The USBA Cup competition is one of the most fun thing this league has considering it brings teams from all the leagues together to compete for the right to get the traveling trophy. Boston has had a strangle hold on this competition in the past couple of years, but upsets happen in this format and we will take a closer look at each of the group to find out who is going to have that chance to upset Boston and deny them another Cup victory.
We start our look at the USBA Cup groups with a very interesting group that has 3 teams that could realistically win their group. Austin looks to rebound on a disappointing first year in the SL by adding even more pitching depth to couple with their offensive firepower. While Valencia going down will hurt them some they have Torres who can fill that void in their rotation and possess a bullpen that is solid. That bullpen not being the best though is help by their offense with Yen, Reyes and Dante. They only had two starters with under a .300 wOBA last year and one of them is a rookie and the other is a catcher which still makes him a pretty good catcher. Second place in this group is the really tough one to call as easy arguments could be made for Panama City or Brooklyn. I think Brooklyn sneaks into the second spot though as they have overall less holes. I don’t think they have the high-end talent that Panama City offers in some areas, but they have a more consistent team and if their pitchers take a step forward this year they should be able to hold the weak offense of Panama City and Buckhead in line. Panama City suffers from a very weak bullpen and some offensive pieces that are young and unproven (Adams, Munoz, Ayala, Alvardado and Avino) and sadly Talamante is just not very good anymore. All those things combined lead to a team that needs to have a lot happen for things to go right for them. Buckhead is one of the many rebuilding teams in this competition, and it is going o be nearly impossible for them to compete with the more well-rounded and complete teams in their group.
If this group was made a year ago, it would be a very exciting group with a lot of potential, but as it stands now, it is much less interesting. Despite Atlanta’s lack of an offense they are the strongest team in this group with a good rotation and fantastic bullpen. Thunder Bay likely picks up second place in this group as they still have Smith, Rodriguez and Gregory on their offense to go along with their pretty solid rotation and bullpen. Defense is their largest question with O’Connor have a -6 ZR in RF last year, which was actually a huge improvement on his previous year. If their defense can hold it together and Gregory doesn’t get old all of a sudden, they should lock up second. Grafton is likely to get 3rd, but very large rotation questions make this less than a lock. They feature Hurst as their only proven big league starter and then a mix of 2 players who were below average to bad in the SL last year and 2 unproven guys in Whitney and Martinez who will have very little experience against better hitting. Their offense isn’t bad, but losing Scotty Anderson last year to a suspension and the resulting ratings plummet has made that offense have a lot less bit than previously. New Amsterdam is going to take 4th in this group. Their offense is weak, very weak. They only have 4 players with above a .300 wOBA on their roster last year and are starting a lot of younger players who need to mature. Their oration is much the same story with a lot of average to below average starters with some young talent that needs to mature. Ratings wise they have a decent bullpen, but it has never performed up to those ratings. The PL and SL teams are the class of this group.
This group should be a fairly easy win for D.C. Divided, but 2nd place should be much closer. One of the 4-PL playoff teams from last year brings back a lot of the same people, and even though they do not have 3B Sears anymore, they have a glut of young talent to take his place and have even more talent to make upgrade in the outfield. Their bullpen might be a bit of concern, but none of the rest of the teams in this group are strong enough to really capitalize on that. If a team is going to come out and take that top seed though it will Rocky Mountain who made some great moves in the offseason to pick up some much-needed pieces. Their biggest move was getting Neil Lawson who joins an already acceptable offense. With Lawson, it helps balance out the less than spectacular pitching staff that is likely to be their downfall. They have some bright spots in Trevino, Riley and a few others, but they also have some potential land mines that If leaned on at the wrong time will blow a hole in their chances. Fort Worth might be able to take advantage of these holes, but their offense has more questions than Rocky Mountain’s pitching does, thus likely dooming them to 3rd place. Marroquin, Yamshita, Day and Caw all have huge question marks around them and if Nakayama doesn’t perform like he did for Forth Worth last year, but instead reverts to his Northern Virginia days it could be bad. Portland will end up last in this group as they are yet another rebuilding team. Questionable offense, rotation lacking depth and a weak bullpen will not perform will against these better teams.
I don’t want to be mean, because that’s not the point of this, but Group D is a joke. Houston and Greenville should easily grab the top two spots in this groups with their series likely determining who gets the first and second seeds. Both teams are relatively even with very strong and weak points. I think Greenville will end up taking down the Group as I like their offense a bit more. Al Anderson has been hot to start the year, they have a very solid defense especially up the middle and a much improved bullpen with some key additions in the winter for very little money. Houston’s downfall is likely to be their starting pitching not holding enough of an edge over what Greenville is trotting out there. That means their offense with few weapons outside of Marin and Dickerson will have a hard time keeping up with Greenville. Vancouver is in full rebuild mode with their former players being scattered throughout the USBA at this point. They only return two starting pitchers that struggled to stay in the rotation last year in Poppe and Liefting, almost none of their bullpen and very little of their offense that had problems scoring runs at times last year. The Chicago Hawks are in the same boat, but doing the rebuild from the bottom of the 3L.
