Jaw ran away with the East Division by going 38-18 and finishing eight games ahead of the second-place Mavericks. They went 7-3 in their final 10 games and ended the year with a three-game win streak. Collectively, their hitters created more runs (397), hits (566), doubles (110), and total bases (777) than any other team in the East. Miller Express pitchers also allowed the fewest earned runs (225), hits (475) and wild pitches (55) in the division while generating the most strikeouts (423).
57’s Team Stats: Swift Current went 19-37 on the season and faltered down the stretch with a 3-7 record in their last 10 games. Hitters on the 57’s had the third lowest runs total (280) in the WCBL and the second least hits (447). Only the Weyburn Beavers generated fewer total bases. Pitchers on Swift Current also struggled to keep runs off the board. They allowed the most earned runs (325), hit batters (68) and wild pitches (76) of any team that qualified for the WCBL postseason. Meanwhile, the 57’s had the lowest strikeout total (346) in the league. On the bright side, Swift Current had the top fielding percentage (.967) and least errors (64) in the East Division.
(2) Medicine Hat Mavericks vs. (3) Regina Red Sox
- Game 1 at Athletic Park in Medicine Hat, Monday, Aug. 7th at 7 p.m.
- Game 2 at Currie Field in Regina, Tuesday, Aug. 8th at 7 p.m.
- Game 3 at Athletic Park in Medicine Hat, Wednesday, Aug. 9th at 7 p.m. (if necessary)
Head-to-Head: The Mavs and Red Sox also met in the first round of the 2022 WCBL postseason and Medicine Hat scored an upset win with an 11-7 victory and a 3-2 triumph to secure the two-game sweep. The Red Sox will look to avenge that loss as underdogs this time around. During the 2023 regular season, the teams faced each other eight times. Regina triumphed in five of those meetings and the two teams split the final two games of the season in Medicine Hat, with the Red Sox winning 9-7 before the Mavericks jumped all over Regina in an 8-0 win.
Medicine Hat Batting Leaders: North Carolina’s Brody Gardner proved to be the most effective Mavs player in the batter’s box by batting .352 with 83 hits, and he shared the team lead in RBI (36) with Nathan Tarver. Middle infielder Brady Bean came out on top of several of the club’s statistical categories, including games played (55), runs (46), homers (6) and stolen bases (21).
Medicine Hat Pitching Leaders: Lefty Dylan Esquival – from Rancho Cucamonga, California – was the ace of the pitching staff. He went 6-2 with a 3.54 ERA and 67 Ks in his 12 games and 53.1 innings on the mound. Only Josh Tucker of the Sylvan Lake Gulls had more strikeouts (70) this summer. Bryce Libke, a righthander from Saskatoon, was the team’s workhorse, going 5-4 with 53 Ks and a 3.85 ERA in 13 games and 60.2 innings. Texan Matthew Krall had a team-best five saves out of the bullpen.
Regina Batting Leaders: Second baseman Justin Simard provided a lot of the punch at the plate, leading the Red Sox in batting average (.332), hits (68), at bats (205) and runs (29). Michigan outfielder Anthony Sharkas led in stolen bases (16) and doubles (8). Bitner Workman, an outfielder from Arizona, punched out more home runs (5) than any of his teammates, and infielder Camden Coleman was the RBI leader (24).
Regina Pitching Leaders: Daniel Crabtree put in more innings (68.2) than any other pitcher in the WCBL and he had a 4-3 record, 35 strikeouts and a 3.14 ERA to show for it. Veteran Zane Pollon of Wilcox, Saskatchewan was tops in Ks for the Red Sox with 57 in 58.2 innings. He went 2-3 with a 2.45 ERA.
Mavericks Team Stats: Medicine Hat joined the 30-win club on the last game of the campaign. Their 30-26 record made them one of six WCBL clubs to reach that level and just the second in the East Division to do it. The Mavs went 7-3 in their final 10 games. Medicine Hat finished fifth in the league in run production (321), hits (526) and total bases (688). Pitchers on the Mavs, meanwhile, gave up the fourth most earned runs (306) and second most hits (558) in the WCBL over 56 games. In the field, the Mavericks committed the most errors (87) of any postseason club.
