Playoff preview: Scouting department strikes again

In this first playoff preview (total number of previews not yet known) we take a the look at the Sharks’ first opponent and possible matchups on Sunday.

The Alby Stars (9-5) will be the away team at their home field, Seagull Park, against the Göteborg Hajarna (9-5) on Saturday in the semifinals of the regional series playoffs. As the observant reader might have noticed, these teams have the same record and could only be separated in the standings with the help of Lady Lotten and the luck of the draw. While they have the same records, they are not the same team.

Lady Lotten Dorsch would probably have agreed that winning is better than losing.

The Stars play in the regional league’s Stockholm Division (no kidding?). During the 2017 season, they faced Stockholm B (4-0), Enskede (4-0), Los Nicas (0-4) and Tranås (1-1). They are thus 8-4 when taking the subway to games and 1-1 when not. #greatscouting

Alby was even more impressive last season as they went 14-2 during their 2016 campaign. In the semifinals, they were up 5-0 when they had a meltdown in the bottom of the eight inning and gave up nine runs to lose the game 9-5.

The Sharks scouting department has naturally had their eyes on the Stars for a while now and is obviously aware that the Stars have not regressed.

“They got pretty much the same guys out there. They are a year older, but lost their coach from last season. Still a lot of experience and a lot of solid bats in their lineup,” according to an anonymous scout.

In this picture, Alby was a couple of years younger.

Those solid bats start with Roberto Hanoi Labrador Montero (as far as I know, the longest name in Swedish baseball) who is a force at the plate. The first baseman/center fielder sports an impressive slash line of .500/.608/.603/.1212 in 58 at bats. Not far behind is the Stars catcher, Osbel Arias Torres, batting a solid .448/.551./542/.1094. Torres’ defense also deserves respect as he has only five errors on the season and throws out runners at almost the same pace as the Sharks’ backstop Toofan Khazal.

Overall, they have a solid lineup with some pop. If we compare the two teams’ statistics, it is a pretty tight affair.

Batting average:

2 Alby Stars 425 345 89 106 .307
6 Göteborg Hajarna 459 354 107 97 .274

Slugging percentage:

4 Alby Stars 425 345 89 106 .307 12 3 0 .359
6 Göteborg Hajarna 459 354 107 97 .274 13 3 0 .327

OBP:

3 Alby Stars 425 345 89 106 .307 12 3 0 .359 .435
4 Göteborg Hajarna 459 354 107 97 .274 13 3 0 .327 .430

Sort of tight, but with the Stars atop. The Sharks do come out ahead in a couple of categories.

BB/TAB:

2 Göteborg Hajarna 459 354 107 97 .274 .327 3 2 92 84 .053 .200
6 Alby Stars 425 345 89 106 .307 .359 0 1 67 47 .052 .157

Doubles:

7 Göteborg Hajarna 459 354 107 97 .274 13
8 Alby Stars 425 345 89 106 .307 12

Isolated power:

7 Göteborg Hajarna 459 354 107 97 .274 .327 3 2 92 84 .053
8 Alby Stars 425 345 89 106 .307 .359 0 1 67 47 .052

And that is all well and good, but as the saying goes,”pitching and defense win championships.” While obviously not quite true (you actually have to outscore your opponent in baseball), it does help. A lot.

The two pitchers in the Stars organization who have logged the most innings this season have not fared all that great. Aridany Moreno Fajardo is 4-2 with a 6.21 ERA and Ramon Illa is 3-2 with a 6.63 ERA. While that is not impressive on the surface, one has to consider that the Stars faced off with Los Nicas four times during the season.

Overall, it’s close once more if we start looking at the categories from a team perspective.

ERA:

5 Göteborg Hajarna 89.2 9 5 84 62 6.22
6 Alby Stars 79.0 8 4 77 61 6.95

BA against:

7 Göteborg Hajarna 89.2 9 5 84 62 6.22 456 371 108 .291
9 Alby Stars 79.0 8 4 77 61 6.95 417 358 110 .307

K/BB ratio:

3 Göteborg Hajarna 89.2 3 0 62 6.22 108 4 57 19 84 1.84 8.43 1.47
4 Alby Stars 79.0 1 0 61 6.95 110 2 44 13 53 1.95 6.04 1.20

It’s obvious that the Stars rely more on a good defense than on those fascist strikeouts:

Strikeouts:

5 Göteborg Hajarna 89.2 9 5 84 62 6.22 456 371 108 .291 4 57 19 84
12 Alby Stars 79.0 8 4 77 61 6.95 417 358 110 .307 2 44 13 53

The Stars put up a solid defense behind their pitchers (at least, I think). As fielding defense in general are stupid and errors in this league (and all leagues) are based on one person’s subjective view, these following numbers should be taken with a grain of salt.