Group E stands to be a really interesting group that could go a lot of different ways. ACKC is the lone PL team in the group which should be they would get the victory, but a sluggish offense brings them much closer to the pack when you look at the offensive might of the 3 other teams in the Group. While Phoenix is not nearly as strong as they were last year after losing Downing and Ballard, they have improved starting pitching and respectable replacements for those players. Las Vegas has been biding their time in the 3l for the past few years and bring a much improved offense with Alonso and Salazar to the table to go along with HR mashing 1B McKinney and his .416 wOBA. Montana is the wild card in this group as they have a win-now roster that doesn’t have a lot of experience together and has older players that might be on their way out or could still have a lot left in the tank, such as So, Sears and Salazar. As it stands now I think ACKC and Vegas will take the top two spots in that order with Phoenix nabbing 3rd and Montana 4th, but I think that it will be a very close race and if any team makes the top two spots it will not be terribly shocking.
The top spot in this group isn’t open for much debate as Boston should easily win this group going away. Them going 6-0 wouldn’t be unreasonable if they pitch their normal guys, but a decision to hold some back also wouldn’t unexpected as they have done that sometimes in the prelim round. The next three spots are a lot of question marks that need to be answered. Detroit is the obvious choice to take the second spot. They have a high-powered offense that might be even better when Sato makes his debut for them; he adds more power to the Neely, Silver, Gonzalez triumphant. Their pitching is also solid, but it is not spectacular which is what leaves them open to an upset, especially with an inconsistent bullpen. Seattle and Northern Virginia are both teams that need to prove themselves, but Northern Virginia is trying to do that. A weak offense and defense makes their pitching not as potent though (despite having two dominate relievers in Hudson and Paunescu), with Callison not being great at 3B and their outfield a bunch of questionable performers. Seattle won the 3L last year, but did so by winning very close games and outperforming base runs by a healthy margin. Seattle also lost a fair number of guys in free agency that started for them or played large roles in their success. If they can have those replacements for Hori and Caw really latch on then it’s not a big deal, but that’s still a question that needs to be answered I think Boston wins it though with Detroit followed by Northern Virginia and then Seattle.
This group consists of a lot of middling teams that make predictions almost seem impossible to get right. Initially, Richardson City would have to be considered the favorite, but they have a history of not trying during the Cup, so that actually opens it up a lot more than one would initially think. I would still give them the nod, as even their weaker starters and some minor-league guys do make them still a strong team. Also, with group games being simmed with the regular seasons series on top of it there is less of an easy method for starting your minor-league players without having them on the roster for the normal series afterwards. Considering this, I am going to pick them to win the group when I normally would shy away from Thundercats. Toledo and the Gold Sox are going to have a tight fight for 2nd place. The Gold Sox team has been a joke for the past couple of seasons, but they made some needed upgrades in the offseason with their pitching. Having Ballard, Jones, Ryan and, of course, Castro on offense makes them a worthy foe. Toledo has a much-improved team with Downing and Johnston on the offensive side of the ball, but their pitching can be hit or miss, especially with all that youth. I think they still pull out second place but it is close. Kingston Township will take 4th place, but they will not get steamrolled by any means. Their defense is likely to hold them back the most and is why I can’t put them in the mix. That outfield defense is dreadful and makes their pitchers look worse than they should.
This group has some intrigue with two strong PL teams heading it up, but a dangerous Philadelphia team also lurking in the background. Oakland is a powerful PL team that has strong pitching, a decent offense and got very unlucky last year to not have a better record than they did. If Kimura can break out this year in his second season since coming over from Japan then they can win this group. Wizarding looks to take the express lane to the USBA Cup through this group. With Hines and McKinney leading their pitching staff and Tanner and Martinez being monsters on the offensive side of the ball, they could easily do this. They do have some questions though with the back end of that rotation being rather weak and the bullpen being shaky sometimes. Both of those could lead to them not performing as well in a short series as their talent would suggest. Philadelphia has been hit hard with injuries and even though they might have the talent to compete if everything went right, the injuries and lack of depth in the rotation as a result likely dooms them to a third-place finish. If they make a trade soon though to improve that rotation, then it becomes a different ball game. Capital District doesn’t stand much of a chance in this group, but they are in full rebuild mode and so it’s not expected that they would. Their team has a lot of young talent, but it just isn’t’ ready to compete on the main stage, yet.