The constant rains that plagued the Bay Area throughout much of February and early March may have delayed the Academic Athletic Association baseball playoffs, but with just a handful of games to be completed in the regular season, the playoff picture has finally taken shape.
Originally slated to begin Tuesday, the postseason was pushed back a week, with the quarterfinals to be played on May 7 and semifinals on May 9. The championship game, an annual tradition at Oracle Park, was pushed back nine days, set to be played on May 15 after the conclusion of the matinee game between the San Francisco Giants and the Toronto Blue Jays.
Lowell has won six straight league championships, and the Cardinals will enter the playoffs as the top seed once again, but they’ve got a bevy of teams breathing down their necks.
Mission (13-13, 11-4 AAA) notched a landmark win over Lowell in the final of their three regular-season meetings last Thursday, getting 6 1/3 innings of one-run ball from Will Cohen and a huge all-around game from Asantay Wilson, who homered and picked up the save, striking out the final two batters with the winning run on base. Wilson has been a revelation for the Bears on both sides of the ball since transferring in from Burton, batting .333 and slugging .571 to give support to C.J. Pino, who has also batted .333 while posting a 1.17 ERA. Just ahead of Pino on the mound has been fellow senior Cohen, who no-hit Lincoln on April 18 and has a 1.12 ERA on the season.
Still, all roads run through Lowell (19-6, 13-2). Levi Humphrey has allowed just 13 hits and two earned runs over 26 1/3 innings on the season, and though Alex Bradshaw graduated after last year, the Cardinals have found plenty of reinforcements from their sophomore class. Nevin Lee and Jack Schonherr have matching ERAs of 1.62, with Schonherr posting a three-hit shutout against Mission in a 1-0 win on April 24. Catcher Shane Stanley, another sophomore, is second among qualified hitters on the team with a .355 average, only behind Schonherr. The Cardinals have also been by far the most impressive team among AAA squads in nonleague play, concluding their regular season last Saturday with a 5-0 win over a solid El Camino team.
The Cardinals await the winner of Tuesday’s Lincoln-Wallenberg matchup. The Mustangs are the wild card of the field, with an extremely high ceiling but inconsistent play as of late. The postseason had looked like a foregone conclusion for Lincoln (12-14, 7-8) early in the year, but an eight-game losing streak meant the Mustangs needed to hang on for dear life to take the fourth and final spot in Division 1, beating Balboa 4-3 on Monday to squeak in.
“Unfortunately we have an atmosphere where they get used to falling behind, and when that happens, we have a hard time coming back,” first-year head coach James Burke said after an April 25 loss to Washington. “We have to realize we’re as good as the team we were at the start of the year that beat Mission and beat Lowell.”
If that team from the start of the year shows up, it means Ajani Adewusi’s going to have some help. He’s been one of the most remarkable individual players in the entire City, posting a 2.19 ERA across his seven starts while batting an unbelievable .517 with nine doubles, five triples, a pair of homers and 27 walks to just seven strikeouts, good for a 1.603 OPS. Colson Ryan (30 RBI, .926 OPS) has also put together an impressive senior campaign, but past him, depth has been an issue for the Mustangs.
While Lincoln was trending downward to finish the regular season, Washington (10-15, 9-6) is headed in the opposite direction, winning five straight. The Eagles, who finished third in Division 1 and will open the playoffs with Academy, have a team batting average of just .228 on the season and have struggled to hit for power, slugging .262 as a unit, but their 117 walks in 25 games have allowed them to still average 5.44 runs per game. Washington’s pitchers have made do without staggering strikeout numbers, with none of the Eagles’ starters averaging more than 4.85 strikeouts per seven innings, but smooth defense has allowed Devlin Armas and James Monterrosa to both post sub-3 ERAs.
As for the Division 2 teams, both Wallenberg (9-3 AAA) and Academy (8-4 AAA) will have a steep hill to climb against the tougher competition, but have already acclimated to the rigors of playoff baseball, edging out Leadership (7-5 AAA) for the two spots in the postseason field.