Fielding average, overall:

1 Alby Stars 12 704.0 346 235 88 17 5 1 23 0.934
3 Göteborg Hajarna 14 807.0 427 265 131 15 13 3 31 0.927

Fielding average, infield:

2 Göteborg Hajarna 14 269.0 149 51 84 10 1 3 14 0.906
4 Alby Stars 12 237.0 130 58 59 10 2 1 13 0.900

Fielding average, outfield:

2 Alby Stars 12 237.0 32 30 0 1 1 0 2 0.938
7 Göteborg Hajarna 14 269.0 21 15 3 1 2 0 3 0.857

That is one atrocious fielding average posted by the Sharks and can and should not be white washed. On the other hand, this reporter regularly patrols the outfield so it might not be that much of a surprise.

Conclusion: These are two pretty well-matched teams that will probably play a good game. My guess is that one of the teams will win and that the winning team will score more runs that the losing team.

Los Nicas (11-3) was the top team in the regional series (not counting the “regional” team that Sölvesborg scribbled down on their lineup cards). While I would like to do an equally thorough review of this team, I’m now tired and won’t.

The Nicaraguans rely on being really good at playing baseball. In regional series measures, they are exceptional at throwing the ball, led by Omar Marin. He is the top pitcher in the regional league (including the “regional” team from Sölvesborg) and owns a brilliant 0.74 ERA. They have a great 1-2 punch with Santo Anibal Blanco who himself has an ERA of 3.67 (better than any Sharks pitcher).

As a team, they lead the league in ERA and are second in batting average against.

Los Nicas are good at baseball.

On offense, they are lead by Alexis Mejia who boasts a .467/.625/.527/.1152 slashline. As a team, they are solid in pretty much every offensive category and are atop in stolen bases with 105 (Alby is second at 93.

Tranås (8-6) went 3-1 against the Sharks during the regular season and made it to the second round of the playoffs this past weekend. Uppsala decided to not show up to play and Tranås got the better off Gefle as they took that one easy, 21-6.

Other than that, the Sharks faithful are well aware that one can never relax while playing Tranås.

Finally, a word from coach Jonny Edgren:

“Winning is better than losing. We’re gonna try and win two. Hopefully, the Stockholm branch of the Sharks fanbase will show up to support us.”

First pitch is at four, Saturday afternoon, September 16 at Albyfältet.

(Joel Earnest contributed to this report).

Shark kids have fun in the mud

It was muddy out at Shark Park today. The muddiest in years according to veteran Sharks. But even with the late cancellation by Skövde, everyone still had a great time.

Fourteen players showed up Sunday morning, ready to play and that’s just what they did despite the mud and cancellation. Even without Skövde, there were still enough players to form two teams and play a doubleheader with the assistance of a few dads in the outfield. And you could see the results of all those Tuesday evening practices, with plenty of nice plays by the young Sharks.

Between hot dogs during the break, the most common question was “When can we do this again?” Coach Edgren hopes to be able to reschedule the Skövde-Gothenburg matchup before the season comes to a close, but it will have to be after the junior league playoffs on September 24.

Sharks cruise in SWBL postseason tuneup

Skövde swept Gothenburg when these two teams last met, topped off by a dramatic come-from-behind Saints victory in the final frame of game 2. The tables were turned this time around with a Sharks squad supplemented with three Kungsbacka Chief veterans taking both games against the Saints Sunday at Shark Park by scores of 8-2 and 12-5.

Speedster Hannes Wiström taking a lead off first

Sharks swim into second round after taking two from Malmö

At the start of last season, this team scrambled to get nine guys for a game.
The turnaround is real.
Göteborg Hajarna clinched a spot in the second playoff round.

As always, the matchup against the Malmö Pilots (0-16) proved to be the as friendly and pleasant as always. This time, Shark Park had standing room only as the bleachers were filled as game one got underway.

Göteborg Hajarna (9-5) got going right off the bat as they feasted on Pilots starter Eric Browne (0-7). The Pilots ace fought the Sharks batters and the strike zone as he walked nine sharks on the day.

With the offensive juggernaut that is José Muñoz atop the Sharks lineup, the home team did not look back after the first inning. They kept on walking like they were Nancy Sinatra and added three more runs in the third and fifth inning. An insurance run was added in the sixth to make it an even ten on the day.

The newly emerged, comebacking ace José Martinez (3-0) left nothing to chance as he started game one for the Sharks. Aside from the second inning when he let up a little and allowed two runs to pass home plate, he was very good indeed.

