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PostPosted: Thu May 31, 2018 7:44 pm 
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Borealis Break Camp With Cautious Optimism
Ray D. Enzé, NLN baseball blogger

April 5, 2027: Grand Junction, Colorado – A mostly quiet offseason - marked most notably by the free-agent signing of The 'Chief', was followed up by a quality spring record of 16-8 - tied with Duluth for tops in the SL, and now the Borealis embark on the 21st season of PEBA baseball by opening up on the Front Range against their oldest rival - the Bears of Bakersfield.

Aurora is coming off another championship run - falling just short of the PEC in a frustrating SLCS with Duluth, while the Bears struggled to finish 89-73, 21 games back of Aurora and in third place. Many experts expect a similar finish -Palm Springs, many point to being the likely second place finisher and challenger for what is likely a wild card spot. Three (mostly) new faces will take the field for Aurora on Opening Day, but let's backtrack 8 seasons to the first of the 4 in 5 year titles for Aurora in 2019 - only four faces remain from that club: Mike Britt, River Pope, 'Stork' Holbrook and, of course, Michel Provost. As the club has remained competitive over the past 8 years (and, really, much longer than that), it has been a team that has seen turnover.

Let's take a look at the Opening Day roster for v2027 of the Borealis.

Starting Pitching
This was a group that was strong last year - and has long been the strength of this ball club, and their going out and signing Luis Nieves for a potential 4-years makes it even stronger - and it showed in the Spring. Mike Provost struck out 19, walked none and allowed no runs - showing that the reigning Golden Arm - a 5-time winner, was already in fine form and ready for Opening Day. 'Tugboat' also looked excellent, with 17 K and only 2 BB. 'Chief' had 9 K, 1 BB and a 2.25 ERA. Carlos Rivera (1.69, 10 K, 1 BB) and Clark Snow (2.81, 16 K, 1 BB) and 'Terror' Diaz (2.25, 23 K, 2 BB) rounded out the 6-man spring rotation - leaving people scratching their heads. GM Will Topham had said, upon announcing the signing of Neives, that 'Chief's role would be that of a 'swing man', but as manager Kata Hayagawa announce his rotation for the first week, it was 'Terror' who finds himself in the 'pen and Neives in the rotation - slotted in the #3 spot. "Luis was brought in to strengthen the staff as a whole - both for this year and in the future - where ever that may take us" said Kata, "and for now, we want to see what he brings us in the rotation - we all know what next season may bring." The Borealis manager was of course referring to the well documented player option held by 'Train Arollin' Provost - but also free-agent-to-be Clark Snow.

What may 2027 bring? Count on the rotation to once more strike out a high number of hitters, with a high K/BB ratio, going deep into games. What Aurora hopes they can curb is the massive number of homers they starters gave up - 90 in all, and Neives gave up 26 last year for Duluth. A drop in K's and an uptick in HRs would seem disastrous for this club.

1. Provost, 2. Smith, 3. Neives, 4. Rivera, 5. Snow
Emergency Starter: Diaz

Bullpen
This crew cost the team dearly all year - unnoticed to the casual eye, but to the of us who follow the club, the inability to hold leads bordered on epidemic - and was exposed in the post-season. For now, this maligned group looks much as it did last year - John Gray will hold down the closer role - where he had a league leading 47 saves (and 5 blown saves to go along with his 8-3 record. Gray looked mostly sharp this spring, with 27 K in 14.2 IP. The turning-38-year old 'Stork' will man one set-up position - coming off his third straight sub-2.25 ERA. Holbrook is expected to split the 8th inning chores with Ron Latour - who, for unknown reasons - some claim injury, threw very little this spring - and was mostly ineffective. In 2026, Latour was perhaps the most effective reliever, allowing only a single homer in 67 IP and a 2.00 to match 'Storks'. Also getting little work in the spring is Felix Pena - and he sure needed it. After 6 mostly effective seasons, 2026 was more of a disaster with a 4.06 ERA. The young Puerto Rican is still counted on to deliver in the high stress innings this year - but he has little room to wiggle. Also being counted on in tight quarters is former-Sandgnat, 'Doberman' Contreras. His spring numbers were shaky - a 4.15 ERA in 8.2 IP, but 9 K and 0 BB. He earned a contract extension with the 1.29 ERA, 42 K work he did over 40 innings last year, and Aurora is hoping that will continue. Continuing the theme of poor spring by the bullpen is newly acquired Dan Field - whose 6.75 ERA, 11 K, 7 BB in 10+ innings might be overlooked as the result of two bad outings. We shall see.

Closer: Gray
Set-up: Holbrook, Latour, Pena, Contreras
Middle Relief: Diaz, Lagerveld, Field

Catcher
Despite his finishing 3rd in the Newcomer Award voting, Manny Castro felt like he still had back-up Domingo Gutierrez breathing down his throat - and for good reason. He was. And 'Fido' responded with a .541 spring. Gutierrez only hit .286, but did power 3 homers, suggesting that Aurora may have the best 1-2 catching corp in the League. Jorge Alonso, the #1 catcher at AAA, his .273. With above average defensive skills, we might expect to see Alonso later in the year - should something happen at the DH spot (and Aurora returns to the 2-headed Catcher trick) or a trade is made (and there's a few high-level teams looking for that last piece behind the plate).