Red Sox Team Stats: Regina put a 23-33 campaign together and finished in third place in the East after rounding out their season with a 3-7 record in their final 10 matchups. Only the Weyburn Beavers crossed the plate fewer times than the Red Sox, who registered 258 runs scored. On the pitching side, Regina permitted 261 earned runs, placing them fifth in the WCBL. The defence put up a .960 fielding percentage and made 79 errors.
(1) Okotoks Dawgs vs. (4) Fort McMurray Giants
- Game 1 at Seaman Stadium in Okotoks, Monday, Aug. 7th at 7 p.m.
- Game 2 at Legacy Dodge Field in Fort McMurray, Tuesday, Aug. 8th at 7 p.m.
- Game 3 at Seaman Stadium in Okotoks, Wednesday, Aug. 9th at 7 p.m. (if necessary)
Head-to-Head: The Dawgs and Giants split the eight-game season series by claiming four wins each. Okotoks scored 53 runs in those games, while Fort McMurray crossed the plate 43 times.
Okotoks Batting Leaders: Nova Scotia first baseman Nash Crowell carried a big stick for the Dawgs, leading the team with 10 round trippers and 39 RBI in just 34 games. Infielder Trent Lanihan collected the most hits (57) and runs (38) on the team, and outfielder Titus Dumitru led the squad in batting average (.364). Middle infielder Ricardo Sanchez, the 2022 WCBL MVP, recorded the most stolen bases (12) and drew the most walks (28) on the Dawgs.
Okotoks Pitching Leaders: Righthander Garrett Maloney led the club in wins (5) and strikeouts (44) in his 18 appearances. Cade Hermann of Nebraska pitched in the most games (28) for Okotoks and posted a 2.28 ERA and 32 Ks in his 23.2 innings. Calgarian Seth Thompson, meanwhile, was another bullpen beast for the Dawgs. In his 24 innings through 25 games, he registered the lowest ERA (1.87) on Okotoks and collected 29 strikeouts and a pair of saves.
Fort McMurray Batting Leaders: Catcher Jordan Bach led the team in batting average (.346), hits (62) and doubles (11) and infielder Joe Finder was tops in RBI with 35 in 47 games. Outfielder Max Stagg scored 38 runs to lead the Giants, while Bryson Collins was the best base stealer, collecting 14 swiped bags in 49 contests. Three hitters – Matteo Zeppieri, Alfonzo Villalobos and Kaleb Lemos – tied for the team lead in homers with four each.
Fort McMurray Pitching Leaders: Righthander Jackson Hohensee posted the best record for the Giants by going 5-1 and leading the squad in wins in his 10 games and 48 innings. Logan Knight, another righty, picked up the most strikeouts by notching 42 in 41.2 innings and he led the club with a 1.08 ERA. Meanwhile, Alex Escobar was Fort Mac’s workhorse, toiling for 50 innings in his seven starts. The Giants took a closer-by-committee approach, but Reese Devlin had a pair of saves to come out on top in that category.
Dawgs Team Stats: The 40-16 record and .714 winning percentage were good for first overall in the West Division and the WCBL. It was also the third season the franchise reached the 40-win mark. Okotoks went 6-4 in their final 10 regular season games. The potent offence of the Dawgs saw the team lead the WCBL in runs (425), hits (614), RBI (345) and total bases (863). Their pitching was also impressive, trailing only Sylvan Lake in earned runs allowed (193) and hits surrendered (453), while leading the WCBL in strikeouts (542), least hit batters (53) and fewest wild pitches (45). In addition, Okotoks registered the league’s best fielding percentage (.975) while committing the least errors (49).
Giants Team Stats: Fort McMurray completed the regular season with a 30-26 record. The 30 wins are a franchise record and the Giants were red-hot to finish the year, putting together a seven-game winning streak to close things out. Offensively, the team produced 305 runs, which was good for sixth in the WCBL. On the mound, their pitchers limited other teams to 225 earned runs, a total that was fourth best in the league. The .967 fielding percentage of the Giants was second only to the Dawgs.