Martinez went the distance for his third win of the season. He gave up six hits, two runs (one earned) while striking out six and walking only third. Solidifying his position as one of the premier pitchers in the regional series.

“We played a solid game, only on defensive error. Despite a couple of miscues on the basepaths, I’m happy,” the interim manager, who filled in for Coach Jonny Edgren, said.

Interim manager trying not to mess up.

The second game of the day had quite possibly the longest first three innings of any baseball played. Ever. In the history of time. The pilots opened the scoring as they took two runs in the first. The Sharks answered right back with seven of their own as Pilots starter Thomas Hanses (0-3) fought valiantly against the strike zone. He ended up walking eleven Sharks in his three innings of work.

Hajarna capitalised on that and added five more runs in the second and six more in the third for a total of 18 runs against Malmös seven.

Sharks second starter of the day, ‘Swirvin’ Shervin Shakki (3-3) fought a totally different enemy in his start – baseballs. Despite pitching well and having great control, Shakki gave up seven runs (all earned) on the day. The problem was that all those balls found holes and/or players to bounce off of. It was quite comical on several occasions as it seemed the balls looked to hate gloves as much as the Lannisters hate Targaryens.

Shakki working the count.

Besides Muñoz, comeback kid Lars Karlsson and old friend Mokhlad al-Ghanimi led the offensive onslaught for the Sharks. Karlsson went 2-2 on the day with both hits being doubles and adding a walk. Karlsson is hitting has a solid .1000/.1500/.2500 slash line on the season.

“I’ve heard that winning is better than losing, so I swung the bat,” Karlsson humbly said after the game.

Overall, the Sharks saw some new faces at new positions. Besides Karlsson, Rickard Kronqvist did an admirable effort at first base, Eric Marquez did his best to be ‘Logie Bear‘ at 2nd base and white shark Johan Weidolf played third base like it was 1999.

“We have great depth, quite possibly the deepest team in the league. When we’re good, we’re good,” the interim manager said.

With the two wins and with some help from Alby, the Sharks has, as far as I can figure it out, clinched a spot in the second round of the playoffs. Therefore, the likely matchup will be against Alby and it will be on the road.

Notables:

Niclas Ekströms injury concerns continues. He was also not hit by a pitch.

Kronqvist stole a base.

Ted Bratsberg was seen in the stands. He did not help out while the fence was set up.

In the first game, only one run was scored as an RBI.

Sharks sweep Pilots, clinch some kind of playoff

With the Pilots in town, it’s always a fun day at Shark Park.
This was a lot of fun for the Sharks faithful as the hometeam took both games.

In front of a sold out Shark Park, the Sharks took game one 10-2 behind a solid complete game from emerging ace pitcher José Martinez. Except for one inning when he worked out of a bases loaded jam, Martinez was never really in trouble. Solidifying his position in the rotation.

For the second game, Shervin Shakki tossed five innings of seven run ball and really should have had a prettier line. Alas, a lot of balls bounced off of him or the weird infield to give the Pilots base hits. It did give him another victory as the Sharks bats came to life and scored no less than 18 runs.

The Pilots battled through a depleted pitching staff but fought valiantly to keep the game close.

Next stop is the playoffs and the Sharks organization is still awaiting word from the matchup between Enskede and Alby to know if it will be in the first or second round.

Khazal praises off season regimen for success

A new season is almost over.
The same catcher has anchored the Sharks.
And he is better than ever.
“He’s the cornerstone of our defense,” coach Edgren says.

For years now, Toofan Khazal has been the other end of numerous batteries as the Gothenburg Sharks has plowed their way through the regional- and Elitserien play. For years, it has been a not so appreciated position within the organization.

Khazal has more often than not been asked to catch all 14 innings on a traditional gameday. As he is not a young man anymore, one could think that takes it’s toll. But no, the 42-year old keeps putting in the work and getting better each year.

Catcher Khazal can walk the walk.

“I’m working hard off the field. All off season, it’s all about getting stronger and to have that endurance to last a full season,” Khazal says.

And it has payed off. The longtime catcher has especially worked on his throws during this offseason and is now leading the league in caught stealing average at .139 – double from last season. He is also second in caught stealing/9 innings.

1 Toofan Khazal, Göt 10 64.1 6 30 3 6 1 1 2 37 6 .139 5.2 0.8
2 Sean T Kim, Mal 14 80.1 22 71 2 16 7 3 2 90 11 .108 10.1 1.2
3 Magnus Eklund, Ume 6 33.1 8 11 1 8 1 0 0 19 2 .095 5.1 0.5

“I’m more focused, more concentrated on the task at hand. It’s been rewarding for sure,” Khazal says.