Starter: Castro
Back-up: Gutierrez

Infield
Aurora was really interested in an upgrade here this offseason, but nothing happened. With long-time SS Nick Giles let go (and still without a team), 3/4 of this infield will look like it did last Opening day: 1B Pablo Medrano, 2B Theron Boswell and 3B Mike Britt, with season-ending SS Teddy Loetzsch getting his first Opening Day nod. Britt, beginning 2027 with a new contract, had an excellent spring - his .361 was second best on the club, and his 4 homers and 14 RBI both club spring bests. Aurora had really hoped on him moving over to first this year, but for now, he'll open the year at his familiar third. Britt is coming off his 3rd 30 HR season. His 287 are by far (105 and counting) an Aurora best, as he looks to move from 21st on the PEBA record list into the top 15 (eyes currently set on Pat Lilly at #12, 324). Theron Boswell, who saw his average plummet nearly 30-points, and lack the power Aurora hope he'd bring to the line-up, had a .321 spring and for now seems to be set for the immediate future at 2B. Pablo Medrano may not have had the spring he had hoped for, but there he is. He did have a career-doubling high of 12 homers last year, and does have a tendency to come up with the clutch hit, so his spring .250 (and .245 in 2026) may be overlooked. SS Teddy Loetzsch looked solid, if not spectacular - his .288 as a starter last year and his flexibility around the infield, guaranteed him a job. One of the things Aurora likes most about Teddy is his ability to get on base - walking far more than he strikes out - which in it's own right is infrequently. Lastly we have utility infielder - and pushing Medrano for the starting job at first (or Boswell at second) is Gabe McIntyre, who arguably had his best season last year. After two seasons in the .220's, his .287 was a sigh of relief for a club who thought perhaps this bright future had dimmed. Expect Gabe to get early ABs and push for a spot on the right-side of the infield.

1B. Medrano, 2B. Boswell, SS. Loetzsch, 3B. Britt
Utility: McIntyre

Outfield
River Pope continues to be one of the best hitting machines in the SL not named Pedro Ferringo (an outfielder by trade, but Aurora's starting DH going on 8-years). Both hit .300 for the spring, and although neither will hit many long balls, they get on base and they are disruptive. Last year Ferringo stole 39 bases - getting caught only 4 times. Paul Carlisle joined the .300 Spring club and continued to drive in runs (his 13 were second on the club). Carlisle has been so consistent for Aurora (he has hit 24 homers in each of the past 4 years) that Aurora extended him beyond this year during the off-season. Admin, coaches and fans alike are excited to see two players in particular - CF Tomas Flores, who missed the latter portion (and post-season) last year (after his high-profile acquisition from Duluth), hitting .264 with 14 HR in 126 games. HIs spring .295 was promising. 'Fudd' Martinez, who may or may not be a 'rookie' at this point, but his .257 spring (seen as a step forward after last years .237 in 69 games) and his 25 SB in 28 attempts last year - coupled with his potential power and strong outfield skills suggest it's time for him to make the squad. For now. Aurora is chasing to keep an extra outfielder - the League has upped the roster size to 26, to give them 5 (and make up for Ferrigno's lack of defensive abilities). Some in the press are arguing for another infielder, but for now it's Martinez and Lawrence Justice, who's .184 was by far the worst of the team this spring. Neither of these back-ups play center, leaving the two competent CF on the roster in the starting line-up: Pope and Flores. CFs Nick Heath and Joe Harris were sent back to AAA for 'more seasoning'.

LF. Pope, CF. Flores, RF. Carlisle, DH. Ferringo
Back-ups: Martinez, Lawrence

Expected Opening Day Lineup v. expected Bears SP Neil Maes
1. Ferringo
2. Pope
3. Carlisle
4. Britt
5. Castro
6. Boswell
7. Medrano
8. Loetzsch
9. Flores

It's always difficult to anticipate how a season may go - near impossible with injuries, unexpected trades, poorer than expected play, trades, etc. But in a division where two teams are likely to threaten 100 losses, it's hard for this writer/blogger to expect anything but another division title for the Borealis. Looking at the Sovereign League as a whole, Shin Seiki looks to continue to be relentless with their power, but perhaps they've seen a dip in their starting pitching. The acquisition of Ratz will strengthen their bullpen immensely. Duluth's pitching staff does not look far from Aurora's - and the 'Gnats have a intriguing mixture of youth and new faces in former-Coqui Zhou and international free-agent Kang. Then there's the case of 'Jasper' in Duluth's line-up - are the Champs going to be that much stronger?

I say expect those 4 teams to once again face each other in the Divisional playoffs and, perhaps flip a coin. That said, I write for the Borealis, so my faithful readers, you know where my alliance will lie...

_________________
Michael Topham, President Golden Entertainment & President-CEO of the Aurora Borealis
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2019, 2021, 2022, 2023 PEBA Champions


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