(2) Sylvan Lake Gulls vs. (3) Lethbridge Bulls
- Game 1 at Gulls Field in Sylvan Lake, Monday, Aug. 7th at 7 p.m.
- Game 2 at Spitz Stadium in Lethbridge, Tuesday, Aug. 8th at 7 p.m.
- Game 3 at Gulls Field in Sylvan Lake, Wednesday, Aug. 9th at 7 p.m. (if necessary)
Head-to-Head: The Gulls edged the Bulls 5-3 in the eight-game season series, but it was a tight affairs, with Sylvan Lake putting up 33 runs and Lethbridge scoring 26 times.
Sylvan Lake Batting Leaders: Infielder Jonah Weisner led the Gulls in several offensive categories, including games played (56), batting average (.392), hits (85) and triples (5). The former Brooks Bomber also led the WCBL in RBI with 49. Utility man Nick Groves was the best base stealer (28) and scored the most runs (46). Shea Bowen and Hank Dodson, the WCBL Home Run Derby champ, shared the long-ball lead for the team by going yard six times each.
Sylvan Lake Pitching Leaders: Southpaw Josh Tucker, the Most Outstanding Pitcher in the WCBL in 2022, was the king of Ks for a second straight summer. After registering a league- record 91 strikeouts last year, the Spokane, Washington native led the circuit with 70 Ks in 2023. Tucker took the mound in 10 games, nine of them starts, and logged more innings (53) than any other Sylvan Lake hill topper. Caden Cline went a perfect 5-0 with a 1.05 ERA in 34 innings, while Edmonton’s Hunter Jones was 5-2 with 40 Ks and a 2.56 ERA in 45.2 innings. Leading the club in saves was Calgarian Ty Boudreau, who closed out four games and put together a 5-1 record. Boudreau did double duty as a starter and bullpen ace. In his 46.2 innings he racked up 52 Ks and posted a league-best 1.54 ERA.
Lethbridge Batting Leaders: Corner infielder Torrin Vaselenak was the home run king of the WCBL. The pride of Coaldale, Alberta smacked 12 baseballs over the wall in his 50 games played. Vaselenak also led the Bulls in RBI (35) and walks (33). Infielder Kalem Haney was tops in runs (40), hits (62) and stolen bases (24). Outfielder Mikey McGinnis of Texas finished with the best batting average (.321 in 35 games).
Lethbridge Pitching Leaders: Righty Max Benton chewed up the most innings (61.2) for the Bulls and picked up the most wins (5) in the process. He also had 41 Ks and a 3.36 ERA in his 10 starts. Fellow starters Cole Aguire, of Calgary, and Mason Chien, of Langley, B.C., finished tied for the most strikeouts (46) on the team. Texan Devin Benavides led the Bulls in saves with six, while mixing in a 4-1 record and a 3.57 ERA. One of the season highlights for Lethbridge was the no-hitter of Javier De Alejandro, who went 3-2 with a 3.79 ERA and 31 Ks in his 40.1 innings.
Gulls Team Stats: Sylvan Lake challenged for the West Division crown but fell just short of the Dawgs with a 38-18 record, which was identical to their 2022 win-loss totals. They played .500 baseball over their last 10 games. The Gulls were tied for third in the WCBL in run production (341 runs). Their batters finished fourth in hits (548), RBI (278) and total bases (750). Sylvan Lake’s pitching was excellent. They allowed the fewest earned runs (169) and hits (439), while finishing second in Ks (481).
Bulls Team Stats: After missing the postseason last summer, Lethbridge bounced back with a 31-25 record and a third-place finish in the West, going 6-4 down the stretch. They were seventh in the WCBL in runs scored (297) and hits (491) and fifth in earned runs allowed (255).
The winners from the first round will advance to the conference finals, which are scheduled for Friday, Aug. 11th to Sunday, Aug. 13th.
The battle for the Harry Hallis Memorial Trophy between the top team in the East Division and the best squad from the West Division will get started on Tuesday, Aug. 15th. The second game follows on Wednesday, Aug. 16th and a third and deciding game, if necessary, will take place on Thursday, Aug. 17th.