Since 2015, the Sharks faithful has also seen catcher Khazal, also known as ‘Grumpy’, take on a kind of a captain role for the team. A Team dad, if you will. On a regular basis, he is directing the defense and his pitching staff both during gamedays and at practice.

“It’s been great. This year, we have better communication within the team which helps me a lot.”

“Yes, maybe I’m more of a leader but I got to give a hand to our squad who’s taken great strides in communicating better and that makes my job easier every day.

As the Sharks take on the Malmö Pilots on Saturday, they have already clinched a playoff spot. But for the team, and for Khazal, the double header is of great importance.

This might be the only time Khazal’s pants were not sparkling white.

If the Sharks sweep on Saturday, they have a chance to finish in the top three and go straight to the second leg of the playoffs. For Khazal, who can’t participate in the first playoff leg, that is crucial.

“I always want to win ballgames, but yes, after this season it would be pretty great to be able to finish it off with a good playoff run,” Khazal says.

“And yeah, winning is better than losing, right?” he says as he runs off the field.

Come out to Shark Park and enjoy the ballgames on Saturday against the friendly Malmö Pilots. First pitch is at 12!

Heartbreak, blowout and walkover wins

The Sharks has taken a lot of step forwards during the season.
Against the Firehawks, it was not far enough.
“We could be an Elitserien team again pretty soon,” Edgren says.

The Sölvesborg Firehawks (10-1) hosted the Sharks (7-5) on Sunday after a lengthy road trip for their Elitserien team where they played eight games in six days. And it was somewhat a mangled homeside that showed up, but still with the majority of the players made out of Elitserien players.

José Muñoz led off the game for the Sharks and got the scoring going right away as he gave the Sharks a 1-0-lead against the Firehakws starter Kevin Trudel (2-1).

José Martinez got the nod to start game one for the Sharks and started out great. He held the FIrehawks to one run in the first three innings and the Sharks kept going as they put up three more runs in the second. In the fourth, the hometeam had sort of figured Martinez out and tied the game up at four runs a piece.

Martinez was dealing.

The Sharks added a run in the fifth but the Firehawks tied it once more. Göteborg Hajarna kept on building that picket fence and went in to the bottom of the 7th leading 7-5. With Mokhlad al-Ghanimi on the mound, this game seemed all but over. The Firehawks, however, was not done. They chased al-Ghanimi off the mound and coach Edgren turned to starter Shervin Shakki (2-2) for the save. After a couple of questionable defensive plays for the Sharks, the hometeam could walk it off on a single with two outs that hit off of Jun Konos glove.

Khazal mumbled that winning was better than losing.

“We played well. As well as we’ve had all season and showed that we can play against an Elitserien team,” coach Jonny Edgren said in the post game interview.

As for the second game, the Göteborg Hajarna side looked heartbroken after the first one and well… let’s just forget about that one (Firehawks wone 10-0 in five innings).

On Wednesday, other news came in as the Norrköping Blue Sox, whom the Sharks were supposed to face on Saturday, had to cancel the games as they could not field a team.

“Norrköping Blue Sox:s hemmamatcher mot Göteborg nu på lördag den 5 augusti är tyvärr inställda. En lång skade- och sjukdomslista i vår A-trupp kombinerat med semestertider gör att vi inte får ihop en tillräckligt stor trupp för att klara lördagens dubbelmöte. Nästkommande dubbelmatcher i Regionserien blir nu borta mot Los Nicas i Alby den 20/8 och hemma mot Stockholm Bombers den 27/8.”

That leaves the Sharks at nine wins on the season and the playoff clinch looks awfully close.

Notables:

Hernan Martinez turned it what was probably one of the best umpire performances all season.

Muñoz leads the league in stolen bases and al-Ghanimi is tied for second in the same category.

al-Ghanimi and Martinez are second and fourth, respectively, in K/9.

The Sharks were only charged with one error in the first game. Needless to say, that would have been great but this mention has to go to the official scorer.

Sharks winless in Sölvesborg

The Sharks lost both games on Sunday in Sölvesborg.
“Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose and sometimes it rains”, Edgren says.

The Sharks were feisty and full of confident when they took the field against the Sölvesborg Firehawks at Deer Creek Park. And they played well. Leading pretty much all of the first game behind a strong outing from José Martinez, they went into the bottom of the 7th leading. A laser line drive with two outs changed all of that as the Firehawks walked it off 8-7.

Göteborg Hajarna will probably want to forget game two as fast as possible. Despite a solid start from ‘Swirvin’ Shervin Shakki, this one was lost from the get-go. Against the Firehawks squad, filled with Elitserien players, there is not much room for error. Sölvesborg took an early lead and never looked back as they mercy ruled the Sharks 10-0 in five innings.

This might be a Sharkhawk

“They are a strong team. Pretty much an Elitserien team and we were on the brink of winning the first one,” Coach Edgren says.

“Winning is better than losing, but this was a step forward,” he concluded as he walked away from the beat writers and Shark faithful who travelled to see the game.

Update to follow when boxscores are available.

 

Elite Matchup for Sharks in Sölvesborg

The doubleheader in Sölvesborg on July 29 promises to be the toughest yet for the Sharks, with the Firehawks filling out their short-handed regional squad with top elite players.

Sölvesborg’s regional team has an impressive record of 8-1, but it’s no secret around the league that much of their success is due to the infusion of players from their strong elite team, currently undefeated at 8-0.

With Sölvesborg B regularly starting five to six elite players in regional games, this is not your typical regional team. Then again, with Jose Munoz, Jose Martinez and Mokhlad Al-Ghanimi in the Gothenburg lineup, and backed by a host of other solid players, this year’s Sharks are not your typical regional team either. Although inconsistent at times, how well the Sharks do in Sölvesborg could give fans an indication of just how far this team can go. And it goes without saying, that winning is always better than losing.

“Playing an elite team in Sölvesborg will snap us out of holiday mode and into playoff mode,” says Coach Edgren, obviously looking forward to the challenge.

Coach Jonny Edgren

Sharks split with Tranås

As one winning streak ended, another began.
Sunday was an offensive outburst for the Sharks.
“We had pretty good discipline today,” coach Edgren says.

The surprisingly large turnout at Shark Park did not have much fun as game one got underway. Behind starter Mikael Lindquist (0-1), Göteborg Hajarna (7-3) were guilty of sloppy and unfocused defense. And as the Sharks faithful always preach, you can’t do that against Tranås (3-3).

The away team got to an early 5-0 lead in the 1st and added three more runs in the 3rd until the Sharks smelled blood and got back to life. Behind surprise relief pitcher number one of the day, Jonny Edgren, the Sharks added one run in the bottom half of the 3rd, three in the 4th and three in the 5th to make this a game again.

Alas, this one was not for the Sharks. A very questionable balk and an umpire missing a tag at third cost the Sharks one run in the 6th and one in the 7th. The Tranås side added another one to go into the bottom half of the 7th leading 11-8.

With two outs, the Sharks got going again and added two runs. With the tying run 90 feet away, Jun Kono, who was fighting a bad stomach, unfortunately flew out to center to end the game at 11-10 to Tranås, ending the Sharks four game winning streak.

“This is what happens when you give up those extra nineties, it cost us this game,” coach Edgren says.

al-Ghanimi was, as always, happy anyway.

With a depleted pitching staff, it was most welcome news when ace Mokhlad al-Ghanimi (3-1) unexpectedly showed up to play. Even with al-Ghanimi on the mound, the runs kept coming for Tranås anyway.

The former Iraqi national team player was somewhat erratic on the mound, hitting six Tranås players and walking five. He did, however, also go on to strike out seven leaving the Sharks defense with little to deal with. Behind the plate, veteran catcher Toofan Khazal was brilliant as he saved al-Ghanimi from having more than the four wild pitches that he amounted to.

Khazal desperately tried to hit with his catching gear on but to no avail.

After giving up one run in the 1st and two in the second, the Sharks fought back and tied the game in the bottom of the second. With that, al-Ghanimi settled down a little and looked more like his old self.

In relief came the second surprise relief pitcher of the day; none other than Kris Bryant’s best bud – Rickard Kronqvist. Making his regional series debut, Kronqvist was excellent and got some help from a solid defense. Kronqvist ended up getting the save, pitching three scoreless innings and giving up just two hits and a walk.

“Kris is most likely proud of me right now. He thinks winning is better than losing, so there’s that,” Kronqvist says.

At the plate, the Sharks added three more runs in the fifth and loaded the bases on multiple occasions without getting the clutch hit. However, the Sharks looked very good at the plate. Seldom wasting at bats and every player got on base one way or another. Promising for things to come.

Notables:

Order was restored as Niclas Ekström was once again hit by a pitch in the first game.

Joel Earnest made history in all kinds of ways. In the first game, he had his first career infield hit and then topping it with his first career double.

José Muñoz made a dazzling play when diving for a ball to get the out at second and combining with al-Ghanimi and Johan Weidolf to complete a slick double play in the 7th inning of the second game. A play that most likely would make the highlight reel in any MLB game.

Göteborg Hajarna has not scored ten runs and lost since 2012.